Call for participants: 1st Annual Antiquist Workshop

This might be of interest if you are interested in computer applications in archaeology (and can be in the UK in late April):

1st Annual Antiquist Workshop

21-23 April 2008

Department of Archaeology

Southampton University


The 1st Annual Antiquist Workshop will be hosted at Southampton University Archaeology Department in April 2008. The purpose of the Workshop is to provide postgraduate students in Archaeological Informatics and associated disciplines with the opportunity to:

  • Broaden their skill base with a short series of practical seminars focusing on real-world applications of IT in archaeology
  • Get career guidance from professionals working in the field
  • Network with peers from other institutions
  • Become involved with the Antiquist online community for IT & Cultural Heritage

Seminars will be based on topics requested by participants but are likely to include GIS, web-based mapping, 3D visualisation & reconstruction, data structuring and scripting. Workshop attendance is free but participants will need to pay for food and accommodation where required. The organisers will be happy to reserve accommodation at a local hostel or hotel on request. Places on the workshop are limited and will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. Topics requested by early registrants may also be given priority. The final deadline for registration is 10 February 2008.

In order to register please send an email to stating your name, institution and course, two specific topics which would be of interest to you, and whether accommodation arrangements should be made.

Please feel free to forward this to any person or list likely to be interested.

Best wishes

The AAW team

Random quote on archaeology

Via the archaeology section on

Archaeology is not simply the finite body of artefactual evidence uncovered in excavations. Rather, archaeology is what archaeologists say about that evidence. It is the ongoing process of discussing the past which is, in itself, an ongoing process. Only recently have we begun to realise the complexity of that discourse. … [T]he discipline of archaeology is a site of disputation–a dynamic, fluid, multidimensional engagement of voices bearing upon both past and present.

John C. McEnroe on Discussing the Past

Bad archaeology

Bad Archaeology is a site where you can explore “the diversity of archaeological misconceptions, mistakes and distortions” written by archaeologists who say they are “fed up with the distorted view of the past that passes for knowledge in popular culture. We are unhappy that books written by people with no understanding of real archaeology dominate the shelves at respectable bookstores. We do not appreciate news programmes that talk about ley lines (for example) as if they are real”.
(via 24 Hour Museum news feed)

This will only be relevant to the archaeologists, I guess, but it has occurred to me to ask – what would you like to see in the Catalhoyuk archive reports? What information would either be useful or satisfy your curiosity?

In a wider sense, what can we (as IT geeks in the cultural heritage sector) learn from each other? What are we too scared to ask in case it’s a stupid question, or because it seems too obscure? What don’t we share because we assume that everyone else knows it already?

This post on ‘What comes after post-processualism‘ caught my eye, I guess because I have a fascination with the ways in which archaeological theory affects database design and digitisation strategies. I either work with contract archaeologists or on a post-processual site and the structural requirements are quite different, though both fundamentally rely on single context recording.

We have to face the fact that archaeological theory is quite simply no longer at the heart of archaeology, as it perhaps was from the 1960s until the end of the 1980s.

Instead we have seen over the last few decades an enormous expansion of commercial archaeology, now controlling far more funding than the Universities and responsible for the lion share of archaeological research. We may or may not like that fact and what it led to in terms of research results but commercial archaeology is undeniably today a far bigger player in the discipline than its poor sibling, University-based research.

I’m still catching up on news and various RSS feeds, here are just a few things that caught my eye.

These slides from a presentation on Open Source applications in archaeology are worth a look. They’ve included lots of screenshots, which is useful because it demonstrates that open source applications are becoming much more user-friendly.

Wired makes a compelling case for Twitter as a ‘Social Sixth Sense’:

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.

In theory I just don’t get Twitter but in practice I do read some long-running threads on various forums where people can post a quick rant about work, about their love life, or just add a random disclosure. If I know the people posting then I find those threads interesting. And I also love Facebook status updates for the same reason – they don’t require a response but sometimes it’s nice when they trigger one.

Final diary entry from Catalhoyuk

I’m back in London now but here goes anyway:

August 1
My final entry of the season as I’m on the overnight train from Cumra to Istanbul tonight. After various conversations on the veranda I’ve been thinking about the intellectual accessibility of our Catalhoyuk data and how that relates to web publication and this entry is just a good way to stop these thoughts running round my head like a rogue tune.

[This has turned into a long entry, and I don’t say anything trivial about the weather or other random things so you’d have to be pretty bored to read it all. Shouldn’t you be working instead?]

Getting database records up on the website isn’t hard – it’s just a matter of resources. The tricky part is providing an interesting and engaging experience for the general visitor, or a reliable, useable and useful data set for the specialist visitor.

At the moment it feels like a lot of good content is hidden within the database section of the website. When you get down to browsing lists of features, there’s often enough information in the first few lines to catch your interest. But when you get to lists of units, even the pages with some of the unit description presented alongside the list, you start to encounter the ‘800 lamps’ problem.

[A digression/explanation – I’m working on a website at the Museum of London with a searchable/browsable catalogue of objects from Roman Londinium. One section has 800 Roman oil lamps – how on earth can you present that to the user so they can usefully distinguish between one lamp and another?]

Of course, it does depend on the kind of user and what they want to achieve on the Londinium site – for some, it’s enough to read one nicely written piece on the use of lamps and maybe a bit about what different types meant, all illustrated with a few choice objects; specialist users may want to search for lamps with very particular characteristics. Here, our ‘800 lamps’ are 11846 (and counting) units of archaeology. The average user isn’t going to read every unit sheet, but how can they even choose one to start with? And how many will know how to interpret and create meaning from what they read about the varying shades of brown stuff? Being able to download unit sheets that match a particular pattern – part of a certain building, ones that contain certain types of finds, units related to different kinds of features – is probably of real benefit to specialist visitors, but are we really giving those specialist visitors (professional or amateur) and our general visitors what they need? I’m not sure a raw huge list of units or flotation numbers is of much help to anyone – how do people distinguish between one thumbnail of a lamp or one unit number and another in a useful and meaningful way? I hope this doesn’t sound like a criticism of the website – it’s just the nature of the material being presented.

The variability of the data is another problem – it’s not just about data cleaning (though the ‘view features by type’ page shows why data cleaning is useful) – but about the difference between the beautiful page for Building 49 and rather less interesting page for Building 33 (to pick one at random). If a user lands on one of the pages with minimal information they may never realise that some pages have detailed records with fantastic plans and photos.

So there are the barriers to entry that we might accidentally perpetuate by ‘hiding’ the content behind lists of numbers; and there is the general intellectual accessibility of the information to the general user. Given limited resources, where should our energies be concentrated? Who are our websites for?

It’s also about matching the data and website functionality to the user and their goals – the excavation database might not be of interest to the general user in its most raw form, and that’s ok because it will be of great interest to others. At a guess, the general public might be more interested in finds, and if that’s the case we should find ways to present information about the objects with appropriate interpretation and contextualisation, not only to present information about the objects but also to help people have a more meaningful experience on the site.

I wonder if ‘team favourite’ finds or buildings/spaces/features could be a good way into the data, a solution that doesn’t mean making some kinds of finds or some buildings into ‘treasure’ and more important than others. Or perhaps specialists could talk about a unit or feature they find interesting – along the way they could explain how their specialism contributes to the archaeological record (written as if to an intelligent thirteen year old). For example, Flip could talk about phytoliths, or Stringy could talk about obsidian, and what their finds can tell us.

Proper user evaluation would be fabulous, but in the absence of resources, I really should look at the stats and see how the site is used. I wonder if I could do a surveymonkey thing to get general information from different types of users? I wonder what levels of knowledge our visitors have about the Neolithic, about Anatolian history, etc. What brings them to the website? And what makes them stick around?

Intellectual accessibility doesn’t only apply to the general public – it also applies to the accessibility of other team’s or labs content. There are so many tables hidden behind the excavation and specialist database interfaces – some are archived, some had a very particular usage, some are still actively used but still have the names of long-gone databases. It’s all very well encouraging people to use the database to query across specialisms, but how will they know where to look for the data they need? [And if we make documentation, will anyone read it?]

It was quite cool this morning but now it’s hot again. Ha, I lied about not saying anything trivial about the weather! Now go do some work.
(Started July 29, but finally posted August 1)