Vol. VII, No. 2

August, 1994

Computers and Archaeology Seminar in London

Please note: An error led to the incorrect posting of another document in place of this one, and the error was only discovered in September of 2010. This document replaced the incorrect one - a duplicate of another article - on September 30, 2010.

A seminar entitled "The Problems and Potentials of Electronic Information for Archaeology" was held in London at the very beginning of June. The seminar was sponsored by the British Academy, the Research and Development Department of the British Library and Archeologia e Calculatori. CSA Director Harrison Eiteljorg, II, attended and prepared a paper on the Archaeological Data Archive Project. Most of those in attendance were from the United Kingdom, but there were also scholars from the U.S., the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Italy, and Greece. There was a very interesting mix of field archaeologists, museum professionals, and information specialists.

The papers were distributed in advance. Therefore, the seminar itself could be a series of discussions based on the papers. Five separate sessions were held, each dealing with a different version of the general problems and possibilities of using computers to assist with archaeological work - available resources, archival activities, technology and standards, case studies, and opportunities for the future. The sessions started with summarizing and clarifying remarks made by the presenters.

The fact that papers had been distributed in advance made for lively and intense discussion. (The conference publication is due out by the end of the year. [Note added 9/30/10: The publication never appeared.])

One of those present made a very important point regarding access to data files from excavations. Professor Albertus Voorrips of the University of Amsterdam, while agreeing that an archive has value, nonetheless questioned the extent to which scholars really want data from other scholars. In fact, he indicated considerable skepticism that scholars care to have access to data files from past excavations or from excavations directed by others.

Most of those in attendance, on the other hand, seemed to believe that the data interchange is important. Some made that quite explicit, but most seemed to take it as a given. Mr. Eiteljorg argued that, as excavation becomes more expensive and more intrusive, archaeologists will be digging in the files of their forebears more often than in the fields of the earth. (Perhaps it is a reflection of the age of the discipline that we do not subject the work of our forebears to greater scrutiny.) As a result, we will be wanting access to one another's data more and more in the future. It should also be noted that no archive is just a frozen collection to which there is no access. If that were the case, there would be no value in making any collection in the first place. As surely as safe-keeping is an archival duty, so is providing access to the material so kept.

Professor Voorrips's skepticism about scholars taking advantage of archived data may serve as a caution, however, when planning sophisticated access system for computer archives. As the ADAP archive grows, access systems must be designed to reflect the quantity and quality of the use of the archive. That is, elaborate and complex access systems will be justified only when the use of the system promises to warrant the time and expense for developing such systems. Meanwhile the building of the archive must continue so that there will be data to use.

For further information on the ADAP project and the contents of its archives, please visit the ADAP homepage with the description of its archives. For other Newsletter articles concerning the ADAP or the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

Next Article: Pottery Profiles Again

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