Roosevelt Park Archaeology Open Day: A Review

A primary goal of the Unearthing Detroit project is involving non-archaeologists, both in Detroit and beyond, with what we are learning from our collections-based research project and other ongoing archaeology projects at Wayne State.  A portion of our collections-based research focuses on the artifacts recovered from the 2012 excavation of Roosevelt Park.  This fall’s continued excavation at Roosevelt Park has produced an abundance of artifacts. Once these artifacts are cleaned and cataloged, they will also become a part of our collections-based research.  By inviting the public to this active excavation, we not only shared what we have already learned, but also what is only starting to be unearthed.  Here we reflect on the promotion, design, and implementation of this awesome open day.

On October 25th, 2014 as a part of the Introduction to Field Methods course (ANT5280) Wayne State students and the Unearthing Detroit project co-hosted an Open Day at the ongoing excavations of the lost 19th century Corktown community buried underneath Roosevelt Park. The Open Day was also held in partnership with the Archaeological Institute of America’s International Archaeology Day 2014.

More information of this semester’s dig at Roosevelt Park may be found at the weekly blog here.


To develop public interest in this event we had a month-long promotional campaign.  Our first step, beginning with a flyer distribution, utilized our Facebook, Twitter, and Roosevelt Park Blog.  Next, we connected to similar programs and area universities with E-mail invitations. In our final measure, flyers were circulated around Wayne State University departments and posted in campus buildings. This outreach allowed us to reach and interest a wider audience than we could have anticipated. This promotion resulted in many community members, academics from other institutions, and school groups joining us at the event.


1911 Baist Map of the Roosevelt Park area. Area 1 of excavation in RED Area 2 in Blue

Photo 1: 1911 Baist Real Estate Atlas Map of the Roosevelt Park area.   Area 1 of excavation in RED Area 2 in BLUE

On the day of the event, the excavations were conducted in two areas (see above map), the first to the east of Michigan Central Station and the second to the west of it.

Area 1 was left of the Michigan Central Depot

Area 1 was left of the Michigan Central Depot

Area 2 was to the right of Michigan Central Station

Area 2 was to the right of Michigan Central Station

The two areas, a short walk from each other, allowed visitors to stroll along the streets of what was once a working class Irish neighborhood but now a city park. Anthropology graduate and undergraduate students Paul Carlson, Amanda Roach, Kat Slocum, Eric Boulis, Katie Orlicki, Ceci Murrell-Harvey and Unearthing Detroit team members Kate E. Korth and Slava Pallas greeted visitors at welcome tables.

At each welcome table students shared their knowledge of the historic Corktown area, many artifacts, and a summary of what was being uncovered at each of the units behind them. Many guests asked the diverse range of students about archaeological careers, and the students gladly shared their experiences working in archaeology in Detroit and elsewhere. Many guests were especially interested in the diverse range of skills and interests that led these students to archaeology.

After viewing a historic map and speaking with students, guests were invited to look at the open excavation units.  Visitors learned the archaeological techniques of excavation and even partook in some artifact washing. Lot 3 in Area 1 provided visitors with the exciting and cautious recovery of a large whiteware lid with a molded floral design. Visitors watched as Samantha Malette and Kirkland Ellens carefully exposed the lid, slowly troweled away the dirt, and gently removed it from the ground.

Guest Kirkland Ellens carefully excavates the whiteware lid

Guest Kirkland Ellens carefully excavates the whiteware lid

Many visitors commented on the recovery process to my fellow Open Day outreach coordinator Ceci Murrell-Harvey. Guests reported, “You have to be so careful” and “this is slower work than I expected”.  Others even noted, “I would never have the patience for this work”. By letting the public view the methodical and tedious process of archaeology and the importance of artifact context, we shared the some of the most important principles of archaeological excavation.


Visitors watch the careful excavation in Unit 3

Before leaving the site, visitors were encouraged to pose in our archaeology-themed photo booth. Guest donned pith helmets and held archaeology tools while posing behind a large-scale excavation photo chalkboard.  Undergraduate student Erica Atkinson snapped the photo booth photos and they were later posted to the Unearthing Detroit project Facebook page.  We borrowed the photo booth idea from other outreach events as a tool to create bounceback to our website.  By directing visitors to our Facebook page, we encouraged them to view other areas and outlets of the project.

Visitors enjoying the photobooth!

Visitors enjoying the photobooth!


During the Open Day afternoon we were pleased to visit with so many different groups of people who are interested in Detroit’s history and archaeology.  Our official count was 95 visitors, but we were so busy at times that we lost track of our counts, so the number of visitors likely exceeded 100. We had guests from universities all over Michigan who provided enthusiastic feedback and shared examples with us of similar discoveries they’ve made during their excavations across the region.  We also enjoyed conversations with residents from the surrounding neighborhoods, teachers, and school groups. The Open Day attracted a range of visitors from those who were just walking past and stopped to check us out, to many area history buffs.  Perhaps the most interactive portion of the day was when we involved several children from a homeschooling co-op in helping us find artifacts in the sifting screens. They were as excited to learn about archaeology as we were to teach our next generation of archaeology and history students!

Friend of WSU Archaeology Kaitlin helps future archaeologist screen for finds.

Friend of WSU Archaeology Kaitlin DesLatte helps future archaeologist screen for finds.

Of all the techniques we used to increase attendance, I think that digital outreach worked the best.  In the days following the Open Day we saw a notable increase in traffic to our website and more frequent engagements with our social media outlets.  There was an excellent response to our photo booth, which with retweets, likes, and comments allowed our event to travel beyond the bounds of Detroit and the Saturday afternoon time frame.

Involving local communities and non-archaeologists in our work is an essential component of archaeological practice.  We, on the Unearthing Detroit project, are grateful for the positive support we received locally and on the web during and after our Open Day. From my position as the Unearthing Detroit Project’s public outreach and digital media coordinator, I look forward to developing and learning new ways to share our archaeological research with the public.

Leave a comment below to let us know what you would like to learn, see, and do.

One thought on “Roosevelt Park Archaeology Open Day: A Review

  1. Pingback: TimeJumpers: Inspiring Archaeologists of the Future’s Past. | Unearthing Detroit

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