Erin Walcek Averett, Jody Michael Gordon, and Derek B. Counts
Mobilizing the Past is a collection of 20 articles that explore the use and impact of mobile digital technology in archaeological field practice. The detailed case studies present in this volume range from drones in the Andes to iPads at Pompeii, digital workflows in the American Southwest, and examples of how bespoke, DIY, and commercial software provide solutions and craft novel challenges for field archaeologists. The range of projects and contexts ensures that Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future is far more than a state-of-the-field manual or technical handbook. Instead, the contributors embrace the growing spirit of critique present in digital archaeology. This critical edge, backed by real projects, systems, and experiences, gives the book lasting value as both a glimpse into present practices as well as the anxieties and enthusiasm associated with the most recent generation of mobile digital tools. This book emerged from a workshop funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities held in 2015 at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. The workshop brought together over 20 leading practitioners of digital archaeology in the U.S. for a weekend of conversation. The papers in this volume reflect the discussions at this workshop with significant additional content. Starting with an expansive introduction and concluding with a series of reflective papers, this volume illustrates how tablets, connectivity, sophisticated software, and powerful computers have transformed field practices and offer potential for a radically transformed discipline.
Jody Michael Gordon, Erin Walcek Averett, and Derek B. Counts
Since 2010, a range of mobile and internet-connected tablet computing devices (e.g., iPads) have been integrated into archaeological practice, with projects experimenting with new approaches to documenting, interpreting, and publishing material culture. The rapid pace of this change has led to a tension in the discipline as archaeologists have begun to realize how creating and manipulating born-digital data could fundamentally alter archaeological knowledge production. We are thus at a critical time for archaeology as it moves from a paper-based discipline to an increasingly digital one. There is a growing sense that the change is good, but that it must be critically and reflexively embraced to prevent the discipline from losing what has made it so vital to social discourse: its ability to shed light on the human past. This contribution outlines the debates surrounding digital archaeologies while laying the groundwork for their reflexive and ethical application. As the introductory chapter to Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future, it draws on over twenty studies of contemporary digital archaeological practices to suggest that the transition to paperless workflows is an ongoing process that has the potential to improve archaeological interpretations. This review of current practices engages with the collection, manipulation, interpretation, and dissemination of archaeological data as it passes through the digital filter from trench side to the digital repository and examines what is being gained, lost, or changed through such processes. This overview not only presents a concise and informative introduction to the timely themes explored in the volume, but also offers a cumulative, informed, and critical perspective on how digital technologies are transforming archaeology and what it can tell us about the past.
The past 20 years have witnessed a slow march toward complete digitization of archaeological field data. In this paper, I assess the last two decades of academic archaeological fieldwork based on my experience with field projects in the Mediterranean, and propose a historical context for the adoption of paperless recording in the field. Drawing on the examples of the Troy excavations, the Pompeii Archeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, and the Kea Regional Archaeological Project, I review trends that include the commoditization of hardware, the early adoption of new hardware by specialists, the incorporation of specialist data into site-wide datasets, and the ways that this knowledge can be applied to direct digital entry of field observations via mobile devices.
1.2. Are We Ready for New (Digital) Ways to Record Archaeological Fieldwork? A Case Study from Pompeii
Steven J. R. Ellis
Beyond outlining some of the experiences and outcomes of the conversion of the University of Cincinnati’s excavations at Pompeii to a “paperless” project, particularly through the highly publicized adoption of iPads to record our archaeological fieldwork, this paper is about our discipline’s polarized response to such developments. In particular, it aims to set the pessimism about paperless methods, held by a sizable demographic, within a wider socio-academic context. Much of it is about admitting we have a problem: that is, a disciplinary consternation for changes to the ways we record data and produce knowledge in the field. More than a defense of the use of tablet computers over pieces of paper to record archaeological fieldwork, what follows is ultimately a call to balance our commonly romanticized views of experience and tradition in the ways we do things with the intellectual value in exploring new ideas and developments in core methodology.
1.3. Sangro Valley and the Five (Paperless) Seasons: Lessons on Building Effective Digital Recording Workflows for Archaeological Fieldwork
Christopher F. Motz
Since 2011 the Sangro Valley Project (Italy) has employed a custom-built paperless recording system with iPads and FileMaker at its core. This paper summarizes the evolution of the project’s paperless system and presents lessons learned during five seasons of use (2011–2015) and during the author’s work with two other projects: the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia (Italy), and the Say Kah Archaeological Project (Belize). It identifies problems commonly encountered during the implementation of paperless systems and offers recommendations for avoiding or fixing them. Many of these problems are not unique to projects with digital recording systems, and most difficulties were not technical in nature. Rather, many of the most significant problems arose from integrating workflows. Digital recording systems can streamline fieldwork, improve the quality of data collected in the field, significantly reduce errors and misunderstandings, and facilitate new interpretive approaches, but they require thoughtful preparation and implementation.
Jody Michael Gordon, Erin Walcek Averett, Derek B. Counts, Kyosung Koo, and Michael K. Toumazou
For the last 25 years, the Athienou Archaeological Project (AAP) has conducted pedestrian survey and excavations of domestic, religious, and funerary sites in the Malloura Valley on Cyprus. To enhance the project’s research goals, excavation methods, and pedagogical mission, AAP has recognized the utility of thoughtfully integrating emergent technologies into the excavation process and has acknowledged the importance of acquainting students with such technologies. Indeed, AAP has participated in the transition from handwritten notebooks to born-digital, tablet-based recording. In 2011 AAP was among the earliest projects to embrace the “paperless” archaeology revolution that is quickly becoming standard in field archaeology. This chapter describes AAP’s transition to a do-it-yourself (DIY) hybrid archaeological recording system that integrates both born-digital and tablet-based on-site methods with existing paper-based modes of field recording. We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of system implementation and consider the impact of born-digital data recording on project workflows, research, and teaching.
1.5. Enhancing Archaeological Data Collection and Student Learning with a Mobile Relational Database
Rebecca Bria and Kathryn E. DeTore
In 2011, the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) inaugurated an archaeological field school that employed a comprehensive digital data collection protocol. Students learned to record data on iPads using our customized relational databases for excavation, human skeletal analysis, and artifact classification. The databases integrated digital media, such as vector drawings and annotated photos. In a final research project, the students used the tablet system to analyze excavation contexts and artifacts, visualize relationships between the data, conduct literature reviews, and present their findings. This chapter discusses how students develop a greater comprehension of archaeological concepts and stronger research skills when they collect and analyze data using a relational database. More precisely, it argues that the database develops more perceptive archaeologists who can immediately recognize and interpret relationships between archaeological materials, contexts, and features. The technology, then, not only aids in-field planning and interpretation, but also cultivates analytical thinking.
This chapter explores the social context of digital archaeology conducted in a developing nation, with an emphasis on the archaeological project at Chavín de Huántar, in Peru. One might argue that the relevance, audience, and benefits of digital archaeology are primarily designed for and associated with wealthy universities, but this chapter attempts to demonstrate that digital archaeology is relevant to a broader public and community audience than just academics in the global north. Digital methods are able to be both relevant and beneficial to local communities. These communities, however, are not always naturally included stakeholders in these conversations, and this is an issue that must be acknowledged. This chapter addresses some of the problems in transitioning to a fully digital archaeology in the Andes and the means by which archaeology can assist in decolonizing our knowledge of the past.
Eric E. Poehler
The advent of new forms of digital archaeological practice is revolutionizing the ways in which archaeologists work in the field. We have already witnessed the first part of the revolution, which has transformed archaeological methods of data collection and how such data are accessed and deployed in the field. In the second act of this revolution, published scholarship in digital form will be as easy to implement in the field as the trowel, effectively (if theoretically) dissolving the spatio-temporal division between fieldwork and library work. This paper describes two examples of this dissolution of the fieldwork-library divide, one archival in nature (Pompeii Quadriporticus Project) and the other bibliographic (Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project). The brief discussion of each sets the stage for a more speculative foray into how such digital practices will transform archaeological practice in the coming decade.
Samuel B. Fee
With the widespread adoption of tablet computers in 2010, archaeologists quickly began to envision new ways of completing traditional tasks. The technology seemed particularly well-suited for replacing the paper-and-pencil approach to data collection. In 2011, a custom mobile application—PKapp—was developed for the 2012 field season of the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project in Cyprus. That application illuminated numerous possibilities for digital workflow in archaeological field research. Subsequently, mobile devices and software development tools have improved, making it easier to develop custom applications for data collection. Open-source HTML5 standards can ensure the software runs on any device regardless of platform, a robust selection of coding interfaces, libraries, and frameworks can speed up the development process and help avoid coding each line of the application by hand. This paper reflects upon the development of PKapp, considers the lessons learned, and describes how custom app development with open-source standards might be currently undertaken.
Brandon R. Olson
Since the wide-spread availability of cost efficient image-based modeling software emerged five years ago, the discipline of archaeology has seen a proliferation of all things digital. The implementation of 3D modeling specifically is well attested as evidenced initially by a wave of peer-reviewed studies testing the technology for archaeological purposes, which has then been followed by colloquia, conferences panels, workshops, and publications focusing on the technology’s analytical benefits. It remains evident that although digital archaeology is not a new development, it now has a heretofore unpresented degree of staying power. The intention here is to present a critical analysis of the technology by drawing on a set of field applications that highlight how this technology continues to transform the discipline through a diverse set of methodological and interpretive frameworks.
Steven A. Wernke, Gabriela Oré, Carla Hernández, Aurelio Rodríguez, Abel Traslaviña, and Giancarlo Marcone
The revolutionary capabilities of digital aerial photogrammetry open new avenues for archaeological research design, cultural heritage management, and spatial visualization and analysis. The low cost and high speed of aerial photogrammetry democratize and accelerate both the production and distribution of high-resolution digital 2D and 3D spatial representations of archaeological features, sites, and landscapes. With cultural patrimony disappearing at alarming rates around the world, the adoption of these techniques is an urgent priority. We review our methods and experiences using 3D photogrammetric registry at several scales in the diverse environmental conditions of the Andean region, using an array of inexpensive aerial imagery capture platforms, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones), meteorological balloons, and poles. The accuracy and resolution of the resulting products enable photogrammetric representations (e.g., orthomosaics, 3D solids, digital elevation models) to serve as the primary spatial references for survey and excavations. The methodological implications of these rapid advances have yet to be fully integrated into most archaeological research designs. Rather than using photogrammetry as a “value-added” technique appended to traditional survey or excavation, we outline workflows for rapid 3D photogrammetric documentation combined with mobile GIS. In sum, these transformative technologies and techniques enable the curation and broad dissemination of digital repositories of endangered cultural heritage, as well as dramatically richer spatial representations for an array of analytical ends in archaeological research.
Bridget Buxton, Jacob Sharvit, Dror Planer, Nikola Mišković, and John Hale
With the advent of new digital site recording technologies, archaeologists must manage spatial and visual datasets that have grown far beyond the capacity of last century’s paper notebooks. Turning to purely digital recording systems (“going paperless”) in underwater archaeology presents a different set of challenges from terrestrial archaeology and requires a specialized toolkit. The Pladypos prototype, an autonomous surface vehicle, responds to the need for underwater archaeological site mapping tools to be simple, robust, highly portable, and—where appropriate—to coordinate its operations effectively with human divers and tablet-based digital recording systems. Over several days in 2014, the Pladypos was deployed to map the Herodian port structures at Caesarea Maritima, Israel, one of the Mediterranean’s most important submerged coastal sites. In 2015, this mission was expanded to support the excavation of the site of a possible 11th-century a.d. Fatimid shipwreck found near the southern breakwater of Caesarea’s outer harbor.
Marcelo Castro López, Francisco Arias de Haro, Libertad Serrano Lara, Ana L. Martínez Carrillo, Manuel Serrano Araque, and Justin St. P. Walsh
The site of Cástulo, located near Linares (in the province of Jaén, Andalusia, Spain), was continuously occupied from prehistory through the sixteenth century c.e. The site offers a rich archaeological history, and it is currently under study by the Institute for Iberian Archaeological Research’s interdisciplinary project, Forvm MMX. Wanting to incorporate traditional archaeological excavation and recording methods with new technology, the project created a new system of archaeological documentation, called Imilké. The system was created with several concepts in mind, including the immediate transmission of archaeological data from the site to a database and the ability to allow the simultaneous work of several teams. The tools used are simple: paper forms with a pattern of micro-dots; a microscanner in a digital pen that allows the device to recognize the field being completed in the database; a smartphone connected to the pen via Bluetooth to receive data; and a server/database connected via a data connection to the smartphone. By applying GIS to the information gathered in the Imilké system, it is possible to create 3D models of buildings and artifacts, which can be used by both researchers and the public to visualize the data collected during excavation.
3.2. Measure Twice, Cut Once: Cooperative Deployment of a Generalized, Archaeology-Specific Field Data Collection System
Adela Sobotkova, Shawn A. Ross, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, Andrew Fairbairn, Jessica Thompson, and Parker VanValkenburgh
The Federated Archaeological Information Management Systems (FAIMS) Project is an Australian, university-based initiative developing a generalized, open-source mobile data collection platform that can be customized for diverse archaeological activities. Three field directors report their experiences adapting FAIMS software to projects in Turkey, Malawi, and Peru, highlighting three themes: (1) the transition from paper to digital recording has upfront costs with backend pay-off, (2) the transition involves decisions and tradeoffs that archaeologists and technologists need to make together, and (3) digital recording has both short- and long-term benefits. In the short-term, project directors reported efficient acquisition of richer, more accurate, data. Longer-term, they anticipated that the availability of comprehensive, born-digital datasets would support rigorous demonstration of field intuitions and faster publication of more complete datasets. We argue that cooperative development involving archaeologists and technologists can produce high-quality, fit-for-purpose software, representing the best chance to embedding new technology in established projects.
3.3. CSS for Success? Some Thoughts on Adapting the Browser-Based Archaeological Recording Kit (ARK) for Mobile Recording
J. Andrew Dufton
The Archaeological Recording Kit (ARK) is an open-source system for flexible, web-based archaeological data management. As new advances in mobile technology have changed the way archaeologists think about data collection, ARK has evolved to meet the needs of on-site methodologies. This chapter outlines the history of ARK development and explores some possible trajectories for adaptation of the system to mobile workflows. Examples from the commercial sector, academic research, and public outreach demonstrate the efficiency of customizing the Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) controlling ARK’s web interface to facilitate tablet recording. Increasing global access to mobile broadband networks will make web-based recording systems such as ARK more convenient in the coming years, but this must also be accompanied by a change in archaeological practice encouraging open, online data not only as an afterthought to publication but as an active part of the fieldwork process.
Matthew Spigelman, Ted Roberts, and Shawn Fehrenbach
PaleoWest Archaeology began to develop technology and methods for digital data collection in 2010, and quickly became the first archaeological consulting firm in the United State to adopt an all-digital workflow. The initial phase of research and development of this workflow coincided with a period of rapid software and hardware development, most notably the launch of the first- and second-generation iPads. The digital archaeological toolkit we assembled was used to collect survey data from tens of thousands of acres, document thousands of isolated artifacts, and record hundreds of archaeological sites throughout the American Southwest and elsewhere. This experience informed a second phase of development in which a custom database was constructed using FileMaker Pro. Ultimately, we developed a number of all-digital workflows that we refer to collectively as the PaleoWay. The development of this workflow has allowed us to collect better-quality data while becoming more efficient in our field and reporting operations.
Slow archaeology situates contemporary, digital archaeological practice both in the historical tradition of the modern discipline of archaeology and within a discourse informed by calls for Taylorist efficiency. Rather than rejecting the use of digital tools, slow archaeology calls for archaeology to embrace a spirit of critical engagement with the rapidly changing technological landscape in the field. This contribution draws upon lessons from the popular "slow moment" and academic discussions of modernity and speed to consider the impact that the rapid adoption of digital tools has on archaeological practice and knowledge production. Slow archaeology pays particular attention to how digital tools fragment the process of archaeological documentation, potentially deskill fieldwork by relying on digital (Latourian) “blackbox” methods, and erode the sense of place so crucial to archaeological claims of provenience. The result of this critical attention to digital practices is neither a condemnation of new tools nor an unabashed celebration of their potential to transform the discipline, but a call to adopt new technologies and methods in a deliberate way that situates archaeological knowledge production in the realm of field practice.
Eric C. Kansa
This chapter owes much to the trenchant criticism of Internet utopianism offered by Evgeny Morozov in his influential book, To Save Everything, Click Here (2014). As such, this essay reflects on some issues in the social and professional context of digital archaeology that rarely see public discussion. Digital archaeology is profoundly shaped by an institutional landscape that demands the commoditization, marketing, and branding of scholarship “as a service.” These forces make it extraordinarily difficult to sustain substantive and reflective intellectual engagement in our increasingly digitized discipline. As a strategy to overcome these issues, this contribution highlights why digital engagement requires much longer time scales in funding and greater professional commitment to recognizing the process and conduct of research rather than rewarding only the efficient production of measurable research outcomes.
Morag M. Kersel
The following observations draw on my personal experience as an archaeologist working in the Eastern Mediterranean who has dabbled in the digital world. In considering the papers in this volume, I reflect on what it means to “live a digital life” in field archaeology. I argue we are living a “semi-digital kinda life” (à la Third Eye Blind, the US rock band formed in the early 1990s) where many of us are part paper and part digital, which I contend is not a bad state of affairs. In assessing our half in/half out digital archaeology, I speculate that new technologies have the tendency to create, or reinforce, divisions between genders, developed and less-developed nations, and practice and theory. These thought-provoking chapters illustrate the very bright future for digital archaeological fieldwork and data collection, but there is still work to be done – to improve, expand, and include missing elements into digital archaeology.
Mobile platforms, paperless recording systems, and High Density Survey and Measurement techniques are a new frontier for archaeological documentation. But like all frontiers, the borderland at the intersection of the material and digital offers both opportunity and unexpected hazards. This response calls for a critical perspective on digital methods and approaches in archaeology, and examines the other contributions to the volume from three perspectives: celebratory, reflexive, and cautionary. These perspectives are framed within three manifestos that praise, ponder, or criticize the effects of new technologies—and the historical, social, or economic contexts of those technologies—on their users. The reader is urged to consider how the replacement of analogue with digital tools conditions knowledge production in the field of archaeology; how the dependency of archaeologists on the producers of digital tools affects possibilities for the long-term preservation and reuse of archaeological documentation; and what might happen when the language and framework of “disruption” and the “innovation cycle” is transferred to archaeological research. Two particular areas of inquiry are proposed for future research: embodied cognition, in terms of physical engagement with different tools; and the extension of mobile or wearable data collectors to the documentation of the practice and habits of the archaeologists themselves.
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