What do Digital Archaeologists do?

Ask any archaeologist what s/he does, or what they think archaeology involves, and I suspect you would receive more than one answer for every practitioner you approached! Similarly, the dark arts of digital archaeology are likely to generate an ‘infinition’ – a suitably obscure word for a suitably vague connundrum. This raises a question: should there be a definition, a high level description of the major activities or responsibilities that archaeologists have in the various front and back offices of units, academia, museums and so on?

The short answer is ‘yes’. At a minimum, it seems to me that we need some kind of architecture, a blue-print, that we could point to and say “that’s were I fit in: remote sensing” or “that’s me: trowel blazer”, or perhaps “I fit in several boxes entirely and a bit of this and a bit of that” (at which point we might want to drill down to reveal some more detail in order to see what a bit of “this” or “that” consists of!).

Before we get ahead ourselves, I should also sketch out what such an ‘architecture’ should NOT include. It shouldn’t be prescriptive. Think big boxes (surveying, stratigraphy recording and processing; finds processing, inventory management, geophysics, remote sensing, digital photography…  It’s certainly not about opensource versus commercial or skunk works. Every element of the archaeological enterprise should feature at a high-level, if they have a technology component associated with the tasks involved. All three flavours of packages, or devices, and all the opaque layers buried inside them can rub shoulders in my ‘model’ (but therein is a Pandora’s box we might lift the lid on yet!).

The point today is simply to draw attention to what we have, what is possible, what is best practice and where we really need to do better.

Now where did I leave my nano trowel… it was on that soap box over there just a minute ago!


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