Vol. XI, No. 3

Winter, 1999

Review of Excavating Occaneechi Town: Archaeology of an Eighteenth-Century Indian Village in North Carolina

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

CD-ROM Review. Occaneechi Town: Archaeology of an Eighteenth-Century Indian Village in North Carolina (R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr., Patrick C. Livingood, H. Trawick Ward, and Vincas P. Steponaitis, editors; University of North Carolina Press; 1998; ISBN No.: 0-8078-6503-6; $39.95).

This CD is an admirable example of an electronic publication of an excavation. It includes an enormous amount of information-more than 1,000 full-color photos and maps, and detailed information about more than 100,000 artifacts. More to the point, the use of the CD makes it possible for the excavators to present more evidence in more ways to a wider range of readers. The results are very impressive indeed.

Readers have a general introduction to the CD; an introduction to the archaeological methods used at the site; an historical introduction to the area and the cultural sphere in which the site existed; a map of the entire site that leads to information about squares, features, and structures; discussions of the artifacts and food remains; and interpretations of the evidence in a variety of categories. (There is also a section called the "Electronic Dig" that is intended to permit students to plan the excavation of the site, complete with budgetary constraints, and see how progress goes, what kinds of procedures will work, and so on. I did not examine that section.) In each section there are numerous tables and photos, bibliographic references, and so on.

CDs can hold so much data that it is possible to include here material of interest and relevance-but perhaps not so crucial that it would be included in a printed work. The historical introduction, for instance, includes a brief discussion of the no-longer-extant language of the Occaneechi as well as information about living descendants of the Occaneechi, complete with some wonderful photographs of them. Similarly, the discussion of excavation techniques used is quite valuable and makes the CD useful and interesting to a much wider audience without detracting from its utility to specialists.

The scholarly advantages are clear when one gets more deeply into the archaeology of the site. For instance, the main map does much more than show the plan of the site. From it one may request artifacts or context materials from squares, features, or structures. Tables of information provide various levels of detail, and some tables will lead on to yet other tables. There is considerable interactivity. For example, viewing a particular chipped stone item in a table of artifacts from a given square may prompt a reader to wonder about the other lithics from the site. A click of the mouse will bring up the table of all lithics-with the individual item in red to distinguish it from the others in the table.

The discussions of artifacts are equally well integrated with the actual data. Various tables can be called up to augment discussion, and the reader may examine the tables independently as well.

There are even some video snippets, complete with sound. I must assume the sound was there; my principle machine has no sound card; so I could only see the moving lower jaw and assume that, sound card installed, I would have heard a voice to accompany the image.

Material may be printed directly from the presentation, and there are excellent facilities provided for printing individual items or longer sections of the material.

The editors understood well the limits of the medium and supplied a text document concerning external files on the CD. ". . . [T]here is no way that we can anticipate all of the ways that archaeologists and researchers might want to use the information contained in Excavating Occaneechi Town. The solution that we have chosen is to provide all of the raw data from this report in easy-to-use, widely accepted formats on the CD-ROM." The editors then discuss the files that are available, the software required to use them, and some of the advantages to be gained by using the files they have provided. For instance, the maps used in the CD-based presentation are small maps that work very well on screen but not on paper. Therefore, additional files have been provided in DXF format so that better printed maps can be made. Taking such pains to be sure the reader has full access to the data is very impressive indeed.

A very generous Fair Use Policy is spelled out in the document about external files.

The combination of a carefully planned and designed presentation of the site and the actual data files is unique. Any reader who uses the CD will have a great deal of information-and access to the entire set of data from the excavation. The combination of full, planned presentation and raw data is of inestimable value and should serve as a paradigm for other scholars. (Since the editors have also archived the data with the Archaeological Data Archive Project, the circle is complete. The presentation is available so long as CDs and the software used will run, and the data will remain available indefinitely, either on a CD or in the archive.)

This CD requires Windows 3.1 or higher, 8 MB of RAM, a double-speed CD drive, and 25 MB of disk space for the most convenient use of the system (under 10 MB for a somewhat less convenient setup). Of course, it also requires a sound card if one wants to hear the audio track from the videos. A minimum 640x480 resolution screen (with 245 colors) is required.

Multi-media software called Asymetrix was used to make this CD. The result is a hyper-linked set of text, images, and tables that is quite modern in some respects but not others. There are a few specific criticisms that seem in order. First, the individual windows-a basic window for text and navigation, a window for images, and another window for tables-are of fixed size. It is not possible to enlarge windows so that more information will fit in them, whether a longer section of text or a large table. It is particularly annoying to be unable to see all (or at least more) of a large table at one time. In addition, the windows are intended to be centered on the screen; rearranging them works only temporarily. When the content of the main window or an image window is changed, both snap back to the middle. The tables window will stay in a different spot, but changing the table on display causes the main window to snap back to the center of the screen-and sometimes leaves a garbled table. (See Fig. 1 for a view of part of a large monitor-at reduced size-with all three windows open and separated for visibility.)

Fig. 1 - Reduced view of Occaneechi Town presentation on a large monitor. Three windows are visible at the same time, but they cannot be resized or kept permanently away from the center of the monitor.

The user cannot open multiple iterations of any of the windows-to have visible at the same time more than one image, more than one table, or more than one text passage (or text and bibliography, or text and main map, . . .). On a smaller screen the windows must overlap either partially or completely, and, unfortunately, the main window cannot be brought to the front. So long as the image or table window is on screen, each will overlie the main window. (See Fig. 2 for a view of a screen with the main window and overlapping image window as they would appear on a small monitor.)
Fig. 2 - Reduced view of the Occaneechi Town presentation as it would appear on a small screen (VGA or 640 x 480 resolution). Image window overlies text window and must be dismissed for text to be visible.

The project has doubtless been a long time in the making; so software has changed a good deal since it was begun. Nonetheless, it seems a browser-based interface would have provided much more flexibility. Using a browser-based system would also have made it possible to use the CD on a MAC.

Despite the minor criticisms of the interface, this is an exemplary product that should serve as a model for others considering an electronic format for publishing an excavation.

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

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