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Maggie Struckmeier of Past Horizons on volunteer archaeology and online media


Maggie Struckmeier of Past Horizons Heritage Media talks about inspiring regular people to volunteer with archaeological excavations using a variety of online media. Past Horizons features an interactive magazine, a blog and a YouTube-style site exclusively for sharing heritage video.

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Welcome to the Preservation Today Podcast. I’m Dylan Staley and today I’ll be talking with Maggie Struckmeier of Past Horizons. Welcome to Preservation Today.

D: Hello Maggie and thank you so much for joining us today. First off, would you mind telling us in your own words, what is Past Horizons?

M: Well, Past Horizons is a web portal, providing information about volunteer archeology projects and field schools that are currently happening around the world. The site’s been online now for about two years. And it’s also to be able to let people see that they can start up community projects. For example, we are involved in community projects here in Scotland and we enjoy it very much. It’s a different type of archeological volunteering; community is very much involved in your local area and ones that we’re involved in certainly, you know people really, really enjoy it. You see how many websites there are for conservation volunteering around the world. You know, that really took off in the last few years. You know, what do you do before you go to university for example? You take a year out and you go volunteer in conservation, but nobody really kind of thought about archeology in the same sort of way. Nobody really sort of put that  two and two together and thought that you could do that as well. And we’re kind of hoping that people will take up the challenge, basically and go and do these things. As I say, the descriptions of all these things you can be involved in, there’s just so much, and who knows where  it can lead you in the end. You might go and volunteer for two weeks and suddenly think, “This is all I ever really wanted to do. You know, I really want to be an archeologist now.”

D: And why exactly do you feel that’s important?

M: Well, I think it’s important really because it can be a life changing experience, actually, for people or for other people as a break from normal life for a few weeks. You know if they volunteer in some of these projects, I think it also opens people’s eyes to new possibilities and it makes the world a more interesting place to live in for everybody. I think that that’s really what Past Horizons is about, is actually trying to improve people’s lives for them.

D: So, how exactly did you first get started in this project?

M: Well we realized that although there was already some resources online, there didn’t seem to be a comprehensive list available. So, we did a lot of research on the internet to gather all the projects together, country by country and built the website from there. We now have about 350 separate opportunities to choose from, each with a map location, photograph, short description, contact details, and web link.

D: Well, do you remember the first time you got involved in one of these projects?

M: Yes, it was actually in the Cairngorms in Scotland. It was very cold, we were in the middle of nowhere, but it was great fun. You get to drive 4-wheel drives across flooded rivers. You get to sort of be in the middle of nowhere and, you know, see really interesting things. But on the other hand, it was very cold. And then the, “Oh, this is terrible.” But, you know, once you get over that, it’s a great feeling. It’s actually a great feeling of freedom. It’s hard to describe the experience and actually, it doesn’t matter who you go with. The experience  is different, but it’s the same, actually. You know, it’s just that sort of—I don’t know—you discover so many knew things about that place that you’re in and about yourself as well.

D: Well besides helping people learn about these projects and being involved in these projects yourselves, what else does Past Horizons do?

M: Well, we do quite a lot of things. We also have a blog, which we try to update daily with information including news items, travel grants, and study opportunities. There’s also the video section. It’s a bit like YouTube, where you can view over 300 heritage videos, but you can also upload your own to it. And we also have the online magazine, of course, which features page flip technology, it has embedded videos, and live links to other people’s sites. We also have the podcast, which is actually truly a international venture. Where Diego, from Stone Pages website gathers the news. He sends it to David Connolly, of British Archaeological Jobs and Resources website who edits and reads it, and then he sends it on to Dave Horix in Canada, who masters it. Oh yeah, and we also have an archeological tool shop.

D: You described a couple of people who are described in the process of creating Past Horizons, but who all composes Past Horizons?

M: It’s just me and David and we have a volunteer editor, called Felicity, and she has been an editor on newspapers and magazines in the past. When she heard we were starting this up, she came forward and volunteered her services. And I think without her—you know she really, really understands magazines and, you know, I think she’s very strict with us— and without her I think we couldn’t do it properly. It makes it professional, put it that way. I would like other people to come forward and write articles. You know, I’ve had a student come forward and she wants to write an article and I think that would be great to get people to contribute more on a regular basis. We also have, of course, Dig Cook who is a lady from Australia who—she actually is a dig cook—and she provides recipes for every edition. So that’s very good as well.

D: Well then, what is it that you see in the future of Past Horizons?

M: I suppose Past Horizons is constantly evolving. The plan is basically to build on the success of the website, and already has thousands of visitors, which is brilliant. Also we hope to lead some of our own projects in the future. As I mentioned before, in Scotland we’re involved in community projects, which we really enjoy, but we’re also leading an archeological survey in Croatia this May. I think in the future we’re going to be able to accept volunteers on this project. You know, it would be good to see one of our own projects actually listed on the website. You know, that’s really what we’re aiming for, I think, in the future.

D: Before we go I do want to ask you just one final question: Do you think that you’ve found your dream job?

M: Yes, actually, I think I have. I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing. What can I say? I think, definitely.

D: Alright, Maggie, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today and we hope to speak with you real soon.

Well, that’s it for today’s episode of the podcast. Now, our mission here is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our show notes site. That’s voicesofthepast.org. Check out the heritage news and even contribute news of your own. I’m Dylan Staley, and until next time, I’ll see you online.


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Preserving Our Global Heritage through Volunteer Archeology

by Dylan Staley

Drawing from the same ideas that fueled last week’s blog post about Voluntourism, there are many other opportunities to volunteer your time to the cause of heritage.

But the question is this: Where do I find these opportunities?

Past Horizons is a service that seeks to aggregate many different archeological opportunities for people of all skill ranges to get involved with the field of archeology and heritage preservation. The website is host to countless descriptions of projects going on around the globe. It’s not limited to the United States or the United Kingdom; its project listing includes projects from Belgium, Romania, Tunisia, Bulgaria, and numerous other countries (around sixty-five in all!)

But Past Horizons is not just about helping you to find that perfect project. They also have a beautiful digital publication of the same name that uses articles, images, and even video to bring you the latest in the world of archeology. The latest issue is 46 pages of the most interesting and captivating news in the field of archeology: from the discovery of the 118th Egyptian pyramid to the restoration of El Pilar, an ancient Mayan city.

Past Horizons also produces a weekly podcast called “Archeology News Weekly.” Just like the digital magazine the podcast is composed of, as its name would imply, the latest in archeology news.

While all this information may be astounding, what is even more so is the basic idea that governs all aspects of the site: the idea that people wish to become more involved with the world they live in. Everyday, we wake up in the most interesting place in our lives. While we may get bored with the sights of everyday life, Past Horizons seeks to kindle a love of our world within us through engaging news and opportunities to give back to the world we live in, and preserve our heritage for generations to come.

For more updates from Past Horizons, visit their blog.

David Connolly has also done work with both Past Horizons and Preservation Today. Click here to view episodes from his live video blog of the archeological dig at Jerash, a dig that is also featured in the January ’09 issue of the Past Horizons digital magazine.

Thumbnail by Wessex Archaeology on Flickr

Voluntourism and More Meaningful Vacations – Volunteer your Vacation Time to Preserve Natural Heritage

by Dylan Staley

Sometimes, you just need a vacation. Sometimes our families get so caught up in what we’re doing everyday to take a break, relax, and enjoy the world around us. Often times, families take a vacation to a serene spot to get away from the world for a while.

And others get closer to it.

Everyday, all around the nation, families are taking vacations not to relax, but to help and volunteer their services to help preserve nature. Through partnerships with many organizations such as The Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, The National Park Service, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and The Surfrider Foundation, families can donate their vacation time to serve a better purpose: to help take care of the world we live in.

Voluntourism (volunteer vacations) is the idea that while we are enjoying the world we live in, we can also be ensuring that others in the future have that same chance. If we do not preserve the natural heritage of our planet, it will be lost. Someone has to take the initiative to do what needs to be done to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy nature just as we have.

From the Februrary 2009 issue of “FamilyFun”:

My family discovered the singular satisfaction of blending vacations and volunteering one summer afternoon on a remote Mexican beach.

For two hours, [my family] and I searched for endangered sea turtle nests […].

Just as we were about to call it a day, we spotted the unmistakeable V-shape of sea turtle tracks leading from the water to the dunes. A circle of disturbed sand at the end of the trail left no doubt the mother turtle had laid her clutch.

[…] We learned the next day that the nest contained 87 eggs, which were moved to a protected area until the hatchlings’ release. The kids felt that they had personally saved those 87 baby turtles, and maybe they did.

As you can see, volunteering can have benefits both for the Earth and the volunteers.

To learn more about volunteering to help preserve nature, visit the following pages:
Volunteer with the National Park Service
Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup
TogetherGreen Volunteer Events
Volunteer with the Nature Conservancy
FamilyFun: “Volunteer Outings” by Melissa Gaskill

To learn more about volunteer vacations, visit Peter Greenberg’s page on voluntourism.

Also, listen to the Voices of the Past Radio show featuring Jamie Dunahoe and learn how you can plan to share her Adventures in Preservation.


English: Marion Jarisch, a volunteer with The ...

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David Connolly V-log: Building on Tombs

In the second day of the Jaresh survey, tombs are the focus. David’s team is attempting to survey endangered tombs in the area. Building over underground tombs is a common practice in the area, with occupants sometimes using the tombs as basements. Building on these tombs sometimes causes them to collapse, making these surveys and documentation efforts even more critical.

This installment also includes an interview with a volunteer archaeologist who comes to the survey with her husband.

David winds up his post down the rabbit hole in a “hot and bothered” state.