Getting Started

We wrote this text with a particular kind of student in mind. We imagined this student as having already taken a first year introductory course to archaeology, of the kind that surveys the field, its history, and its principle methods and theoretical positions. Very few courses of that kind include any depth in digital methods and theory, which is understandable when we look at the incredible variety of archaeological work, skills, and interests! Digital work is every bit as diverse as other kinds of archaeology, but it also presents its own particular challenges. One of these is the anxiety that comes when one first approaches the computer for anything more complex than word processing or a bit of social media. ‘What happens if I break it?’; ‘I’m not techy!’; ‘If I wanted to do computers, I wouldn’t have gone into this!’ are all actual student concerns that we have heard in our various classrooms.

It’ll be ok.

We take a pedagogical perspective that focuses on the learning that happens when we make things, when we experiment or otherwise play around with materials and computing, and especially, when/if things break. It’s a perspective that finds value in ‘failing gloriously’, in trying to push ourselves beyond our comfort level. The only thing that you will need therefore to be successful in learning some of the basic issues around digital archaeology is a willingness to consider why things didn’t work the way they ought to have, and a web browser. We built this textbook with its very own digital archaeology computer built right in! There’s nothing you can break on your own machine, nor does your machine have to be very powerful.

Our hope for this volume is that it will provide you with the ability to work out what you need to know, what you don’t know, and how to creatively use the computational power of the devices available to you, to do better archaeology. Once you’ve outgrown this text, we strongly recommend that you visit the peer-reviewed collection of tutorials at The Programming Historian (which are available in English and Spanish and soon other languages). If you are more interested in the statistical side of digital archaeology, then you should consult Ben Marwick et al How to Do Archaeological Science Using R.