Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Going Digital for Field Recording in Archaeology

The use of information and communications technology (ICT) has revolutionized archaeological mapping, image recording, and analysis through tools such as GPS, GIS, and digital cameras (Evans and Daly 2006). Gidding et al. (2011) note that archaeologists have been slow to adopt integrated digital recording techniques, relying to an inordinate degree on paper-based recording systems to collect data on archaeological phenomena. Where archaeologists have utilized digital data, the resultant databases often can answer only very specific research questions (Gidding et al. 2011).

Hand-written, paper-based systems for inventory, site condition and artifact analysis are de rigueur in archaeology. Archaeologists then must digitize these data, adding significantly to the cost of projects, increasing transcription errors, and limiting the amount of digital data. These traditional techniques generate hard copies that cannot be easily backed up. Digital data using ICT are sustainable, more easily saved into multiple copies and stored in multiple locations, and are consistent with resource waste minimization (see Wells and Coghlin [2012]). Digital forms are easier to read in the future as they remove handwriting issues and are quicker to convert for other data needs, such as cataloging. This promotes efficiency between disciplines since it also cuts down on time in museums for curators to access and manage data.
Traditional paper error-checking  in 2011 archaeological field laboratory. 

That the challenges of using ICT field collection are becoming less of an issue is evidenced by the recent session at the 2012 Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference titled “Using tablet PCs to support field documentation.” The blog http://paperlessarchaeology.com/ documents the use of iPads for field data collection at Pompeii (cf. Poehler and Ellis [2011]). Real-time archaeological field recording has been tested using GIS in southern Jordan (Smith and Levy 2012). In the North America, the E’se’get Archaeology Project in Nova Scotia has implemented the use of iPads and Adobe acrobat forms that mimic traditional paper forms (http://coastalarchaeology.wordpress.com/). That much professional discourse on the use of these mobile information technologies in archaeological research is presented in blog format reflects their very recent deployment. 

This year's field school will utilize tablet computers, adapting existing archaeological paper forms used in excavation, gravestone recording, and laboratory processing of artifacts, and test the use of these forms in digital format during the field school. Researchers will track results, and provide the forms and their user experience in this blog. The goal is to develop, troubleshoot, train, and implement digital recording on a multifaceted archaeology project.

Evans, Thomas L. and Patrick Daly, Editors
 2006 Digital Archaeology: Bridging Method and Theory. Routledge, NY.

Gidding, Aaron, Yuma Matsui, Thomas E. Levy, Tom DeFanti, and Falko Kuester
 2011 e-Science and the Archaeological Frontier. Proceedings of the 2011 Seventh IEEE International Conference on eScience pp. 166-172.

Poehler, Eric E., and Steven J.R. Ellis
  2011 The 2011 Season of the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project: the Southern and Northern Sides. The Journal of FastiOnline < http://eprints.bice.rm.cnr.it/4033/1/FOLDER-it-2012-249.pdf >

Wells, Christian E.; and Melanie N. Coughlin
 2012 Zero Waste Archaeology. The SAA Archaeological Record 12(4):19-21.

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