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The Boy Scouts are Calling

S. Alan Skinner

"Your mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to help a teenage boy learn about the field you love and earn the archaeology merit badge."

This message would be a strange one for Mr. Phelps on Mission Impossible. But now archaeologists in the United States have an opportunity to take this mission to heart with the advent of the new Archaeology merit badge announced by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) last April. Most likely, you will become involved as the result of a phone call from a scout or a scout leader who asks you to serve as a merit badge counselor.

Why is this merit badge important to American archaeology? Because it recognizes cultural resources as a conservation focus for the Boy Scouts. While we have historically shared our findings and explained why sites should be preserved with scout groups, the merit badge focus on preservation can result in the protection of cultural resources and support of heritage resources in project planning and development.

BSA has been considering a merit badge in archaeology for many years. In response to scouts' interest in the subject, and in line with its conservation focus, the Boy Scouts national office developed this new badge with 11 requirements and published 15,000 copies of the merit badge pamphlet, which are available in scout shops throughout the country.

Archaeology in scouting is not new. Many of us have been involved in Eagle Scout projects or in presentations about lithic technology or excavations on an ad hoc basis. But until now, BSA hasn't accepted archaeology as a formal subject area or as a conservation issue. Now, scouts can earn a badge that focuses on archaeology and contributes to their advancement.

The purpose of the merit badge is to help scouts understand the archaeological process and to recognize that prehistoric and historic resources are fragile remains that need careful study and protection for the future. The requirements will expose boys, their leaders, and parents to a wide variety of archaeological subjects without attempting to turn boys into professional archaeologists. Through the influence of scouts and those associated with the scouting program, a major segment of the general public will gain a new appreciation of archaeology, and many people will become advocates for responsible heritage management.

The badge requirements are a blend of introductory archaeology and cultural resource preservation. Active involvement in a mock dig, an excavation, or in lab work is included, but not until after the scout understands the archaeological process and how sites are dated, and has collected information about known sites. A major requirement directs scouts to explain why it is important to protect archaeological sites and what to do if they were to find an artifact. Other requirements involve display preparation, experimental archaeology, and career opportunities in archaeology. The final requirement directs that information be compiled about Native Americans or settlers who lived in the scout's home area.

The merit badge is administered by each local scout council, which in most cases will have a professional staff with little or no appreciation of archaeology. Archaeologists are needed to serve as merit badge counselors and as "qualified archaeologists" to guarantee adequate mentoring of scouts. Experienced avocational and professional archaeologists should be able to fill either of these roles. Interested archaeologists are urged to contact their state archaeologist to register their availability and willingness to serve. To become a merit badge counselor you must also register as an adult Boy Scout leader with your regional scout office (just be sure to put the code 042 on the adult leader form to avoid any registration fee).

For further information, contact your local council's Advancement Committee chairman or professional scouter.

The Special Interests Subcommittee of SAA's Public Education Committee is compiling information about merit badge activities. Send information to S. Alan Skinner, P.O. Box 820727, Dallas, TX 75380, email

In final summary, "Be Prepared."

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