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An archaearium is a structure which is designed to protect an archaeological site while still allowing people to see it. The term is often used specifically to refer to an archaearium at Jamestown, a historic settlement in Virginia. Visitors to Jamestown can see ongoing excavations at the site through the glass walls of the archaearium, and they can also learn about the dig with a series of informational panels and through tour guides who provide information.
The protection of archaeological sites is extremely important, ensuring that as sites are uncovered, they are not exposed to the elements. The conditions which preserve materials at archaeological sites are easily disturbed, especially by things like wet weather and heat waves, so archaeologists typically work under the cover of tents and other structures to ensure that they do not damage the objects they are trying to learn about.
For visitors to archaeological sites, such covers can be very disappointing, as they conceal the site of the dig from public eyes, and typically only authorized personnel are allowed inside. An archaearium solves the visibility problem while still ensuring that the integrity of the site is maintained, with glass walls which people can look through, and a protective roof which keeps out the elements, and often provides shade as well.
In addition to allowing people to see digs in progress, an archaearium can also allow artifacts to be preserved in situ, creating displays which people can visit to learn more about the site. The artifacts on display can easily be cataloged and studied, with visitors using guides, informational panels, and brochures to learn more about the objects and the site. The goal of an archaearium is to get visitors in touch with history by allowing them to learn about objects in context, on the very site where they are found.
The Jamestown Archaearium is quite famous, thanks to the fact a great deal of money went into the establishment of the structure, which includes interactive displays, a variety of preserved artifacts, and guided activities which are intended to stimulate discussion about the Jamestown settlement. Other archaeological sites will undoubtedly follow suit, as there are numerous advantages to using an archaearium for preservation and display, especially in regions where governments are worried about the export of cultural artifacts. By keeping things in situ, an archaearium ensures that the cultural heritage of an area is not broken up and viewed out of context.