Alexandria Archaeology Museum
[updated address: http://www.alexandriava.gov/Archaeology]
The City of Alexandria, VA; accessed on July 5-11, 2003.
Twenty years ago, archeology had limited ability to interest—and much less to educate—the public. Site reports were not publicly accessible and, more often than not, sat on shelves collecting dust. Today, technology is bringing archeology into the home, the schoolroom, and the office—a mere click away for Web surfers. There is no better example of how to exploit the medium than the "Alexandria Archaeology Museum" website.
Created to connect the public with archeological resources important to Alexandria's past, the site accomplishes much more. By exhibiting "Alexandria's 10,000 years of human history and its relationship to the world and region," it brings awareness and appreciation to not only the field of archeology, but also heritage resources and historic preservation, all while stimulating local tourism. The site offers activities, tours, exhibits, articles, and studies, catering to both scholars and the public.
The website's appeal is in its ability to effectively communicate. The site entices visitors to visit the actual museum with free admission, group tours, classes, hands-on activities, and special events. It even features a summer camp for students, who participate in a dig led by city archeologists. The site also offers ideas to those looking to explore Alexandria, providing links to walking and biking tours, the American Heritage Trail, historic cemeteries, and Jones Point Park, a 60-acre archeological site exhibiting 5,000 years of history.
Visitors who want to plan their own tour of the city can click on "Following in Washington's Footsteps," which highlights still-extant taverns, churches, schools, businesses, and homes visited by George Washington. Each site includes an image, brief description, and a narrative about Washington's relationship to the place. This format is a clever way to both educate people on the historical significance of these sites and encourage tourism. Increasing revenue and public support are powerful tools for saving significant resources from development threats.
The site satisfies professionals by providing information on conservation, collections management, preservation laws and ordinances, archeological discoveries, bibliographies, consultant reports, and research. Links to scholarly articles published in the Historic Alexandria Quarterly are accessible under the research section as well as a timeline of 250 years of Alexandria history called "Discovering the Decades." In addition, the site boasts a searchable database covering such diverse topics as heritage studies, material culture studies, methods, people, public places and events, and thematic studies.
"Alexandria Archaeology Museum" devotes a useful and comprehensive section to historic preservation, providing everything from preservation laws to descriptions and images of over 40 Federal, State, and city projects in Alexandria. There are 13 subcategories under the site's preservation section and several with laws and ordinances that protect designated archeology sites. Look here for zoning ordinances, code reports, preservation laws, and resources on Alexandria's archeology.
Visitors may download and print the "preliminary assessment form" which is required before any development may occur in a designated area. Much like city historic districts, these designated archeological areas are protected by city ordinances. Protected archeological areas represent a reaction to a major population influx and ensuing development 15 to 20 years ago. City archeologists were able to keep a step ahead of the developers through city ordinances and public education and by building a large constituency.
Embedded within the City of Alexandria's website, the "Alexandria Archaeology Museum" site is as extensive as it is easy to navigate. Tourists and residents have the option of searching other city museums, local government agencies, tourism groups, and historical organizations as well as recreation facilities and trail maps. However, the flexibility of the navigation bar layout also makes it somewhat confusing. First-time users may find themselves unintentionally searching the city's other services. Nonetheless, the ability to link and explore many options make this an enticing website.
Just as architectural historians have recognized that surveys are limited if the public is unaware and unable to interpret them, archeologists must also share and interpret their studies with the public. This is a daunting task, as archeological sites do not reveal their importance to the untrained eye. The "Alexandria Archaeology Museum" website demonstrates that archeological sites can be interpreted for, and enjoyed by, the public. Perhaps, paradoxically, this website has brought us closer to the past than we were 20 years ago.