Chuck Jones draws attention to a story on the Apple website that explains how iPads are used for research at Pompeii. “Dr. Steven Ellis … credits the introduction of six iPad devices at Pompeii with helping his team solve one of the most difficult problems of archaeological fieldwork: how to efficiently and accurately record the complex information they encounter in the trenches.” I looked up the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia (PARP:PS) of the University of Cincinnati: “Through the full range of archaeological inquiry – archaeological excavations, structural and artefactual analyses, and geophysical surveys – we are revealing the dynamic structural and social history of an entire Pompeian neighborhood.” On the Apple site, points out that “[a]lthough portable computers offer a paperless solution, field archaeologists rarely use them in the trenches because their size, input limitations, battery life, and sensitivity to dirt and heat make them impractical in the harsh conditions of a dig.”

The idea of using iPad to collect the massive data the project would generate came from Ellis’s University of Cincinnati colleague John Wallrodt, an expert on digital databases for archaeological projects. Wallrodt had looked unsuccessfully into using various tablet devices for field research, but when iPad was introduced in January 2010, he knew at once that it was right for their project. Says Wallrodt, “Perfectly portable, with no moving parts, a Multi-Touch screen, and a battery that lasts the whole workday, iPad was practically custom built for our needs.” Adds Ellis: “It was the ability to enter so many disparate kinds of information, recording everything from architectural elements to fish scales and bones to the actual sequences of events. That my team could both type and draw on the screen, and also examine all previously entered data, made it an ideal single-device solution.”

Beyond the scope of his project, Ellis sees iPad as revolutionizing the 300-year-old discipline of archaeological fieldwork. “A generation ago computers made it possible for scholars to move away from just looking at pretty pictures on walls and work with massive amounts of information and data. It was a huge leap forward. Using iPad to conduct our excavations is the next one. And I’m really proud to be a part of it.”