ALEXANDRA JONES – ARCHAELOGIST
This real-life Indiana Jones not only reveals ancient artifacts but helps young people discover their cultural heritage.
Next time you’re asked to name a charismatic archaeologist with the last name of Jones, Dr. Indiana Jones shouldn’t be the only one who comes to mind. Just like the fictional character, the pursuit to preserve history has pit Dr. Alexandra Jones in her fair share of adventures. The only difference — her stories are real.
Jones has searched for ancient artifacts at a site that explorers once believed was a city made of gold. She’s researched the cliffside mega-homes of civilizations rumored to be run by lavish female elites. She’s dug deep to find insight into the lives of slaves at a private 17th century mansion with Civil War ties.
Dr. Jones’ adventures are larger than life, and her passion for archaeology has helped her reach enormous success. Today, she is an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Baltimore and founder of Archaeology in the Community (AITC), a non-profit organization dedicated to introducing students to the wonders of archaeology through hands-on learning experiences.
Dr. Jones believes that the most interesting things in life need to be unearthed. She’s hooked on learning about the past — what people have left behind, their stories, customs, culture, only because she believes it gives us the best insight into our future. “I enjoy finding out about things that we don’t know yet,” she says. “What you truly need for this profession is imagination.”
AITC is an interactive program for students age 11 to 15 designed to teach them the basics of anthropology and archaeology. Dr. Jones hopes to inspire a new wave of cultural scientists and adventurers to help shovel up the world’s cultural treasures.By unearthing these artifacts, it gives a voice to forgotten and silent people throughout history. “It gives insight into people who didn’t have a voice at a time, it gives a voice to the disenfranchised or those who did not have language,” she says. Whether it’s digging through the ashes of a burned down church or setting up programs to stop artifact looters in Belize, she’s committed to understanding, preserving, and protecting cultural history.
Her organization, AITC, gives her the freedom to dig deeper into her profession through field research, but also allows her to teach young enthusiastic learners about this career path. Through partnerships with leaders in schools and community groups, Dr. Jones has been able to bring archaeology directly to students in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and now online.
For new AITC students, archaeology refers to a time before cell phones and computers. Once they learn the basics, they get to experience how ancient cultures lived. On their field adventures, students make handmade bows and arrows and actually use them. They also craft pottery using prehistoric methods to replicate ancient Native Americans’ practices and customs. As part of AITC, students, teachers, and experts of anthropology set up mock dig sites, practice excavating methods, explore artifacts in museums, and interact with other anthropology professionals.
At an AITC dig in Zuni, New Mexico, featured on PBS’s Team Time Americashow, students set up an excavation site and dug for ancient Native American artifacts. They found ceramics, nails, and pottery. The discovery was exciting, but that wasn’t the end of the students’ adventure. Dr. Jones taught students about the work after the dig, including cleaning, marking, and categorizing artifacts, and how these discoveries play into our culture and society.
She wants all those who participate in her programs to be motivated and open to understanding different cultures. “By understanding others, you understand yourself,” she says. “In order for humans to develop into their best version of themselves, they have to understand their past experiences in order to better understand their future.”
Choosing the Right Path
Her career path wasn’t always as clear as it is now. While in college at Howard University, she was studying to be a doctor but couldn’t conquer biology. She didn’t let that stop her and began pursuing history and anthropology which she excelled in. College would reveal another passion for her — teaching. While in college, she began teaching young students and realized how enjoying it was to interact with them. She continued her studies and earned a master’s degree in history. Then, she earned a Ph.D. in historical archaeology from the University of California, Berkeley.
Unable to find a career that incorporated both archaeology and education, Dr. Jones decided to create her own. In 2009, she dug deep inside for the confidence to create her own path and started her endeavor with AITC. She was motivated for her own personal reasons to start AITC, but also to help students who may not have heard of anthropology understand the joys of it. The response was extraordinary.
The program was initially started in Washington D.C., but quickly expanded to include Maryland and Virginia. It now has an online platform so students across the globe can access educational videos and resources about anthropology and archaeology.
In 2013, Dr. Jones’ non-profit program caught the eye of PBS as they named her Field School Director of their Time Team America television series. In the series, she introduces students to the national treasures in their backyard. With the PBS partnership, she has been able to introduce more students to her AITC program and cultural history.
One of the most important aspects of archaeology is allowing students to make connections between their past and their present. For some students, the parallels between their history and culture is an eye-opening experience, like African American students digging at a former slave house, learning about abolition and improvements in race relations made since the Civil War. Or, Native American students digging in the fields that their ancestors once walked on. For some students these experiences are life-changing and open their eyes to the profession of anthropology.
AITC’s online platform sparks interest in students living in areas beyond D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. To Dr. Jones, it’s about inspiring people to look deep, make connections, and leave the foundations for a better future.
While adventure calls her name, it’s not the thrill that motivates her, it’s the passion. “The students give me purpose and I think working with my kids and seeing the light bulbs going off in their head, it’s what motivates me to get up every morning and continue doing what I’m doing,” she explains in a video profile for PBS’s Time Team America. “I love their inquisitiveness, I love their enthusiasm, I love their excitement.”
Learn more about this true-life adventurer and her educational endeavor by visiting www.archaeologyincommunity.com.