Dirt, Data, and Drones: Sardis from Site to Archive to Outreach

I’m a lucky duck in that I have a full time job with a major archaeological project, the Sardis Expedition, an excavation that has been ongoing since 1958 and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. I serve as the Publications Data Manager in the archive at the Harvard University Art Museums, but I also go to site for a bit in the summers. My digging days are over due to a back injury, but my storage depot artifact sleuthing days are in their prime, and this was my site goal during the first two weeks of June.

A good end of day hike

Sardis has a number of major publications in process right now: a manuscript on over 8000 coins, a huge volume of inscriptions, a tome on our Temple of Artemis, and a key volume with a 700+ object catalog of the Lydian “House of Bronzes” area, which will provide a much-needed study and chronology of Lydian pottery. My task: track down artifact stragglers to confirm their findspots, get them photographed for publication, and make sure they’re fully catalogued. One of my hunts was for some pesky imported fragments that were numbered but not formally catalogued from 1965, seen below.

Hunting for these 1965 ceramic stragglers

And even though we have thousands upon thousands of objects and fragments in the depots from 60 years of work, the system works beautifully, and I was able to find them and move them into the cataloguing queue. The depot is a well-oiled machine of conservators, recorders, illustrators, photographers, architects…you name it. And of course, a dig wouldn’t be a dig without some four-legged assistants. This little mamma cat, and her three kiddos, were excellent help and good for morale.

My dedicated depot assistant

Of course the 2017 season is discovering all kinds of new things, but big operations like this with a legacy of data can’t only focus on what’s being found today. We’re constantly reinvestigating and refining our older excavations, and the robust documentation system we have in place (using FileMakerPro and a lot of ingenuity!) is standing the tests of time. Our future publication goals will now include full data sets/catalogues in searchable formats on our website, alongside our newest work, so keep an eye out!

And while they continue to work over in Turkey at this very moment, I’m holding down the fort in Cambridge and giving a Day of Archaeology gallery talk at the Museum to show off three years of drone footage from site, including some shot just a couple weeks ago (and valiantly transported by a team member on a flash drive, from Turkey to Boston). Keep an eye on our YouTube channel, too, where we will upload more soon!