What do we save and why? Remains of Newark Castle, Fife, Scotland (photo: M. Rockman, 2015)

How to Pack a Cultural Suitcase

When you hear of a disaster happening somewhere, a hurricane, a wildfire, or anything that means people need to leave where they live quickly–do you ask yourself what you would do? What you would take with you? If you had a day to pack? An hour? Five minutes? If you’ve been through one of these situations, or several–what did you do?

My window of decision came in the five minutes category, early in the morning of August 23, 2005 in the form of a fire in my apartment building. Thanks to the bravery of a neighbor still awake after an overnight shift and a paramedic who had been driving by, saw the flames, and came over to help, I got out with the utter basics–my cat, computer, and purse.

For a long time I’d had in mind three other things I would take if I needed to go quickly: a handmade quilt, an ink drawing, and a box of letters from my grandfather. As it turned out, I couldn’t get to any of them. And I realized in the process there was something else I hadn’t considered before that I wanted even more. This is the story of that thing and what I learned from that morning.


I’m an archaeologist. At the time of the fire I was working in cultural resources management, which is part of the overall US system of environmental protection. If at the word “archaeologist” your mind went to Indiana Jones, that’s not unusual, but please know, that’s not remotely close to what I was doing.

Cultural resources management employs the majority of archaeologists in the US and is how a great deal of archaeology in the country is done, but how it works seems to be one of our better-kept secrets. It’s a “polluter pays” system. What this means is that archaeologists and related cultural resource professionals look for sites, historic buildings, and places of cultural significance in areas that will be affected by projects such as roads, housing developments, and pipelines. If there are, there is a process to assess whether these resources are significant and if so, what to do about impacts to them from a proposed project.

This process is required by law and a variation in how it was applied has been part of the recent protests over the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. What I want you to know here is that this kind of archaeology is a different way of looking for and preserving the past than archaeological research done from a more strictly research, often academic, perspective. Research archaeology tends to start with a broad question and then works in places likely to contain evidence that can help answer that question. That’s where I started too.

My question was: where do our current ideas about natural resources come from? As a Geology major in college I was struck by the non-renewability of many mineral resources (what got to me particularly was that the planet isn’t making bauxite ore nearly as fast as we mine it to make aluminum) and my college years became committed to saving the planet through recycling.

Recycling sorting requirements at that time were strict, glass sorted by color, stamps removed from envelopes, and so forth. One day, the Bursar’s office decided it didn’t have enough time to remove stamps from the pile of envelopes they’d received for spring tuition payments (needless to say, this was pre-PayPal and other online payment methods). My pleas that stamp removal needs only a flick of the wrist while opening an envelope and so actually takes no more time made no difference; I ended up back in the campus recycling truck with two forty gallon barrels of unsorted stamped envelopes.

And as I did the sorting for them over the next two hours, I found myself asking: where does this idea that saving time is more important than saving trees (or any natural resource) come from? Is it a product of the twentieth century? Of the Industrial Revolution? Or does it go back to the dawn of time?

Because I realized, the refusal to remove stamps wasn’t a training issue–no one said they didn’t understand the sorting instructions I’d provided earlier. No, it was a perception issue. The office staff made it clear that attending to stamps and recycling sorting issues just wasn’t as important as dealing with other things. That perception was what I was up against. THAT was what I was going to have to change if I was going to save the planet through recycling. So, I put my question about the origins of our natural resource perceptions into an application to graduate school.

In brief, I got in and began graduate school with William Rathje at the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona. Now, the premise of the Garbage Project was that, as archaeology is the study of past peoples through the things they left behind and threw away, it would be useful to study modern trash using the same techniques and see if results align with other ways of understanding the present.

When I arrived at Arizona, Rathje had recently become well known for coring through landfills (which have amazing stratigraphy datable by newspapers that haven’t decomposed) and had turned his attention to recycling behavior. When I told him my question, he said I was welcome to work on his recycling project, but I wasn’t going to get to the root of modern behavior by only studying the present. For that, I was going to have to go into the past. I had to become an archaeologist.

So I did. I started work in a Gold Rush mining town in Wyoming. I ended with a study of late Ice Age Britain. And what I found along the way was that I needed a new way of putting information together. You cannot dig up an idea or a value, they are remarkably intangible. Archaeology is based in material, tangible things. The key became to look at evidence of how people used natural resources and things and places over time. Work of the Garbage Project comparing personal interviews with household trash shows that what people say they do is not always what they actually do. When analyzed carefully, however, the remains of what people have actually done can reflect the reality of their perceptions and knowledge. So I built a method that looks at how human groups develop their use of natural resources over time, starting with their arrival in that environment (in other words, when looking for development of something, it’s useful to start where you think at least part of square one might be). I was ready to really work on my original question.

But at that point I’d reached the end of graduate school. And the reality of life after graduate school is that often no employer is looking for someone with your specific skills to work on your specific question. At least, it was that way for me. So I went to work in cultural resources management.

You can use my method of studying landscape learning in cultural resources management. Looked at through the lens of how people come to live in a place, any place that has been a home to people at some point in the past is, by definition, fascinating. What happened here? How did they learn to live here?

But, because of the way the cultural resources management system is set up, most often each project is scoped only for the needs of that specific road, housing development, or pipeline. Clients willing to pay for additional analysis or study tend to be few and far between. And so in my experience, there was little opportunity to put together all these different pieces to make progress on my question.

As I saw it, I would have to make my way back to academia or a similar place where I could put pieces together. I did all I could to keep going. The next few years consisted of nights and weekends working on articles, grant proposals, and conference papers. My goal each year was to be more prepared and qualified for the next academic application season. The morning of the fire, the library that I’d built with all of my research and data was in ten cardboard boxes along my living room wall.


Step back for a moment to my original question and think about how you would choose what you would take with you. Think of your capacity to take things with you as a suitcase. You may or may not actually use a suitcase–could be your car, your arms, a backpack, whatever is to hand. And by capacity, I mean its size is determined by the combination of available time and space. During a 2007 wildfire that threatened Malibu, California, for example, the Getty Villa museum commandeered a line of moving vans to evacuate its collections of classical Greek and Roman statues and other ancient art. The potential size of that suitcase was large, limited primarily by the care needed to move the fragile pieces, which no one wanted to do until absolutely necessary. My suitcase the morning of the fire, which consisted of the minutes between being woken up by my neighbor pounding on my door and the roof over my kitchen beginning to burn and what could be handed over the edge of my second floor balcony to the paramedic who’d climbed up on the railing below, was much smaller.

Now think about what you would put in your suitcase. Probably this will depend in part on the nature of your leaving, what you know about your possible return, and what may happen in between. Likely, you’ll include things that you know cannot be replaced–photographs, heirlooms, your equivalents to my quilt, drawing, and box of letters. Along with these may be some essentials (computer, purse, phone), but likely not things that can be fairly readily refilled (for instance, socks). That anything living and dear (cat) would go at the top of the list should go without saying. If you know fairly certainly where you’re going and that it will be for a short time, and that things likely will be recoverable when you get back, it’s possible to pack specifically for that situation. The more uncertain the future is, however, in terms of how long you’ll be gone, where you’ll be going, and whether it will be possible to come back or if things are likely to still be there if or when you do, the more general or broad ranging your packing might be. In such a circumstance, as best you can, you need to prepare for multiple possible futures.

Now, one more visualization: how do you go about choosing which things to put in your suitcase? Would you go around to each item you own and consider it individually? Likely not nearly enough time and it would be very inefficient. If you have it, it’s reasonable to assume that it is in someway useful or meaningful, so there might be a pull to take it. Which means your suitcase would be full well before you’d considered all of the things you could take. Similarly, you likely also wouldn’t consider only those things most vulnerable to the threat they’re facing, such as only flammable objects, or pieces that really wouldn’t do well in a flood. Rather, you’re more likely to rapidly assess the situation and then develop a packing list of those things that are important to you and that you can see you need in your possible futures.

Following on all this, I propose to you that cultural heritage is to society broadly what the things we put into our personal suitcase are to ourselves. By heritage I mean all the things that link us to any part of our past: historic and prehistoric buildings and structures, archaeological sites, landscapes (which include battlefields), museum collections and archives, and less tangible heritage such as traditional practices, knowledge, languages, and skills. Our cultural suitcase is how we, collectively, choose which heritage we take with us into the future.

Flint nodule, which is raw material for many lithic scatters, in Thetford Forest, UK (photo: M. Rockman 2010)

Different types of heritage mean different things to each of us. I happen to have a thing for small lithic scatters. These are the debris from the making of a stone tool, such as an arrowhead or hand axe. They are also the remains of a world of skill and knowledge we can no longer see. Using a combination of geochemical testing and study of the geomorphology of the area in which the debris is found (reminder: I was a Geology major) and the techniques used to make the debris, it’s possible to understand, to really be in for a short time, a small part of that world. Any of us might step over these scatters without realizing they are there. But they are actually very powerful and I love them for that.

I expect you have historic places and connections that speak to you too, though likely they are different from mine. Maybe it’s a familiar historic downtown. The street with the older building that you look at and wonder–what was it like when that was new? Or perhaps a battlefield where you can see in your minds eye what happened there on a specific day, events that made things that came after different from what came before. Maybe it’s the beauty and starkness of cliff dwellings at places such as Mesa Verde, or the quiet of an old graveyard.

Though you may not see or feel it, depending on where you live, heritage is not only in individual places or pieces, it’s actually all around us. Any given time is made up of threads from various points in the past. No time is wholly unique unto itself. Rather, it is distinguished by what it builds from its inheritance from the past in the situations in which it finds itself. Even colonists arriving in a new land, while they may start from scratch from a material point of view, bring with them ideas, perspectives, and assumptions about how life and the world work and proceed to build accordingly. And you wouldn’t want to start entirely from scratch–the ability to share or imitate what others have done previously along with development of new innovations is what has created the full complexity that are human cultures. As developed by environmental scientist Peter Richerson and anthropologist Robert Boyd, the capacity to mix and match imitation of others with individual innovation is what has allowed humans to adapt to changing environments through time at “blinding speed” compared with adaptation through direct genetic means alone.

On the flip side, we also lose heritage regularly. Thinking of just tangible heritage for the moment–things we can hold and touch–forces of nature have always acted on them. Floods, erosion along shorelines and riverbanks, the long term collected forces of water, wind, and sun. For all archaeological sites but especially very old ones, an ongoing point of concern is to how to interpret them in light of what hasn’t survived. How best to reconstruct a population of early hominids on the basis of one or a few teeth? Was Ötzi the Ice Man alone in his travels or the only one of a group who came to be preserved in the ice of the Alps? In a way of thinking, the pieces of the past that we can see now are the lucky ones.

In more recent times (and by recent I mean generally the past 10,000 years or so; recent is a relative term in archaeology), our own human processes of renewal, rebuilding, expansion, and repair have taken an increasingly larger role in preserving or removing heritage. Tells in the Middle East are layers of urban development. Similar processes in New York City first preserved and then uncovered the African Burial Ground.

In very recent times (by which I mean the twentieth century, with emphasis on the second half), we have established formal methods of choosing tangible cultural heritage and organizing its maintenance. This is the system of cultural resources management within which I worked at the time of the fire, combined with historic preservation tax credits and preservation easements, and an array of protected areas such as national and state parks, national monuments and forests, and wildlife refuges. The “polluter pays” model addresses heritage in places that are of interest generally for other reasons, such as desire to build a housing development, road, or pipeline. Historic preservation tends, although not exclusively, to address the built environment. The system of national parks, the oldest approach in the US, was established to preserve broader areas. Some of these are designated explicitly for cultural heritage (efforts to preserve sites such as Mesa Verde were the inspiration for the US Antiquities Act in 1906), sometimes for natural features, such as the well-known Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks.

Together these create a method of preserving cultural heritage that is by and large equivalent to examining each item individually, often at the point at which it is at risk, and then asking–should we save it? As we agreed above, this is not an efficient way of packing a suitcase. And as this suitcase is defined by the time frame and funding available at that point of decision, the suitcase oftentimes is not very large. Given our current methods, the suitcase is likely to be full before we’ve packed appropriately.

Especially because the future for which we are packing is highly uncertain and becoming more so. Climate change projections anticipate greater variability in weather extremes and alterations in existing patterns, together creating conditions that will remove cultural heritage more quickly, with more events that separate people from their homes. Along with this come changes in social and political contexts, with added stresses that appear already to be underway in conflicts over resources and ideas, with streams of refugees leaving unstable or no-longer-livable places. More ways in which people are separated from their heritage. As we also decided above, situations of uncertainty and long time frames require packing broadly, for multiple possible futures.

How does one pack like that? To think this through, I suggest starting with the eligibility criteria of the US National Register of Historic Places. These criteria are currently being used in the US heritage preservation system and so already influence our packing, but the ideas in the criteria also are useful to our purpose here, so please bear with me for a moment. There are four categories of eligibility, including (summarized): (a) association with events that have contributed to broad patterns in history, (b) association with lives of significant persons, (c) embodiment of a distinctive type of construction or work of a master or high artistic values, and (d) has yielded or may yield information important in history or prehistory.

The quilt I had intended to save wasn’t the work of a world-renowned master, but it was made by hand by a skilled quilter in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It was the most exquisite thing I’ve ever owned, a personal criterion (c). My drawing was of the Welsh castle Garth Celyn, which was the primary home of the medieval Welsh princes of Wales and is a tremendously important place in Welsh history. It also became important in my own history when the family living there and studying it took in a young history-obsessed geologist and made her one of their own, a personal criterion (a). The box of letters from my grandfather, well — you can see where this would fit. He spoke five languages and would use one language to pun on another. Reading the opening paragraphs of his letters would make you ache and feel him grinning at the same time. He was also deeply caring of me. It’s a common experience in the field of archaeology, when you say that archaeology is what you want to study, to be asked “how are you going to get a job with that?” When I called my grandfather to tell him I was going to graduate school in archaeology, he replied “of course you are. Why wouldn’t you?” Although he didn’t live long enough to see me finish, the dedication in my dissertation is to him. He’s my important person (b).

And my boxes of data–those were all about information important for the study of history and prehistory (d). Quite literally, they were about the process of learning from the past through learning in the past. Data, spreadsheets, primary and secondary research, they were the material products of my work and career so far.

But they were also something more. In the seconds I had to stand in my living room between the boxes and the door outside of which I had already seen flames, I knew–these were the basis of my creativity and ideas into the future. The other items were important because of what they allowed me to remember, to hold close, to continue to have as part of my life. The boxes were important because of what they would allow me to create. These were what I most needed to keep building toward the life I wanted to live and the work I wanted to do. To be clear, I already knew full well the articles and data themselves had taken a lot of effort to gather and would be terribly hard to replace. What I hadn’t thought about before was creativity as a thing that I should think about saving or be able to take with me. What having this big set of data and its stored up connections from all over allowed me first to imagine, and then begin to check and test, and what it would be like to be without it.

What hosts creativity from the past for all of us? Is it only the cultural heritage that might be listed for criterion (d)? It was for me in the instance of the fire, but certainly not broadly. Creativity in relation to the past isn’t a general characteristic that some heritage has and some doesn’t. It certainly is not about making things up. Rather, it manifests in the inspiration and insight cultural heritage provides in how to solve particular problems.

Potential solutions come through asking questions and testing ideas against available data. You have to have the questions and the data with which to explore them. My questions are about where natural resource perspectives come from and how we learn new environments. I’ve asked them with the intent of helping society at large, but neither is a question society at large is asking (though I think we should). Both came out of my experiences in the present, where I saw gaps in understanding.

Currently, we do know a good deal about the past. Good grief–we’re to the point of knowing what percentage of modern human DNA comes from Neanderthals! Remote sensing, trace element analysis, plus the combined efforts of thousands of foot-hours on the ground and hand-hours on shovels and trowels, we have put in a lot of sheer human effort to find and record traces of the human past.

But these data alone don’t tell us how to use the past to answer our big present-day questions. In fact, they don’t tell us what our big present-day questions are.

One of my other professors in graduate school often would say “We learn more about ourselves through our study of the past than we ever do about the past.” This statement used to make me grumpy–I committed to graduate school to learn how to learn things from the past, but now years on from my time in that recycling truck, I can see his wisdom. We learn about the past through analysis, asking–how did? From where? (I will note for a moment that this is how archaeology is a science. I’ve heard archaeology’s role in science, or even social science, challenged, because the past cannot be rerun to test different theories. The science lies in describing the data used, hypotheses posed, and how conclusions are drawn. The past can’t be rerun, but our analyses of how we understand it can be. That’s the scientific method).

Learning about ourselves and using that learning to answer big questions comes from the next level up, from understanding why we ask the questions that we ask of the past. Why do we want to know what we are asking? What is it that we want to find out? Like a good therapist, such questioning can expose root issues that without recognition and treatment of which the problem at hand cannot be solved.

Currently what is striking to me are the questions we’re not asking about ourselves in relation to climate change. Certainly not in the large formal published sense of “we” shown in national and global-level documents, which is the realm I know best.

In the third US National Climate Assessment (NCA3, published) and the outline of fourth (report now being prepared) for example, you’ll see that it covers climate science, regions, and sectors. Indigenous peoples are set as a sector and, as they should be, are recognized as having a history with and long-standing connections to their surrounding environments. For all else that the NCA3 does well, however, the history of non-indigenous peoples and their long-term interactions with surrounding environments are not explored. Nor are how that history and the heritage that represents it are related to or might be of use in looking at how to respond to climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) (in the Summary for Policy Makers for the Working Group II report on Adaptation to be precise) says that “Throughout history, people and societies have adjusted to and coped with climate, climate variability, and extremes, with varying degrees of success.” True. But, the full report (the AR5 itself) doesn’t connect or use examples of those varying degrees of success in its discussions of our modern approach to adaptation. There are practical reasons given the purview of the IPCC as to why this is so. The end result is, however, that at these highest levels of research and knowledge, we are missing ways to learn from substantial portions of human history.

If we recognize that climate change, in some manifestation, is and will be part of any of our multiple possible futures, then we need the heritage that can inspire the creativity that will help solve the many problems climate change is bringing forward.

For example, these problems include maintaining places in which we best live and work. Studies of the National Trust for Historic Preservation show that places with mixed vintage buildings–buildings of different ages and sizes, including older smaller ones–are better neighborhoods economically, socially, and environmentally. We may draw and film our future in sleek shiny pods, but places with older styles of brick and mortar are where we are comfortable, nurture small businesses, and have creative ideas.

Climate change problems also include testing our own ideas of what sustainability and resilience actually look like. Archaeology in northern Iceland has identified a practice of collecting waterfowl eggs that appears to have gone on for nearly the full millennium of human settlement there, with the waterfowl population appearing to have remained stable and in good health throughout. The history and archaeology of that Icelandic community gives us a chance to see how the society that created and maintained such a practice was organized and continued over many generations.

Studies of and with the Chumash people of central California allow us another view. The Chumash have lived along the central California coast for millennia. The Medieval Warm Period, approximately AD 900–1300, was global in scope and manifested in North America primarily as drought. This time period and the effects of its climatic conditions are often discussed in connection with the abandonment of major settlements in the American Southwest, such as Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. But the Chumash responded differently. They realigned their production and trading systems to better connect interior valleys with the coast. Village systems came to reflect trade rather than production. With these changes, the Chumash were able to remain in place as a distinct people with a strong culture that exists today.

Their experiences allow us to ask–is this what we mean when we talk about successful adaptation? Make adjustments to the economy, stay in place, weather the storms, so to speak?

If so, then we also need to grapple with other evidence from this time. Physical anthropological studies of burial populations show health stress, such as anemia and malnutrition, along with increased violence. Do we consider this to be part of being successful? If not, what do we need to know about and do with the connections between all of our sectors to keep such stress from happening again?

We are not the past and it cannot tell us exactly what to do. The issue is often raised to me that our society is so different, so global, so technologically advanced, that we cannot learn from or use the past. If we require exact replicas, then no we can’t. But these Icelandic and Chumash communities and many others were full societies that provided all of the services we do to their members–food, shelter, governance, defense, trade, and economic and social relationships. It is possible to learn from the patterns rather than solely the specifics. And it’s important to ask ourselves hard questions about ourselves such as–do we say the past has no relevance to us because the differences in scale and technology are truly insurmountable? Or is it because we only want examples that tell us our current society is close to being or could be sustainable already, when external evidence is clearly saying it is not?

Because one of the greatest problems climate change brings us is the need to see ourselves and changes around us in new ways. A Chumash myth and related festivals recorded in the early 20th century describe an annual competition between Coyote and the Sun. If Coyote won, it meant a good year. If the Sun won, it meant a drought year. And they wouldn’t know until that ceremony took place what the coming year was predicted to be.

While I don’t have enough information to directly connect this tradition to the experiences of the Chumash during or after the Medieval Warm Period, I’ll say that it does allow us to ask–what do the traditions we use in mainstream culture today say about our expectations of the environment, climate, and the future? If we knew that we wouldn’t know what the next year would be like until the crystal ball in Times Square dropped on New Year’s Eve and (hypothetically speaking) cracked or didn’t crack, or fell to the left or the right, would we organize our lives differently? Elements of the past such as this challenge our ideas that humans altogether are not capable of planning for change or uncertainty, and highlight that the systems we have built that guide much of today are often not well set up to handle it.

I can’t tell you why we’re not asking ourselves such questions and using the past to help answer them already. I could venture a guess, but that would be another essay and more speculative. What I can say here is that these gaps at the high climate change policy level (NCA3 and the IPCC, for example) are part of a larger world in which it is easier to identify archaeology in relation to entertainment (Indiana Jones) than it is with STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) education and all the benefits to society that STEM enjoins. Indeed, there are repeated US Congressional challenges to social science funding at the National Science Foundation, with ire directed specifically at “useless” sounding archaeological project titles.

Through the National Register and our systems of cultural resources management and research, we already have tools to identify and preserve different types of heritage, enough to inspire a great deal of creativity. But we, the all-of-us we, haven’t yet figured out how to actually use creativity from the cultural heritage that we save in our approach to climate change and uncertain futures. And if we, all-of-us we, don’t know our big questions and we don’t value the pieces, places, and knowledge that can help answer those questions, then by definition, we’re not using them or seeing them as meaningful and they won’t be part of the packing list of things we know we will need in our possible futures. There isn’t going to be room in the suitcase.


In the end I was somewhat lucky on a very unlucky day. The fire department got the fire out as it was burning through my apartment. My quilt was on a shelf in a closet that didn’t burn. My Welsh drawing got wet, but it was possible later to restore and reframe it. My grandfather’s letters, though, were gone entirely.

A really big mess, with the remains of the closet that had held my grandfather’s letters in the center (photo: M. Rockman 2005)

The fire had started in the electrical wiring. Once the flames were out, the firemen came around to the residents of each affected apartment and told us that, to make sure the fire was out completely, they would have to knock down part of the building. Was there anything in our apartments they could look for and attempt to save before they did that? Around me I heard things like “wedding album”and “baby album.” I took a deep breath and said “there are ten banker’s boxes along the far wall of my living room. They have my disserta— “ The crew of the Redlands, California fire department barely let me finish before saying “we’re on it!” and dashing up the stairs. And then they carried back down–wet, blackened, slimy, wrecked, some partial, some whole –eight boxes.

I didn’t submit anything that fall application season. Suffice to say that disaster winds you and the logistics of recovery take time. I moved to a new town, took a new job. What also happened though, was that I found another question. Los Angeles at the height of the housing boom wasn’t short of money. But I was asked every day, by clients and sometimes by the very president of the company I worked for, “why should I pay for archaeology?” I knew its value, but between me and the clients and scope of the projects for which they were paying, we all knew the information from them was unlikely to be used anywhere. It became a different kind of perception issue, I could see potential and my clients could see reality.

For my own work on landscape learning (conference papers and grants at night and on weekends was still my thing), I began to realize that even if I got to useful conclusions about the origins of modern ideas about resources, they wouldn’t have the effect I wanted them to have unless archaeology came to be better used in modern society. So I framed a new question: “how can we use archaeology in our modern approaches to changing climates and environments?” I’m still working on this today. And my remaining data (now safe in two metal filing cabinets) are still useful because they continue to show me some of what is missing from current global approaches to climate change.

So there it is–you can’t know how to pack for creativity until you start to use it.

And using it is a job for all of us, in many different ways, not just people with life histories like mine.

Where I suggest starting is: be aware of heritage–where is it around you? See what you notice (buildings?). Think about what you haven’t noticed (lithic scatters?). Fight for it. Respect (and fight for) the rights of others to their heritage. Because together it is the heritage of all of us living on this planet, our record of figuring out how to live here.

One of the best approaches for finding and fighting for heritage that I’ve seen so far is citizen science. Citizen science is, fundamentally, people from all walks of life working collectively with professionals to gather and share observations to help answer specific questions. Citizen science programs for cultural heritage started in Scotland and have spread in Western Europe and are now getting underway in the US. As these efforts grow, there will be opportunities to do things I can’t imagine here.

But however you do it, what I most want is for you to ask questions: how did we get here? How has the present come to be? And know that these questions are not hypothetical, but can and should be addressed with real people (such as archaeologists) and with real data. Bring these people to the table. Press them to help. And know that while their answers may not feel like the stuff of movies, they have the potential to be very useful indeed.

Because only once we are using our cultural heritage creatively will we know at least some of what to carry into our possible futures, and thereby have some of the help it provides to inspire new things we don’t yet know we will need to do.

That is how to pack a cultural suitcase.