A use of computers in paleoenvironmental analysis.

Was going to call this Day of Archaeology post “The effectiveness of using expletives when trying to get technology to do what you want it to”, as have spent most of the day trying to get the ARK archaeological database to work!

The reason for this is to see if it can be applied to the creation on paleoenvironmental databases; with the master plan being the creation of ‘environmental models’ by combining data from pollen, insect, and faunal datasets, using the environmental factors from each to generate an impression of climatic and environmental conditions at different time periods.

The concept is to create a database, for say pollen, which contains all the environmental (like soil conditions) and climatic preferences for different plant species. Then use this database to analyse pollen datasets (examples of which can be found on the Neotoma) which are like spreadsheets, to determine the most ‘realistic’ model for the environment based upon the given data. This would be repeated for both insect and faunal datasets with all the results being combined to give environmental models for different time periods. Thus showing how the environment and climate has changed through time and the effects that human activity has had. Well, that’s the theory!

At this point I had better confess that I’m not a ‘proper’ archaeologist; my degree is in Software Engineering. So what I’m doing (or attempting to) is to use my knowledge and experience and apply it to archaeology, and it’s something that everybody can do. Archaeology is about telling the story of humanity, and we’re all part of that story. Thus everyone has something they can bring to archaeology; be it through education or personal experience.

As archaeology covers a whole gamut of topics from Astronomy to Zoology there is bound to be something of interest. A good place to start would be the BAJR (British Archaeology Jobs and Resources) website which contains a whole range of free to download guides and booklets, as does Historic England, and as for books, it would be worth checking out Desert Island Archaeologies for ideas. There is also a thriving archaeological community on social media platforms such as ‘Twitter’, which would be more than happy to answer any questions – no matter how silly or stupid they may sound – as that question will have been asked before, and will be asked again. So, go on, get involved. Just don’t mention dinosaurs!

Digging on the Web

On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy preparing to head off to the field (in sunny Tuscany (!!)), square away some data, and finish work on some tech consulting.  That last bit is a clue that I’m not really a “normal archaeologist”. Actually, I’ve never met an archaeologist that I’d consider normal –  which is what attracted me to this field in first place. But even among archaeologists, I’m something of an odd-ball.

I have a background in Near Eastern archaeology, and did my dissertation research looking at interactions between Egypt and the Levant (modern Israel, Palestine, Lebanon) in the Early Bronze Age. But for various reasons, both personal and professional, I shifted gears toward the digital side of archaeology, co-founded a nonprofit with my wife (and boss!), and for the past 10 years, I’ve loved almost every minute of my work day. Except writing grant proposals (but there are some necessary evils in all work).

My research and professional interests focus on archaeological data, and much less on digging and field work for myself. This focus means I have a very different professional network, set of collaborators, and work life. Though I work closely with other archaeological professionals, I’m also heavily engaged with folks well outside the discipline, including Web and information scientists, digital librarians and archivists, technology companies, “digital humanists”, and researchers in scholarly communications.

I keep such odd company because I’m really interested in improving the way archaeologists communicate and share their research. Archaeology is intensely multidisciplinary and collaborative. It involves inputs from all sorts of different sciences, and many archaeologists work together in large teams. Sharing the results of all this research needs to reflect the collaborative nature of the field, and it needs to speak with people in other disciplines and walks of life. That’s why I’m so interested in making it archaeological data more open, easier to share, and easier to reuse.

My primary project is Open Context. It’s a system for publishing archaeological data, openly, on the Web, for all to browse and reuse. On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy indexing tens of thousands of detailed records of archaeological contexts, objects, bones, and other material from Kenan Tepe, a major excavation in Turkey led by Bradley Parker. This collection represents the monumental effort of almost 10 years of field work. You can browse around its photo archives and see many thousands of pictures, mainly of dirt. Though it is free to access and use, the data are priceless. Excavation is a destructive process, and the documentation describing such excavations will be the only record available to revisit and re-analyze excavation results. That’s why comprehensive publishing with platforms like Open Context, as well as archiving with digital repositories like tDAR, the ADS, or the CDL is so important.

As this blog post should make clear, I love working with the Web. And what I like most about it is that I work with a growing and vibrant community of like minded people who want to see more from archaeology than costly journal articles read by a narrow few. The developers of ARK, Portable Antiquities, all the collaborators of Pelagios, and the bottom-up group linking archaeological data, are all hugely talented and make my work life rewarding and fun. All this makes archaeology (for me) as much about community and the future as it is about the past.