Public Benefits of Archaeological Research
The benefits of archaeological research are often not directly accessible to the public because the work is highly technical, and research results are generally published in books and articles written primarily for other archaeologists. Many of the papers in this volume are devoted to examining ways in which research results can be made available to the public more · readily and rapidly as well as ways for students and other members of the general public to take part in the research process itself. I applaud such efforts to improve public access to archaeological research. In this chapter, I argue, however, that the public benefits of archaeology depend in a very basic way on the success of archaeology as a research field. If archaeological research does not continue to produce improved understandings of the human past, or if archaeological research loses its scientific and scholarly credibility, the public's attention to and interest in things archaeological will diminish. At worst, it can erode into an antiquarian interest in artifacts merely because they are old or into seeking occasional titillation from archaeological fantasies of the usual "lost tribes and sunken continents" sort (Wauchope 1962; also see Williams 1991).