Howard Graduate Makes Archaeology A Community Effort

“It’s pronounced ar-key-o-logy… like a key.” If there’s one thing to be said about scholar and non-profit founder Dr. Alexandra Jones, it’s that she’s a stickler for the proper pronunciation of her craft.

The 2003 Howard University graduate turned archaeologist had always had a passion for service, but it wasn’t until 2009, in writing her Ph.D. thesis at the University of California Berkeley, that she turned that passion into one of Washington, D.C.’s most successful nonprofit ventures– that of Archaeology in the Community.

The non-profit, which by Jones’ estimation will have impacted over 10,000 worldwide by year’s end, is the brainchild of two ideas the archaeologist said first developed as she pursued her undergraduate studies at Howard.

“I’ve always been fascinated by archaeology,” she said. “But I noticed two things about the field that didn’t sit right with me. Number one: there are very few people of color around. And two: I’m a native Washingtonian, and Washingtonians don’t really have access to archaeology.”

With the number of protected parks in and around the region, tampering around just anywhere isn’t only inadvisable– it’s illegal. And while Washington, D.C. may not necessarily be a concrete jungle, it certainly isn’t an ideal landscape for excavations and extensive research.

In fact, the University of Maryland Center for Heritage Resource Studies indicates that it wasn’t until 1981 that archaeologists truly even considered DC as a region suited for any sort of extensive excavation– and even then, the only research project of note was a cursory examination of the local Potomac River for a few weeks.

How’s an archaeologist supposed to stir up awareness in a climate like this one? According to Jones, it’s all about getting the word out and securing funding.

“Most people are very excited,” she said when asked what the overall reaction to her archaeological programs is.

“All youth programs are free, and it’s certainly rewarding to see the number of kids that express their intention to continue to pursue the field.” But she says funding is a little trickier.

“We’ve secured a few grants that have allowed us to continue offering free programs,” she explained. “But it’s hard to get people to donate money to a cause that they’re not familiar with. In a way, we’re working to spread the word, and hoping raised awareness leads to an increase in financial support as well.”

There’s no doubt that Jones’ programs have already made a huge impact in the local D.C. community. In fact, some kids, like 13-year-old sixth grader Justin Matthews, are now determined to make a career out of archaeology.

“I like archaeology, the program taught me archaeology, and I would like to be an archaeologist,” he said matter-of-factly, in reference to his experience during last year’s summer program.

Even parents are surprised by the amount they didn’t know about their own city. Lauren James had nothing but kind words to say about the program her daughter attended last fall.

“Everything was great,” she said. “We had no idea there was so much archaeology locally.”

And Jones is just getting started. She’s ecstatic about new opportunities the nonprofit has coming up, including a new fall and spring program that she indicates will offer “75 free registration slots for the Young Archaeologists Club.”

In teaching the program, she’ll attempt to accomplish an interesting goal: “My goal is not to change every child into an archaeologist,” she said. “It’s simply to introduce everyone to the field of science.”