Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Hi Everyone,

This article came across Jeremy Huggett's blog this week and I thought it would be timely to cross share with our blog.   (My apologies to those of us who may be tracking both of these sources)

Over the course of the term, we have discussed various ways that "digital" is impacting archaeology.   We've talked about ways that technology is changing how we "do" archaeology from a methodological perspective.   We've also talked about how technology impacts what we communicate and how our key messages might be perceived by the public and other interested stakeholders.      Huggett's article invites us to think about this from a slightly different perspective.   How is technology (more specifically mobile technologies such as phones & tablets) potentially changing or impacting "us" as practicing archaeologists in terms of our basic cognitive capacity to focus (avoid distractions) and to remember/recall key information pieces?  

There is quite a bit of literature available on the subject of cell phone distraction and the downside of technology overuse.   I came across this wide-ranging article here which outlines a number of "hidden" social affects of technology use in section 2 and concludes with a specific call to Anthropologists for additional interdisciplinary research in this area. 

As the person who recently pitched the idea of a "digital mobile (pocket) assistant" application to our group, I am clearly on the "pro-technology" side of this discussion, but are there other consequences that we need to take into consideration!    Do you think that the "profits" from our mobile devices outweigh the "deficits" they impose on us ?  


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Public engagement and social media!

Hi everyone,

Building from Hillary’s post, here is an article that I briefly shared during discussion, which I found to be provocative about Twitter altmetrics:

I stumbled across it when I was looking into the efficacy of Twitter in public engagement, since we were discussing it in the context of archaeology. There are some limitations to the study (which they acknowledge). For example, their conclusions about Twitter engagement doesn’t necessarily apply across all fields since they only focus on one discipline (dentistry). Also, this study is focused specifically on the use of Twitter in altmetrics with journal articles, not general public engagement (however you define that). [Sidenote: There are many enthusiastic proponents of altmetrics out there, and active discussion surrounding their use.]

However, I believe it does bring up a few issues that we reflected upon in class. How do we measure online “engagement”? Is it 10 re-tweets? 500 Facebook followers that actively participate in conversation (what is considered active participation)? A million crowd-funding participants?

My personal feelings are that online numbers are not always an effective or comprehensive reflection upon engagement (or the importance of a project!), though the reality is that numbers are what most people want to see and find impressive. It has also occurred to me that I view this as a key difference between online measurements and measuring engagement through, say, ticket sales at a museum. In the offline world, it's unlikely that we would be concerned with 100 fake visitors to an exhibit. Thus, perhaps this is an area where applying offline methods don't translate well to a digital space. In designing how to generate interest in archaeology and communicate archaeological concepts, these are going to be the issues we’re going to have to confront. I am curious to know if anyone has found different ways of measuring engagement with more qualitative methods to add to the numbers.

Virtual Curation Lab and others...

Hi all,

Just thought I would put this together after our discussion on Monday about the Virtual Curation Lab and Bernard Means. when discussing this article it seemed to me that many, if not all of us, were a little uncomfortable with some of the methodology and practices outlined here. I have linked the VCLs Sketchfab page. This is where the 3D models that are being shared with the public are hosted. There are currently nearly 600 models hosted on this page, covering a wide variety of artifact types and material culture traditions.

While I certainly think there are research applications for this sort of work I think there are a lot of things that haven't been considered here such as long term storage of these models or some of the ethical considerations for the display of these models. Also in some cases I think there is something to be said for the "slow archaeology" approach in terms of the quality of the final product... but maybe that is just me. we have spent a lot of time talking about the "boys with toys" approach to digital archaeology which I think we can see elements of here.

Embedded here is the most popular of the models created by the lab. It is a peanut from 1890, some have referred to as the "first peanut". 

For those of you that were not in class on Monday, what did you think of this article? Were there things you would have liked to have seen Dr Means address or did you enjoy his approach? 

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Automatic Interpretation and Documentation of Ceramics

The ArchaAIDE Project is run by a consortium of institutions and professionals (Universities of Pisa, Barcelona, York and Cologne, Italian National Research Council, School of Computer Science at the University of Tel Aviv and IT and archaeology professionals) and it is funded by the European Union. 

The goal of ArchAIDE is to create "new system for the automatic recognition of archaeological pottery", which is usually the most common artifact found in archaeological sites. Pottery analysis yield a great amount of socio-economic information, but the interpretation of ceramics requires high skills, experience and time. 

In order to streamline the process and make knowledge accessible wherever, the ArchAIDE project will develop an app for smartphones and tablets. The app will allow archaeologists to take pictures of potsherds and, connceting to a database, it will recognize the sherd and retrieve information about the specific ceramic type. In addition, recognized sherds will be stored and shared. The app will also enable archaeologists to generate an electronic document about the artifact, reducing the amount of paperwork.

Such an app might revolutionize fieldwork, but is it possible to replace skilled scholars with an app? Does a streamlined interpretation and classification process have only advantages or do we still need to be reflexive when we are studying artifacts? Could this app reduce the interpretation of material culture to a mere "labelling" process?

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Reading for November 20th

Hi Everyone,

Here is a link to a (short) supplemental article for next week's class.   As you work through the readings, please consider the following topics that I am hoping to explore with you in more detail:  

  • The composition and makeup of the "public" and other "local" communities
  • The dynamics of power relations that influence the archaeological discourse within these communities
  • What is meant by "engagement" and how that is impacted by the internet and digital communications



Visser, Jasper. Perspectives on Digital Engagement with Culture and Heritage. Vol. 68 American Association for State And Local History, 2013.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

GlobalXplorer and "Space Archaeology"

When I was looking for sources for my final paper, I stumbled on the "GlobalXplorer" project ( 
The project is funded by the 2016 TED prize, won by Sarah Parcak, Egyptologist and Faculty Member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (U.S.).
The goals of GlobalXplorer are discover archaeological sites in Peru using high resolution satellite images, protect these sites from looting and then help communities who live near these archaeological sites (

The most innovative aspect of GlobalXplorer is the public engagement: everyone can create an account and, after a short "training", analyze satellite images and contribute to discover archaeological sites.
The project is also sponsored by National Geographic and in an online article Parcak says "Archaeologists can’t do this on their own. If we don't go and find these sites, looters will.” GlobalXplorer is compared to a videogame that "... will appeal to people who want to be part of the work that goes into making actual discoveries and solving ancient riddles—and stopping the destruction of our human heritage.” (

Most articles about GlobalXplorer and "Space Archaeology" shows how every single person can become a modern Indiana Jones (and I personally hate the parallelism Indiana Jones-archaeology). In addition, there is a sort of sensationalization of archaeology (let's just think about the term "space archaeology or the description of Dr. Parcak as an "archaeological evangelist".)

What do you think about these kind of project or this specific project? Do you think that it is a good way to engage the public? And, is it good to to engage public in satellite imagery analysis for archaeological purpose? What do you think abou this sensationalization and "gamification" of the discipline?

Monday, 30 October 2017


As we work our way through the themes of the course, most recently encountering 3D artifacts, I am continually interested in the idea of authenticity. If our theory course has taught me anything, it’s that the staggering human propensity for imposing order is surpassed only by the actual complexity of things, which undermines our attempts at coherence and comprehensiveness the more we pay attention to what’s actually going on “in the seams.”

In the interest of exposing my paradata, I explored the topic of authenticity further by searching “3D printed artifacts authenticity” into Google News, which returned an article on an artist deliberately distorting artifacts in museum collections to “imagine” artifacts of her own design.

It’s an interesting and contrary impulse to the readings on 3D printing for analytical purposes, which seek ever finer and closer reproductions of the original models. Even as we approximate “accuracy” in 3D models with analytical intent, the readings make clear that there is interpretation, modification, and smoothing in the production of this knowledge. I see value in ever finer levels of accuracy in the models, but I do wonder if we will reach a level of approximationm (or "authenticity") that causes us to overlook, forget, or disregard the fact these are reproductions with some (however small) level of imagining. By contrast, the artist in this article indulges the imaginative component of her work, even exaggerating it. I’m not suggesting archaeologists pursue this in interpretation, but rather recognize imagining is its own kind of paradata.

I’m interested in your perspectives on this; acknowledging the benefits of 3D printing and modelling for analytical purposes (much less “engagement” purposes) is there a danger in getting too close to reproduction?


Afterthought: alternatively, perhaps in time we will reach the 3D printed version of the Uncanny Valley and be weirded out instead!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Reading for November 6th

Hi all,

Here's the link for my additional reading for our discussion on visualization and virtual archaeology that I'll lead on November 6th.


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Archaeology from Above – Academic and Amateur Archaeologists’ Use of Google Earth

Since its release in 2005, Google Earth has been a boon for academic and amateur archaeologists alike who make use of the open access satellite imagery to scour landscapes for evidence of archaeological sites and features.  A look at the gallery at the following link (here) demonstrates the impressive, albeit sometimes accidental, research capabilities of this software, showing the many types of discoveries, archaeological and otherwise, that Google Earth has facilitated or aided in.  I used the program myself for the first time during the last stages of my Master’s research to get a view from above of the two sites I studied, as well as to situate them in the broader landscape of the region (an image I used and edited from Google Earth can be seen below).  I was impressed by the quality of the images that were available as well as the differing resolution it afforded me when examining the sites up close as well as from afar and I can definitely see its obvious research utility.  The version I used was free, making its capabilities as open access software even more notable in my mind.  This relatively powerful tool is downloadable by anyone with an internet connection, and this coupled with its low cost, makes it an idea tool for amateur archaeologists.

The following article called "How Google Earth Has Revolutionized Archaeology" discusses the use of Google Earth by amateur archaeologists and metal detector enthusiasts that led to the discovery of the largest hoard of Saxon coins in the United Kingdom a few years ago.  These groups used Google Earth to examine particular features in the landscape, allowing them to better determine where to focus their efforts (the same can be said for academic archaeologists) when it came to field walking with metal detectors.  While this particular group states that they observe the laws in place protecting portable artifacts and work in close contact with regional archaeologists, this cannot be said for all groups using this program and taking part in similar activities.  The archaeologist interviewed in the article expresses horror at the actions of these groups for numerous reasons, including the fact that they can contribute to looting, and are sometimes guilty of disturbing archaeological contexts, rendering them useless in terms of particular research questions.  I admit, I echo many of the same sentiments.

While this particular archaeologist lamented the use of Google Earth by these groups, they also were forced to admit that the availability of these programs has led to an increased interest by the public in archaeology more generally.  Genuine interest from the public can be hard to drum up, and I think that the ability of programs like Google Earth to spark curiosity in people with different levels of experience is one of its greatest strengths, with benefits to be reaped by the public and academics alike.  This capability of Google Earth was apparently not lost on the Archaeological Institute of America, who in honor of the first International Archaeology Day in 2011 partnered with them to create a new layer in the software that displayed the location and a brief description of popular and publicly accessibly archaeological sites in Canada and the US.  Archaeologists were contacted in the Provinces and States and asked for lists of their most popular sites in their local areas, garnering huge numbers of responses.

What do you think about this use of Google Earth as a platform to foster public engagement?  Do you think the positives of having this type of open access satellite imagery available for query outweigh the potential issues that may arise when this technology is used by amateur archaeologists?

Monday, 23 October 2017

3D Scanning and Printing of Artifacts Reading!

Hi everyone!

The discussion next week is focused on 3D printing and scanning of artifacts. The article I would like you to have a look at is:

Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 09/2015, Volume 3

It can be found on the university library page. While going through the readings try to keep in mind the purposes of the 3D scanning, the long term effects of these initiatives and the effect that these sorts of projects will have.