What's Just Below Your Feet?

Northcentral Chapter 8, Society for PA Archaeology is a partner with "Just Below Your Feet," a documentary project whose main goal is to investigate the current status of Cultural Resource Management, which includes archaeology, preservation and preservation and conservation, in Pennsylvania.

Steph Bowen and Sara Griggs

It’s been two decades since the Pennsylvania legislature passed  Act 70, a 1995 amendment to the State History Code. Historic preservationists and archaeologists argue the law weakens the state’s ability to protect its cultural heritage. Numerous prehistoric and historic sites have been threatened and lost to development in the law’s wake.

What is happening to these resources, and why? Are they being lost at all? Or is Act 70 a sound and valid law?

Two Lycoming College students want to know and have planned a documentary to explore the question. Their project, “Just Below Your Feet," will investigate the status of cultural resource management in Pennsylvania, including archaeology, preservation, and conservation. Their list of interviews and research subjects is impressive.

What began as a combined, independent-study research project by Steph Bowen, an archaeology and American studies major, and Sara Griggs, a digital communication major and archaeology minor, has steamrolled into an interesting partnership with Northcentral Chapter 8, Society for PA Archaeology, the Lycoming County Historical Society and has enlisted the assistance and interest of State Rep. Rick Mirabito (D Williamsport).

The students have contacted current and former lawmakers and politicians, historic preservation officers, government employees, museum directors, university faculty, professional archaeologists, and even recent graduates looking for careers in archaeology.

The duo has a popular Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/JustBelowYourFeet, on which they share photos and video clips of their progress. They also host weekly events to update their fans on their research.

They invite viewers to share thoughts, feelings, and opinions in regard to Pennsylvania archaeology.

Here are a few of the documentary film “Just Below Your Feet” goals:

  • Investigate the beginning, implementation, and results of Act 70.
  • Investigate the effects of Act 70 upon the archaeological community.
  • Discover professional, political, and public attitudes toward Act 70.
  • Investigate if Act 70 encourages the preservation of Pennsylvania's past.
  • Present research to the public using an interesting and engaging medium
  • Encourage public interest in archaeology, and its issues

According to Bowen, her interest in the topic was piqued while taking an archaeology course at Lycoming College. “During an American Archaeology class, I learned about Act 70 and its position within Pennsylvania archaeology. As a young archaeologist and PA resident, I found it troubling that I was unaware of a law that had a tremendous influence upon archaeology in my state. Hence, I decided to investigate how Act 70 began and how the legislation has affected archeology in the state,” she said.

Researching the project gives rise to mixed feelings, she said. It’s exciting and discouraging at the same time.

“I’m excited about the interest both professionals and the public are showing in  this project. People are generally concerned about the status of Pennsylvania’s cultural resources, and they should be,” Bowen said, adding, “While Pennsylvania makes a valiant effort to preserve its past, our research is showing that Act 70 hinders the process and can lead to lost cultural resources.”

Griggs, the cinematographer in the group, also has a background in archaeology.

“I have always been interested in history and archaeology and having the public more interested in museums and educational outreach programs, but I never knew how I could personally do that,” she said.

But Griggs also is experiencing the positive and negative aspects of the project.

“It’s exciting to work with the equipment out in the field, and have someone helping. Most of the projects I have worked on throughout  my years at Lycoming have been restricted to campus filming due to lack of transportation. Furthermore, visiting and interacting with various archaeologists in Pennsylvania has greatly increased my interests in historical preservation and public awareness on the topic.”

The drawbacks, she adds, are two-fold.

“(We’ve experienced) … technical difficulties that  could or could not be prevented out in field and in the lab. Also, the lack of access and public knowledge of historical  preservation is discouraging since I feel that people are interested, but they do not know how to become involved with topic.”

The filmmakers also operate a Facebook page to share their research and filming progression with their audience. They invite viewers to share thoughts, feelings, and opinions regarding Pennsylvania archaeology. Contact JBYF through its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JustBelowYourFeet