Vol. XX, No. 3
Web Site Review: archaeology.org
Erika B. Harnett
(See email contacts page for the author's email address.)
This site appears at first glance to be offering an abbreviated version of the current issue of Archaeology magazine, ostensibly to feature samples of what is offered in the printed publication and, thereby, to solicit subscriptions; sideboxes on several of the pages, a banner, and a link all display a special online offer for new subscribers. Though published by the Archaeological Institute of America, the professional organization of archaeologists working in the Old World, the magazine is not an academic publication. The readership is a combination of the general public, enthusiastic amateurs, and scholars, but less than one-half of one percent of the readers is composed of professional archaeologists. The editors' purpose is to "try to bring our readers all of the exciting aspects of archaeology: adventure, discovery, culture, history, and travel." 1
The web site is, by virtue of the internet's technological agility, more ambitious than the magazine. The web site presents some expanded and updated versions of the articles and features printed in Archaeology. Other web-exclusive features include new articles, interactive digs, breaking archaeological news, a listing of TV shows dealing with archaeology, and links to many other sites, both academic and commercial, giving readily available access to an abundance of information.
In-site links, arranged horizontally in a bar across the pages, serve as tabs: Home, Subscribe, News, Marketplace, TV, Events, New York, Links, Contact, Free Info, Advertise, and Search.Home Page
The Home Page is comprised mainly of three parts: a table of contents for the web-only features (the largest and most prominent section by far), links to the table of contents and some articles from an online edited edition of the current print issue of Archaeology, and a section devoted to advertising.
Fig. 1 - The archaelogy.org home page reduced to fit here (600 pixels wide).
The tripartite division is, however, denied by the presence in the main banner of other items (commercial offerings or one sort or another), and the fact that the web-only features area has no heading; instead a selection of the web-only items is listed individually. As a result, there is less a sense of distinct portions of the site than of a table of contents that competes with the divisions of the site indicated in the horizontal bar mentioned above. In addition, the third area (advertising) only appears after scrolling down the screen; that portion of the Home Page does not show in a standard browser on today's most typical monitors, which use 1024 X 768 resolution. (The web page requires about 1100 x 1200 pixels, not including the screen space required by the browser menus, headers and so on.) The overuse of color on the Home Page (three different background colors) also detracts from any clear organizing sense.
Most of the Home Page is devoted to what is offered exclusively on the website. In a large and central area subject headings are highlighted on a white background, providing a table of contents (although not labeled as such): online features, reviews and shows, latest news, interactive digs, and interviews. Although online features could be used to refer to all of these areas, it is not, and there is no clear indicator that these features are available only on the web.
Clicking this heading takes the reader to a screen listing about a dozen online articles that appear typical, in terms of format and content, of what is featured in the print version of Archaeology. Each online article is dated (with one exception). Some are current, i.e. dating within the time frame of the most recent bi-monthly print issue (e.g. Jan/Feb 08), and others date within the past several months. On this page, a link to "search archives" allows the reader to find earlier online content (and also abstracts, news and reviews from print issues, since 1996) using a keyword.
A partial listing of a few of the articles appears below the heading for online features. Some articles in the selected list are clearly identified as "new" and marked by a star at their first appearance and for a short time thereafter.
It is not apparent why the online articles were chosen since they deal with topics unrelated to each other and not necessarily those featured in the current print issue. At the time of this writing, most are about the ancient world, but one article reports emergency excavation in New York City. On occasion, a featured online article is a reprint from another site on the web. ("Raiders of the Faux Ark," an editorial by Eric Cline, first published in the Boston Globe, September 30, 2007.
Within these articles are useful links to related websites.
Reviews and shows
A listing of about a dozen reviews of exhibitions, films, shows, and books is offered when this heading is clicked. The reviews date from 2006 to 2008. Links to other earlier reviews (2005-1988) from Archaeology are accessible via a link; another link directs the reader to the book and museum reviews on the website of the American Journal of Archaeology, the AIA's professional journal.
Archaeological headlines from around the world, updated by 1 P.M. ET every weekday, by Jessica E. Saraceni, gives several brief announcements of items of interest concerning archaeological discoveries or controversies; the announcements provide links to sites where one can find the initial reports with added details. A box within the page, titled "More News," offers links to the site's regular feature, "From the Trenches," and a search engine. At the bottom of the page is a link to older news, where the postings for the previous days of the current year are accessible.
The reader is able to read about many excavations 2 via this topic, which provides, by many links, access to introductory material giving the historical importance of the site, a statement of the objectives of the excavation, field notes, (frequently updated), personal journals, site plans, illustrations, and photographs of installations and objects. A special feature, "Q&A with archaeologists," allows the posting of queries to a blog for response from archaeologists. A link to the AIA's Annual Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin directs a reader to the AIA's list of fieldwork projects that may need assistance, either skilled or unskilled.
A click on this heading leads to a listing of ten interviews dating within the past fifteen months with links at the bottom of the page to others. These interviews are also similar in content and form to those in the printed version of Archaeology, presenting archaeological topics from a more personalized point of view, specifically, via questions and answers. A few links to further information related to the topics discussed are provided, incorporated in the text or given at the bottom of the interview pages.
In a box labeled Current Issue, the cover of the print version of Archaeology is displayed in full color, alternating with two photographs that appear within the print version of the magazine.
Below the photograph of the cover, selected titles of current articles appear. Different titles are displayed in the course of using the website as the cover illustration changes. On clicking the title of the article or report, the abstract, full article, or expanded version appears.
Below the listing of selected titles from the current issue and links to purchase the current and back issues is a heading "Coming Soon," where some of what will appear in the forthcoming issue of Archaeology Magazine is highlighted. Clicking on this link, the reader is given the briefest summary of these articles and reports. At the bottom of the box are an invitation to sign on to the Archaeology.org e-Update, the online newsletter of Archaeology, and an advertisement to join the Archaeological Institute of America.
Clicking on the cover or the text above leads to a screen with the table of contents of the magazine currently in print in the larger area used for web-only features on the Home Page. (A new section below the cover of the magazine now lists "ONLINE CONTENT," with an abbreviated version of the more expansive listing of web-only features found on the Home Page.) The titles of all articles appearing in the magazine are listed; most, however, are available to the reader as abstracts of the printed text, clearly marked as such. Some titles in the table are highlighted with a star and "Full Text!" directing attention to those articles for which the full text in print is available online; extended versions of articles available online-only (e.g. "Discoveries of 2007" for Jan/Feb 08) are marked with a star and "Extended online-only version!" These articles and photo essays cover diverse topics dealing with all parts of the world, ranging in date from prehistory to the recent past. "From the President" gives special prominence to an editorial written by the president of the Archaeological Institute of America. "From the Trenches," "Conversation," "insider," "Letter," and "Artifact" present abstracts or expanded versions of the printed text.
Fig. 2 - The archaeology.org page shown when the link for current issue of the magazine has
been chosen - reduced to fit here (600 pixels wide).
The remainder of the homepage is given to advertisement. A box highlights "Archaeology's Marketplace;" links to advertisers are provided there under the categories of "Travel," "Retail," "Education and Events," "Classified," and "AIA/Archaeology." All these links, however, take the reader to the same page that is also accessible through the Marketplace Tab and the Links Tab. Archaeology's Guide to the Domus Aurea, subscription offers, and "Shop Archaeology" are offered here via links.
The Tab Bar
An alternate organization of the web site is provided by the tabs in a horizontal bar across the top of the page. The labels for the tabs may not appear correctly under the browser FireFox, a rather regular issue with FireFox.
Subscribe Tab, Marketplace Tab
Tabs for subscriptions and "Marketplace" present the offers listed on the homepage and many other pages of the website.
The page that is accessed under “Latest News” on the Home Page is also available via this tab.
The Ancient World on Television (AWOTV) lists programs, briefly described, dealing with the ancient world on PBS, A&E, The History Channel, Discovery Channel, and numerous other channels. These listings are compiled on a weekly basis by David Meadows.
Here are links to museum exhibitions, AIA local societies and lectures, other events (i.e. conferences, lectures, calls for papers), and archaeology on TV. "Exhibitions" and "Conferences" may be found separately as links in the drop-down menu below the tab.
The current exhibitions are listed regionally: East, South, Midwest, West, and international. This listing does not appear to be comprehensive; nor is it limited to temporary or traveling exhibitions. The permanent collections of museums are also included. The exhibitions, as noted in the brief descriptions on the page, present material of cultures from all over the world, dating from ancient to more recent times. No museums in the West are listed, a curious omission that is not explained. Viewed several times in the course of my research, the page appeared not to have been fully updated; consequently, some of the exhibitions may have ended or moved to other venues. 3
New York Tab
Readers with an interest in the archaeology and history of New York will find this tab particularly useful because it offers many relevant links on a single page. Links to articles and online features in Archaeology dealing specifically with NYC are displayed, e.g., "Headstones for Dummies, the New York Edition" and the interactive dig, Brooklyn's Eighteenth-century Lott House (1999-2001).
A drop-down menu from this tab offers links to "WWWorld of Archaeology" and "Marketplace." As the editor states, "WWWorld of Archaeology is not intended to be a comprehensive list of archaeological web sites. Apart from a few staff picks, it includes indexes to archaeological web sites and the home pages of archaeological organizations and journals." "Marketplace" makes information seen on the homepage and elsewhere accessible here.
"Letters to the Editor" and "Writer's Guidelines" appear here in a drop-down menu. Contact links for the web department and a link to the masthead are available from the top link; the lower link describes the publication, specifying the types of content solicited, and gives details about submissions.
Free Info Tab
This tab provides an index to the advertisers in Archaeology Magazine (May/June 2007 issue to the present) with offers for free product information.
Contact links for sales representatives are listed; a media kit, providing a reader profile, and the publisher's ABC statement giving circulation statistics for the six months ending June 30, 2007, are downloadable in a PDF format.
Search options are available from a drop-down menu: a search by keyword; access to a listing of the content of back issues online since 1996; an index to articles and book reviews in Archaeology 1991-2005 listed by authors; multimedia reviews; and a subject index (1991-2004).
The purpose and goals of this informative and attractive website are implied rather than clearly stated. Gaining new subscribers to Archaeology magazine is an obvious one: there is enough of the magazine's content presented to allow the reader to know what the magazine has to offer in print. Features that complement the current issue of the magazine are highlighted; updates are also clearly indicated. Nevertheless, this reviewer believes that a statement of purpose for the magazine would be helpful to a reader and ought to be displayed on the Home Page above the picture of the cover. The additional goal of making more information available to the online readership is also evident and, therefore, another statement of purpose, giving an explanation for the inclusion of specific online content should be also be placed somewhere prominent on the Home Page. It could serve as a general introduction to the website, noting certain features unique to the website that could not be published in the magazine: the most up-to-date archaeological reporting, the progress of an on-going archaeological excavation over the long term, new perspectives about controversies -- to mention only a few. The Home Page, as it is now displayed, lacks the focus and visual definition that these statements of purpose could provide.
The website is, in general, very user friendly, providing beautiful graphics in a layout obviously designed by professionals; the tabs and sidebars highlighting selected content facilitate navigation within the site . The articles share important research with the public and have been written not only by writers whose interest is in archaeology but also by experts in the field. Valuable links to related articles on the topics both within and outside the website are provided, and search engines are readily available. The photographs and illustrations accompanying the pages are consistently of outstanding quality that the reader can view in greater detail by clicking and enlarging. 4Content from the website is archived and accessible by multiple means provided on the Search Tab and in other places.
A tab to an index of the website would be useful. It could replace the tab for Marketplace, since the same page is also available on the Home Page and on the Links Tab. The index ought to provide the reader with an overview of what is offered on the site, in particular, what is not accessible under another tab. Any user should be able to know what is available without following labyrinthine links erratically through different pages. The Search Tab cannot serve as a substitute for an index since a user must already have a fairly specific idea of what s/he wishes to find when using this search engine. A listing of online and print articles for the current year by title under a heading for the region where an archaeological site is located would be of benefit to a reader whose interests lie primarily, for example, in the New World. Other features should also be listed here under general categories, e.g., a directory of advertisers.
A more unified thematic content to the online feature articles might seem to some readers to be more desirable than the variety currently offered. The selection of the articles on the web does not suggest that there is always a coherent rationale; it appears that the availability of new material is the determining factor. Articles relating to one or two subjects covered in the issue of the magazine profiled on the website, providing links to others from previous issues of Archaeology, online or in print, would supplement a reader's knowledge of the subject.
TV is considered of enough importance that it merits its own tab, but in that case the listings should be kept current. 5 Since shows about the ancient world are frequently repeated after their initial presentation, links on the TV page to reviews available on the archaeology.org website and elsewhere would be of great benefit to the readership, particularly educators who may use these TV shows as part of their curricula in history and classical studies classes. 6 Interactive Digs presents material extensive enough to be highlighted by a separate tab; each site and its accompanying brief description might be listed under the heading of geographical locations. This information is worthwhile in educating the public about procedures and recording in excavating archaeological sites. The Q & A blog appears to this reviewer to be of very limited interest to the general readership and might be eliminated.
The Contact Link should include information about the Archaeological Institute of America along with the link to the AIA website under the first heading, "Write to Us" rather than under "Writers' Guidelines," where it presently appears.
Problematic are incomplete pages, inactive links, and the sporadic updating of some of the parts of the website. 7 Greater attention should given to keeping the website consistently up-to-date. One may assume that advertising for products and services other than those offered by the AIA is not necessarily endorsed; there should be a disclaimer to this effect. There is also too much repetition of identical advertising throughout the pages of the website.
The Archaeology website does encourage user-involvement to some extent, e.g. a mechanism for reporting dead links, but a vehicle for feedback about the website from users is lacking. Including Letters or a blog as a feature would afford readers and scholars the same opportunity to respond to the online content, as does the department, "Letters," in the magazine.
Incorporating the recommendations outlined here would, in the opinion of this reviewer, improve what is already a fine website.
-- Erika B. Harnett
1. Contact tab/link, Writers' Guidelines. Return to text.
2. Hierakonpolis: City of the Hawk; Black Sea Shipwreck Research Project; Unlocking a Civil War Prison; City in the Clouds, Sagalassos, Turkey; Distilling the Past; Revealing Ancient Bolivia; Letters from Arizona; Diving with the Dead; In Vesuvius's Shadow; A Puzzle in the Petén; Search for the Maya Underworld; Petra's Great Temple Beneath the Black Sea; Brooklyn's Eighteenth-century Lott House. Return to text.
3. The King Tut exhibition, listed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, had already ended on September 30, 2007, three months before finding it still listed. A link is provided to Tutwatch, however, where a current schedule can be found. Return to text.
4. Exceptions are some of the photographs that accompany the article found under the New York Tab,"Headstones for Dummies, The New York Edition," and one of a document associated with the Lott House, an interactive dig. Return to text.
5. On more than one occasion, however, the listings were not current, e.g. for the week of January 14th there were no programs listed; listings for January 7th through 12th were still posted on January 19th. Return to text.
6. Recent reviews are available on the "Reviews" page; at the bottom of that page, the link "Multimedia Index," does give a listing of many reviews of films and shows, dating from 2005-1998. In addition to Films/Shows reviews, there are also reviews of CD-Roms/Games listed by year 2005-1994, Websites from 2005-1997 and even Music (one entry for 2001). "Multimedia Index" also appears on the Search Tab. Return to text.
7. Under the New York Tab, there is still a listing of an exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center, "Athens-Sparta," that is out of date. (The exhibition was held from Dec. 6th 2006 to May 12th 2007 and, therefore, the link is dead.) There is an upcoming exhibition, "From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete, 3000-1100 B.C.," which runs from March 13th, 2008, to September 13th, 2008. Return to text.
For an index of other CD and Web site reviews available on the Web pages of the CSA Newsletter, see the review index.
For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.