Sunday, 10 December 2017

Save Everything or Strategic digital Documentation

One topic that has come up a couple of times in our class discussion has been the debate over how much information should be saved at archaeological sites. In this short video we can see the archaeologists using drones and 3D scanners to document as much as they can at the temple of Poseidon in Greece. one statement that stuck out to me was "we are creating a virtual archaeology so someone 10, 20, 30, years down the road can get back inside your head, can almost see the dig through your eyes". While I agree there is certainly something to be said for documenting as much as one possibly can at a site I think there is also an argument for the other side of this as well.

Data storage is sometimes a complicated and costly process and can not always be done very easily. If you are capturing any and everything you do there is a possibility that you are capturing a lot of unnecessary data. As we talked about in class data storage in research is not just as simple as loading things onto a single hard-drive and having it safe for 1000 years. There are certain archival standards for digital data storage that should be followed. redundancy is important and saving files in archival formats is also an excellent way to improve long term data safety.

With that being said, I personally don't think it is a great idea to capture absolutely everything at a site. At a certain point there is not much additional information that you will be able to gather from a 3D scan 10 years in the future. I certainly see the value for landscapes as these things change but i wouldn't see the value in scanning every little piece of white ware off of a CRM site. There are instances where there isnt much, if any, analytical data to be gained only at the expense of data storage.

Bullying and Silencing in Academia and On the Web

Hi all,

We have been talking a lot about social media and how it is/can be used by archaeologists but what happens when this blows up? After all of our website review presentations I have become really fascinated with how these fantastical alternative explanations for things arise. One thing that I noticed when looking through comments and social media when doing my own project was how sterile the comments tended to be. they were overwhelmingly positive. This (again) was a common theme we saw when examining the websites. It seems that much of this positivity and community participation is carefully cultivated. Those who don't agree are either removed from the conversation or are bullied away.

We as archaeologists feel that we are in the majority or the position of dominance however it seems that these communities are growing. They are often motivated by some form of ideology that doesn't mesh with our approaches or what we as academics know to be true. We often see bullying, like that in the case of Mary Beard (who was outspoken on the state of multiracial families in Roman Britian), being used to silence those who speak against this.

I don't believe that conversations on heritage should just be a matter of who can speak the loudest. There have been a number of claims in heritage that have resulted in the truth being obscured or ignored just because of influence. The myths surrounding the mounds of North America are one example of this that is still sometimes debated today by those who still are in disbelief of First Nations people building these earthworks.

Going forward I think it will certainly be hard to change these sorts of ideologies as for those that believe them they are firmly ingrained. When doing my website review the general consensus i found among patrons of these sites was that they felt ignored, and that their ideas were not being represented in media. As a result they search for publishers of similar ideas. We don't really have much power against this but what can we do to defend our discipline? Is there anything?

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The dilemma of buying and selling archaeological artifacts online

Hi everybody,

I was reading this interesting article on Business Insider that discussed the authenticity and provenience of archaeological artifacts being sold on eBay and Amazon. This highlighted a number of issues that I wanted to briefly touch upon.

The first one is whether artifacts should be sold at all. As an archaeology student, I am certainly biased in my views regarding this topic. I think all artifacts should be owned by public organizations, so that all members of society have the ability to learn from these artifacts, instead of private collectors, where almost no members of the public will have access to it. It is because of this reason that the tone of the article bothered me, as it was advocating for the ability of online buyers to purchase authentic artifacts. I do understand, however, that my views regarding who should own artifacts are idealistic and not very realistic. In a capitalist society, there are always going to be people that will pay a premium to keep a piece of history for themselves, and as such, a market exists for these people.

This brings me to my second point, which is the issue of the entire article, that of authenticity and provenience. The article does highlight a common issue of people who create fake artifacts and also looters, who illegally remove and sell artifacts from sites. Regardless of who owns an artifact, the issue of imitated artifacts is a problem, since it can lead to a misunderstanding of the past. Looting is also a major problem, it removes an artifact from the archaeological context necessary to understand it, and gives it no provenience. These are both serious issues that bring me to my third issue, which is whose responsibility is it to determine the authenticity of an artifact.

Certainly, when an individual or institution purchases a historical artifact they should at all times be wary of the provenience and authenticity of an artifact. However, the onus should be on  the retailer, even large online retailers such as Amazon, to investigate the authenticity of an artifact. In a non-online environment, a retailer is obligated to ensure the item is valid. A good example of this would be art dealers who often act in an intermediary capacity between a seller and a buyer. This is a similar capacity to that of Amazon. Overall it seems to me that websites such as Amazon or eBay need more accountability.

What do you guys think? Who is accountable for determining the veracity or authenticity of artifacts? Is it even appropriate to sell archeological artifacts in the first place? If not, is there anything the archeological community could do to limit this practice? Is there anything governments could do?

I look forward to hearing your responses.


Sunday, 26 November 2017

Intellectual Property

Note: For clarity, I am just going to discuss the two readings from the last post for next week. I'm sorry if I made things confusing by posting again. This is just for sharing. :)

Apologies for multiple posts, but I also wanted to bring up intellectual property issues in archaeology as we come up on next week's discussion. It was a bit difficult to narrow down articles I wanted the class to read, as issues surrounding intellectual property are certainly relevant. My solution: Another post! With completely optional readings and discussion. (For full disclosure: I've already read and shared these readings in another course, which is another reason why I made it a separate, non-assignment related post. Intellectual honesty is part of ethics, after all! I am only sharing because I do believe that issues surrounding copyright, trademark, and ownership are important to consider.)

Hollowell, Julie, and George Nicholas. 2008. "Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication: Some Questions to Consider". Archaeologies. 4 (2): 208-217.

I also present to you a case study of the ongoing legal debates surrounding intellectual property and cultural heritage in the United States: Building off the previous article, Sari Sharoni of Stanford Law School wrote on the potential and limitations of using trademark to deter cultural appropriation, which was later published as part of the Federal Circuit Bar Journal in the United States. She discusses the lawsuit against Urban Outfitters by the Navajo. Her point of view is that trademarking would ultimately be ineffective, which seems to have since been contradicted by recent legal victories.

Ethics, ethics, ethics: Going beyond the digital

It’s our last discussion day next week! How sad. It’s sure to be a good one, though, as we wrap up with thinking about the larger context of all this work and issues to think about.

I admit that I asked for this week. Not because it’s the last one, I swear! But because of the presence of the bone trade online. This article, though 10 years old, is a pretty good piece of journalism on the topic that covers a bit of the historical background and the trade’s colonial roots.

A quick online search can lead you to websites where you can purchase human remains online. Obviously, this becomes an issue in bioarchaeology when anthropologists are thinking about course materials, how this market might influence their fieldwork, or when law enforcement asks an anthropologist to identify a skull found in a garage. It's an old problem that has transformed into a niche market of collecting taboo curios that are increasing in value.

Before class, think about your own work and/or interests in archaeology. How has the internet or digital technologies influenced how you might have to handle excavation, artifacts, curation, or the dissemination of knowledge? What ethical dilemmas do/will you have to consider?

I have two main articles for next week:

The first is by Layla Renshaw writing on her experiences working on mass graves from the Spanish Civil War, available through the Western Libraries.

Renshaw addresses difficult metaphysical, ethical, and political questions about the role of archaeologists in the context of working with the recent dead and living descendants. I am using this article as part of the discussion of ethics. She draws on ANT and the sociology of technology to discuss the idea that “archaeology sparks a public into being.” Her point of view is that archaeologists, even when working in the most politically and emotionally difficult of contexts, can advance public deliberation of issues by becoming active "public intellectuals". (Note: The article starts on page 35)

Secondly, this is an article that I hope will help us wrap up the course with some good discussion and debate:

That links to the whole issue that is publicly available online, which has the theme of “Are We All Archaeologists Now?” The article in question starts on page 255.

You might ask why I am choosing an article written by a musician, but it touches on a lot of issues that we’ve been pondering over the entire course. With digital technologies, information is more accessible and many of us are using these technologies as part of “knowledge mobilization” and engaging different publics. In this digital era, what makes an archaeologist? At what point does someone become an archaeologist? How is the discipline evolving? Who owns knowledge? Should we be gatekeepers, or are we “all archaeologists now”?

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?