Thinking a Bit about Publishing and ASOR

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a bit about publishing and ASOR. I serve as editor of the Annual of ASOR (AASOR) which is the organization’s longest running book series. It stands alongside ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series (ARS) as the two book series published by ASOR. The ARS is currently looking for a new editor and once the new editor is named, we hope to have some conversations about how to distinguish the AASOR from ARS a bit more clearly.

Traditionally, the ARS features volumes dedicated to recent field work. For example, my survey on Cyprus, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, published in the ARS. For some historical reasons, the CAARI Monograph series also appears as part of the ARS. The AASOR, in contrast, tends to consist of the results of legacy excavations (variously defined), edited volumes, and festschrifts. The blurry division between the ARS’s role in publishing current field work and the AASOR’s role in publishing legacy projects is something that we’d do well to define more clearly. But the work of defining the purpose and scope of the AASOR is also an opportunity to think more clearly about ASOR’s priorities in academic publishing more broadly.

Instead of firing off a long email, I decided to write a blog post and see what people think before burdening my colleagues with my half-baked ideas. To be clear, these are just my musings and they don’t reflect anything official! 

It goes without saying that the landscape of academic publishing is changing very rapidly these days. At the same time, we are encountering rapid changes in the professional and academic landscape in our disciplines (e.g. rise of contingent faculty) and at our institutions (e.g. the decline of research libraries, reduction in research funding). As a result, it feels like this might be a good time to think critically and carefully about the needs of our authors (and prospective author), our readers, and our institutions.

First, I got to wondering what kind of books ASOR members want to and are expected to publish?

I know that the edited volumes are received a bit ambivalently by most academics these days. They can be easily derided as grab-bags of vaguely related content brought together mostly through common social ties or a shared desperation to expand one’s CV. I’ve heard more than one scholar boldly assert on social media that they will NEVER edit another edited volume again. Having worked in a few of these in my life as editor, contributor, and publisher, I can confirm that they’re often really difficult volumes to bring together, and, at least by some accounts, they have limited value for tenure and promotion committees. 

On the other hand, there must be a market for them because any walk around the ASOR or AIA book room shows that they continue to be published in large numbers by every publisher from Oxford and Cambridge to Eisenbrauns, Cotsen, Routledge, Oxbow, Bloomsbury, and so on. Indeed, AASOR and ARS have published their share of such books over the last five years. (Curiously University of Chicago Press, which is ASOR’s publishing partner for journals, doesn’t seem particularly keen on edited volumes, as far as I can discern.)

My sense is that edited volumes are popular among publishers, in part, because of the ability to disaggregate content, and this allows for the sale of single chapters to individuals who might not want to buy the entire book. The current vogue of “Handbooks” and “Companions” is a good example for how books that are effectively edited volumes can be disaggregated so that chapters can be sold to individuals at prices cheaper than the often-expensive entire volume but at prices higher than chapter’s share of the volume’s total price. 

It’s notable here that while AASOR often published edited volumes, JSTOR does not present its content in such a way that an individual could download or purchase one article from a volume.

Second, in the past, ASOR published monographs (1978-1981), dissertations (1975-1994), and books (1999-2005). You can get a sense for the range of ASOR book series here

I do wonder how our membership would see a kind of dissertation series (of the kind that existed years ago) or a book/monograph series? Would this fulfill a need in the field especially for early career scholars who might struggle to find a press for specialized research? Or would be redundant with what Eisenbrauns, Brill, Brepols, and various other specialized presses already offer? 

Third, I started to think a bit more about Eric Cline and his arguments for writing and publishing for a general audience.

My guess is that places like Princeton pay the bills with books like Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (2016). I was at an AIA panel last year and two of the panelists (Cline and Jodi Magness) were talking about writing for wider public audiences and their NEH Public Scholar grants. Their various publications intended for a general audience obviously overlapped with “ASOR Territory.” Moreover, it seems like many presses have figured out that these books make money. The various “short introductions,” “what everyone needs to know about,” “quintessence series,” “critical thinkers” all follow a similar template. They’re short (<40,000 words), they tend to be prepared for a general audience, and they tend not to feature much original research. They’re published as low-cost paperbacks and presumably meant to be sold at volume to individuals (and students) rather than libraries. These books are the opposite of the Oxford Handbook, Cambridge Companion, et c. series which are clearly designed mainly for libraries (including via digital subscription).

I wonder whether this is a game that ASOR would want to get into to generate revenue for ASOR and maybe for more “serious” publishing? Would this dovetail with what NEA is doing in terms of outreach?

Fourth, I’ve been looking at what Eidolon is doing with their course packets. These are digital bundles of largely repackaged content from Eidolon stitched together with some added commentary. They’re pretty nice if what you’re teaching happens to align neatly with what Eidolon has to offer.

It seems to me that ASOR has content – via BASOR, NEA, ARS, AASOR, Ancient Near East Today, and even LCP – and we have experts. I wonder whether there would be value to producing digital course packets that could be purchased (by students, presumably) for a relatively low cost (but at ideally, a relatively high volume). They could combine material which ASOR owns with commentary, new content, and maybe even digital gewgaws (photos, video, audio).

This would obviously require a more than just a casual operation to work, but it would be interesting to know if this would appeal to our audience.

In many ways, there is a single question behind all these suggestions: what would our members like and support both in terms of producing and purchasing content?

Along these lines, I can’t help but wonder about the following:

1. How will the growing number of precarious and non-tenure track ASOR scholars impact the landscape of academic publishing? What do these scholars need and want?

2. How will the rise in Open Access publishing shape both the expectations of our authors and our readers? How will the global nature of ASOR publishing impact our attitudes toward Open Access?

3. How will the growth of online teaching shape the kind of content that our members want and produce?

4. How will the market for academic books change as library funding declines and new strategies arise for institutional content management? How can we increase the number of individuals who buy ASOR books to compensate for a likely decline in institutional purchases?  

Three Things Thursday

It’s been a while since we’ve done a three things Thursday and since I’m feeling like I have a bunch of little things starting to back up in my inbox. 

Thing The First

I was pleased to see that the interview that I recorded with Tristan Boyle for his The Modern Myth podcast has appeared. You can listen to it here.

I have to admit that I was pretty nervous speaking with Boyle. This not because I’m particularly media shy, but because there is so much going on in the world these days. Between the daily tragedy of the COVIDs, the BLM-related protests, and the anxiety surrounding the fiscal well-being of educational and cultural institutions, their diversity, and their priorities in a inevitably more austere, post-COVID world, I was acutely aware that reflecting on my own work was an act of significant indulgence. The frivolity of punk archaeology, the misguidedness of slow archaeology, and utter ambiguity (and idealism) of “the archaeology of care” reinforces their collective irrelevance in the face of the need for real and urgent change and a future with significantly diminished resources.

So if you do listen to the podcast, I ask that you please understand that my self-indulgent prattle belies my personal anxiety about the future of archaeology as both an academic discipline and as a meaningful contributor to a more diverse and just world.

Thing The Second  

Last week, I posted a list of volumes published by ASOR and available via the HathiTrust under an open license. After I published the post, I discovered that I had overlooked one small series published as three volumes between 1978 and 1981 and called the ASOR Monograph Series:

Volume 1: Robert T. Anderson, Studies in Samaritan manuscripts and artifacts : the Chamberlain-Warren collection. 1978. Not available.

Volume 2: Ziony Zevit, Matres lectionis in ancient Hebrew epigraphs. 1980. Download here.

Volume 3: James Hamilton Charlesworth. The New Discoveries in St. Catherine’s Monastery: a preliminary report on the manuscripts. 1981. Download here.

Thing The Third

Finally, I’m happy to announce the publication of Anna Kouremenos and Jody Gordon’s edited volume Mediterranean Archaeologies of Insularity in an Age of Globalization (2020). Jody invited me to work on an article with him that considered the impact of insularity and globalization on Cyprus in the Early and Late Roman period. Not only did we get to indulge in a bit of cross period comparisons, but it gave me a chance to develop some of my arguments in a more robust theoretic framework (almost entirely provided by Jody!).

I’ll figure out how and when I can share our contribution to this book. Of course, I’m happy enough to share a copy of our piece over email. 

Some More ASOR Books Available Open Access

At the risk of duplicating Chuck Jones’s incredible efforts at the Ancient World Online site, here are some more ASOR sponsored publications that are available under an Open Access license via the HathiTrust.

Last year, I pulled together volumes of the ASOR Annual that were available as open volumes and listed them here.

I started to put together this larger list for two reasons. First, I starting to gear up to move a new, open-access, digital only book into production which is in collaboration with ASOR’s Committee on Publications. This book will appear in November. As part of my effort to promote this book, I thought it would be useful to prepare a complete catalogue of open access ASOR publications. This has proven to be a bit more difficult than I though, largely because ASOR has published a wide range of different books with different publishers under its broad imprint. As a result, this is a work in progress.

Today, there are two major ASOR book series. The Annual of the American School of Oriental Research (AASOR) and the Archaeological Reports Series (ARS), many of which are available via a JSTOR subscription here. Some volumes of the ARS are also available as free, open access downloads:

Volumes 1-3 are not available.  Volumes 1-4 were published in collaboration with Scholars Press of Atlanta, Georgia.

Volume 1: J. Maxwell Miller, Archaeological survey of the Kerak Plateau. 1991.

Volume 2: Edward Fay Campbell; Karen I Summers, Shechem II : portrait of a hill country vale : the Shechem regional survey. 1991. 

Volume 3: Gary D Pratico and Robert A Di Vito, Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 excavations at Tell El-Kheleifeh : a reappraisal. 1993. This is available for subscribers via JSTOR as are many subsequent volumes.

Starting with volume 4, a group of ARS volumes are available as open access downloads from the HathiTrust:

Volume 4: Stuart Swiny, Robert Lane Hohlfelder, and Helena Wylde Swiny, Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean from prehistory to late antiquity : proceedings of the second international symposium “Cities on the sea”, Nicosia, Cyprus, October 18-22, 1994. 1997. This is also CAARI Monograph 1. Download here

With Volume 5, ASOR officially becomes the publisher:

Volume 5: Stuart Swiny, The Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus: from colonization to exploitation. 2001. This is also CAARI Monograph 2. Download here.

Volume 6: Edward F Campbell and George R H Wright, Shechem III : the stratigraphy and architecture of Shechem/Tell Balâṭah. 2002. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 7: Diane Bolger and Nancy J Serwint, Engendering Aphrodite: women and society in ancient Cyprus. 2002. This is also CAARI Monography 3. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 8: Stuart Swiny; George Robert Rapp; Ellen Herscher, Sotira Kaminoudhia: an early Bronze Age site in Cyprus. 2003. This is also CAARI Monograph 4. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 9: Burton MacDonald, et al., The Tafila-Busayra archaeological survey 1999-2001: west-central Jordan. 2004. This volume is incorrectly listed as volume 8 on WorldCat, but is, fact, volume 9. Download here. JSTOR here.

Volume 10: Robert R. Stieglitz, et al., Tel Tanninim: Excavations at Krokodeilon Polis, 1996-1999. 2006. Download here

Volume 11: Nancy L. Lapp, Shechem IV: The Persian-Hellenistic Pottery of Shechem/Tell Balât’ah. 2008. Download here.

Volume 12: Jane DeRose Evans, The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima Excavation Reports: The Coins and the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Economy of Palestine.  2006. Also Joint expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Excavation reports, volume 6.  Not Available via HathiTrust. JSTOR Here. This book is not listed in WorldCat as ARS 12 and to make things a bit more confusing Shechem IV is sometimes listed as volume 12. In JSTOR, however, it is listed as ARS 12.

Volume 13: Marylinda Govaars et al., The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima Excavation Reports: Field O: The “Synagogue” Site. Joint expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Excavation reports, volume 9. Download hereJSTOR Here.

The following volumes are not available as open access free downloads, but are available via JSTOR:

Volume 14: Suzanne Richard, Archaeological Expedition to Khirbat Iskander and its Environs, Jordan: Khirbat Iskander: Final Report on the Early Bronze IV Area C ‘Gateway’ and Cemeteries. 2010. 

Volume 15: John Peter Oleson, et al., Humayma Excavation Project, 1: Resources, History and the Water-Supply System. 2010. 

Volume 16: Burton MacDonald, et al., The Ayl to Ras an-Naqab Archaeological Survey, Southern Jordan 2005-2007.  2012.

Volume 17: Elise A. Friedland, The Roman Marble Sculptures from the Sanctuary of Pan at Caesarea Philippi/Panias (Israel). 2012.

Volume 18: John Peter Oleson, et al., Humayma Excavation Project, 2: Nabatean Campground and Necropolis, Byzantine Churches, and Early Islamic Domestic Structures. 2013.

Volume 19: S. Thomas Parker, The Roman Aqaba Project Final Report, Volume 1: The Regional Environment and the Regional Survey. 2014.

Volume 20: Charles Anthony Stewart, Thomas W. Davis, and Annemarie Weyl Carr, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion. 2014. Also CAARI Monograph 5.

Volume 21 is an exception because we made it available as a free download.

Volume 21: William Caraher, David Pettegrew, and R. Scott Moore, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. 2014. Download here.

Volume 22: Tristan J. Barako, et al., Tell er-Rumeith: The Excavations of Paul W. Lapp, 1962 and 1967. 2015.

Volume 23: Catherine A. Duff, Shechem V: The Late Bronze Age Pottery from Field XIII at Shechem / Tell Balâtah. 2015.

After volume 23, they do not appear to be yet available via JSTOR. Maybe there’s a 5 year moratorium.

Volume 24: Burton MacDonald, Geoffrey A Clark, and Larry G Herr, The Shammakh to Ayl Archaeological Survey, Southern Jordan (2010-2012). 2016. 

Volume 25: Robert. J. Bull, The Mithraeum at Caesarea Maritima. 2017.

Volume 26: Steven E Sidebotham, et al., The archaeological survey of the desert roads between Berenike and the Nile Valley: expeditions by the University of Michigan and the University of Delaware to the Eastern Desert of Egypt, 1987-2015. 2019.

~

From 1945-1991, the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) published a book-length Supplemental Series. Several of these are available via HathiTrust under open licenses. They are all available via JSTOR here.

Volume 1: Samuel N. Kramer and W. F. Albright, Enki and Ninḫursag: A Sumerian “Paradise” Myth. 1945.

Volume 2/3: H. L. Ginsberg, W. F. Albright and Elimelech, The Legend of King Keret: A Canaanite Epic of the Bronze Age. 1946.

Volume 4: Beatrice Allard Brooks and W. F. Albright, A Classified Bibliography of the Writings of George Aaron Barton. 1947.

Volume 5/6: James L. Kelso and W. F. Albright, The Ceramic Vocabulary of the Old Testament. 1948.

Volume 7/9: Richard LeBaron Bowen Jr., W. F. Albright, Frederick R. Matson and Florence E. Day, The Early Arabian Necropolis of Ain Jawan: A Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Site on the Persian Gulf. 1950.

Volume 10/12: William Hugh Brownlee and W. F. Albright, The Dead Sea Manual of Discipline: Translation and Notes. 1951.

Volume 13-14: Solomon A. Birnbaum and W. F. Albright, The Qumrân (Dead Sea) Scrolls and Palaeography. 1952. Download here

Volume 15-16: O. R. Sellers, D. C. Baramki and W. F. Albright, A Roman-Byzantine Burial Cave in Northern Palestine. 1953. Download here.

Volume 18: Lawrence E. Stager et al., American Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus. 1974. Download here

Volume 19: Charlotte B. Moore ed., Reconstructing Complex Societies: An Archaeological Colloquium. 1974. Download here

Volume 20: R. J. Bull and D. L. Holland, The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Volume I. Studies in the History of Caesarea Maritima. 1975. Also Joint expedition to Caesarea Maritima. Excavation reports, volume 1. Download here

Volume 21: George M. Landes, et al. Report on Archaeological Work: At Ṣuwwānet Eth-Thanīya, Tananir, and Khirbet Minḥa (Munḥata). 1975.

Volume 22: Amnon Ben-Tor, Cylinder Seals of Third-Millennium Palestine. 1978. 

Volume 23: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1981-83. 1985.

Volume 24: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1980-84. 1986.

Volume 25: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1982-85. 1988.

Volume 26: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1983-87. 1990. Download here

Volume 27: Walter E. Rast, ed., Preliminary Reports of ASOR-Sponsored Excavations 1982-89. 1991. Download here

~

ASOR also had a dissertation publication series that ran for 10 volumes from 1975 to 1994. The first two volumes were published by Scholars Press, volumes 3-6 by ASOR, and volumes 7-10 by Eisenbrauns. 

Volume 1: Alberto Ravinell Whitney Green, The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East. 1975. Download here

Volume 2: Carol L. Meyers, The Tabernacle Menorah: a synthetic study of a symbol from the Biblical cult. 1976.

Volume 3: Victor Harold Matthews, Pastoral nomadism in the Mari Kingdom : ca. 1830-1760 B.C. 1977. Download here.

Volume 4: Brian Lewis, The Sargon Legend: a study of the Akkadian text and the tale of the hero who was exposed at birth. 1980.

Volume 5: Patty Gerstenblith, The Levant at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. 1983.

Volume 6: Samuel Thomas Parker, Romans and Saracens: a History of the Arabian Frontier. 1986. Download here.

Volume 7: Rivka Gonen, Burial Patterns and Cultural Diversity in Late Bronze Age Canaan. 1992.

Volume 8: Zvi Gal, Lower Galilee during the Iron Age. 1992.

Volume 9: Richard S Hess, Amarna Personal Names. 1993. 

Volume 10: Avi Gopher, Arrowheads of the Neolithic Levant: a seriation analysis. 1994.

~

Another series that seems to have existed for 10 volumes is the ASOR books. Oddly, I can’t seem to find volumes 1 or 2. My list here, then, begins with volume 3, which was published by Scholars Press; with volume 6, these books are published by ASOR.

Volume 3: Tomis Kapitan, ed. Archaeology, history and culture in Palestine an the near easts : essays in memory of Albert E. Glock. 1999.

Volume 4: Stephen L Cook and Sara C Winter, eds., On the way to Nineveh : studies in honor of George M. Landes. 1999.

Volume 5: Samuel Richard Wolff, ed., Studies in the archaeology of Israel and neighboring lands in memory of Douglas L. Esse. This book was also Studies in Oriental Civilization volume 59, and published by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. 2001.

Volume 6: Burton MacDonald, “East of the Jordan” : territories and sites of the Hebrew scriptures. 2000.

Volume 7: Beth Alpert Nakhai, Archaeology and the religions of Canaan and Israel. 2001. Download here.

Volume 8: Neal H Walls, Desire, discord and death : approaches to ancient Near Eastern myth. 2001. Download here.

Volume 9: Kathryn E Slanski, The Babylonian entitlement narûs (kudurrus) : a study in their form and function. 2003.

Volume 10: Neal H Walls, Cult image and divine representation in the ancient Near East. 2005. Download here.

~

I’ve become a bit confused by how various series of excavation volumes work under the ASOR system. For example, various books in the Meiron Excavation Series were published both as independent volumes and as part of the AASOR series. The last three volumes of the series were published by Eisenbrauns. 

Volume 1: A. Thomas Kraabel, et al., Ancient synagogue excavations at Khirbet Shemaʻ, Upper Galilee, Israel, 1970-1972. AASOR 42. 1976.

Volume 2: Richard S Hanson, Tyrian influence in the Upper Galilee. 1980.

Volume 3: Eric M Meyers, James F Strange, and Carol L Meyers, Excavations at ancient Meiron, Upper Galilee, Israel, 1971-71, 1974-75, 1977. 1981

Volume 4: Joyce Toby Raynor, Ya’akov Meshorer, and Richard Simon Hanson, The Coins of Ancient Meiron. 1988.

Volume 5: Eric M Meyers, James F Strange, and Carol L Meyers, Excavations at the ancient synagogue of Gush Ḥalav. 1990.

Volume 6: Eric M. Meyers, et al., Excavations at ancient Nabratein: synagogue and environs. 2009. Download here.

~

There are also some fun and apparently “one off” books published by ASOR: 

David Noel Freedman and David Frank Graf, eds., Palestine in transition:
the emergence of ancient Israel. 1983. This was published by Almond Press of Sheffield England in association with ASOR. It’s volume 2 in a series called The Social World of Biblical Antiquity. Download here.

Philip J. King, American archaeology in the Mideast: a history of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 1983. Download here

Douglas R Clark and Victor Harold Matthews eds., One hundred years of American archaeology in the Middle East : proceedings of the American Schools of Oriental Research centennial celebration, Washington DC, April 2000. 2003. Download here.

Open Access, Digital Archaeology, and the Future of Publishing at ASOR 2019

Academic conferences remain one of the trickiest problems in our disciplinary practice. Not only are conferences expensive to attend (and this alone makes them potentially exclusionary for our contingent, alt-ac, and precarious colleagues),  bad for the environment, and physically and mentally exhausting, but they also reinforce the complex web of personal, institutional and professional connections that forms the “deep structure” of academia. In fact, so much of what goes on at an academic conferences happens over the course of casual conversation at the ends of panels, at committee meetings, at things overheard in the crowded hotel bar and lobby, and on various social media feeds. 

The future of archaeological publishing emerged as on of the most interesting conversations that traced its way from the Thursday meeting of the ASOR Committee on Publications, the Friday morning panel on best (or at least pretty good) practices, and in various planned and chance encounters throughout the meeting. Several things emerged from these conversations:

1. Archaeological publishing has a pretty significant “value add” to the knowledge making process. Putting together an archaeological publication, and particularly one that presents new archaeological “data,” is not a simple process. Ensuring that figures, photos, illustrations, tables, and catalogues consistently involves a high degree of editorial attention, a significant amount of design and production work, and almost continual correspondence with authors. This is time consuming, technical, and specialized work and that tends to make it very expensive.

The cost of high quality archaeological publishing even in the digital realm creates a distinct – if not unique – challenge to funding archaeological publications. This, in turn, requires that any open access model for archaeology include provisions for significant and sustained funding.  

2. Publishing and Revenue. Another challenge facing open access publishing in archaeology is that many non profit publishers (to say nothing of for profit publishers) and organizations see publications as a source of significant revenue. The revenue for journal subscriptions and book sales allows organizations – like ASOR – to fulfill their mission in other areas. As a result, there is a very cautious approach to providing any content for free. 

At the same time, the cautious approach may make organizations like ASOR particularly vulnerable to the growing pressure to make publications available via open access. My concern for ASOR is that in the next decade, whether they like it or not, revenue from publishing will change and likely decline as more and more scholars expect to be able to publish their works in open ways. As editor of the ASOR Annual, I’m already hearing that authors and editors want their work to be open access. We need to find ways to accommodate this. Plan S is looming and it’s going to have different impacts on different disciplines and institutions

3. Distributed versus Centralized Distribution. A key component to current models of open access publishing is “green” open access. In practice, green open access often takes the form of archived pre-prints or off prints. The former have the advantage of separating the scholarly work for the final value adds of the publisher (see my first point). The latter can often be negotiated by scholars as part of the publication agreement. 

The downside of this kind of open access practice is that it tends to be highly distributed across various repositories (archival and otherwise) with publications following scholars rather than following the organization brought together by publishers and editors. The downside of this practice is that it tends to link discoverability to some familiarity with an author (or at least their home institution). At present, there is a much greater investment (on any number of levels) in ensuring that limited access works are discoverable than the distributed array of open access works housed in institutional repositories. 

4. Open Access, the State and Colonialism. Archaeologists have long been aware of the colonial aspects of our practice. Open access publishing has positioned itself as one way to make sure that the communities in which we do archaeological work have access to our findings and results. To my mind, this is only good.

At the same time, this line of reasoning as a justification for open access publishing is easily anticipated by those who argue that open access publishing is a radical solution to a relatively simple problem. Many of the large for profit (and non profit) publishers already accommodate this critique by having policies that make content available at deeply discounted prices (or even for free) to “markets” in the so-called global south.     

This argument overlays usefully with the critique that by limiting access to publicly funded scholarship we’re forcing public institutions to pay twice: once for the research and again to have access. Of course, the response to this from traditional publishers is to find ways to ensure that constituencies responsible for funding certain research have access and that other audiences remain available for monetization. Such geoblocking is already fairly standard practices for online content.

In other words, while I don’t disagree with the two lines of critique, the outcomes hardly require open access as a solution. The responses available for non open access publishers are well established and unlikely to make the situation better.   

5. Skepticism, Confusion, and Analytics. One fo the most painful responses that I encountered this weekend to our efforts to develop open access models is a kind of skepticism based on the argument that impact factors and other forms of “advanced analytics” used by universities will continue to favor limited access journals. This, of course, conflates limited access with impact factors in a way that is unhelpful. It parallels a tendency to confuse the issue of open access with that of peer review by needlessly questioning whether open access publications CAN be peer reviewed. It also has similarities to the tiresome assertion that open access somehow is antithetical to print. Somehow open access has come to mean exclusively digital. This is crazy. It is entirely possible to publish an open access publication in print form. It also assumes that you can’t charge for open access publications. This is also not any truer than the idea that all free publications are open access. 

This persistent confusion — and not just among “senior” scholars, I might add — demonstrates how much work we still need to do to make sure that our disciplines embrace open access scholarship in a systematic and thoughtful way. 

 

Wide-Ranging Wednesday: ASOR, Alcatraz, and Failing Gloriously

I’m heading out west today to the annual meeting of ASOR in San Diego. As per usual, I’m pulling together a gaggle of books to keep me company on the flights and during down times at the conference.

For the flight, I’m going to read Joyce Carol Oates On Boxing as I prepare myself for a winter of rather remarkable fights starting on Saturday with the Wilder vs. Ortiz heavy weight tilt, December 7th with Joshua vs. Ruiz, and on December 14th with Bud Crawford, Mick Conlan, and Teofimo Lopez in action. I’m pretty excited.

I’ve also packed along a copy of François Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015) as I think about the practical, methodological, and ethical time of legacy data. Along similar lines, I’m carrying with me the intimidating works of Reinhard Kosselleck, but I’ll probably start with Niklas Olsen’s History in the plural an introduction to the work of Reinhart Koselleck (2012) before dipping my toes into Futures Past: on the semantics of historical time (2004) or Sediments of Time: On Possible Histories (2018). This was mostly prompted by Laurent Olivier and Marek Tamm’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019).

As per usual, at the 11th hour I added David Staley’s Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education (2019) to my Kindle on the recommendation of Richard Rothaus.

The flight to San Diego will also be a great chance to think through some strategies to promote the newest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that is set to be published on December 1. Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays is a series of reflective pieces on his life as a digital archaeologist and a digital humanist in the first decades of the 21st century. The book is part archaeological autobiography and part commentary on ways to make academia a safer place for failure.

Advanced copies of the book are in the wind and the feedback has been really positive (which I’m sure is as much a relief to Shawn as it is to me!). We were both really excited to read Quinn Dombrowski’s thoughtful review of the book on the Stanford DH blog. Check it out! 

And stay tuned to this page for a sneak peek of the introduction next week.   

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t nudge folks to read Gayatri Devi’s short essay on the North Dakota Quarterly blog on the 50th anniversary of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz. For many reasons, this event has not garnered the same public awareness as other episodes of protest in the late 1960s. That it occurred at the same time as protests by African Americans, anti-war protestors, and other movements that exposed the hypocrisy in late-20th century American political, economic, and cultural life, offers a clear reminder that the story of Native Americans remains deeply entangled in the complex critiques of contemporary America. It is hardly surprising then, that Tommy Orange’s There, There (2018) which is set in the Native American community of contemporary Oakland, looks back to the occupation of Alcatraz as a key moment in both the novel and that community’s story. Reading Tommy Orange or Dean Rader’s Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI (2011) over the Thanksgiving is a nice way to ignore the white-washed portrayal of Native Americans so closely associated with that holiday.  

Accessing the Annual of ASOR

This past month, I was named editor of the Annual of ASOR. It’s a book series organized into annual volumes on various archaeological topics. Historically, it would appear that the Annual began as an outlet for research from the various members of the schools of Oriental research. How it differed from the contemporary Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research is a bit unclear except that the Annual was in its early years more substantial and included longer, more lavishly illustrated articles. These two publications of ASOR represented the technical and professional output of the American Schools in distinction to Biblical Archaeologist (now Near Eastern Archaeology) founded in 1938 and dedicated to more accessible and popular writing about archaeology in the Middle East.

Today, the function and scope of AASOR is a bit less clear. Work on contemporary sites has increasingly appeared in the Archaeological Report Series which began in 1991 or in BASOR which is a modern and well-edited professional journal. As a result, AASOR has become the outlet for legacy projects and edited collections of articles that deal with topics broadly of interest to ASOR members. I find this eclecticism appealing especially in a world of increasingly specialized publications in our field, but I also recognize that this eclecticism might be confusing to scholars who are looking for an outlet for their work. It seems like the 100th anniversary of the AASOR in 2020 might be an opportunity to make the series more visible and to reflect on its history, contributions and potential for the future.

Along similar lines, the eclecticism of AASOR has made it a bit of a challenge to make the series more available in open digital forms. ASOR has been fortunately to benefit from the efforts of Chuck Jones who led the committee on publications for over a decade and worked to release back ASOR content in relatively open, digital forms. 

The first 20-some volumes of AASOR are available for free download various places (with some obviously in the public domain):

The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1919/1920, vol. 1 (jstor, Hathi Trust, Google books).
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1921/1922, vol 2/3 (jstor)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1922/1923, vol. 4 (jstor, Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1923/1924, vol. 5 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1924/1925, vol. 6 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1925/1926, vol. 7 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1926/1927, vol. 8 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1927/1928, vol. 9 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1927/1928, vol. 10 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1929/1930, vol. 11 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1930/1931, vol. 12 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1931/1932, vol. 13 (Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1933/1934, vol. 14 (Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1934/1935, vol. 15 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1935/1936, vol. 16 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1936/1937, vol. 17 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
Explorations in Eastern Palestine, III, vol. 18/19 (Hathi Trust, Archive.org)
Introduction to Hurrian, vol. 20 (Hathi Trust)
The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim. Vol. III: The Iron Age 1941 – 1943, vol. 21/22 (Not Available)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1943/1944, vol. 23 (Hathi Trust)
The annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1944/1945, vol. 24 (Hathi Trust

After volume 24, things get a bit more irregular, with the exception of volume 32/33:

The excavation at Herodian Jericho, 1951, vol. 32/33 (Hathi Trust)

Things get better again, however, after volume 55:

Preliminary excavation reports and other archaeological investigations : Tell Qarqur, Iron I sites in the North-Central highlands of Palestine, vol. 56 (Hathi Trust)
Across the Anatolian plateau : readings in the archaeology of ancient Turkey, vol. 57 (Not Available)
The Near East in the southwest : essays in honor of William G. Dever, vol. 58 (Hathi Trust)
Results of the 2001 Kerak Plateau Early Bronze Age survey AND Two early alphabetic inscriptions from the Wadi el-Ḥôl: new evidence for the origin of the alphabet from the western desert of Egypt, vol. 59 (Hathi Trust)
The archaeology of difference : gender, ethnicity, class and the “other” in antiquity : studies in honor of Eric M. Meyers, vol. 60/61 (Hathi Trust)
The middle Bronze Age IIA cemetery at Gesher : final report, vol. 62 (Hathi Trust
Views from Phlamoudhi, Cyprus, vol. 63 (Hathi Trust)

The three most recent volumes (64, 65, and 68) are only available via Jstor with a subscription. All in all, 27 of the 66 published volumes are available for free download (and a few more can be viewed at Hathi Trust, but not downloaded). This is something that should be easy enough to sort out and it would be outstanding to try to get all 66 volumes of AASOR available for free download by 2020 (or at least those still not generating some income for ASOR).

The existing content available from AASOR offers an intriguing body of data that could, for example, be analyzed for the history of the publication or the discipline, mined for spatial data and plotted on a map, or queried for references and citations. While the earliest volumes have entered the public domain making them available for all sort of remixing and classroom use, the latter volumes are often under a CC By-NC-ND license making them a bit harder to play with. 

(If you notice a mistake in this list, please drop me a line in the comments. I’ll post a list of AASOR volumes and their accessibility to Google Sheets when I tidy up my own spreadsheet.)

I’m also scheming up some ideas for new AASOR volumes, but I’ll share that with the ole blog when they begin to get a bit more focus (and when I have a better sense for whether people will be interested!).

ASOR Wrap Up

My apologies for missing a few days on the old blog last week, but I was pretty busy at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to as many panels as I would have liked, but it was a productive meeting none the less.

So here are five things that happened (to me; after all, it’s my blog!) at ASOR:

1. Object Biography. The final workshop in a three year series of panels on object biography was a hoot (or as one of the panel’s organizers said “a bag of worms”), even if my paper was cautiously received. The papers were fun and the conversation was pleasantly edgy. Whatever the utility of object biography, the panels demonstrated an overwhelming desire for some kind of authentic engagement with things. It may be that object biography is flawed because most of us don’t think of objects as having life. At the same time, one wonders whether the recent interest in object agency especially among archaeologists, reflects our experiences struggling with objects that appear to have greater and greater autonomy from our wishes, desires, and intentions. In other words, maybe the idea of an object having a biography – a birth, a youth, an adulthood, and a death – is simply a matter of degrees from the idea that objects are agents. The former, however, seems contrived not because as we expand our notions of agency from individuals to things we are simultaneously diluting the very concept of being alive.

2. Welcoming our new digital overlords. I was amazed by the number of variety of panels on digital tools in archaeology at this year’s ASOR. Maybe it’s been like this for the last few years, but our fascination with the potential of digital archaeology was on full display starting with the plenary address by Sarah Parcak and continuing through many of the posters and papers. I was particularly pleased that the most recent book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future, received a share of the attention. In fact, co-editor Jody Gordon recorded his paper and answered some questions for ASOR and this will likely be posted in the next week or so. I’ll put up a link to his paper and the interviews when they become available. 

3. CAARI has a new director. I am a member of the board of trustee of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute and after almost 7 years of dedicated service, Andrew McCarthy, is stepping down to pursue new adventures. In his place, the CAARI board approved the appointment of Lindy Crewe, a prehistorian who has worked on the island for many years and has a reputation for being a thoughtful scholar and an elite excavator. You can get a sense for her accomplishments on her academia.edu page. It was a good choice and I look forward to her leadership at an institution that has contributed significantly to my work on this island and my career.

4. Digital Publishing and ASOR. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working with Scott Moore to produce a digital version of Pyla-Koutsopetria I: The Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. Since we published our data with Open Context, we produced an unofficial digital edition that allows a reader to move from the text to our published data throughout. We learned at ASOR that we’ve been given approval to release a linked digital copy of the book (as a beta) this spring once we work some bugs out. The goal is to present this beta-draft for some feedback and to prepare a revised digital edition at a later date. 

We also discussed the possibility of preparing PKAP II as a digital release with links throughout to our excavation data in Open Context. There are number of technical and cultural challenges to overcome, but hopefully we can propose a series of steps toward making the Archaeological Report Series a significant outlet for innovative digital archaeological publications.

5. The ASOR Meeting Program. I serve on the ASOR program committee and one of the most interesting conversations in recent years in that committee concerns the number of times people can officially appear in the annual meeting. This year, we decided (and it was a mistake) to only list the first author (or presenter) in the schedule section of the program book and to list coauthors in the abstract section. The reasons for this are complex and involve both aesthetics (and a concern for clutter in the schedule) as well as a concern that some members of ASOR are appearing “too frequently” in the program. Most academic meetings have some kind of policy limiting the number of times someone can appear in the program designed to promote diversity in the program and to ensure that scholars of all ranks can participate. At ASOR we have fiddled with this policy numerous times over the last few years and not quite settled on a universally accepted formula.

To me this is interesting because it considers both the meetings, but more importantly, the academic program as a lens through which we can understand and shape the field. Limiting the number of times someone can appear in the program will promote the the appearance of diversity, but it leaves open the possibility that the program does not actually reflect the work of writing the paper. At the same time, appearances can change reality and making the program appear more diverse might actually change the nature of field.  

ASOR 2016

Apparently I got a nice shout out at last night Sarah Parcak’s plenary talk at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. I figured it must be about my blog (or various other ventures). So I felt like I should have something posted this morning for people wondering who I am.

I have enjoyed new ASOR logo:

IMG 0008

Revised from this:

The American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeology in the Near East

The lowercase letters are a nice touch in a lovely seriffed font with just enough formality to convey the weighty history and purpose of the organization tempered by the lowercase letters with just a touch of whimsy on the terminal (I think?) of the “r”. 

I like the Canaanite jar as a symbol and maybe it marks a shift toward the Mediterranean from the Mesopotamia and Egypt? Whatever the reason it’s an elegant update.

Archaeology Mediated by Technology: Gibson, Dick, and Archaeologies of the Future

Last week, I posted a draft of my ASOR paper, and today it is more or less done. It think I originally titled the paper “Excavating in the 21st Century: A Fictional Biography Mediated by Technology,” mostly because it rhymed. 

Enjoy.

OB III THE OBJECTS

For my brief remarks today I’m intentionally misunderstanding the assignment for this panel. Rather than discuss the artifacts presented in the pdf file that Rick and Nancy circulated, I want to consider the pdf document as an archaeological artifact. As I looked at the pdf file and its metadata, I recognized that the pdf format was introduced by Adobe System around 1990 and this pdf file appears to have been created using Microsoft Word apparently on a MacIntosh using Apple’s Quartz PDF and running OS X 10.10.5. So we know something of the provenience of this digital artifact. 

OB III THE OBJECTS2

I knew a good bit less about the artifact visible in the pdf document. So I wrote an admittedly fanciful abstract for this session thinking about all the companies and brand names associated with this single digital document and channeling my inner William Gibson. In particular, I indulged in Gibson’s recent tendency to name everything, which perhaps found its most pervasive expression in his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. Frederic Jameson called this tendency “postmodern nominalism” in his 2007 collection of essays on science fiction titled (aptly enough), Archaeologies of the Future. Of course, the naming of things is not new, but it takes on special visibility in our hyper-commodified culture. The naming of things is significant for the concept of object biography because, we recognized – as did Igor Kopytoff – that objects initially exist with general names as commodities (even in our late capital world) – before they enter our world as artifacts. As artifacts, they go from being general types to things that have meaning in a singular way – a process Kopytoff calls singularization. Singularization transforms the commodity into something that has a social life, which gives rise to a biography. 

OB III THE OBJECTS3

In the three previous object biography sessions, the papers have generally focused on the life of these singularized things and have paid particular attention to the objects that archaeologists study or recover. As the papers in these sessions have recognized, for archaeologists, the process of commodification is more complex as objects are commodities, have lives, and are then discarded (and become rubbish and striped of all value to use Michael Thompson’s imagining of that term) before once again entering the world of value and life. 

OB III THE OBJECTS4

In my contributions to these sessions, I’ve tended to reflect on the tools that archaeologists use and tried to understand how these objects intersected with the objects that we study. I’ve thought about technology and been impressed by some recent work by Eric Kansa who has emphasized the role of branded, commodified, interchangeable tools in archaeological practice. If archaeologists in the 1970s prized their (branded!) trowels, today digital cameras, iPads, laptops, and software join traditional field gear as vital for the archaeologists work. Archaeology has been even more enmeshed in the commodified world of Gibson where products and brands intersect with archaeological things. 

OB III THE OBJECTS5

As I thought about this, I was drawn to the novels of Philip K Dick particularly as interpreted by Bill Brown in his most recent book Other Things. Brown emphasizes what even the casual reader of Dick’s novels knows: the authenticity of objects is a central concerns for the author as he explores the future of the past. In Time Out of Joint, the idyllic surroundings of a 1950s American town slowly falls apart when the protagonist discovers a cache of magazines describing an alternative present that appears every bit as real as his surroundings. In Ubik, objects drift in and out of chronological focus in a netherworld between life and death. In The Galactic Pot-Healer, Dick contrasts the deeply -fulfilling, artisanal work of a pot-healer who repairs damaged ancient vessels, with the emptiness of modern existence. For Dick, the authenticity of an object – its shift from a commodity to a singularity – depends on time.

OB III THE OBJECTS6

As commodities like iPad, software programs, and drones become increasingly ubiquitous in archaeological practices but also more remote, disposable, and depersonalized, archaeological work becomes mediated by “things out of time” (to use a Dickian phrase). It is strangely alienating for archaeologists to come to depend so fully on objects that barely have biographies. It would seem that archaeologies of the future and the future of archaeology is only more enmeshed in this commodified world through which we give objects life.

OB III THE OBJECTS7

Digital Objects at the ASOR Annual Meeting: A Draft of a Paper

In a few weeks, I’m giving a paper at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting. I’m giving a paper in the Object Biography for Archaeologist Workshop which this year focuses on objects as magnets. The abstract for my paper and the panel is here. If last year is any indication, this should be a fun panel with some good papers.

Last year, the papers went a bit long and that cut into our opportunities for conversation. This was too bad because the conversation seemed lively and, in some ways, more engaging than the papers. Even worse, my paper is the fourth of five papers and I’m set to go on after 5 pm. In other words, my paper will happen during cocktail hour.

To compensate for this, I’ve decided unilaterally to keep my paper short hopefully ceding a bit of time for conversation, and to keep my paper relatively simple. My target length is about 1500 words and I hope I can bring that in at around 12 minutes.

Here’s the first, roughedly-rough-ruff draft: 

Objects, Clones, and Contexts

The idea of an object as a magnet is compelling. It evokes the idea of the object as a node in a network of attractions and relations that draw together objects, associations, individuals, institutions, meaning, and even events and time. In fact, some scholars have suggested that objects are more than isolated nodes, but actually represent the network itself. In other words, the object does not attract meaning to it, but is meaning itself. It may be that magnet and the effects of magnetism are inseparable.

Of course the idea of the object as magnet also got me thinking about the role of magnetism in the creation of digital objects (even if magnetic storage is giving way to solid-state technologies which are not a magnetic medium). Instead of messy magnetic metaphors, my paper today will consider a wide range of digital archaeological objects. These digital objects play a vital role in archaeological practice and occupy a unique place in how we conceptualize object biography.

Digital objects are ubiquitous in archaeological practice. Archaeologists regularly produce thousands of digital objects each season and unlike excavated or collected artifacts which may only seem to proliferate, most archaeologists take active steps to ensure that digital objects are cloned and distributed across a wide range of locations and contexts. These objects exist in dense networks of both technological relationships, practice, space, and the archaeological discourse.

Despite the prominence of excavated or collected artifacts in archaeological publications and arguments, most of these objects enjoy relatively little attention from the archaeologist. They get uncovered or recovered, washed, identified, sorted, counted, recorded, and stored in trays or boxes or maybe even dumped. The archaeologists with whom I’ve worked on Cyprus refer to these most common artifacts as “sherds” (and it must be said with a dismissive sneer). In Greece (and on my project), we refer to them – problematically – as context pottery. I suppose this is meant to indicate that this pottery is so ordinary that it only offers context for the really important stuff or perhaps it should be regarded contextually along with other features in the trench like the stratigraphy. As a survey archaeologist with a bit of a quantitative bent, I always felt sorry for these “sherds” and most of my real archaeological work has focused on recovering these objects from “the enormous condescension of” most archaeological practice.

In our work, these sherds tend to be the smallest and most granular objects recorded in archaeological practice and the most common objects assigned archaeological significance. As an aside, I’ll overlook the work done to document the chemical make up of sherds which while important remains quite rare in Mediterranean practice and particularly unusual on a large scale. It is interesting, however, to note that scientific study of artifact whether through thin sections, XRF, or neutron activation, does recognize that archaeological objects exist on the molecular level. I don’t have much familiarity with these practices, but I introduce them as a little bit (see?) of critique on the idea that an object is a magnet. To my reading, this might imply an unnecessary division between the object itself and meaning (that is attracted to it from elsewhere?). It might be simpler to understand an object as only existing with meaning. Without meaning (or relationships) objects may well exist, but not in a useful or recognizable way.

Whatever the specifics, any process used to document these “sherds” involves the creation of at least one digital object. Our project at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, recorded each sherd as a record first on a sheet of paper and then in a relational database. At Polis-Chrysochous, we skipped the paper phase and recorded directly into the laptop computer. The entry in the database involves creating a record of the object’s weight, color, and place in established or local typologies. In some cases, this record is accompanied by another digital object, a photograph, and in exceptional cases, we use a series of photographs to create a 3-D structure from motion image of the artifact that is itself made up of a series of digital objects including photographs, a point cloud, a wireframe, and a textured 3D object. Each these individual parts of the 3D object represent stand alone objects that each have particular archaeological values.

At the end of the recording process, the archaeological artifacts go back into their trays or boxes, are placed on shelves in massive storerooms, and return to relative obscurity. In all, an archaeologist might spend 20 seconds handling, identifying, and recording a sherd on one of these trays. For the sherd, as object, the process (and in many ways the utility of the object) is over, but for the digital object that comes from this interaction its usefulness has just begun.

Over the course of my surveys, excavations, and study projects, we have produced tens of thousands of these digital objects in relational database as well as digital photographs each inscribed with vital metadata and assigned a file name meaningful in our recording system. This is standard practice.

These digital objects have innumerable advantages over the fired clay objects. These digital objects can be sorted instantly. They can be duplicated almost flawlessly. They can be transported over national borders and cloned so that they appear in multiple places at the same time. They can be published on the web and in books, and linked to by other folks to form new networks and relationships. Finally, the conservation and storage of digital objects in the short term is relatively inexpensive compared, at least, to the expenses and challenges associated with the so-called storage crisis in archaeology. In so many practical ways, the digital object is more useful to the work of the archaeologist than the excavated or collected object.

In conceptual ways, digital objects are more useful as well. For example, the digital world in which we work is so much simpler. It relies upon ontologies that make at least some relationships and definitions explicit and it cuts through the unsightly messiness associated with archaeological artifacts. In fact, for a digital object to have meaning, it depends upon a dense, but legible network of relationships that define not only how a digital object is expressed, but what it expresses. Moreover, the network of useful relationships between various digital artifacts tends to be more visible as well. For example, in contrast to cloudy network of associations generated by an archaeological artifact, the associations linked data relationships follow defined pathways either within a data set (for example linking two similar objects together within the same dataset) or between datasets (an artifact to a location in GIS for example or two objects discovered at different locations).

Digital objects rely upon more than merely bits and bites to communicate meaning. They exist within a networks of physical objects as well. Hard drives are every bit as hard (in physical terms) as solid state drives are solid. The cloud may seem ethereal, but it too is made up of routers, servers, storage, racks, chips, wires, and buildings. The devices we use to access our digital objects are made of silicon, aluminum, rare-earth, and plastics and function best in enclosed spaces with solid surfaces and comfortable chairs. Problems with the various material interfaces with digital objects will, of course, compromise the utility of these objects for archaeological analysis.

At the same time, the physical media upon which digital objects depend represent a vital component of the material culture of archaeology. These archaeological objects which have – quite literally – a magnetic relationship with objects produced in the field have only recently received significant scrutiny as objects. The use of iPads in the field and their innovative, yet familiar, interface has renewed conversation regarding the material form of digital recording devices. Archaeology of the contemporary world and the allied field of media archaeology have likewise showed renewed interest in material form of digital media. The most recent volume of the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology explored these intersections in a most productive way. An NEH sponsored conference titled “Mobilizing the Past” and sponsored by ASOR members at the Atheinou Archaeological Project encouraged critical reflection on the intersection of digital and material tools used in archaeological field work.

The focus of today’s panels was on objects as magnets. I have taken this a bit too literally in reference to the myriad little magnetic charges that constitute so much of our digital world. At the same time, I hope my paper brings to the fore some simple examples of how archaeological work and archaeological artifacts depend upon digital objects. These digital objects have their own biographies that require us to adjust our understanding of life to allow for frequent cloning, periodic reincarnation, spontaneous bilocation, and, as with so many objects, lengthy periods of suspended animation.

These objects have important social lives as well. They depend upon hardware, software, and a wide-range of other technological infrastructures and protocols to be useful and understandable to each other and to archaeologists. These objects, in turn, rely upon the support of economic relationships, political and institutional structures, and ideological commitments to have value. Not every digital object has equal value and we all know of digital objects that have died unmourned on a faulty hard drive, a decommissioned server, or with the obsolesce of a particular application.

With the passing of a digital object, we lose part of the network of relationships that connect our analysis with the archaeological artifact. This is not a call to keep every related digital object alive on life support, but to recognize for objects like our poor, marginalized, sherds, the continued vitality of the digital artifact is more important than baked clay.