The Manitou Cliff Dwelling as Public Archaeology: the Ethnographic Museum and the Plurality of Early Archaeological Interpretation

Kristin M. Barry


While characterized as a recently-established profession, public archaeology has had a significant impact on the interpretation of historical material for over a century. Early ethnographic museums, such as the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, and ancient pueblo sites in the American West were developed as forms of entertainment, specifically to attract tourism, and employed controversial interpretations, often eliminating the nuances of individual tribes and cultural practices. Though interpretive practices have substantially changed, some of the techniques remain part of the interpretation of American Indian peoples even today, perpetuating their influence on the way that individual and collective cultures are viewed by the general public. The employed presentation approaches at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings specifically would not be considered standard practice now, but the involvement of modern American Indian performers among the ruins, and the inclusion of public participation in the site each provide an influential methodology for engaging modern visitors in archaeological remains.


Pur caratterizzandosi come disciplina di recente istituzione, l’archeologia pubblica ha avuto un impatto significativo sull’interpretazione del materiale storico per oltre un secolo. I primi musei etnografici, come il Manitou Cliff Dwellings e i siti dei popoli ancestrali dell’America occidentale, sono stati realizzati come luoghi di intrattenimento e specificamente progettati per attrarre turismo, spesso eliminando le sfumature tra singole tribù e pratiche culturali. Sebbene le pratiche interpretative siano cambiate sostanzialmente, alcume tecniche rimangono parte dell’interpretazione degli indiani d’America ancora oggi, perpetuando la loro influenza sul modo in cui le culture individuali e collettive sono viste dal grande pubblico. Oggi gli approcci di presentazione adottati a Manitou Cliff Dwellings non sarebbero considerati una pratica standard, ma il coinvolgimento di artisti indiani americani contemporanei tra le rovine e l’inclusione della partecipazione del pubblico nel sito forniscono una metodologia importante per coinvolgere i visitatori attuali nei resti archeologici.

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