Friday Varia and Quick Hits

Today’s Varia and Quick Hits is coming from Fargo, North Dakota where I’m enjoying a slight change of venue after a stimulating evening at the Plains Art Museum. I’m going to tarry here in Fargo for a few hours this morning with the hope that a change of venue will stimulate some of my flagging creativity.

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Before moving onto our weekend reading, a couple of advertisements for myself. First, Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology is now available at the low, low price of $17.95. There’s almost no reason not to buy it now (unless you already have it for free). Yesterday, Richard Rothaus and I released our second podcast in our ongoing adventures in podcasting

IMG 2875Do my paws seem too long to you?

IMG 2882Allow me to help you with that blanket.

Adventures in Podcasting 2

Richard Rothaus and I got a nice trickle of positive feedback on our first podcast, so we decided to do another. 

As you’ll hear, we’re still trying to get the medium sorted out and things like pushing the record button seem to demand a kind of attention to detail that is pretty hard to muster (sometimes), but we somehow managed to produce another episode of the Caraheard podcast.

This episode was prompted by a tweet made by Scott Moore in his guise as the official @MobileArc15 Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future Conference tweeter.

 

We have a few little show notes today to enhance your listening:

For a bit more on the Dycam Digital Camera go here.

Here’s a link to the Brandon Olson, Jody Gordon, Curtis Runnels, and Steve Chomyszak article in the Journal of Lithic Technology 39 (2014) on 3D-printed lithic reproductions. For a shorter, free summary of this article, download our short edited book: Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology

For some information on XRF go here.

And for some details on the famous Orb Drive, read this.

Lives, Land, and Labor in Bakken at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo

If you’re down in Fargo this evening and want to step out, check out the IdeaExchange program on Lives, Land, and Labor in the Bakken at the Plains Art Museum. To register, go here

This program is in conjunction with their ongoing Bakken Boom! exhibit which I’ve blogged about here.

IEBBoom2 12 2015poster

Off-the-shelf Technology in Archaeology

This week’s @mobilearc15 question was: My favorite off-the-shelf app for paperless archaeology is _______. @mobilearc15 is the official twitter feed of the Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future conference held at the end of this month.

When I thought about that question, I reflected on the usual contenders. I can’t imagine intensive pedestrian survey without ArcGIS. I can’t imagine processing finds data and integrating artifacts and stratigraphic interpretations without relational databases like Microsoft Access. I thought about how much time in the field software like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop have saved us by allowing us to manipulate illustrations and photographs to improve their legibility and scalability.

I’ve spent the better part of the last month working my way through the archaeological data that we’ve collected over three years of excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla. Doing this, I’ve used a range of paperless archaeology tools from Adobe Acrobat to ArcGIS and Access.

My favorite off-the-shelf app for paperless archaeology is Scrivener#mobilearc

Scrivener is a word processor developed by Literature and Latte in 2007. My impression is that it was designed specifically for novelists and screenwriters. It’s most important and useful feature is the ability to manage long, complex texts by breaking them into more manageable sections while keeping them all together in the same file. Scrivener allows me to move these sections of text around freely and to set targets of word length for each section which does wonders for keeping me on task and on length. As someone who writes in 1000-2000 word chunks (or smaller), the opportunity to have all my small chunks of text together in the same program is worth the $45.00 price of Scrivener.

To other features make it my favorite paperless archaeology applications. First, unlike ArcGIS 10, Access, or the truly horrendous Microsoft Word, Scrivener never crashes. It is rock solid stable. It automatically saves during work and saves a back up of you file at the conclusion of ever session. Moreover, you can import directly to your Scrivener file all sorts of additional media that are useful when writing into a “research” folder in your Scrivener project. So most Scrivener projects have two sections. One section titled “Drafts” includes your ongoing compositions. The other section titled “Research” is available for any documents that you might need while writing.

For example, in 2013, I went into PKAP lockdown. For a stretch of three weeks I worked on the conclusion to the PKAP I volume for 8 to 10 hours a day. To produce this 15,000 word conclusion, I wrote 10 short, 1500 word, sections and arranged these in my draft section. The research on which these sections were based came from articles saved as pdf, other chapters of the volume, saved as Word files, and jpeg images of our survey area. Using my 15 inch MacBook Pro, I could arrange the section of the text that I was writing next to a research document like a image of the survey area or a final report. I realize that this is possible to do this in other ways, but the convenience of Scrivener makes it particular appealing. Scrivener is really well suited for long documents like book or article length manuscripts. 

The biggest reason that it is my favorite paperless archaeology application is that Microsoft Word had become more and more painful for me to use. I did not like long documents, I found the menus distracting and unintuitive. It was unstable (at least on the Mac). And I found it fugly. 

The downsides of using Scrivener are familiar to anyone active in the digital world. It does not save to an archival format, it is a commercial application, and is not quite smoothly compatible with many mainstream citation software (like, for example, Zotero). It does not easily support file sharing between collaborators which is probably its most substantial draw back. It really is a solo writing application. Finally, Scrivener is not the place to do final formatting for a manuscript. When you’re done your Scrivener project, you export it as an .rtf file and open it in Word, hold your nose, and finish the formatting there.

The general public tends to understand archaeology as simply fieldwork and paperless archaeology sometimes tends to be limited to integrating digital tools into work at trench side or in the survey unit. In reality, these trench side tools are just one stage in a larger digital ecosystem that begins with data collection and ends with the publication of analysis and the publishing and archiving of data. Scrivener is my favorite application in that process.

Slow Archaeology and Local Context

Over the last week I set aside my work on a volume devoted to the various excavations conducted at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, and started work on an updated version of my slow archaeology paper. I’ll give this paper at the end of the month at the Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future conference in Boston.

The first two parts of my paper focus on the potential of slow archaeology to counteract our tendency to divide archaeological sites into fragments for easier documentation in the field. Of course, archaeology, as a modern discipline, has always fragmented the world into neat packages. but our reliance on digital tools had exaggerated this tendency. It has become more and more easy to capture archaeological information at astounding levels of granularity in the field. In keeping with the larger argument of slow archaeology, I connect this increased granularity with the intersection of Taylorist practices in field work designed to increase efficiency without “missing” vital archaeological data and the structure of digital tools which encourage highly structured recording practices. I want to write more about the accelerated pace of academic archaeology sometime soon, but this first section is basically a repackaged call for more phenomenological approaches to archaeology.

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The second part of the paper argues that we have come to rely on an increasingly complex digital ecosystem to pull these fragments of archaeological information back together. This is a shorter section that suggests archaeologists have gone ahead with data collection methods in the field without necessarily thinking about how the results of this work will be published or archived. My easy case study is the rapid expansion of 3D imaging technologies which capture in highly accurate and efficient ways spatial relationships in the field, but so far have no become commonplace in archaeological publications and require careful consideration for archiving.

This sets up my final part of the paper, which I reproduce here because it is more speculative and unconventional: 

The final part of my paper today is the most speculative and perhaps the most unconventional. I want to appeal to arguments made for the relationship between time and space in a digital world. So far I’ve argued that digital methods are part of a larger trend to seek efficiency and speed by parsing tasks more finely. These practices have gone a long way to solve the practical problems associated with limits in time, funding, expertise, and workforce and reflects century-long trends in industry, academia, and even archaeological methodologies. At the same time, the ways in which we have implemented digital tools in archaeology has complicated our efforts to reconstructing the archaeological context of our excavations (or survey units) and ultimately the past. I’d like to try to argue – or at very least suggest – that the quest for efficiency (and speed) has had a concomitant effect on how we understand archaeological context and space.

To make this argument, I appeal to work of geographers like David Harvey (pdf) who describe a phenomenon called “time-space- compression.” For Harvey, the increase in speed has resulted in the “annihilation of space by time.” I’ll apply his complex arguments in a rather loose way to archaeology, but I think we can mostly agree that one of the ways in which digital practices have increased the efficiency of field work is by moving the place of analysis from the side of the trench to the storeroom, the laboratory, the library or the faculty office. Field work becomes focused on data collection, primarily, and the understanding of those data collected can take place not only at another time, but most often, in another place.

To do this, we have become increasingly attached to digital surrogates (to use Adam Rabinowitz’s term) for archaeological artifacts. I use the term artifact quite broadly here to include both traditional artifacts, like pot sherds, statue fragments, and architecture, and evidence for archaeological relationships, like stratigraphy, soil descriptions, and other environmental data recorded over the course of an excavation or survey. With the most recent advances in easy, cost effective, and efficient 3D scanning as the organizers of this conference have helped to develop, it becomes possible to transport a 3D model of an object back to their home institutions on a laptop computer. Databases, scans of notebooks, photographs, and other digital records enable archaeologists to reconstruct an artifact’s archaeological context thousands of miles from the present location of the physical object and even further from its “origin” (and I uses this word advisedly).

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It would seem that the higher the resolution of our documentation, the greater the boon to the archaeologist. To be clear, like most people in this room, I have found myself in my office cursing some overlooked or misremembered detail invisible in photographs, descriptions, and even 3D models. These moments of cursing, however, never fails to remind me that the “original” context of the object matters, or, to evoke a slightly different discourse, provenience has value. Looted objects are less valuable because the act of looting has rendered them out of place. Moreover, most people in this room would agree that calls for the repatriation of artifacts – whatever the modern political context for such gestures – is important because it enables us to understand the connection between objects and their broader context. To bring all remaining fragments of the Parthenon Marbles together within view of the Athenian Acropolis represents an effort to restore the building, its sculptures, and Classical Athens to some kind of recognizable whole. Digital surrogates, plaster casts, and scale models simply do not suffice.

This being said, I obviously recognize that excavation involves some kind of displacement. We replace this displacement of soil and objects by establishing an archaeological context. This archaeological context, however, has traditionally had a physical connection with the location of excavation or survey. We tend to localize these archaeological contexts by connecting sites to museums, artifacts to storerooms, and ensuring that appropriate archaeological authorities have final reports, copies of notebooks, and even subsequent publications. Lectures, site tours, and other kinds of outreach are becoming more and more common even at as site as visually unremarkable as ours at Pyla-Koutsopetria. Like widely supported calls for repatriation, something about archaeology remains unmistakably local.

This returns me, of course, to the larger lessons of slow archaeology. Because slow archaeology resists the fragmentation of archaeological information for the sake of efficiency, it encourages us to take the time to understand archaeological contexts in their entirety. This breaks down the boundary between context (either geographic, archaeological, cultural, political, economic, spatial) and archaeological object. It produces an archaeological that is more consistent with our current archaeological ethics. 

From North Dakota Quarterly on Slow and Peace

Today (let’s hope!), the issue of North Dakota Quarterly that I co-edited with Rebecca Rozelle-Stone should arrive back from the printers. Readers of this blog know of my recent fascination with the Slow Movement, and have likely read a pre-print of my contribution to the issue here

I was pretty pleased with the content of the issue, and you can read the introduction that I co-authored here:

 

This weekend I also played around with creating a series of reprints of public domain North Dakota Quarterly content. I decided to focus on 1915 and 1916, thinking that I could package some of the currently interesting content from these years as a “100 years ago” kind of thing. To make it all the more authentic (and to indulge my interest in Slow), I set the first reprint in the famous Doves Type and grabbed the cover art from a 1917 World War I poster digitized by the Library of Congress and called Forward America!

Libby Book Cover

All my readers should subscribe (today!) to the North Dakota Quarterly. It has only as much to do with North Dakota as you want and the fiction, essays, and poetry are absolutely first rate. Go here to subscribe.

I think it looks pretty good considering I have no graphic design, print making, or type setting experience:

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

I missed last Friday because I was on the road, so I feel lots of added pressure to come through with a genius edition of quick hits and varia this week. Maybe too much pressure.

Before we do that, however, I want to follow up on a little side project yesterday’s post. After reading this epic blog post comparing the Archaeological Institute of American to ISIS by a coin collector and lobbyist against import restriction on ancient artifacts called Wayne Sayles, Andrew Reinhard, Punk Archaeologist without Borders, and myself collaborated in a little punkish hardcore ditty that put together our reading of Sayles blog post to music. Reinhard, obviously, provided the music. It is awesome.

 

Now on to the varia and quick hits:

IMG 2871Where did I leave that?

Adventures in Podcasting, Radio, and Dramatic Readings

This is a pretty exciting day at Archaeology of the Mediterranean World Headquarters. 

My colleague, Richard Rothaus and I are pleased to release the first episode of our new podcasting adventure:

We are both pretty happy with the results, although we’ll certainly refine the sound quality and the flow of our banter a bit as we move forward. The current plan is to release a few podcasts a month and once we have a little gaggle of them, we’ll push them to iTunes and some other services. 

Here are the show notes from our first podcast:

Bill’s Blog: https://mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com/
Richard’s Blog: http://www.whitewashedtomb.com/ and http://www.demandmenothing.com/

Timothy Gregory: http://history.osu.edu/directory/Gregory4 
Ohio State Excavations at Isthmia: http://isthmia.osu.edu/ 
Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS): http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/publications/hesperia/article/75/4/453-523

Mt. Oneion in the Corinthia: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/publications/hesperia/article/75/3/327-356

Rough Cilicia Archaeological Survey Project: http://opencontext.org/projects/295B5BF4-0F44-4698-80CD-7A39CB6F133D
Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project: http://opencontext.org/projects/3F6DCD13-A476-488E-ED10-47D25513FCB2

Kostis Kourelis, “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s-1930s”: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/publications/hesperia/article/76/2/391-442

But wait, there’s more!

Bret Weber, Richard Rothaus, and I got some great press coverage by Emily Guerin from Inside Energy. We really happy with how this sounded. I’m a bit embarrassed about how excited I got when we pulled into one of our favorite workforce housing sites:

And because you read this blog regularly, you are eligible for a very special bonus track! 

Yesterday, my buddy Dimitri Nakassis posted a link to a brilliantly bizarre blog post that compared the Archaeological Institute of America (aka Archaeology in America) to the Islamic State. The post was so remarkable that I decided to perform a dramatic reading. I don’t do this very often, folks. What’s better is that this dramatic reading will be part of a (only slightly) larger project conjured by Andrew Reinhard. It’s going to be epic. You can download my reading of this post for a limited time here.

Modern Archaeology in Classical Contexts

This month, I’m reading a new book on the archaeology of the contemporary world for a journal traditionally associated with Classical and Mediterranean archaeology. The book is an edited volume by Bjørnar Olsen; Þóra Pétursdóttir, titled Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past, and it’s good and reflects another solid contribution the rapidly expanding body of significant literature on the archaeology of the modern era, the very recent past, and our contemporary world.

Ruin Memories Materialities Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past Hardback Routledge

The book is good, in part, for the expected reasons. The contributors have firm grasp of significant theoretical developments ranging from recent work on memory to agency theory, Heidegger, and symmetrical approaches to things, but this is to be expected for a work like this. The contributors also demonstrate a willingness to nudge the boundaries of the discipline. They document their recently deceased father’s house, a German POW camp in northern Norway, urban graffiti, and other sites that barely register in our personal awareness, much less disciplinary knowledge, as places of interest. In the pages of a journal traditionally dedicated to Classical and Mediterranean archaeology, this book will stand out as a curiosity probing the edges of disciplinary ways of knowing and most of our (and here, I’ll admit to my traditional training) theoretical envelopes. For example, there was a chapter on the ethical treatment of objects that I had to skip over for the time being. I was impossible to read and process on a short flight.

What struck me more about this book was the intensely evocative the images that the authors conjured in their articles. Timothy J. LeCain’s work on the Berkeley Pit in Butte, MT is a great example. He begins with a flock of snow geese that had strayed from their migratory course and made the fateful decision to alight in the toxic waters of the Berkeley Pit (which apparently has the Ph value of battery acid). Needless to say, the birds did not survive their miscalculation, but their mistake lingered in the background of the entire article and drew me to consider long afterlife of extractive industries, objects, and landscapes, which was perhaps less profound than impactful. Elsewhere authors revealed the worlds of urban explorers, drifter, and children and considered the capacity of marginal(ly familiar?) landscapes to provide meaningful places of social interaction, economic development, and even personal growth (in the case of children and play). The vivid images are both familiar and striking owing as much to the language and photographs of the authors as the subjects themselves.

This got me wondering why this kind of magic seems (to me) so absent from Classical and Mediterranean archaeology. This is not to say that my colleagues in the discipline cannot turn a fine phrase, take an evocative photograph, and provide a moving narration, but, in general, our work feels stuck in some kind of mid-20th century (charitably) scientistic discourse. My recently published monograph on our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus contains hundreds of pages of an analysis so boring that I doubt I’ll be able to re-read it. I’m not suggesting that archaeology itself is boring, but it would take a very charitable soul not to see much of the scholarly output in our discipline as dull. In fact, I’m  R.G. Collingwood’s reaction to reading Thucydides: “What is the matter with a man that he writes like that? I answer: he has a bad conscience. He is trying to justify himself for writing history at all by turning it into something its not.”

I wonder if the difference between what we’re doing as Mediterranean and Classical archaeologists and what is happening in our larger discipline reflects a bad disciplinary conscience. We are still trying to turn archaeology into something its not.

Key Tech in an Archaeologists Tool Kit

In the lead up to the Mobilizing the Past for the Digital Future workshop at the end of the month in Boston, their social media coordinator (aka R. Scott Moore) posed a pretty straightforward question from the conferences twitter feed: What is the one digital tool that needs to be in every archaeologist’s toolkit today?

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As I pondered this question and shot off a gut-feeling response: GIS. A few people tweeted back to agree and some suggested other things: relational databases, statistical packages (SPSS), et c. It’s hard to disagree that these are important things for a budding (or experienced) archaeologist to know. Archaeology programs, even in the most traditional areas of archaeology, are gradually ramping up their offerings in both of these areas. Moreover, these areas are interrelated as they involve understanding how data structures work with GIS simply being a database with a spatial component, and most statistical programs being only as good as the data that goes into them.

At the same, I began to think about how working with data in archaeology has changed over the past decade or so. The mastery of standard database applications (like Filemaker or Access) and GIS (ArcGIS) remains useful, but is also barely enough to manage an archaeological workflow of any complexity. Today, in field recording often leverages different technologies than the project uses to process and analyze the data. Maps produced in GIS almost always derive from data collected using a Total Station or, more frequently, a differential GPS unit. These data collectors each have their own idiosyncrasies in both software and hardware. The growing interest in 3D imaging involves an understanding both how to manipulate point clouds, wireframes, and photographic textures in applications designed for the production of 3D images and how to integrate this data within existing digital workflows. Publishing data either as part of a larger analysis or as a stand alone dataset requires another set of skills as moving data collected in the field and analyzed by proprietary software to an open format remains more complicated than necessary and still requires an understanding of the digital ecosystem in a way that mastery of a single piece of software does not.

All of this is to say that our concept of a digital tool or a digital tool kit feels more and more outdated. What archaeologists need today can no longer be limited to the concept of a tool (any more than a carpenter can work with a single or even just a single set of tools), but involves a wide ranging understanding of the archaeological data ecosystem that begins with trench or survey unit scale data collection and extends to the publication and preservation of data.

Over the last six month, I’ve read and reviewed a number of articles focusing on digital applications in archaeology. One thing that has consistently alarmed me is that the authors fail to consider the place of the new technology within existing digital ecosystems in practice or the discipline more broadly. In other words, our view of digital archaeology should change from an appreciation of individual tools to one focused on ecosystems. The former emphasizes the utility of a particular application for a particular task or problem, while the latter prioritizes the place of any particular application or process within a larger digital workflow that starts with trench side practices and culminates in archival datasets.

Go and follow @mobilearc15 for more discussions like this and use the #mobilearc hashtag to contribute both to the discussion and to the conference.