Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Center for Digital Archaeology

I wanted to share this archaeology website that I ran across this group the other day: The Center for Digital Archaeology.  The center is a non-profit organization that helps archaeologists and cultural resource managers with their digital technologies. It seems like they provide a very useful service in helping archaeology to move into the digital realm in both field and post-excavation settings.  Based on our discussions in class and what I have been seeing on the web this term, it seems that digital archaeology is now being embraced by more and more archaeologists, but I wonder if that's the impression you all get as well.

The CoDA apparently hosted a workshop at the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) Meetings this month in San Francisco.  The workshop was entitled: “Paperless Archaeology. It’s About Time.”  That the organizers feel they will generate enough interest to hold a workshop makes me think that digital archaeology might be gaining some real traction within the wider archaeological community.  It would be interesting to see if the people who attended the workshop are the same people that have had an interest in digital archaeology previously.  As Neal has mentioned in class, he has observed that the same group of people attend the digital talks at the SAAs.  Perhaps this workshop is a sign that more archaeologists are engaging with digital media.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Look but don't Touch?

I found a really interesting article just recently.  Since we had had a class discussion on the use of drones in archaeology, I went looking a bit further.  I found a few examples from across the world where aerial photographs, drone videos, and satellite imagery have been used to document sites without disturbing them.  This article states "look but don't touch", an idea that to me is an interesting possibility.  I wonder if these ways of collecting information and documenting archaeological sites can be done in a place likes Ontario where there has been damage done from ploughing and development.  I did like Josh's talk where we looked at the possibility of using drones on an active archaeological sites, and think this is something I need to look into further as well!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Digital Technology Fueling Debates on Cultural Property

I have been following an interesting story that involves one way in which digital technologies are changing the way we interact with museum objects and cultural heritage. Recently, a Dutch museum performed a CT scan of one of their objects: a statue of a Buddha.  The CT scans revealed a human skeleton inside, and the museum curators learned that what had previously been thought to be a statue was, in fact, a mummified Buddhist monk. This is an interesting example of how digital technology is revolutionizing archaeological inquiry.  Without the application of digital imaging techniques, this mummy was interpreted as a statue and displayed as such.  Now, not only is our understanding of this object altered, but the understanding of this type of object, as there were no known previous examples of mummified monks being encased in statues.

The statue on the left, and the CT scan on the right, revealing the skeleton inside. (Photo credit: Drents Museum)

Now that this information has been made widely available to the public (through that other omnipresent tool of digital archaeology: the Internet), questions have been raised about the legal ownership of the object.  The mummy is suspected to have been stolen from China a decade ago.   While reports vary, and the owner of course claims that he acquired the statue legally through, there has been much debate in the press and social media about where the statue rightfully belongs.  Although purchased legally, and displayed in Drents Museum, many people are raising the opinion that perhaps such objects should not be displayed in museums.

The Dutch owner of the object is now considering returning the object to China, although the owner may have purchased it through legal channels, it is unlikely that it left China legally.  Additionally, the debate surrounding this item has swayed the owner to see it is the cultural heritage of the country of origin and should be returned. This whole incident has now brought up other similar cases to be discussed in a public forum. A similar mummy in a statue had been reportedly stolen from a temple in Gekeng, China in 1996.  It will be interesting to see how this story develops, and what impact digital technologies have on how we interact with and understand cultural heritage.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Past and future and the archaeological present

At last night's London Chapter OAS talk the speaker (John Dunlop, MA student, University of Western Ontario) spoke on his research investigating pre-contact sites using the geophysical technology of magnetometer survey. The exciting thing about geophys techniques, to me, is that they allow us to effectively survey the areas immediately surrounding sites for outlying structures and features. This can provide a much more detailed picture of the site landscape, particularly as sites are typically identified through the presence of surface or topsoil artifact concentrations that may not be directly related to sub-surface cultural features. An interesting corollary of this ability to peer under the plough-zone is the ability to record and preserve sites without excavating them, a seemingly perfect scenario given the mission statement of archaeology: 'to preserve the past for the future'.
This brings me to consider digital technologies and futurism in archaeology. Populated by individuals obsessed with the past, archaeology is increasingly a field obsessed with the future. Digital technologies are largely presented as means of better preserving and storing data, or collecting data in ever more futuristic ways to glean ever newer insights. In such an environment it is easy to get carried away by the possibilities of technological approaches and it is fascinating to speculate toward the role of technology in shaping the way we think. In a previous post (Feb. 19) I argued for the possibility, in light of advances in remote sensing, to not physically open a tomb. By the same token, we need to seriously scrutinize reasons for not excavating sites in the name of futurist ideas.
While the preservation of cultural heritage for the future must remain the central tenet of archaeology, the discipline's most important role is to contribute to, and shape, conversations happening at a given moment. Because archaeology, like everything else, only really exists in the present.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

As I was considering what we have learned in this class, I came across an article relating to the future of digital archaeology written by Harrison Eiteljorg. Eiteljorg discusses how technology use in the field of archaeology has become part of the field work process in a number of ways but also discusses that there is a long way to go to reaching successful integration. I would have to agree with Eiteljorg on this matter. It is almost comical to think about how much we know about archaeological practices and technology and yet, we are still only in the early phase of putting the two together.

There is great potential out there but we must be aware of the new implications that technology brings to the table. The issue is that we must not flood the field of archaeology with too many pointless or different technological applications. One of the greatest abilities of technology such as databases or data entry is bringing together information. However, if we all bring this information together in different ways then it defeats the purpose of creating a universal system. Trial and error are part of the process but it must be kept in mind that one good system is better than hundreds of mediocre systems. Perhaps this is why practicing archaeology in the field has used virtually the same technologies and methods for the last half century with a few innovations along the way. Seriation, shovel shining, etc. are all simple but effective processes and this is why they have lasted so long. Digital archaeology has the opportunity to create a lasting legacy on the field of archaeology as well but archaeologists should all have some say as to what this legacy should look like. Unfortunately, I think it is still too early to see the full potential of digital archaeology but there is potential nonetheless.

The article is interesting because Eiteljorg does a good job of remaining neutral as to both the positive and negative effects that can result from the development of digital archaeology. I would recommend the article as a good wrap up for this course because it has the past, present and future in mind which we should all be interested in!


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

$300 000 Grant to Digitize Archaeological Records

I recently came across this article describing a grant acquired by a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The grant, $300 000, will be utilized to digitize archaeological records associated American Southwest sites, specifically the Salmon Pueblo Archaeological Research Collection. This collection is associated with the Chocoan culture and contains recovered artifacts but also information on the unique architecture. The Salmon Pueblo Archaeological Research Collection is enormous, 1.5 million artifacts have been recovered, and as a result the associated records are equally as vast. The project sets out to digitize, and make public, all of the records from the excavation. It should be noted that the information regarding the location of burial sites and locations where religious offerings were made will be mapped and also made available to the public. The project is set to conclude in October of 2017.

Building stabilization project at the Salmon Ruins found at

I believe that this project can be used to examine the themes we have focused on in this course. The two themes that have me the most interested are the concept of open access and community engagement. Unfortunately this article does not describe the level of community consultation with local Puebloan peoples regarding the publication of information related to religious matters. I would be interested to find out how the communities feel about the fact that burial site locations will be made public.

Dunker, C. (2015, March 23). $300,000 grant will help UNL researcher digitize archaeological records. Retrieved April 9, 2015, from