Tomorrow is the annual celebration of International Archaeology Day. Over the past few years, International Archaeology Day (or #IAD, for the social media savvy) has become increasingly popular. Museums, universities, avocational groups, clubs, and a host of other organizations use the day to promote archaeology and spread knowledge of past cultures. My own modest contributions to IAD include giving flintknapping demonstrations to schoolchildren, and providing tours of archaeological laboratories to archaeology enthusiasts of all ages. IAD has been a way for me to share my passion for archaeology with audiences who want to know more about the people who inhabited the earth before we did.
I’m sure countless individuals and groups will continue to provide excellent archaeological experiences tomorrow and on future IADs. However, this year I’d like to use IAD to bring attention to the challenges archaeology faces, particularly the closing of the Illinois State Museum and Dickson Mounds Museum. The closing of these institutions hit especially close to home to me (in the literal sense)—I spent my formative archaeological years as an undergraduate student at Illinois State University, and often visited these spectacular archaeological resources. It makes me sad that the citizens of Illinois (and all other states) won’t be able to enjoy these renowned institutions on this year’s IAD.
The closing of the Illinois State Museum and Dickson Mounds Museum has already received much scrutiny from archaeologists, educators, and anyone who appreciates the past. The Society for American Archaeology has condemned the closings, petitions have been circulated online, blogs have been posted, and letters written. Yet all of these forces have not of yet budged the immovable object—the impasse between Illinois governor Bruce Rauner and the Illinois state legislature over the state’s budget.
The amount of money required to keep these institutions open to the public really is a small fraction of the Illinois state budget. What makes this story even more disheartening (at least to me), are the almost daily stories about the destruction of archaeological resources in other parts of the world. In Syria, archaeologists are literally dying to protect archaeology from destruction and looting by ISIS. In August 2015, 81 year old Khaled al-Asaad was killed by ISIS for not revealing where he had hidden artifacts they wanted to destroy and/or sell. Asaad recognized the importance of archaeology, and gave his life to protect his life’s work. It seems ludicrous that in a country where we don’t have to protect archaeology with our lives, some politicians view cultural resources as a hindrance and not worth the small amount of money necessary to keep fantastic archaeological resources available to the public.
I want everyone to enjoy International Archaeology Day. If you’re an archaeologist, spend some time sharing your love and knowledge of archaeology in whatever way you can. If you’re a student, learn something cool about archaeology! But I also encourage everyone who loves archaeology to think about how lucky we are to be able to spend Saturday, October 17th celebrating International Archaeology Day without fear. I also encourage you to think about the Illinois State Museum and Dickson Mounds Museum. I’m sure they would have some fabulous events and activities planned if they could be open on IAD 2015. Personally, I’ll spend part of Saturday writing another letter to governor Rauner—maybe this one will finally get that immovable object moving.