1.1 So what is Digital Archaeology?
If you are holding this book in your hands, via a device or on paper, or looking at it on your desktop, you might wonder why we feel it necessary to even ask the question. It is important at the outset to make the argument that digital archaeology is not about ‘mere’ tool use. Andrew Goldstone in Debates in the Digital Humanities discusses this tension (Goldstone 2018). He has found (and Lincoln Mullen concurs with regard to his own teaching, Mullen (2017)) that our current optimism about teaching technical facility is misplaced. Tools first, context second doesn’t work. Alternatively, theory first doesn’t seem to work either. And finally, for anything to work at all, datasets have to be curated and carefully pruned for their pedagogical value. We can’t simply turn students loose on a dataset (or worse, ask them to build their own) and expect ‘learning’ to happen.
Our approach in this volume is to resolve that seeming paradox by providing not just the tools, and not just the data, but also the computer itself. This puts our volume in dialogue with the work of archaeologists such as Ben Marwick, who makes available with his research, the code, the dependencies, and sometimes, an entire virtual machine, to enable other scholars to replicate, reuse, or dispute his conclusions. We want you to reuse our code, to study it, and to improve upon it. We want you to annotate our pages, point out our errors and make digital practice better. For us, digital archaeology is not the mere use of computational tools to answer archaeological questions more quickly. Rather, we want to enable the audience for archaeological thinking to enter into conversation with us, and to do archaeology for themselves. This is one way to practice inclusivity in archaeology.
Digital archaeology of the 21st century is necessarily a public archaeology. Public archaeology seeks to promote awareness of what archaeology is, how it is done, and why it matters amongst members of the general audience. Engagement or working with various publics where there are clear differences in power is central in public archaeology, efforts that are highly variable and contingent on local circumstances. This is the principal difference with digital work that has come before, for never forget, current scholarship is preceded by at least a half-century of innovative use of computational power for archaeological knowledge building (Ethan Watrall 2017).
Geospatial, digital and Web-based tools are now central to carrying out archaeological research and to communicating archaeological information in a globalized world. Until recently, the accumulation and effective management of digital archaeological data were the primary focus of archaeologists (T. L. Evans, Daly, and MyiLibrary 2006). Under this model, scholars emphasize the ‘integration’ into archaeology of computing technologies, and how, by utilizing current available computing memory and processor speed, one does archaeology, only better (P. T. Daly and Evans 2006 : 1). This situation in turn demonstrates the ‘marriage between the two’, archaeology and computing (P. T. Daly and Evans 2006 : 2).
For T. L. Evans, Daly, and MyiLibrary (2006), writing in the first decade of the 21st century, digital archaeology was synonymous with the use of Information and Communication Technology or ICT, and reflected wider efforts at that moment in transforming education through newly available digital tools. Some scholars and policy makers believed that digital technologies were the answer to pressing global social issues such as poverty, a point that we will discuss later.
More recently, in his inaugural editorial for the open-access journal, Frontiers in Digital Humanities, Costopoulos (2016) argues that ‘digital archaeology has been [here] a while’. Computing in archaeology, that is ‘doing archaeology digitally’ as Costopolous remarks, constitutes a ‘state of normality’ in archaeological practice. This view places emphasis on the availability of digital tools and their use in institutional contexts, overlooking the highly structured nature of social groups that employ these tools, and where, how and why these technologies are created and used. While fruitful, these views tend to obscure broader developments in the social sciences and humanities, of which archaeology is a part, and underestimate the changing relationship between archaeology and society. Cook and Compton (2018), in their survey of digital archaeology as practised in Canada develop a big-tent perspective that perhaps puts it best:
….digital technologies are indeed tools, but they are not neutral or passive and therefore the technological ecosystem within which archaeology functions must be connected to broader paradigmatic shifts. Consequently, there is a need for specialisation and focus to fully understand and take advantage of the complexities of technology, and yet it is so universal that all archaeologists must take more responsibility for their digital data, analysis, and communications.
All archaeologies can be digital, but not all archaeologies are Digital Archaeology.
1.1.1 A distant view
Ethan Watrall has drawn the history of computational archaeology/digital archaeology all the way back to the pioneering work of James Deetz in the 1960s, who used computers at MIT to perform stylistic analyses of Arikara ceramics (Ethan Watrall 2017, Deetz (1965)). Most early interest in computation for archaeology was centred on the potential for computational databases, although ambition often out-stripped capability. By the 1970s, serious efforts were being put into work to build the infrastructural knowledge necessary to make and usefully query archaeological datasets. One can see this concern play out by considering a
topic model (Shawn Graham 2014) of the early volumes of the Computer Applications in Archaeology. A topic model is a way of deducing latent patterns of discourse within text, based on patterns of words (See Graham, Weingart, and Milligan 2012):
topic 1 – computer, program, may, storage, then, excavation, recording, all, into, form, using, retrieval, any, user, output, records, package, entry, one, unit
topic 6: but, they, one, time, their, all, some, only, will, there, would, what, very, our, other, any, most, them, even
topic 20: some, will, many, there, field, problems, may, but, archaeologists, excavation, their, they, recording, however, record, new, systems, most, should, need
Early years of the CAA are marked by hesitation and prognostication: what are computers for in archaeology? There is a sense that for archaeologists, computation is something that will be useful insofar as it can be helpful for recording information in the field. By the 1980s desktop computing was becoming sufficiently widespread that the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was feasible for greater numbers of archaeologists. The other ‘killer app’ of the time was computer-aided design, which allowed metric 3-dimensional reconstructions from the plans drawn on site by excavators. Yet, computational resources were still limited enough that computing was not something that one could merely ‘play’ with. Software was costly, computation took time, and training resources were put into learning the proprietary packages that existed (rather than coding knowledge). By the 1990s, the introduction of the cd-rom and the shift in personal computer gaming technologies from primarily text-based to graphical based games led to teaching simulations for archaeology. Of note is T. Douglas Price and Anne Birgitte Gebauer’s Adventures in Fugawiland. Watrall identifies the emergence of the web as being not so much a boon for computational archaeology as it was for public archaeology, yet, the pioneering journal Internet Archaeology was first published in 1996. Nevertheless, the birth of the web, which is distinct from and overlays the internet, allowed for a step-change in the effectiveness of the dissemination of open-source software and code, including practices for remote collaboration on code that are now beginning to percolate into scholarly publication.
The 2000s have seen, insofar as digital archaeology is concerned, a replay of the earlier episodes of computational archaeology, concomitant with each subsequent web ‘revolution’ (i.e. so-called web 2.0, web 3.0 etc). Works such as (T. L. Evans, Daly, and MyiLibrary 2006) and (E. C. Kansa, Kansa, and Watrall 2011) are broadly concerned more with questions of infrastructure and training, while the more recent Mobilizing the Past deal with problems of training, and the ethical issues that the emerging digital surveillance permitted by our networked society presents to the practice of archaeology. Perhaps the most promising new digital technologies to emerge in recent years include methods for linking open archaeological data via the web, thus freeing various ‘silos’ of disciplinary knowledge and enabling the semantic connections between them can be followed and queried. Intellectual interest in various mixed-reality approaches (virtual reality, augmented reality, 3d printing) and the so-called internet of things or the practice of wiring everything that can be wired to the web continue to grow. The 2000s have also seen growing awareness that our digital tools and their algorithmic biases can inhibit points of view or impose dominant worldviews upon the past in ways that can damage marginalized peoples and communities. Yet, digital archaeology can also permit interesting questions to be asked about the past, challenging archaeologists to address colonial views and practices. This reflective critique of computation in the service of archaeology sees digital archaeology overlap with the digital humanities and the broader study of colonialism.
1.1.2 Is digital archaeology part of the digital humanities?
In recent years - certainly the last decade - an idea called ‘the digital humanities’ has been percolating in the academy. It is a successor idea to ‘humanities computing’, but it captures that same distinction between discussed above. Digital archaeology has developed alongside the digital humanities, sometimes intersecting with it (notably, there was a major archaeological session at the annual international Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations in 2013 (ADHO) DH conference).
The various component organizations of the ADHO have been meeting in one form or another since the 1970s; so too the Computer Applications in Archaeology Conference has been publishing its proceedings since 1973. Archaeologists have been running simulations, doing spatial analysis, clustering, imaging, geophysicing, 3d modeling, neutron activation analyzing, x-tent modeling, amongst others, for decades. Happily, there is no one definition of ‘dh’ that everyone agrees on (see the various definitions collected at http://definingdh.org/; reload the page to get a new definition). For us, a defining characteristic of DH work is public engagement and use that we discussed above. But, another characteristic that we find useful to consider is the purpose to which computation is put in DH work. This means that digital work has to be situated in social and political contexts of power, access and control. Digital work is sometimes mis-characterised as being part of a ‘neo-liberal’ agenda to reduce knowledge work, and to base profit motifs such as suggested by Allington (2016). More thoughtful work about the confluence of the digital with neoliberalism may be found in (Caraher 2012)) and (E. Kansa 2011) and (Brian Greenspan 2015). We discuss the ethical dimensions to digital work more fully in The Ethics of Big Data in Archaeology.
For us, a key difference between the kind of computational archaeology of the last years of the twentieth century versus the emerging digital archaeology of the last decade lie in the idea of the purpose behind the computing power. Trevor Owens, a digital archivist, draws attention to the purpose behind one’s use of computational power – generative discovery versus justification of an hypothesis (T. J. Owens 2012). Discovery marks out the digital humanist whilst justification signals the humanist who uses computers. Discovery and justification are critically different concepts. For Owens, if we are using computational power to deform our texts, then we are trying to see things in a new light, to create new juxtapositions, to spark new insight. Stephen Ramsay talks about this too in Reading Machines (Ramsay 2011, 33), discussing the work of Samuels and McGann, (Samuels and McGann 1999): “Reading a poem backward is like viewing the face of a watch sideways – a way of unleashing the potentialities that altered perspectives may reveal”. This kind of reading of data (especially, but not necessarily, through digital manipulation), does not happen very much at all in archaeology. If ‘deformance’ is a key sign of the digital humanities, then digital archaeologists are not digital humanists. Owen’s point isn’t to signal who’s in or who’s out, but rather to draw attention to the fact that:
When we separate out the the context of discovery and exploration from the context of justification we end up clarifying the terms of our conversation. There is a huge difference between “here is an interesting way of thinking about this” and “This evidence supports this claim.”
This is important in the wider conversation concerning how we evaluate digital scholarship. We’ve used computers in archaeology for decades to try to justify or otherwise connect our leaps of logic and faith, spanning the gap between our data and the stories we’d like to tell. We believe, on balance, that ‘digital archaeology’ sits along this spectrum between justification and discovery closer to the discovery end, that it sits within the digital humanities and we should worry less about hypothesis testing. Rather we might concentrate more on discovery and generation, of ‘interesting way[s] of thinking about this’.
Digital archaeology should be a prompt to make us ‘think different’. Let’s take a small example of how that might play out. It’s also worth suggesting that ‘play’ as a strategy for doing digital work is a valid methodology (Ramsay 2011). We are mindful that the ability to play with computing power is a function of Moore’s law governing the increase in computing power time: computing is no longer a precious resource but something that can be ‘wasted’. Yet, this situation, can also be reflective of power and access to the means of digital production.
1.1.3 Archaeological Glitch Art
Bill Caraher is a leading thinker on the implications and practice of digital archaeology. In a post on archaeological glitch art (Caraher 2012) Caraher changed file extensions to fiddle about in the insides of images of archaeological maps. He then looked at them again as images:
The idea … is to combine computer code and human codes to transform our computer mediated image of archaeological reality in unpredictable ways. The process is remarkably similar to analyzing the site via the GIS where we take the “natural” landscape and transform it into a series of symbols, lines, and text. By manipulating the code that produces these images in both random and patterned ways, we manipulate the meaning of the image and the way in which these images communicate information to the viewer. We problematize the process and manifestation of mediating between the experienced landscape and its representation as archaeological data.
Similarly, Graham’s work in representing archaeological data in sound (a literal auditory metaphor) translates movement over space (or through time) into a soundscape of tones (Graham 2017). This frees us from the tyranny of the screen and visual modes of knowing that often occlude more than they reveal. For example, our understanding of the top of the page or screen as ‘north’ means we privilege visual patterns in the vertical dimension over the horizontal (Montello et al. 2003).
These playful approaches encourage us to rethink some of our norms of communication, our norms of what archaeology can concern itself with. It should be apparent that digital archaeology transcends mere ‘digital skills’ or ‘tool use’; but it also suffers from being ‘cool’.
1.1.4 The ‘cool’ factor and the tensions of cool
Alan Liu (Liu 2004) wondered what the role of the arts and humanities was in an age of ‘knowledge work’, of deliverables and of an historical event horizon that only goes back the last financial quarter. He examined the idea of ‘knowledge work’ and teased out how much of the driving force behind it is in pursuit of the ‘cool’. Through the history of the early internet (and in particular, riffing on Netscape’s ‘what’s cool?’ page from 1996 and their inability to define it except to say that they’d know it when they saw it), Liu argues that cool is ‘the aporia of information… cool is information designed to resist information… information fed back into its own signal to create a standing interference pattern, a paradox pattern’ (Liu 2004, 179). The latest web design, the latest app, the latest R package for statistics, the latest acronym on Twitter where all the digital humanists play: cool, and dividing the world.
That is, Liu argued that ‘cool’ was amongst other things a politics of knowledge work, a practice and ethos. He wondered how we might ‘challenge knowledge work to open a space, as yet culturally sterile (co-opted, jejune, anarchistic, terroristic), for a more humane hack of contemporary knowledge?’ (Liu 2004, 9). Liu goes on to discuss how the tensions of ‘cool’ in knowledge work (for us, read: digital archaeology) also intersects with an ‘ethos of the unknown’, that is, of knowledge workers who work and live inside a system of knowledge production, somehow manage to stand outside of it. Is ‘alt-ac’ (alternative academic) partially ‘alt’ because the cool is at work? This matters for us as archaeologists. There are many ‘cool’ things happening in digital archaeology that somehow do not penetrate into the broader field of archaeology. The utilitarian dots-on-a-map were once cool, but are now pedestrian. The ‘cool’ things that could be, linger on the fringes. If they did not, they wouldn’t be cool, one supposes.
To get that more humane hack that he seeks, Liu suggests that the historical depth that the humanities provides counters the shallowness of cool:
The humanities thus have an explanation for the new arts of the information age, whose inheritance of a frantic sequence of artistic modernisms, postmodernisms, and post-postmodernists is otherwise only a displaced encounter with the raw process of historicity. Inversely, the arts offer the humanities serious ways of engaging – both practically and theoretically- with “cool”. Together, the humanities and arts might be able to offer a persuasive argument for the humane arts in the age of knowledge work. (Liu 2004, 381).
In which case, the emergence of digital archaeologists and historians in the last decade might be the loci of the humane hacks – if we move into that space where we engage the arts. Indeed, the seminal anthropologist Tim Ingold (T Ingold 2016) makes this very argument with reference to his own arc as a scholar, ‘From Science to Art and Back Again’:
Revisiting science and art: which is more ecological now? Why is art leading the way in promoting radical ecological awareness? The goals of today’s science are modelling, prediction and control. Is that why we turn to art to rediscover the humility that science has lost?
We need to be making art. Digital archaeology naturally pushes in that direction.
- Digital archaeology is a public archaeology
- Digital archaeology is often about deformance rather than justification
- In that deformative practice, digital archaeology is aligned with artistic ways of knowing
- Digital archaeology overlaps with digital humanities, and in many ways, presaged current debates and trends in that field.
All of these aspects of digital archaeology exist along a continuum. In the remainder of this chapter, we give you a ‘boot-camp’ to get you to the point where you can begin to wonder about deformation and the public entanglement with your work.
The first steps in going digital are quite easy. They are fundamentally a question of maintaining some basic good habits. Everything else flows from these three habits:
1. separate _what_ your write/create from _how_ you write it. 2. keep what you write/create under version control. 3. break tasks down into their smallest manageable bits
Have you ever fought with Word or another word processor, trying to get things just right? Word processing is a mess. It conflates writing with typesetting and layout. Sometimes, you just want to get the words out. Other times, you want to make your writing as accessible as possible… but your intended recipient can’t open your file, because they don’t use the same word processor. Or perhaps you wrote up some great notes that you’d love to have in a slide show; but you can’t, because copying and pasting preserves a whole lot of extra gunk that messes up your materials. Similarly, while many archaeologists will use Microsoft Excel to manipulate tabular data (artifact measurements, geochemistry data, and so on), Excel is well known for both corrupting data and for being impossible to replicate. For example, the series of clicks to manipulate or perform an analysis differ depending on the individual’s particular installation of Excel. This situation presents challenges in teaching best practices in digital archaeology.
The answer is to separate your content from your tool, and your analytical processes separate from your data. This can help keep your thinking clear, but it also has a more nuts-and-bolts practical dimension. A computer will always be able to read a text file. That is to say: you’ve future-proofed your material. A researcher will have old physical discs or disc drives or obsolete computers lying around and it is common for a scholar to remark, ‘I wrote this in Wordperfect and I can’t open this any more’. Graham’s MA thesis is trapped on a 3.5" disc drive that was compressed using a now-obsolete algorithm and it cannot be recovered. If, on the other hand, he had written the text as a .txt file, and saved the data as .csv tables, those materials would continue to be accessible. If the way you have manipulated or cleaned the data is written out as a
script, then a subsequent investigator (or even your future self) can re-run the exact sequence of analysis, or re-write the script into the equivalent steps in another analytical language.
A .txt file is simply a text file; a .csv is a text file that uses commas to separate the text into columns. Similarly, a .md file is a text file that uses things like
# to indicate headers, and
_ to show where italicized text starts and stops. A script, in a play, tells you what to say and do. A
script for a language like
Python does the same thing for the computer, and has the advantage that it is human-readable and annotatable as well, because its format is still a simple text file. Scripts you might encounter could have the
.sh file extensions. You can open these in a text editor and see what the computer is being instructed to do. Annotations or comments in the script can be set off in various ways, and help the researcher know what is happening or is intended to happen at various points. Let’s begin by creating some simple text files to document our research process, in the Markdown format.
- A nice place to practice writing in markdown that shows you immediately how your text might be rendered when turned into html, pdf, or Word doc is Dillinger.io. Go there now to try it out. Write a short piece on why you’re interested in Digital Archaeology.
- Include a blockquote from the introduction to this book.
- Include two links to an external site.
- Embed an image.
Here are two short demonstration videos:
Click the ‘export as’ dropdown, and select ‘markdown’. Keep a note of where the file has downloaded to on your machine.
- Sign up for a github account
Once you’re logged in, we will create a new repository called
scratchpad. Click on the + at the top right of the screen, beside your avatar image.
Write a short description in the ‘description box’, and tick off the ‘initialize the repository with a readme’. You can also select a license from the drop down box — this will put some standard wording on your repository page about the conditions under which someone else might use (or cite) your code.
Click ‘Create repository’.
At this point, you now have a folder — a repository — on the GitHub website into which you can deposit your files. It will be at http://github.com/
Notice, when you’re on your repository’s page, that there is a button to ‘create new file’ and another for ‘upload files’. Click on ‘create new file’.
The file editor window will open. In the new file name box, type in
.mdis important, because github recognizes this as a text file using markdown conventions. It displays markdown translated into the appropriate html -
<h1>which will be bolded and larger text in our browser. In the editor window, use bullet points to break down what else you need to do this week. Each bullet point should have a sub-bullet with an actual
ACTIONlisted, something that you can accomplish to get things done.
Click on the green ‘commit’ button at the bottom of the page when you’re done.
Now we’ll upload a file into your repository.
Find the markdown file on your machine that you created with Dillinger. You can drag-and-drop this onto the list of files in your repository; Github will know that you want to upload it. OR you can click on the ‘upload files’ button, and then ‘select files’ and click on the file that way (much like adding an attachment to an email).
Github will upload the file; you can upload more files at this point, or click on the green ‘commit’ button at the bottom.
As you work through this book, we encourage you to write your thoughts, observations, or results in simple text files. This is good practice whether or not you embark on a full-blown digital project, because ultimately, if you use a computer in your research, you have gone digital.
Goldstone, Andrew. 2018. “Teaching Quantitative Methods: What Makes It Hard in Literary Studies.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities.
Mullen, Lincoln. 2017. “A Confirmation of Andrew Goldstone on ‘Teaching Quantitative Methods’.” The Backward Glance. http://lincolnmullen.com/blog/a-confirmation-of-andrew-goldstone-on-teaching-quantitative-methods/.
Ethan Watrall. 2017. “Archaeology, the Digital Humanities, and the ‘Big Tent’.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, 2016th ed. Accessed February 23. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/79.
Evans, Thomas L., Patrick T. Daly, and MyiLibrary, eds. 2006. Digital Archaeology: Bridging Method and Theory. London ; New York: Routledge. http://proxy.library.carleton.ca/login?url=http://www.myilibrary.com?id=29182.
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Costopoulos, Andre. 2016. “Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While).” Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3 (4). doi:10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004.
Cook, Katherine, and Mary E. Compton. 2018. “Canadian Digital Arcaheology: On Boundaries and Futures.” Canadian Digital Arcaheology: On Boundaries and Futures 42: 38–45.
Deetz, James. 1965. The Dynamics of Stylistic Change in Arikara Ceramics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Shawn Graham. 2014. “A Digital Archaeology of Digital Archaeology: Work in Progress.” https://electricarchaeology.ca/2014/11/06/a-digital-archaeology-of-digital-archaeology-work-in-progress/.
Graham, Shawn, Scott Weingart, and Ian Milligan. 2012. “Getting Started with Topic Modeling and MALLET.” Programming Historian, September. http://programminghistorian.org/lessons/topic-modeling-and-mallet.
Kansa, Eric C., Sarah Whitcher Kansa, and Ethan Watrall. 2011. Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration. Cotsen Digital Archaeology. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/1r6137tb.
Allington, Brouillette, D. 2016. “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities.” LA Review of Books. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/neoliberal-tools-archives-political-history-digital-humanities/#!
Caraher, William. 2012. “Archaeological Glitch Art.” The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. https://mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/archaeological-glitch-art/.
Kansa, Eric. 2011. “Introduction: New Directions for the Digital Past.” In, edited by Kansa E. C, S. W Kansa, and E Watrall, 1–26. UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press.
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Owens, Trevor J. 2012. “Discovery and Justification Are Different: Notes on Science-Ing the Humanities.” Trevor Owens. http://www.trevorowens.org/2012/11/discovery-and-justification-are-different-notes-on-sciencing-the-humanities/.
Ramsay, Stephen. 2011. Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism. 1st Edition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Samuels, Lisa, and Jerome J. McGann. 1999. “Deformance and Interpretation.” New Literary History 30 (1): 25–56. doi:10.1353/nlh.1999.0010.
Graham, Shawn. 2017. “Cacophony: Bad Algorithmic Music to Muse To.” https://electricarchaeology.ca/2017/02/03/cacophony-bad-algorithmic-music-to-muse-to/.
Montello, Daniel R., Sara Irina Fabrikant, Marco Ruocco, and Richard S. Middleton. 2003. “Testing the First Law of Cognitive Geography on Point-Display Spatializations.” In International Conference on Spatial Information Theory, 316–31. Springer. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-540-39923-0_21.
Liu, Alan. 2004. The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information. 1st Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ingold, T. 2016. “From Science to Art and Back Again : The Pendulum of an Anthropologist.” Anuac vol. 5 (no. 1): 5–23. doi:10.7340/anuac2239-625X-2237.