It’s the last week here on the Western Argolid Regional Project, so things are getting hectic. In fact, during our weekly project meeting on Sunday, I asked our student field walkers to increase their pace just a bit so we can wrap up the last few areas left to survey. To do this, I made an appeal to our field teams to leverage every last bit of efficiency gained over our six week field season.
At the same time, I enjoyed reading Allison Mickel’s recent contribution to the Journal of Field Archaeology (40.3 (20150) titled “Reasons for Redundancy in Reflexivity: The Role of Diaries in Archaeological Epistemology.” She argues for the continued value of traditional archaeological notebooks after studying their use at the site of Çatalhöyük. As most projects have move toward either digital or paper recording forms, they have tended to abandon traditional trench notebooks were seen a crude tool for recording the strictly organized, empirical recording at trench side. Mickel evokes Latour to understand this trend in archaeological recording: “As the processes of knowledge production in archaeology became increasingly ‘‘black-boxed’’ (Latour 1987), the inscriptive devices employed in archaeological fieldwork became increasingly structured and resistant to discussing changing interpretations over time, social dynamics, or emotive reasoning.”
She demonstrated that the notebooks maintained at Çatalhöyük interwove verbatim repetition from other forms of archaeological recording (like context sheets) with distinct reflections and arguments. In many cases the added value to these notebooks involved making clear the complex process of producing archaeological observations. In other words, the unstructured space of the notebooks captures the indeterminacy of archaeological knowledge in a way that more rigid forms of documentation explicitly seeks to occlude.
This ties to matters of efficiency because redundant data collection is generally regarded as a waste of time especially for projects working on limited schedules, with limited funding, or with permit restrictions. Mickel’s article, however, suggests that enduring the redundancy – even the verbatim redundancy – of notebook recording reinforces the clear link between the messy space of actual archaeological work and the tidy boxes of archaeological recording forms.