Thursday, 29 January 2015

Interesting Artifact

Hi All,

I was doing some research for other things and came across an interesting article that reminded me of something Neal had mentioned about working with intricate beads.  I find these types of artifacts interesting and part of me would love to see the scans/3D print to learn how they are constructed, but then ethics (as always) comes in to play.  What do you think?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

One Big Step to Sustainable Archaeology Infomatics

Hey all,

when we are at SA next week, do take a moment to admire our nicely labelled boxes... as you can see from SA's facebook post, this is a critical milestone allowing us to manage collections coming in and moving a step closer to integration of our informational platform. There is a reason Alex looks happy... it took a lot of work and a lot of hair pulling to make this happen (really, 3 years and counting!). Believe me when I say databases and automation is no straight forward task... and has been a huge challenge to make it otherwise for disciplines like archaeology that don't have internally a critical mass of expertise to draw on.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Ever Murkier World of Replicating Heritage

There are a lot of sides to 3D printing archaeology...

Ever since Sustainable Archaeology obtained a 3D printer, I have been struggling with very conflicting thoughts on this capacity we have. On the one hand, I'm dazzled by the technology and think it pretty darn cool to print out objects to size or scaled... or even reassembled. On the other hand, the ability to print a 3D model - to "adjust" or improve on the original artifact - feels a bit like a line being crossed, raising for me a host of questions about the limits of dissemination, who should be getting a say on what can and can't get printed, the obvious "let's make some money from these" sentiments that people seem too quickly to rush towards, etc. On the other hand, I find we are asked all the time by Descendant groups asking for prints of artifacts so they can have a copy, it can be displayed in a Council office, they have a copy of an object repatriated and reburied, or a desire to have a printed copy of an important object in a ceremony. So I appreciate that this is a complex topic, which is why I have been mulling it over in my head and wanting to talk about in class and, later on, at the SAA meetings in April.

One recurring strand of these musings has been an uncertainty I have over the increasing tendency for Museums and cultural institutions to widely make 3D models of objects in their holdings accessible online. Clearly part of the impulse to provide wide access and appreciation of the heritage, and at least in some cases embracing the principles of Open Access, I was intrigued by a post I stumbled across recently that talked about how the British Museum has decided to allow people to download and print 3D models of select artifacts from its holdings.

As the post notes, other Museums are also following suit. Of course, the Smithsonian is all about digitizing millions of its holdings, and you can print a bust of Abraham Lincoln... or Barak Obama, to your heart's content! This is part of a broader trend of Museums to digitize art and collections, and make them accessible and even inviting people to be creative in repurposing the images. Generally, the sentiment, reflected in comments such as by Nina Simon, is that this is a good thing, creating access where there was none before.

The British Museum is providing access to these models through Sketchfab, Which is an upload and share site for all kinds of 3D models... you can come across artifacts, sites and other heritage features available as 3D models, some done very well, some less so. More notable is Threeding, a web page that purports among other things, to preserve the past by allowing you access to high resolution 3D models of various types of heritage objects, including a few Egyptian objects. Apparently Threeding is Now partnering with Artec Group to expand its offerings of heritage objects.

So here's the thing. The British Museum, Smithsonian, and others scan objects that are clearly a "global" cultural heritage, mostly of other nations and peoples, making that accessible to be consumed and repurposed by anyone anywhere. Indeed, the objects the British Museum has put up so far are all not of English heritage, and speaks to the legacy of the global harvesting of heritage objects over that last few centuries by the British colonial empire. Over at Threeding, a perhaps more insidious feature is charging a fee for 3D models (Roman gravestones for 15-25 dollars a pop... Aztec figure free!). My radar starts going off when I see these trends, as I wonder what the implications are for things like appropriation and Intellectual Property (IP). Certainly the broader implications of how 3D printing can really mess with IP and copyright is a very hot topic for discussion, from Slate Magazine and Zdnet, to a slew of thought pieces from law firms, such as here, and here, and even the Financial Times sees in 3D printing the emergence of the next Napster challenge to copyright laws (see also 3Dprint). Of course, this makes makes me wonder if IP lawyers aren't chomping at the prospect for the "business" this will generate?!

But what of 3D printing cultural heritage? Certainly museums grapple with effective means of managing the digital IP of its holdings, but the discussion tends to be about how to safely and correctly make material accessible and protect the museum's own copyright, as CHIN discusses in a long a technical report. In the UK there is guidance on exceptions to copyright for museums, especially around the mandate to preserve and disseminate cultural heritage. So the "good" of preservation is at least one strand driving concerns to ensure digitization, and even printing, for archaeology continues. But, as Threeding makes clear, making money is going to drive justification for providing access too. This all plays into a broader question of the intellectual property of archaeological objects... cuz now Indigenous images, forms of ceramic decoration, structures, and, really, anything physical that is archaeology, and also someone's or everyone's heritage, can be continually repurposed, not just as images but as objects too.

So of course I have no answers here, just musings! And I will no doubt be musing about these ideas in class, and picking your brains for your thoughts, too, especially since some of you have indicated that creating a 3d model and printing it is something you might like to do for your digital project. And hey, kicking around these ideas will also help shape what I say at the SAAs, thus requiring me to need to cite you all to ensure I don't misappropriate our collective brainstorming! So let me know what you think!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2015 Intro to our "I-ing the Past:Digital Archaeology and Digital Heritage" Course Blog

Greetings, and Happy New Year!

So this is our course blog for this wintery part of 2015. Second time round you would think I have a good handle on how the course will proceed, but I find that I am still struggling to come up with the specifics of the course. There are a number of challenges to something like this course, because the subject matter could be, well, anything in the early 21st century to do with archaeological practice and theory! In a sense, then, we get to define what Digital Archaeology means to us as we work our way through this course.

That is not to say there are no examples out there to follow. In fact, "Digital Archaeology" as a concept on the web has been used in very different ways, ranging from "excavating " and re-discovering lost or abandoned web pages and content, to photographic analysis, to various kinds of data mining, to oral history projects, to, yup, archaeology. In fact, when I Google the phrase "Digital Archaeology" (DA) I get more about digital archaeology of the internet or in computers, than I do in doing archaeology digitally, which is surprising, since Google tends to tailor searches based on user preferences.

But I think that DA is more than just a clever term for web based exploration, exhibition, and data mining. For us in archaeology, it is a not well explored dimension of practice that changes practice as it is being employed in practice. From making data accessible, to how it is presented, to engaging with wider audiences, to others using that data, to all the issues of loss, distortion, and mis-representation, I think there are implications to archaeology becoming digital that are worth considering, especially since we are actually trying to go in this direction at Western and at Sustainable Archaeology (SA). So that is what I'm hoping we get to explore and become a little wiser about in this course.

There are, of course, people who blog about digital archaeology (the way we are going to talk about it) and a digital heritage. For some early examples, here are some blog pages worth checking out:

Shawn Graham is the closest in Canada to advancing a Digital Archaeology. It is interesting that he tends to overlap a Digital Archaeology and a Digital Humanities, but that is likely a function of where he works (History dept at Carleton). His blog page is worth reviewing, cuz many ideas he raises we will be talking about:

Bill Turkel is a History Prof here at western, and very much all about Digital history and humanities. His blog is a very helpful exploration of how things like databases, web sites, etc. work, and is written for people who are not computer scientists. Worth checking out:

Lorna Richardson is a PhD student at UCL who is interested in the social media and public engagement dimensions within the Internet. Her blog is more exploring these concepts than how-tos, and nicely explores a range of issues we'll no doubt be spending a fair amount of time on in this class:

Nicolò dell'unto is a PhD Student at Stanford, I believe working with Ian Hodder, and very much interested in the 3D virtual representation of site locales and artifacts. He is mostly working on data from Catalhoyök and other such sites in exploring how to create 3D representations, working through meshes, etc. He is the dominant contributor to a blog that offers a little how-to, and a lot of cool videos:

Doug Rocks-MacQueen maintains a web page that is fairly diverse, but has a lot to do with digital archaeology, and offers a good source of sites to explore:

Sustainable Archaeology lastly, we do have a blog page, but ours is not too informative, and more about us stumbling along and trying to figure out what and how we get to do things:

Well, that's it for now. Please start cruising the internet and add pages you think are worth looking at in posts. That’s a good way, too, for you to start planning what you might like to post about, which you should consider start doing as of now. I've left up a few posts from last class as a bit of an example, but anything from links that inspire... or anger... you, to cutting edge technologies, to cool toys being announced at CES 2015, to online exhibits, etc., are all fair game to talk about, though try keeping within the confines of the course itself… the challenge of a Digital Archaeology, as is the challenge of the digital age, is being overwhelmed with information and not really knowing what to do with it.