Visitor as Researcher: Making Archaeology More Accessible with Broken Unproveninced Objects


Brown University is home to several seldom-used study collections of broken and unprovenienced ancient Egyptian objects. In a new exhibition focused on the research process and the people who make it happen, these items feature as keys to the behind-the-scenes world of archaeological study. In this article, we demonstrate how educators can mobilize fragmentary artifacts as new tools for handson education. Each section of the exhibition focuses on an active research project that employs a modern investigative technology (e.g., XRF Analysis) and introduces visitors to researchers at all levels of study. This not only humanizes the archaeological process but also invites the viewer to participate actively in the interpretation of museum research. Two hands-on elements further cultivate an environment of accessibility to archaeology: an iPad interface updated regularly based on visitor feedback, which welcomes visitors to explore the exhibition’s objects and research technologies in greater depth; and a preexisting experiential learning program, CultureLab, where visitors can handle objects from the collection and be researchers themselves. Visitor feedback suggests that openly presenting the realities of archaeological research and subsequently encouraging visitors to assume the role of researcher is a highly effective model for visitors and educators alike.

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Advances in Archaeological Practice