Digital Archaeology and the New Media in 2012

May 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

It was about 5 years ago that I started this very blog to “keep our friends, families, donors, and colleagues up to date on our work both in the field and back in the office.” Here’s a link to that first post tucked away deep in the bowels of the Archive for the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Our hope was that we could provide a window into the daily work, social relationships, and experiences of archaeological work to provide a context for the sometimes de-humanized empirical data produced from our time in the field.   

Since that time, most archaeological projects have developed some social or new media aspect to their work (or have chosen not to for reasons grounded in the discourse of social and new media rather than just naiveté or petty resistance).  With near ubiquitous mobile phone coverage it is now possible to use microblogging platforms like Twitter from almost every corner of the world. Twitter and its rather more reckless cousin Facebook have provided important places for the circulation of up-to-the-minute updates on projects and for the development of community among the researchers, volunteers, staff, supporters, and interested observers around the world. Projects have worked to produce guidelines to help folks new to blogging and social media negotiate the world of archaeological blogging. Conferences and conference panels, both virtual and real, have occurred discussing the virtues and potential pitfalls of blogging and archaeology. In general, projects have found new ways to use the internet to engage a longstanding fascination with archaeological work among a wide range of people and to feed the almost insatiable hunger among professional archaeologists for news from the trowels edge.

Our field staff and volunteers have become more tech savvy. For example, this year, our three trench supervisors – Brandon Olson, Dallas Deforest, and Aaron Barth – all have blogs. My two co-directors, David Pettegrew and Scott Moore, are experienced bloggers as well. I expect that we’ll continue to provide a platform for our students to blog on their experiences. This may be rather more foreign to them, but our Twitter hashtag for the season (#PKAP12) and our volunteers’ Facebook or Twitter accounts will provide them with their own communities and audiences for their reflections on their work. We (well, Scott Moore has) a YouTube channel

This summer, we’ll extend our social and new media reach into the field. Messiah College – one of our three co-sponsoring institutions – will provide the project with iPads for the students to use in the field, the museum, and the hotel. They should be able to publish photographs, video, and reflections directly from the field. Prof. Sam Fee from Washington and Jefferson College, has developed an application for us that we will test this summer to collect data from our trenches. We are very close to being able to publish our raw archaeological data from the side of our trenches in realtime. In an era where “transparency” is becoming a watchword for academic, political, and institutional integrity, we are very close to achieving complete transparency in archaeological data collection and analysis. Every step of the process could be made visible to an outside observer.

There are reasons, of course, to limit some of our transparency and these have little to do with issues of integrity and much more to do with issues of security around a site that has already suffered significant degradation at the hands of looters. Moreover, we have done little to provide tools for a wider audience to interrogate raw archaeological data “from the trowel’s edge”. The data rich immediacy of the trowel’s edge perspective rarely serves even an experience archaeologist as any more than a starting point for their own understanding of a trench. It is only in aggregation and comparison of stratigraphy, features, objects, and relationships that real archaeological knowledge emerges. 

So over five years, we’ve moved from the rush of providing a window into life and work of an archaeological project to the prospects of almost immediate data transparency.

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