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Digital Archaeology 1100101 - at the intersection of archaeological practice and digital technology

Digital Archaeology 1100101 – at the intersection of archaeological practice and digital technology

Archaeology and Technology

One of the things which we will be looking at in this blog is the relationship between archaeology and technology. Archaeological computing as a sub discipline has existed since the 1950s and has provided an academic space for people wishing to develop digital methodologies for archaeology. During this time though the role of digital technology in our lives has changed fundamentally. Computers have gone from being inaccessible and specialist instruments to being relatively common to being ubiquitous. Not only have computers become more accessible they have also become a normal part of our everyday lives. Every day people negotiate strategies for living which are inherently digital with software and hardware developed in order to meet the demands of our digital lives. Archaeological computing now faces the challenge of responding to the innately digital character of everyday life. How do we devise new methodological approaches which capitalise on the fact that a significant proportion of archaeologists are highly skilled and highly active digital actors? Part of the solution surely has to lay in the acknowledgement that digital technologies are increasingly akin to other technologies which we use to negotiate our working and personal lives. Once a person receives basic training in the use of pencils or cameras it is assumed that they have the capacity to grow into an effective and even creative user of these technologies. We understand that expertise gained in ‘non archaeological life’ may in part be transferable to archaeological practice. Computing in archaeology is often seen as being an exclusively expert domain despite the fact that archaeologists without a professed specialism in computing are often digitally literate, highly skilled and intuitive users of digital technology. The need for a more reflexive approach to the development of digital practice in archaeology is clear but the means of achieving this change remain underdeveloped. New attitudes to technology and practice must necessarily be developed in response to individual conditions (technological, social, political, practical). We will throughout this series of blog posts explore different areas of archaeology in which we have experience and will try to identify some areas where change has been or can be achieved. The first area which I will explore is craft, creativity and digital imaging. ~ Gareth


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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