Reflowing Legacy Data from Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus

Last month I was invited by Foteini Kondyli and Jon Frey to contribute a paper to a panel at the 2020 AIA meeting in January. The panel is on “legacy data,” and they suggested that I might have something to say based on my work over the last 7 or 8 years at Polis on Cyprus.

It turns out that most of what I have to say is about process, and how the way in which we work creates the category of legacy data. I continue to be interested in the concept of workflow and the larger concept of “flow” and “assemblage” in archaeology and digital practice. To this, I’m working to consider the intersection of the concept of territorialization, both in literal terms (i.e. the spatially bound character of traditional archaeological work and knowledge) and more broadly particular in reference to critiques of digital practices, capitalism, and 21st (or at least late-20th century) culture and society. The abstract is below.

[What’s most exciting for me is that I’m starting to see how some of the ideas that I first thought seriously about while working in the Bakken begin to percolate through my work in the Mediterranean. Part of what is most intriguing to me, however, is that these ideas are not really relating in a literal way. In other words, I’m not thinking much about extractive industries, temporary housing, or taskscapes. Instead, I’m thinking about things like flow not of people or material, but of data. If our study of the Bakken was really a case study of flow — the flow of oil, the flow of people, the flow of capital, the flow of traffic — it speaks to the momentary aggregation and disaggregation of objects, people, skills, tools, and resources across landscapes. These create momentary places which disappear leaving only residual traces behind. I increasingly wonder whether our digital practices in archaeology are doing the same thing. They produce momentary landscapes and assemblages that offer situational knowledge which is valued as much for its fluidity (liquidity?) as for its ability to speak to persistent relationships anchored in the kind of real spaces – with real political consequences – where the archaeological imagination has traditionally worked.] 

P1090207  

Reflowing Legacy Data from Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus. 
William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota
R. Scott Moore, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The notion of legacy data is an artifact of contemporary digital archaeology. Archaeologists define legacy data as information that is incommensurate with contemporary digital practices and standards. 

Over the last decade, a team at the site of Marion-Arsinoe in the village of Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus has studied the notebooks produced from over two decades of excavation at the site starting in the 1980s. This work involved converting narrative notebooks into various forms from data in databases to graphic representations in pseudo-Harris Matrices and ultimately synthetic and analytical descriptions. Translating archaeological information between forms was both a convenience and a step of analysis that depended on the various affordances offered by the available tools as well as our goal to establish the phases and artifact assemblages present at the site.

By offering or work Polis Chrysochous as an autoethnographic case study, this paper considers the act of defining and translating data from a legacy formats and methods, to a database that can integrate with other datasets developed over the course of our work at Polis. By emphasizing the translational aspects of converting data from one format or standard to the next, we reframe the value of archaeological knowledge according to its ability to relate to other datasets. This relational recoding of archaeological information produces new assemblages and knowledge, at the same time that it obfuscates and renders incompatible other, earlier forms. Legacy data becomes defined by the information left behind and contemporary data becomes defined by its ability to contribute to the larger flow. This paper demonstrates how approaches to defining legacy data traces the changes in contemporary archaeological knowledge making.

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