Monday, 18 September 2017

Technology assisted (vs. replaced) Archaeologists ?

Hi everyone,

I came across the following article which others may find to be an interesting read, particularly in assessing the extent to which technology is transforming (or not) the fundamental practice of Archaeology.   

This article highlighted for me that technology is not the only force of change that is acting on Archeology at this time.   Other capitalist and economic forces are also at play that could significantly change how Archaeology might be done in the future. 

If one considers the TED talks forum to be a social lightening rod for innovation and change, then the markets will likely respond with new archaeological products and services to fulfill emergent opportunities (and make potentially sizable profits while doing so) - this could in turn result in a chain reaction of fundamental changes to the practice of Archaeology in terms of who, how, where, and perhaps even why it is done.  

The idea of Technology replacing, rather than assisting Archaeologists in doing their work would obviously represent a fundamental shift in our discipline.   Having previously worked in IT and business for several years, I generally embrace the potential value of technological advances - but not as a silver bullet or without making a conscious effort to understand the implications.   Is there an unintended consequence (risk of loss of experience, meaning, skills, etc) of technology inhibiting us from getting "off the veranda" as Malinowski encouraged us to do - to take the white gloves off and to actually get our own hands dirty while digging something up?   



Sunday, 17 September 2017

Digital Archaeology and Digital Archaeologies

 Hey all,

To give you a little taste of the range of digital archaeologies practiced around the world today, there are a number of sites you could explore beyond blogs, all wielding some iteration of a "Digital Archaeology." Commercial companies/academic centers come to mind off the top of my head. One of the slicker company sites that master a full range of digital imaging technologies is Digital Archaeology, (that's hyphen archaeology with an .eu suffix, and originator of the image i grabbed!), run out of Poland. They've been around a few years, but their web presence in English has become quite slick. With a strong emphasis on marine archaeology, they offer up some nice digital archaeology eye candy for you to explore. Likewise there is the Digital Archaeology page of L!nk 3D in Germany (that's hyphen archaeology with a .com suffix). They've been around quite awhile longer but you have to "dig" their site to get at nice content. I should also throw in a few other service providers who have pretty impressive abilities and websites, Including the Center for Digital Archaeology in California, and the Institute of Digital Archaeology (those of the Palmyra Arch), in the UK and US. Ethan Watrall and Lynne Goldstein head up a more scholarly learning, training and mentoring focused Institute on Digital Archaeology Method and Practice out of Michigan State University.

And as I mentioned in class, there is an entirely separate concept of a Digital Archaeology as archaeology of lost languages and sites of the internet. That's what Digital Archaeology (that's hyphen archaeology with an .org suffix... really someone should have bought up all those domains, way back when!), run by historian Jim Boulton is all about. We won't really get into this digital-archaeology-as-internet-based-metadata-metaphor, but if you are interested, you can read a couple of blog introductions to the topic here and here. And, of course, where the two concepts overlap, the reading is quite interesting, as in Matt Law and Colleen Morgan's article, here.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Additional articles for September 25 lecture

Hi everyone,

It's Trevor - I have the pleasure of leading the class discussion on September 25. See below for two additional articles related to the topic of Social Media and Open Access. Please let me know if you have trouble accessing these articles. I'm looking forward to our discussion!


Practices Do Not Make Perfect: Disciplinary Data Sharing and Reuse Practices and Their Implications for Repository Data Curation (Ixchel M. Faniel and Elizabeth Yakel):
Citizen Science in Archaeology (Monica L. Smith):

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Welcome to our course blog for Fall 2017 on digital archaeology and digital heritage. There are a number of challenges to something like this course, because the subject matter could be, well, anything in the early 21st century to do with archaeological practice and theory! In a sense, then, we get to define what Digital Archaeology means to us as we work our way through this course.

That is not to say there are no examples out there to follow. In fact, "Digital Archaeology" as a concept on the web has been used in very different ways, ranging from "excavating " and re-discovering lost or abandoned web pages and content, to photographic analysis, to various kinds of data mining, to oral history projects, to, yup, archaeology. In fact, when I Google the phrase "Digital Archaeology" (DA) I get more about digital archaeology of the internet or in computers, than I do in doing archaeology digitally, which is surprising, since Google tends to tailor searches based on user preferences.

But I think that DA is more than just a clever term for web based exploration, exhibition, and data mining. For us in archaeology, it is a not well explored dimension of practice that changes practice as it is being employed in practice. From making data accessible, to how it is presented, to engaging with wider audiences, to others using that data, to all the issues of loss, distortion, and mis-representation, I think there are implications to archaeology becoming digital that are worth considering, especially since we are actually trying to go in this direction at Western and at Sustainable Archaeology (SA). So that is what I'm hoping we get to explore and become a little wiser about in this course.

There are, of course, people who blog about digital archaeology (the way we are going to talk about it) and a digital heritage. Many come or go as people move on to new interests, so there are plenty of dated pages to "excavate" out. But a few current ones worth exploring are offered below:

Jeremy Huggett is perhaps one of the most reflexive of people pondering just what a digital archaeology means or not today. And his Blog is well worth exploring and thinking in the vein I hope we explore here in this class. As such, rather than endlessly mining his posts for fodder for our blog, here it is for all of us to follow... and of course exploit as needed!:
Introspective Digital Archaeology

Shawn Graham is the closest in Canada to advancing a Digital Archaeology. It is interesting that he tends to overlap a Digital Archaeology and a Digital Humanities, but that is likely a function of where he works (History dept at Carleton). His blog page is worth reviewing, cuz many ideas he raises we will be talking about, and he is quite good at keeping up to date:

Bill Turkel is a History Prof here at Western, and very much all about Digital history and humanities. His blog is a very helpful exploration of how things like databases, web sites, etc. work, and is written for people who are not computer scientists. Worth checking out:

Doug Rocks-MacQueen maintains a web page that is fairly diverse, but has a lot to do with digital archaeology, and offers a good source of sites to explore:

Well, that's enough for the moment... you can find much more! Please start cruising the internet and add pages you think are worth looking at in posts. That’s a good way, too, for you to start planning what you might like to post about, which you should consider start doing as of now. I've left up a few posts from last class as a bit of an example, but anything from links that inspire... or anger... you, to cutting edge technologies, to cool toys being announced, to online exhibits, etc., are all fair game to talk about, though try keeping within the confines of the course itself… the challenge of a Digital Archaeology, as is the challenge of the digital age, is being overwhelmed with information and not really knowing what to do with it.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Space Archaeology: The Final Frontier?

One of the concerns that has come up a few times in our discussions is how archaeologists are getting so excited about the new digital technologies that they use them just for the sake of using them, rather than for a specific and relevant purpose. Thinking about that, I just wanted to share one way in which digital technology is being used very well in Egypt, one that could be very useful in other locations as well. Dr. Sarah Parcak is an Egyptologist who uses satellites to locate archaeological sites in Egypt and the Mediterranean.

Parcak takes high-resolution satellite images and examines them for anomalies that might indicate the presence of sub-surface remains in order to identify potential archaeological sites.  The satellites use infrared to visualize the changes to the landscape that occurred due to ancient construction projects.  Parcak explains her work through the example of finding the lost ancient Egyptian city of Itj-Tawy, in her 5 minute TEDtalk.  Thus far, in addition to the lost city, Parcak’s team has identified 17 previously unknown pyramids and 1000 tombs. The main goal of this work is to use satellite images to find previously unknown or lost sites, in order to gain a better understanding of the location of ancient sites, and also to create a record before they are lost. The rapid expansion of modern Egyptian cities and towns is encroaching on known archaeological sites, and is likely destroying many unknown sites. Using satellite imaging can help identify sites that could hopefully be surveyed or mapped subsequently, or at least bring them to the attention of archaeologists and local residents, so they can potentially be preserved.

Dr. Parcak has been doing this work for several years, but she recently uncovered an even more important use for this technology. Since the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, she has been using satellite imagery to track the widespread looting that is affecting sites in Egypt.  She is trying to get a sense of the scale and locations of the looting, and to help the authorities know where to target.  I think that digital archaeology is one of the best ways to address this problem, in a way that helps people to truly understand the scale of the issue.  This is perfectly illustrated in these images: The first being a picture of the site of South Dashur in early 2011, where the main archaeological site is in the lower right hand corner, and the dark spots indicate looting pits.  

Looting holes visible at South Dashur in 2011. Image by Sarah Parcak.  National Geographic

In the second image of the same site, taken in 2013, it is easy to see the massive increase in looting pits that have marked the entire area. 

Increased number of looting pits visible at South Dashur in 2013. Image by Sarah Parcak. National Geographic

I think this work illustrates one very effective way to incorporate digital technology into archaeological research and public education in a way that is accessible to both experts and the general public.  It also has major implications for the future of archaeology in Egypt and for the creation and enforcement of antiquities laws in many countries. With the recent news about the destruction of objects in the Mosul museum bringing the subject of looting and destruction of cultural heritage into the public focus, it seems this technology could be very usefully applied to tracking the looting in areas controlled by ISIS, which would have implications within archaeology as well as world politics.  I am interested in hearing other view on the matter as well, what do you all think of this aspect of digital archaeology and how it is being applied?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Promise of Online and Transcendent Archaeological Information Databases

From the Online Lapita Ceramic Database (

So this week we're looking at managing information and data in archaeology, and the challenges of making data accessible. We're reading about initiatives in Europe that are seeking to allow regional and national databases transcend borders and transcend practitioner idioms to be of use... in a meaningful and comparable way to researchers, wherever they are.

Another example where online research tools transcends borders is if you happen to be working in a part of the world where subject matter transcends a lot of limited physical borders, and dispersed communities of scholars. This is really a challenge for archaeologists who work with ancient cultures of the Pacific. The physical challenges of documenting collections from dispersed island places is also compounded by the fact that there is a very dispersed community of scholars spanning the eastern and western ends of the Pacific. This has traditionally been a real limitation of people working with Lapita ceramics, for example, leaving them working on only portions of the overall record and only really learning about other collections through word of mouth or the odd publication.

Which is why I'm a big fan of the work by Scarlett Chiu, at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. She has developed a very robust and very user friendly database of Lapita ceramics that helps researchers looking for patterns of decoration, distribution, etc., allowing them to come to this centralized database to both access information, and, importantly, upload their own information.

It is a research portal I hope Sustainable Archaeology can begin to model as collection information begins to build up at SA, allowing people real access to collections, and even attributes, to explore ancient material patterns in ways previously unimaginable... After all if Scarlett can transcend the limitations of the Pacific to provide centralized material access to Lapita ceramic assemblages, surely we can do that for the Northeast and Great Lakes region!