A Visit from the E-Curators Team and Digital Time

Yesterday, Costis Dallas and Seamus Ross from the E-Curators project visited the  Western Argolid Regional Project study season to talk to us about our use of digital tools and digital practices. We spent most of the day in either formal interviews or informal conversations about how we used technology to produce know on WARP from the practices of our field teams to our analysis and plans for archiving, publishing, and disseminating our datasets. The conversations were honest, practical, and balanced between a formal script and a casual conversation. The interview was part of a larger collaborative project to document digital practices among archaeologists in the field and in their interpretative strategies.

The interviews offered a chance for me and Dimitri Nakassis to reflect on not only how we used digital tools, but the larger strategies that we employed to collect information in the field, how we converted this information to data, and how we analyzed this data. The most revealing thing was how much, in hindsight, we relied on the shared expectations and understandings with our remarkable team leaders. Our team leaders ensured that the information collected in the field was rigorous and consistent, but also managed the day-to-day functioning of the project from making maps to guide their teams to deciding which team would survey which fields.

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One of the simple pleasures of field work is revisiting sites. This week we returned to a small tower at the site of Ay. Dimitrios that stands in a pass that leads into the Inachos Valley. 

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We flew the drone for the third time at the site and have worked to refine our technique for creating highly accurate orthomosaics (<.20 m) of sites for illustration and study. Needless to say, flying the drone is not overly technical, but it takes time and is pretty boring. The third time, in particular, is tedious and probably is the tipping point in terms of using newfangled tools to do things quicker and more efficiently. We probably could have drawn the dang thing in about 8 hours.

I mentioned this idly on Twitter and got the usual round of fascinating responses. As part of my new, more relaxed, Caraher 3.0 reimagining, I sort of regret posting something about this on The Twitters, but I will say that I don’t think that there’s much of a difference in the traditional output between a hand drawn top-plan on site and one produced through dronoscopy. Maybe some bleeding edge publications could host a 3D model of the site based on structure-from-motion images produced from our drone photos, but these kinds of publications are relatively few and far between. Hand drawn plans remain the standard form of publishing fortifications in Greece. The drone images offer a more robust dataset for the future, but most archaeology – for better or for worse – focuses on documentation methods geared toward the now.

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Chatting all day with the E-Curators folks, I came to appreciate the links between how we worked and sometimes unconscious or at least unarticulated ideas of outcomes. These outcomes are mostly conventional and it becomes easy to fall back on conventional practices as a result. Changing the kind of outcomes that we expect from archaeological work – whether its in terms of dissemination or the kinds of knowledge produced – will invariably change the social organization and technologies that we use. 

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