I’m happy to join with a fantastic team, led by Tom Eliot, Sebstian Heath, and John Muccigrosso on an NEH-funded “institute” called LAWDI (Linked Ancient World Data Institute). I promise it will have plenty of the enthusiasm and fervor implied by its acronym. To help spread the word, I’m reusing some of Tom Eliot’s text that he circulated on the Antiquist email list:

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University will host the Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI) from May 31st to June 2nd, 2012 in New York City. Applications are due 17 February 2012.

LAWDI, funded by the Office of Digital Humanities of the National Endowment for Humanities, will bring together an international faculty of practitioners working in the field of Linked Data with twenty attendees who are implementing or planning the creation of digital resources.

More information, including a list of faculty and application instructions, are available at the LAWDI page on the Digital
Classicist wiki:

WikiLeaks is all the rage nowadays—that is, if you can actually reach it online. One good thing, the term “wiki” is now surely well known if probably still not really understood by the general public. I hoped that the cache of documents dealing with the Iraq War might provide some insights regarding the plight of the archaeological heritage of Iraq and esp. the way US and Iraqi authorities and law enforcement might have dealt with it. The search function on the site though seems disabled, I guess the denial-of-service attacks are taking their toll. Fortunately, some people were able to get some relevant information before the DoS attack:

  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”Wikileaks Provides Evidence Linking Illicit Iraqi Antiquities to Weapons Sales,” in The Punching Bag blog:

More proof, on top of what Matthew Bogdanos has reported, that looted antiquities were part of the revenue stream for the same folks that were/are supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq: (FRIENDLY ACTION) RAID RPT : ___ INJ/DAM

The actual text of that document is:


  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”More from Wikileaks on Looted Antiquities Recovered in Operations Against Insurgents,” in The Punching Bag blog:
… there are 1020 documents in the WarLogs that mention smuggling (and many of these are duplicate reports, so the actual number of anti-smuggling operations is probably closer to 500); that is out of a total of almost 392,000 total reports posted to WarLogs. The total number of reports in which antiquities are reported found together with weapons, then, is very low, in the neighborhood of 1-2% (only 6 or so out of something like 500 smuggling incidents).
… the WarLogs do not contain all reports made during the war; missing are reports of smuggling of any kind before 1/1/2004.
2004-10-28 23:40:00  —  … The INFO-OPS, which started yesterday, carried out by Task force MSU joint with provincial archaeological local guard in , , %%% and %%% (located north west of ( %%%)) ended this morning. The op. Aim was to oppose and repress the illegal trade of archaeological stolen finds in %%% province. As result of the op. several vases, statues and tools dated %%% bc. All finds were given to archaeological authority of %%%.
  • Owen Jarus, “Statues, Vases and 120 mm Rounds – Wikileaks documents tell harrowing stories of Iraq’s antiquities,” in Heritage Key:
The documents indicate that the Iraqis took great risks to protect their past. On November 2, 2008 officers from Iraq’s “Antiquities Protection” service participated in a dangerous operation in Karbala. Working with the “Establishment Protection” service, they “found and cleared” a weapons cache containing an astounding amount of firepower.
One of the documents reveals that on February 19, 2004 an entire missile was found at an archaeological site. …

I was able to access one more document not yet mentioned, for what it is worth:


Others mused on the topic and related issues touching on archaeological research:

  • Colleen Morgan (UC Berkeley), ”Wikileaks, Radical Transparency, and Archaeology,” in the Middle Savagery blog:

Sadly, [my students'] eagerness to interact with these past materials is often met with serious resistance from the local archives. While the individual archivists may be sympathetic, the archive often has stipulations that the materials cannot be shared. At all. This mystifies and frustrates the students, and this makes me both sympathetic (I have been through this constantly during my tenure at UC Berkeley) and grimly determined. I truly believe that institutions that house collections need to make these collections available to the public that pays for them. Period. The students can sense this and it leads to a process of negotiation in the classroom.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? The Getty museum is talking about destroying their collection of 100,000 study slides. Why? Because when they decided to digitize them several years ago, they discovered that the original vendors who sold them the slides made the Getty promise to never scan them. They don’t have slide projectors anymore and the last time a slide was checked out was a year ago. The only thing they can do is trash them. They will probably do it.

Finally, here’s one more article referencing one of the documents from the diplomatic cables cache on WikiLeaks that has archaeological importance:

  • Giles Tremlett, “WikiLeaks cables: Art looted by Nazis, Spanish gold and an embassy offer. Spain rejected attempt to tie together claim on coins found by US firm and row over painting in Madrid museum, cables show,” in The Guardian:

In a conversation with the Spanish culture minister, César Antonio Molina, the US ambassador in Madrid, Eduardo Aguirre, sought to tie the treasure found off the Iberian peninsula by Odyssey together with attempts by an American citizen, Claude Cassirer, to recover a painting by Camille Pisarro that hangs in a Madrid museum. ”The ambassador noted also that while the Odyssey and Cassirer claim were on separate legal tracks, it was in both governments’ interest to avail themselves of whatever margin for manouevre they had, consistent with their legal obligations, to resolve both matters in a way that favoured the bilateral relationship,” the embassy reported in a cable on 2 July 2008. The offer was made after the Spanish government claimed ownership of half a million gold and silver coins found on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean by Odyssey’s underwater robots. The company had provoked Spanish fury by landing the treasure at Gibraltar and flying it straight to the US. … Molina refused to tie the Odyssey case to the Pisarro painting, …

Spain claims that the Black Swan treasure find comes from a Spanish galleon, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank off Portugal’s Algarve coast in 1804. The vessel had just returned from Montevideo when it was attacked by four Royal Navy ships, and was carrying half a million coins that had been minted in Peru. Descendants of the 249 Spanish sailors who went down with the ship joined the Spanish government’s case against Odyssey in a court in Altanta, Georgia. The court ruled that the cargo belonged to Spain; Odyssey has appealed.

The leaked cables reveal that the US embassy had the previous year handed over to Spanish authorities the customs documents filed by Odyssey when it flew its hoard of coins into the US in mid-2007.

“Z,” the mark of Zorro! Boy, do I remember watching that TV show as a kid in Belgium… But no, we’re talking about Zotero here, not the swashbuckling hero of yesteryear.

Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself.

I was reminded of this app by Phoebe Acheson’s post on the Ancient World Open Bibliographies project blog. I have tried it in the past but it didn’t seem to fit my needs. I know that quite a few people like it though. Acheson (University of Georgia) writes:

I had not used Zotero before this experiment, and I like it reasonably well.  But my experimenting thus far has not convinced me that it is a good solution for the need I currently have.  As this discussion thread in the forums notes, there is no simple way to create (export) an annotated bibliography, i.e. as a document to print or email and share with students (although work-arounds for specific citations styles, including Chicago, are noted in the discussion.) There are additional user-generated software scripts linked in the thread that provide this functionality as well, and Zotero has an open ticket to make this easier as a pending upgrade (but the ticket is currently 4 years old, so it’s probably a low priority).

If you are using it, what are your thoughts about and experience with Zotero?

A bit of archaeological/anthropological light entertainment this time.

As a follow-up to the previous post about the British Museum’s collaboration with Wikipedia, I’d like to publish a text that was distributed originally on the private agade mailing list. It is written by A.J. Cave.


At 3:14 UTC on June 8th, 2010, English Wikipedia had 3, 317,225 articles and 12,495,212 registered users.  At 4:29 on June 8th there were 3,317,230 articles and 12,495,394 registered users.  In one hour and 15 minutes, Wikipedia had added 5 new articles and 82 new registered users (that is 1.1 registered user per minute!).

Now these numbers might not mean much to you and me, but they mean a lot to online search engines.

Google loves constant change, so it gives preference in its search algorithms to anything posted on Wikipedia above other less active web-based sources.  Google search bots comb through Wikipedia pages regularly like giant spiders, devouring, adding and indexing the ever-growing volume of information.

In the early days of Wikipedia, many techies joined and started writing too.  Some [like me] were more interested to test the underlying technology and see how another web “startup” could shape the internet rather than writing an online encyclopedia.

Since those early days in 2001, Wikipedia has grown into one of the largest websites, with an estimated 800+million [give and take a few] visitors a year.  There are more than 91,000 active contributors working mostly collaboratively on more than 15,000,000 articles in over 270 languages.  About 75,000 editors, from expert scholars to casual readers, regularly edit Wikipedia.

Wikipedia articles usually rank in the top 5 search results depending on the topic.

As mobile search heats up thanks to smartphones that have more capabilities than old personal computers, being among the top 5 search results on a tiny screen becomes even more important.  There is even a Wikipedia website for mobile access at:

I googled British Museum and the Wikipedia article on British Museum showed up as number 4 on the search list, right after the map of the museum and 2 links to museum’s website.  Another Google search on Cyrus Cylinder, a part of the current British Museum’s collection, placed the Wikipedia article in the number 1 spot, with a link to British Museum website at number 4.

Not all Wikipedia articles are of encyclopedic quality and since there is no systematic process to force an all-volunteer army of Wikipedians to write about every topic considered “obviously important” by others, Wikipedia does contain oversights and omissions.

Due to its nature, Wikipedia needs more subject matter experts and specialists in many areas.

So it is not hard to see the motive behind the recent news about the collaboration between the British Museum and a group of London area-based Wikipedians to ensure the museum collection is adequately reflected on the virtual pages of Wikipedia.

The key advantage of Wikipedia over traditional paper encyclopedias is the short editorial cycle, where Wikipedians can update an article anytime with the most recent events and scholarship.  For example the publicly announced results of the upcoming British Museum Workshop on Cyrus Cylinder in late June could hit the corresponding Wikipedia article by one of the Wikipedians with the “backstage” pass to the museum before it reaches other online and print news sources.

Wikipedia has a set of rules that have developed over the years and there is no need to cover them in details here.  If you are interested, you can click on the ‘About Wikipedia’ and read them.  These rules are important because there are a few million Wikipedians and blood would flow in the streets of Wikidom, if there are no rules.

While is a good idea to read Wikipedia’s tutorials, policies and guidelines, sorting through volumes of information can be intimating for newcomers.  So here are a few helpful hints:

1. No matter what you do, you can’t break Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has robust version controls, so you cannot accidentally do permanent harm if you make a mistake in your editing.  All mistakes can be quickly and easily reversed or fixed by any other editor.

2. Start small.  The best way to break in and feel comfortable is do minor edits first.

3. While to edit an article, you can remain anonymous, to create a new article you have to register with a valid email userid and a password.  If you are concerned about privacy and anonymity, you may prefer to create a user name for yourself in order to hide your IP address.

4. Before starting a major edit, announce your intentions on the “Discussion” page of the article.

5. Wikipedians are expected to be civil and neutral, respecting all points of view, and only add verifiable and factual information with cited external sources rather than personal views and opinions.

6. An ideal Wikipedia article aims to be well-researched, well-written, balanced, and neutral with verifiable information, suited for an encyclopedia.  However, many Wikipedia articles start as a “stub”. A stub is an article containing only a few sentences of text which is too short to provide encyclopedic coverage of a topic, but not so short as to provide no useful information, and it should be capable of expansion.

7. Wikipedia articles are always work in progress and vary in quality and maturity.  However, given that anyone can edit any article, it is possible for biased, outdated, or incorrect information to be posted.

8. Wikipedia does not allow original research and there is no elaborate system of scholarly peer review.

9. All articles are susceptible to vandalism and insertion of false information – particularly articles on popular and controversial topics.  But they eventually get cleaned up, either via consensus among Wikipedians or through intervention by the editors using Wikipedia’s conflict resolution systems.  A lock on an article’s page means the article is temporarily protected from editing by everyone and restricted to a few editors.

10. There are no content guarantees, so always check the History page to see if the article has been vandalized.

11. For those who teach, if you think your students have changed a Wikipedia article to match their research papers, just have them printout the History of a Wikipedia article and hand over!

[Additional information at: ]

Looking at the blog Ars Technica, I ran into a post reviewing an interesting report by the British Library and JISC. The report looks as Internet usage patterns of young people born after 1993 (Side note! 1993! I met my WIFE that year! I’m feeling old…). The aim of the report is to help guide development of digital library services.

The report details how young people, while comfortable with technology, are by no means always “expert users”. Relatively simple search forms most widely used, and “advanced search” functions see comparatively little use. According to the report:

Users make very little use of advanced search facilities, assuming that search engines
`understand’ their queries. They tend to move rapidly from page to page, spending little time reading or digesting information and they have difficulty making relevance judgements about the pages they retrieve.

That’s interesting. It suggests that most young people have big expectations for getting relevant information from a simple text box form. I suppose that’s even more motivation for more intelligent natural language search. Academic repositories may want to look at Powerset, if they come up with search tools (like Google) that you can install on your own sites.

Ars Technica also noted this report claims that “authority” is not dead for the Google Generation. This should give some comfort to professional scholars who worry that students will uncritically believe everything they see on the Web and won’t pay attention to traditional mechanisms for validating information (peer review, credentials, quality of sources, etc.).

Anyway, there’s much more to this report. Dig away!

Shawn Graham over at the “Electric Archaeology” weblog has a post asking about the use of 2nd Life to teach archaeology. There is a UC Berkeley Catalhoyuk reconstruction in 2nd Life now, intended to be a teaching resource (it won an “Open Archaeology Prize“). He has some very interesting ideas about linking archaeological databases dynamically with the virtual world.

I think it’ll be really useful to connect Second Life with different archaeological databases for visualization. 2nd Life does support connections with other online data sources, or web services, (see link). I’ve never done any programming in Second Life, so I’m not sure what sorts of limits the system has in reading outside data.

At any rate, outside databases would have to express data in a machine-readable format so the Second Life scripting language could parse the information. XML is an obvious choice, but there needs to be lots of thought on how to apply it to support Second Life visualization.

Most archaeological datasets that I’ve seen don’t have enough spatial information to make an easy and precise mapping into a virtual world. For example, many finds are in “bulk find” category, and you’ll only know their spatial context approximately (from say from a specific contextual unit). The contextual units, their size, shape, and relative positioning may be very poorly recorded and documented. Thus, rendering in Second Life will require lots of guestimation.

Shawn mentions Open Context in his post as an example data source. Open Context does make XML data available for all media, locations & objects, and for its faceted browse. Examples:

(1) Here’s a link to XML data for all small finds from Petra that have pictures (from the faceted browse).

(2) Here’s a link to XML data for a specific sheep radius from Petra.

(3) Here’s another link to XML data for an elephant capital also from Petra.

Although there’s contextual information, the contexts don’t have very clear spatial referencing, so it’ll be hard to simply put these data into a good Second Life 3D view. Having some clear common standard for spatial referencing in 3D will be really useful, as well as clear conventions on how to visualize archaeological data when detailed spatial referencing isn’t available., a collaborative organization involving a consortium of five institutions has asked for the assistance of the Digital Data Interest Group in filling positions on an advisory board that will help shape and guide the emerging cyberinfrastructure for archaeology. Such an infrastructure will facilitate integrated access to distributed archaeological data sources including databases (spatial and aspatial), textual resources (gray literature, articles), images, and other media. This group believes that such a cyberinfrastructure must embrace archaeology done in both academic and applied contexts. Interoperability will be an important priority, both internationally and with related disciplines. has been awarded a 1 year planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in order to develop a large scale implementation proposal. is partnering with the SAA to guide and steer work toward these important goals. Keith Kintigh and Dean Snow have requested that the Digital Data Interest Group nominate four individuals for “at-large” positions on the disciplinary advisory board of

The disciplinary advisory board will provide recommendations to the steering committee based on its evaluation of the plans and initiatives pursued by the steering committee to ensure such plans best meet the needs of the profession. The board will gather for ath least one face-to-face meeting annually, with expenses paid by Finally the board will produce a brief, publicly accessible report after each meeting.

Please email (ekansa AT alexandriaarchive DOT org) me with nominations (including self-nominations) for these four “at-large” positions and provide information about the nominee, including:

Nominee’s Name
Nominee’s Title
Nominee’s Institution
Nominee’s Email
Nominee’s Phone Number

Thank you!

I’ve been traveling and coding so much that I haven’t had time to keep up with news in the Open Access world. It turns out that there are two important developments just in the past few data that I should alert to DDIG members.

Self-Interested Data-Sharing:
First off, Peter Suber recently noted a recently article published by Heather A. Piwowar, Roger S. Day, and Douglas B. Fridsma in PloS One that shows an impact advantage for people who publish primary data. The demonstrate a 69% increase in citation for articles associated with publicly available data. For those of us interested in encouraging comprehensive and open publication of archaeological research data, this is very good news. We no longer only have to make appeals to ethics, preservation, transparency, or the possibility for new modes of inquiry (through reanalysis and reuse of shared data). We can now appeal to enlightened self-interest. Publishing your data makes your research more cited and more influential. That’s a much more persuasive and personally meaningful case for data sharing.

NSF Cyberinfrastructure Report:
A second post noted by Peter Suber linked to a new NSF report “Cyberinfrastructure Vision For 21st Century Discovery“. Suber highlighted text in the report calling for open access to scientific data, an important and needed policy direction. Dan Atkins, head of the NSF Cyberinfrastructure office, spoke about this report at the recent Hewlett/Rice conference on Open Educational Resources. He discussed how the report makes clear recommendations for US cyberinfrastructure to not only support enhanced research and research communication, but also to meet increasing training and educational needs.

It seems clear that we should work toward open data sharing and accessibility so that content can be made to serve multiple needs, from “cutting-edge” research, to instruction, and also (but not often discussed) the needs of the greater public, both to stimulate life-long learning and creativity. These latter issues are important (and noted needs in the NSF report, see page 39), but easy to forget. We often overlook the important and growing place of life-long learning in our society, and too often think of education as something that solely takes place in established institutions.

Thus, we have our work cut out for us. There are many balls to juggle, ranging from IP practices, technical interoperability, ease of use, outreach, and following the dizzying array of developments taking place across the web, in education and in the commercial sector.