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. 


"Digital" vs. "Archaeology" - who's on first ?

I recently came across this article and thought it might be a good candidate for discussion in our blog - not so much because of the scholarly detail (it is quite short), but rather due to the way that Technology seems to have overshadowed Archaeology in the article. 

There are clearly some innovative and arguably "cool" technologies being promoted here.  Using  robots to probe archaeological sites where human intervention would either be unsafe, impossible, or destructive seems very cool and also makes good practical sense.   Leveraging a "cloud" based archaeological information management system would likely be a requirement given the large data volumes produced by the various  data sensors on the robot.   (Although this example reminded me of the "data deluge" discussed by Cooper and Green (2017) in our readings this week.   Who and how will they make sense of all of the data?)   And finally, the development of multiple web and mobile application interfaces to enable the results to be disseminated to  various "user" groups based on their needs would also be warranted.    

Lots of technology to showcase, but what about Archaeology?   Aside from a few cursory references to "Cultural Heritage" in the article and a somewhat patronizing final statement that places technology "once more at the service of culture and restoration", this article really didn't seem to connect back to Archaeology in any substantial way for me.   

This is only one article and perhaps even an obscure one at that.   But do you think that this example is indicative of a larger risk for Digital Archaeology where technology becomes THE thing rather than just a thing?   My perspective on this comes from a 30+ year (first) career in IT where I've seen a lot of shiny balls come and go.   I think we need to be very careful not to elevate "Digital" to the status of the primary identifier in "Digital Archaeology".   Archaeology is what we do - Digital is just one of the ways that we do it.  

What do you think?   I will look forward to your comments and reactions.       


Thursday, 19 October 2017

Online archives in research and education

Hey all,

I’ve been pondering the utility of publicly available collections as we enter next week’s theme. As promoters of online research tools will say, online archives can transcend physical borders, provide access to rare collections, and connect researchers and students around the world. Archives, such as, can also be useful in introductory classrooms. Osteology (both human and zooarchaeology) has had a trend for a while of some institutions building online photo repositories of skeletal collections, with the idea that they can used educationally. Here is an example. Others aim for public access to datasets, or to facilitate researchers connecting and sharing data.

Here I would also like to call attention to efforts to make 3D collections available. MorphoSource is a data archive created by Duke University that allows researchers to store and organize, share, and distribute their 3d data. The intentions of this archive is to allow any registered user to immediately search for and download 3d morphological data sets that have been made accessible through the consent of data authors. The stated goal of MorphoSource is to provide rapid access to raw microCt data to as many researchers as possible.
Personally, I’ve used online databases and photo repositories to double check my work. I've also used online archives to provide students access to imagery when studying outside of the lab. The prospect of 3D collections in the future is exciting, since much more detail will be captured and shared. Bone collections can be difficult to accumulate ethically and/or access can be logistically impossible. Online archives open bone collections to lower income areas, more remote areas of the world, and allow the public to view rare specimens. Tangentially, I also enjoy how online databases and their associated communities facilitate communication. Just as an example, searching through online communities of researchers once connected me to a fantastic thesis on deer carpals that really improved my non-human ID skills. Part of what excites me about projects like MorphoSource is the idea that it will make it easier for researchers working on the same problems to find each other.

While I have found this open communication and access to datasets to be beneficial, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the potential downsides. With a push to make collections available online, what’s being lost? I can think of how in osteology the feel of the bone (such as smoothness, roughness, etc. Or the infamous “is it bone?” lick-stick test) can, at times, be almost as important as an accurate visual assessment. Even 3D online collections can’t convey that sense of touch. While the online archives are handy, I can't say I would promote them as complete replacements for physical collections. Additionally, while easy access to datasets is generally thought of as a net benefit, what about “armchair anthropologists” using that data to make claims? For example, some “armchair geneticist” blogs have occasionally co-opted public genetic datasets to support claims of racial realism. Should we also worry about such appropriation, or just accept it as something we need to get ahead of? What do you think?

Monday, 16 October 2017

Article for October 23rd 2017

Hi everyone,

this is the article for the next class:

Andrea De Mauro, Marco Greco, Michele Grimaldi, (2016) "A formal definition of Big Data based on its essential features", Library Review, Vol. 65 Issue: 3, pp.122-135.

I'll see you around!


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Just who is "Fringe" and who is "Mainstream"?

Starting last class with Arwen's excellent presentation, each class going forward will feature at least one fantastical archaeology website review. So we're going to be talking a lot about what some characterize as fringe theories of the past, present, and how that shapes the world around us.

As always seems to be the case for me (thanks Google!), as you send me the links for the various web sites you want to review, my social media feeds start to fill up with "sites/posts I might like" which I really would rather not. There sure seems to be a lot of places on the web to explore how the past is understood in the present that isn't at all familiar to me... making the "fringe" seem, well, more abundant than the word might otherwise imply.

Well there may actually be something to this sense of pervasiveness, after all. Jason Colavito tends to explore such things as a debunker of fringe theories and whose site shares a lot in terms of format and intent, if counter messaging, with the fantastical heritage devotees' web sites we are looking at in class. In a recent blog, he reports on a fascinating survey out of Chapman University, in California. As I don't think anyone chose his site as a site for their review, I'm going to assume I'm safe in talking about his post here!

Jason is talking about the results from a portion of the 4th annual American Fears Survey, carried out and very recently released by Sociologists and Political Scientists at Chapman. This survey looked at a lot of different aspects of the fears Americans are willing to acknowledge in 2017. And perhaps it'll come as no surprise given the age we are living in, but the results and trends generally are worrisome and, well, frightening.... basically, people are more frightened by more things about and in the world these days. You can view a brief video describing the main results of their findings from 2017 here.

Jason's blog dug down into the survey and focused on the section that explores Paranormal America and paranormal beliefs. As he points out, based on the survey results from the last 3 years, belief in various paranormal theories, from advanced ancient civilizations like Atlantis (55%, up over 15% in a year), to the presence of aliens in the ancient past (35% up 15% in two years), to Bigfoot (16% up 8% in two years... sorry Jeff!), belief in fringe or fantastical theories has risen markedly in a short period of time. In fact, perhaps the most surprising result for me from the Chapman survey was the researchers' comment in this section noting "...we find that only a fourth of Americans (25.3%) do not hold any of these seven [paranormal] beliefs."

As Jason notes: "People write to me all the time to ask why I bother to talk about “crazy” topics like aliens and Atlantis. I am flabbergasted to report now that it is because more Americans now believe in Atlantis than do not." Yikes! For us, this realization has to be a sobering counter to our disciplinary warm and fuzzy notions that archaeology advances a collective, and presumably better, understanding of the past.