Another country, same upheaval, same “opportunities” for looting of archaeological patrimony (sites, museums, storage facilities): after Iraq, now it’s Egypt’s turn. Hopefully, this will only be an unfortunate but short-lived episode. A specialized Facebook group has been started to attempt to gather news, Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum!, an upgrade from the Iraqcrisis mailing list approach—in 2003, Facebook wasn’t yet the mass phenomenon it is now. Also, an ad hoc website, Egyptological Looting Database 2011, has been thrown up to try to keep track of what (and to which extent) we know about looting in different regions of the country. Compared with The Iraq War & Archaeology, this site endeavors to be a bit more systematic. I applaud all initiatives. Again, my sincerest hope is that all this will prove to be “overkill” but history has taught us to be prepared for the worst.

The annual report of DDIG is due to the SAA on Friday, February 4th. They ask for a “report on interest group/representative activities” and “action items” to be included. The text below is merely a report, I am not presently planning to submit any action items. I’m glad to take comments on the DRAFT text below, and proposals for action items.

Use the comments field for this blog entry to communicate about this …



The Digital Data Interest Group (DDIG) had a productive year in 2010. The expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) creating digital data from archaeological practices appears to continue at a rate relatively equivalent or higher than that generally found within the social sciences. This year saw the publication of a number of items pertaining to digital data use in archaeology in SAA periodicals. The annual SAA meeting in Saint Louis contained a variety of symposia and general contributions specifically pertaining to the implications of ICTs and digital data in archaeological practice, including a DDIG-sponsored digital symposium. This report will address SAA activities related to DDIG, and then provide a general assessment of digital data developments in general with the potential to affect American archaeology as construed in the SAA mission statement.

SAA periodicals published several items this year directly addressing digital data practices. Three items were in the SAA Archaeological Record, “Transforming Archaeological Data into Knowledge” (McManamon and Kintigh 2010), “Fieldwork in the Age of Digital Reproduction: A Review of the Potentials and Limitations of Google Earth for Archaeologists” (Meyers 2010), and “Open Context in Context: Cyberinfrastructure and Distributed Approaches to Publish and Preserve Archaeological Data” (Kansa 2010). One article was published in American Antiquity, “Computational Modeling and Neolithic Socioecological Dynamics: A Case Study from Southwest Asia,” (Barton et al. 2010). A number of articles in both publications also indirectly included ICTs and digital data as part of their subject matter.

The 2010 SAA meeting in Saint Louis contained a large amount of activity related to ICT and digital data use. This included sessions on the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), digital curation, and digital publishing. The DDIG-sponsored digital symposium at the SAA, “Practical Methods of Data Production, Dissemination, and Preservation,” contained 13 individual presentations created by 27 contributors; the symposium highlighted results-driven applications of digital data management undertaken by DDIG members which could serve as examples of best practices in the field. Outside of specific symposia, at least 13 other presentations and posters appeared at the meeting with direct focus on ICT and digital data practices in their titles and abstracts. Although not part of the SAA, the

This past year saw the emergence of two important developments on the subject of digital data, with the potential for profound influence on archaeological practice: (1) The National Science Foundation (NSF) implemented a requirement for a data management plan to be included with all proposals beginning January 18, 2011; and (2) the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) called for commentary concerning how a new policy similar to that of the National Institute of Health (NIH) might be generally constructed for other agencies, creating a requirement for public access to data resultant from publicly-funded research.

The NSF requirement, now active, will have an immediate effect on archaeological practice in that all proposal writers now must make their data management plans explicit in less than two pages. This is a generally positive development. In order to help mitigate the most onerous step for proposal writers, the NSF has proactively suggested (but not required) that proposal writers avail themselves of the expertise of two non-profit, research organizations run by DDIG members, the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), and Open Context. However, in order to realize the best benefits of this new requirement and subsequently derived practices in other funding and regulatory agencies, the American archaeological community will need to engage in a substantive dialogue about data management standards, ethics of data sharing, and citation practices. This is not a call for prescribed, one-size-fits-all requirements, but for recognition of the fact that the ongoing development of open community standards takes explicit work in order to keep researchers from producing data management plans with low levels of interoperability.

The OSTP call for comments closed on January 21, 2010. The last update on the subject was March 8, 2010, which indicated that input was still being reviewed. Five PDF files are available on the OSTP website , with the contents of emails and other materials sent in response to their call. Comments from the archaeological community included a generally supportive letter co-authored by DDIG member Francis P. McManamon, executive director of tDAR, which also recognized the need for some measure of disciplinary cohesion around to derive benefits from such openness. Similar statements were made by many commenters representing a wide swath of the sciences and humanities. This OSTP initiative also will raise significant questions about what constitutes proper citation, and other recognition of contributions made by previous researchers, in professional reports of new findings involving curated public data.

The expansion of professional outreach and communication on digital data issues remains a top priority in DDIG. Such expansion is devoted to development of greater awareness within the SAA community of the ways in which ICT use and resultant digital data both structure work while simultaneously creating new affordances. The ability to capitalize on these new affordances is increasingly dependent upon the development of recognized data standards and (note: not necessarily mandated) collaborative networks of users (researchers, managers, educators, etc.). The position of tDAR and Open Context as institutional points of reference will be exceedingly valuable in the near- and medium-term. However, without the appearance of a more engaged community of archaeological data practitioners in the medium- to long-term, the expansion of broad efforts like those at the NSF and OSTP may not be highly beneficial. Similarly, in order to ensure that the population of archaeological practitioners remains prepared to create and maintain interoperable data sets and standards it is time for disciplinary conversation and concerted action on what constitutes appropriate technical training at various levels of educational development.


Joshua J. Wells, Ph.D, R.P.A.
Convener, Digital Data Interest Group of the Society for American Archaeology
Assistant Professor of Social Informatics
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
& Department of Informatics
Indiana University South Bend

References Cited

Barton, C. Michael, Isaac Ullah, and Helena Mitasova
2010 Computational Modeling and Neolithic Socioecological Dynamics: A Case Study from Southwest Asia. American Antiquity 75(2):364-386

Kansa, Eric C.
2010 Open Context in Context: Cyberinfrastructure and Distributed Approaches to Publish and Preserve Archaeological Data. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(5):12–16.

McManamon, Francis P., and Keith W. Kintigh
2010 Digital Antiquity: Transforming Archaeological Data into Knowledge. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(2):37–40.

Meyers, Adrian
2010 Fieldwork in the Age of Digital Reproduction: A Review of the Potentials and Limitations of Google Earth for Archaeologists. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(4):7–11.

A new archaeological blog, “Paperless Archaeology” has some interesting discussion about the new NSF Data Management Requirements.  The NSF requirements go into effect on January 18, 2011. Both Open Context and tDAR are listed as potential services related to this requirement (please note, the NSF notes but does not endorse these services).

Looking through their FAQ page on Data Management and Sharing it looks like there is quite a bit of room for project specific plans. Such terms as ‘reasonable procedures’ and ‘reasonable length of time’ are left to be decided by “the community of interest through the process of peer review and program management.”
The Data Management Plan is meant to address more than just observational data. It is meant to cover samples, and physical objects. And the data doesn’t have to be digital. You can record your entire project on paper and simply plan to make that paper available for scholarly review later on. But most archaeological projects that I know use a combination of paper and electronic, often of duplicate data. And if you have two sets of data, one analog and one digital, that doubles the complexity (and cost) of archiving  your information when the project is done.


These are good points. I heard similar issues raised at at a workshop on publishing archaeological data on the Web that I organized with Sarah Kansa (collaborator + spouse, :) ). Lots of people talked about their distrust of digital only recording methods, especially in remote locations and sometimes hostile (to electronics) environments. Some liked the reliability and permanence of paper (so long as the paper records are stored properly). At the same time, people lamented the labor investment and duplication of effort required in maintaining both paper and digital records, though not many people at this particular work shop tried digital only recording.


My work with Open Context is very much focused on the digital side of the equation, and this post rightly points out that there’s much more complexity to archaeological data management. What’s nice about the “Paperless Archaeology” blog is that it gets into the nitty-gritty of digital work-flows. Sharing experiences in how to securely and efficiently go about the business of archaeological field documentation can help others make informed choices about documentation strategies. And since I haven’t updated the blog-roll in a awhile, I thought I add this blog to the list.

Just a quick note at the start of this holiday week. I have been remiss about posting about the SAA Archaeological Record, an open access publication for SAA members. Over the past year, they have published a couple of papers about digital data preservation and access in archaeology. These include:

  1. McManamon, Francis P., and Keith W. Kintigh (2010) Digital Antiquity: Transforming Archaeological Data into Knowledge. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(2):37–40.
  2. Meyers, Adrian. (2010) Fieldwork in the Age of Digital Reproduction: A Review of the Potentials and Limitations of Google Earth for Archaeologists.  The SAA Archaeological Record 10(4):7–11.
  3. Kansa, Eric C. (2010) Open Context in Context: Cyberinfrastructure and Distributed Approaches to Publish and Preserve Archaeological Data. The SAA Archaeological Record 10(5):12–16.

If I missed any, please let me know and I will update this post! Thanks!

I just stumbled across an article in the New York Times:

Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan. The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.

As an archaeologist who’s never really seen himself as an anthropologist but, truth be told, more as related to historians (I was originally trained in Belgium), I must admit that I wasn’t too much aware of this issue. So I went over to the Savage Minds group blog, my usual source for what goes on in anthropology. Two posts seemed most relevant: “Why anthropology is ‘true’ even if it is not ‘science’” and “Ethnography as a solution to #AAAfail.”

… we don’t have to go that far afield to recognize forms of knowledge that are rehabilitated when anthropology jettisons its label as ‘science’: history, epigraphy, historical linguistics, and the humanities in general. The opposite of ‘science’ is not ‘nihilitic postmodernism’ it’s ‘an enormously huge range of forms of scholarship, many of which are completely and totally committed to accuracy and impartiality in the knowledge claims they make, thank you very much’.

At times I feel like the real distinction here is between thoughtful people who are aware of the complexities of knowledge production, and those who are for psychological reasons strongly committed to identifying themselves as scientists and everyone else as blasphemers. This approach is, of course, not very scientific and verges on being the close-minded inversion of the fundamentalist Christianity that thinkers of this ilk so love to oppose.

What do most anthropologists think anthropology does? What do the terms they use to evaluate it mean to them? To the best of my knowledge, we simply have no answer to this question beyond our impressions that ‘cultural anthropologists are taking over’.

The Neuroanthropology blog has collected a lot of  the online discussions. Hmm… How would I normally characterize what I do to the general public? Luckily, archaeology is sufficiently popular that I can just use that term and leave it at that. Only occasionally does someone engage me on whether it’s a science or not. I guess I associate “science” with empiricism, in other words, can my explanation be tested, measured, replicated? Obviously, archaeology which destroys much of what it studies in the act of excavation is not fully empirical though we do use a lot of empirical methods to describe what we excavate. To me, it seems that the context for the question “Are you a scientist?” determines my answer. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not an empiricist. I’m not even going to venture into the issues surrounding the formulation of theories which then are tested in a targeted excavation. Food for thought for sure.

By the way, this latest AAA meeting saw an uptick in the use of social media. Finally, Savage Minds posted some thoughts on what I guess one could call “anthroblogging”  :-)  (see my SBL post).

This is a topical blog about archaeology and digital data, so this post may appear off topic at first, but trust me it is not.

The Republican Party (or GOP), in its quest to appear like the party of “fiscal responsibility” [sic], has launched a new crowd-sourcing site to go after “questionable” grants made by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF funds some archaeology, so this development is of interest to readers of Digging Digitally.

While one can take issue with the wisdom of cutting NSF’s budget versus other areas of the federal budget, what makes this development noteworthy is the explicit use of crowd-sourcing to politicize specific funding decisions. The GOP sponsored site asks users to:

In the “Search Award For” field, try some keywords, such as: success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus, etc. to bring up grants. If you find a grant that you believe is a waste of your taxdollars, be sure to record the award number.

OK. So does that mean “museums”, “social norms” and “culture” are all implicitly a waste of money? I guess “success” is a waste too. Naturally, you can’t cut any other area of government spending (like defense or entitlements) from the GOP site. It’s a nice way to make “crowd-sourcing” less than democratic, since essentially this website predetermines your choices in what you will cut. But I’m going off track…

More to the point, how should the average lay person understand an NSF award enough to evaluate it, especially when all that is available is a title and a short abstract? I’m not qualified to evaluate many grants in archaeology because different areas of specialization require so much background knowledge. I consider myself pretty scientifically literate and I can barely understand NSF award information in some areas of computer science, economics, climate research, etc.

Nevertheless, I trust that the NSF awards in these areas outside of my field are probably worthwhile. That’s because I generally trust the scientific community and scientific processes (grant reviews, peer-review). Science is not perfect, but it does tend to value skepticism, evidence, and intellectual freedom.

The GOP’s crowd-sourcing effort shows an implicit, but fundamental distrust of the scientific community. The GOP wants you to second-guess expert opinion, because scientific expertise is by its nature suspect in contemporary Republican Party ideology. No doubt this will further politicize climate science, evolutionary science, and many other areas archaeologists care about.

Lastly, the whole “fiscal responsibility” thing is pretty laughable. Via Twitter, Tom Scheinfeldt wrote:

Total NSF budget=$7 billion. Cost of yesterday’s tax cuts=$700 billion. Targeting NSF is just a smokescreen to keep budget hawks preoccupied

Good point! I politely sent a note about Tom’s point via the GOP site that maybe they could look for budget savings more fruitfully in entitlements or defense spending.

Among Anglo-Saxons, tonight is Halloween, a rather frivolous holiday with some serious undertones. American movies and TV have propagated the holiday to such an extent however, that the lowest common denominator of the event is relatively well known across the world: small—and big—kids dressing up and collecting candy (“trick-or-treating”). Here’s a pic of my kids six years ago:

Halloween 2004, copyright F. Deblauwe

Of course, the connection with  superstitions about the Undead is easy to spot, be they disguised as the All Souls Christian holiday or el Día de los Muertos in Mexico. As a child in Belgium, we didn’t celebrate Halloween but I did make a scary-face lantern around this time of the year albeit not using a pumpkin but a sugar beet. If I remember correctly, popular lore somehow connected the lanterns with St. Maarten (St. Martin), a saint that actually in some regions of my home province of West Flanders even substituted for Sint Niklaas (St. Nicholas, i.e., Santa) in his gift-giving-to-kids role.

This is primarily an archaeological blog though. So what are the connections between digging up the past and zombies, witches and other scary critters and dark practices? Here are a few choice links:

Archaeology is a famously ghoulish pursuit whose practitioners are always on the look-out for dead bodies to gloat over. If we can’t find a grave, then at least we’ll try to get hold of animal bones from kitchen middens and sacrificial deposits. I’ve seen desperate Mesolithic researchers cackle with funereal glee over the toe bones of long-dead seals. Osteologists are of course the worst necrophiliacs of the lot. But nobody’s immune. There’s an anecdote going around about my old favourite teacher, where he lifts a pelvis out of a Middle Neolithic grave, licks his lips while turning the charnel thing over in his hands, and exclaims, “Now this was a very beautiful woman!”.

A bit of archaeological/anthropological light entertainment this time.

Archaeology requires archaeologists, right? Well, the current or ending recession or economic crisis—depending on which economist or politician you talk to—is felt by archaeological excavators, researchers and teachers alike. Is the workforce shrinking or just becoming more efficient? Are there fewer students enrolling? The Archaeometry SAS blog alerted me to the publication of a new report: Nathan Schlanger and Kenneth Aitchison (eds.), Archaeology and the Global Economic Crisis. Multiple Impacts, Possible Solutions, Tervuren (Belgium), 2010 (available as pdf). This is the table of contents:

1. introduction. Archaeology and the global economic crisis   9
Nathan Schlanger & Kenneth Aitchison
2. the crisis – economic, ideological, and archaeological   13
Jean-Paul Demoule
3. the impact of the recession on archaeology in the republic of ireland   19
James Eogan
4. United Kingdom archaeology in economic crisis   2
Kenneth Aitchison
5. the end of a golden age? the impending effects of the economic collapse on archaeology in higher education in the United Kingdom   31
Anthony Sinclair
6. commercial archaeology in spain: its growth, development, and the impact of the global economic crisis   4
Eva Parga-Dans
7. A crisis with many faces. the impact of the economic recession on dutch archaeology   
Monique H. van den Dries, Karen E. Waugh & Corien Bakker
8. one crisis too many? French archaeology between reform and relaunch   69
Nathan Schlanger & Kai Salas Rossenbach
9. the crisis and changes in cultural heritage legislation in hungary: cul-de-sac or solution?   81
Eszter Bánffy & Pál Raczky
10. Archaeology in crisis: the case of Poland   87
Arkadiusz Marciniak & Micha? Pawleta
11. the impact of the economic crisis on rescue archaeology in russia   97
Asya Engovatova
12. the effect of the global recession on cultural resources management in the United states   103
Jeffry H. Altschul
13. Postscript: on dead canaries, guinea-pigs and other trojan horses   107
Nathan Schlanger
14. Annex i: Job losses in UK archaeology – April 2010   117
Kenneth Aitchison
15. Annex ii: note for administrators and liquidators of archaeological organisations   127
Roger M. Thomas

I also came across a European-Union-funded study on the state of the profession in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK. Written by the same Kenneth Aitchison, its title is Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe: Transnational Report, Reading (UK), 2009. It too is freely available on the web. The contents are:

1.0 Executive Summary  5
2.0 Aim and Objectives  7
3.0 Partnership  8
4.0 Methodology  9
4.1 Data Collection  9
4.2 Data Analysis  9
5.0 Definitions of Archaeologists  10
6.0 Numbers Working in Archaeology  11
7.0 Past Growth of the Sector  13
8.0 Future Growth of the Sector  14
9.0 Age and Gender of Archaeologists  15
10.0 Disability Status of Archaeologists  17
11.0 Country of Origin  18
12.0 Highest Qualifications Gained by Archaeologists  20
13.0 Full-time and Part-time Work in Archaeology  22
14.0 Salaries in Archaeology  23
15.0 Training Needs and Skills Shortages  24
16.0 Transnational Mobility  25
16.1 Barriers to Transnational Mobility – Licensing  26
16.2 Barriers to Transnational Mobility – Qualifications  27
16.3 Barriers to Transnational Mobility – Language  28
17.0 Recommendations  29
18.0 Bibliography  30
Appendix 1: Private Sector and State Funding  31

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.”

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