Vol. XIII, No. 2
CSA Newsletter Logo
Fall, 2000

Further Defining the Job of the Head Geek

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

In the Winter, 2000, issue of the CSA Newsletter I wrote about the duties of the person responsible for computing on an archaeological project - the person I titled "head geek." Thinking more about the duties of such a position, I realized that there are many factors that must inform the work of the excavation's information technology manager, as there are for all the specialists on a dig, and that extensive consultation between the project director and the information technology manager are required at the beginning of the process. The head geek has somewhat different needs for consultation, because there is likely to be a significant gulf between his/her perception of the job and the excavation director's perception. There are no accepted standards established by years of practice as there are for other specialists on site. Someone familiar with computer technology, for instance, may consider electronic publication to be a given; similarly, the use of CAD may seem an obvious choice to me. Excavation directors, on the other hand, are likely to have specific aims in mind that are far more focused on the concrete needs and practices of the particular project. As a result, learning the plans and expectations of the project director is the crucial first step in the process of bringing computers into any excavation.

I have tried to make a list of the important questions that I would want answered to begin the learning process, largely because the job and the needs are still evolving such that these questions need to be made explicit now, though they may be well understood in the future. The list follows - not in question form, but as a list of information items. It is intended to begin the process, not to be all-inclusive, and I hope that readers will not only consider these issues but respond with their thoughts about other issues of importance for a head geek. Note that many of the items seem to have nothing to do with computers or computing. One of the most serious mistakes that can be made in organizing data is to assume that the computer specialist need not understand the organization of the work or the non-computer-related aspects of the work. Nothing could be further from the truth. The organization of data within the computer files must be related to the organization of the information within the excavation.

Some items seem to assume that the excavation has already been completed and that firm answers can be given. In any such case, expectations are sought rather than past events. (Copies of any manuals or other information for staff members as well as copies of all reporting forms should be supplied along with this information.)

Personnel (including those involved in years prior or in earlier work on the site)

  1. On-site staff (overlap of positions indicated): number of specialists and areas of specialization; number of trench masters; students/trainees; volunteers; hired laborers
  2. Others to be involved but not on-site, including specific responsibilities
  3. Staff continuity (percentage replaced over time, e.g., 10% every two or three years) for each staff category
  4. Chain of command for excavation (as opposed to analysis), e.g.: director --> field supervisor --> trench master --> paid workmen
  5. Organization for analysis: does the director plan to oversee all specialists directly or will there be intermediaries? If intermediaries, areas of oversight? Will specialists who are not part of the on-site staff be expected to publish some of the finds? If so, what artifact types? Will they be expected to rely partially on data supplied via the excavation records or to re-examine all of the artifacts?
  6. Object registrar
  7. Site architect


  1. Sponsor
  2. Financial supporters
  3. Permitting body
  4. Other government agencies involved
  5. Reporting requirements for each of the above


  1. Location
  2. Climate (during work season)
  3. Facilities at excavation headquarters
  4. Periods represented (each period, not just a first and last)
  5. Prior work on the site? If so, access to the objects? Access to the records, in what form?
  6. Partial standing walls or other significant architectural remains?
  7. Types of artifacts requiring separate catalog (e.g., pottery, coins, seals, botanical samples)

Work processes

  1. Do you expect to try to integrate information from the prior work into your data? If so, paper or computer data?
  2. Stratification: via arbitrary levels or observed strata? Number of strata?
  3. Hierarchy of contexts: from site to the name of smallest context unit, with all intermediate steps and naming system
  4. Surveying: Outside contractor for all survey work, basic set-up, or none? Excavation survey team for all, some, no surveying? Trench/object measurements made with transits/total stations or tapes and levels? Is there a site architect or surveyor? If not, who is responsible for site maps and plans?
  5. Outside laboratories - what kinds of analyses?
  6. Object conservation on site, to what extent?
  7. Architectural conservation work?
  8. Object photography on site, to what extent?
  9. Object photographs: B & W negatives; color negatives; color slides; digital; film formats larger than 35 mm.
  10. Site photographs: as with objects
  11. Video, if used
  12. Smaller projects affiliated with this project for which the director does not bear final responsibility or larger project of which this project is a part
  13. Materials or excavation areas that must be treated differently from related areas because they were excavated differently - e.g., early in the dig, before stratification was understood or in an area disturbed by a later water course?


  1. Final publication plans: Volumes in a series? Single volume? Articles in a journal? Subject/author divisions? Web site or other electronic plans?
  2. Preliminary reports: frequency, placement, with what supporting documentation in terms of catalog data, plans, photographs?
  3. What will be written personally by the director?
  4. What specialists will work together to publish finds jointly?


  1. Time expected from staff members or outside specialists when active excavation is not taking place?
  2. Duration of project


  1. Computing equipment owned by or fully available to the excavation
  2. Software used by excavation personnel
  3. Computing equipment and software owned by staff members and available for their own use on the excavation
  4. Hazards that might interfere with computer use in the field
  5. Do you need to link your computers and data to the computers and/or data of some other person/project/department/agency?
  6. Permanent staff members familiar with computers
  7. Director's level of computer skill
  8. Staff member(s) willing and able to be in charge of some aspects of computing for the project
  9. Type of information to be recorded in computers (why and under whose supervision for each): personnel or supporters; institutions involved; features; excavation units; context finds, site artifact register; object catalogs for pottery, metal artifacts, coins, ground stone artifacts, etc.; site drawings/maps; photographs
  10. Planning to use digital photographs or video?
  11. Planning to digitize day books?
  12. Paper records that will need to be added to the computer data
  13. Existing computer files to integrate with new ones
  14. Is there a need to link staff members and their data during the off-season so that all may work cooperatively on the data?
  15. Electronic publication plans, if any

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

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For other Newsletter articles concerning uses of electronic media in the humanities or databases, consult the Subject index.

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