The Digital, Archaeology and Digital Archaeology

“Mesh of Stones” A digital reconstruction of standing stones at newgrange, England.

Costopoulos discusses the normalization of Digital Archeology over the last number of years, its significant application and sums up the aims of publishing in Frontiers in Digital Archeology: “I want to stop talking about digital archaeology. I want to continue doing archaeology digitally.” What he is talking about here seems deliberately provocative – though his argument that the digital tools enhance the research in the field of Archaeology still stands true, even if such contributions are left out of conversations about digital archaeology. The tools are not unique to Archaeology and the definition of “Digital Archaeology” may still be developing, but realistically Archaeologists have been using technology to assist their work for a long time. He is an outspoken writer on the subject, but this article attracts criticism by Jeremy Huggett in aptly titled post “Let’s Talk about Digital Archeology”, stating that: “A superficial reading of the article suggests a degree of weariness and cynicism here. But it seems to me that the article potentially questions the very legitimacy of what I understand by digital archaeology.” His point is that while Archaeologists invariably use computers at some point in this age, but Digital Archaeologists have specific skills. Huggett questions the logic behind Costopoulos not wanting to categorise these skills and talk about their application – pointing out that to do so would be to leave an entire field of archeology out of the conversation: “Questions surrounding the introduction, development, and implications of new technologies within the subject go far beyond questions of standardisation, ethics etc. in addressing the very fundamental stuff of archaeology and its interpretation – or, at least, they should do.”
“In a Manifesto for Introspective Digital Archeology” Hugget brings up ‘New Aesthetic’ in relation to digital archeology, discussing trends in theory since the 1950’s which have transformed the field of archeology. Specifically, the challenge addressed in this piece of writing is how technology has affected how archeological knowledge is created, and how the subject is viewed. The people working in the field and scholars have been changed by this as previously there were computer scientists and Archeologists, but from the mid-80’s onwards people began to specialize in this themselves. While traditional archeologists and historians still exist, the digital archeologist and their status in the field is contested – largely from conservatism. However, the influence of Digital Archeology on how the subject is approached and researched should not be underestimated, having transformed the scholar in the Digital Age. Hugget argues that “Digital archaeologists are arguably the best positioned amongst digital humanists to investigate and understand the implications, transformations, and repercussions of digital technologies.” (“A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archeology, 87). New technology has of course provided incredibly useful tools, and this has changed how Archeologists approach their work – but an understanding of theory is still necessary. “Yet with few exceptions, that preoccupation has not been turned towards the consideration of the digital technologies used within archaeology other than in a superficial way. The belief that computers increasingly facilitate all these theoretical concepts is commonplace – much less so is the recognition that, all too often, they in fact restrict and subvert these very ideals and frequently disguise that they do so through a combination of technological sleight of hand and the law of unintended consequences.”(“ A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” (89)

Works Cited

Costopoulos, Andre. Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While) Specialty Grand Challenge ARTICLE Web. Front. Digit. Humanit.,Date of Publication: 16 March 2016. Date of Access: 02 Dec. 2016.
Huggett, Jeremy. “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 2015; 1: 86–95. Date of Access: 02. Dec. 2016
Huggett, Jeremy. “Let’s talk about Digital Archaeology” WordPress. Web. Date of publication; May 10, 2016 Date of Access: 02 Dec. 2016.
“Mesh of Stones” Archeological Heritage. Published: 2012.×280.jpg

One thought on “The Digital, Archaeology and Digital Archaeology”

  1. While I agree that the theory behind archaeology is different from both a traditional and a digital point of view, it is important to consider the specialities of each. Both parties read their findings in a different way for different reasons; while traditional archaeologists commonly investigate the context of their findings, digital archaeologists investigate how the tools that they use can benefit the physical findings of a dig.

    In my own blog, I have argued that, much like Huggett, the ideas behind the ‘New Aesthetic’ are arbitrary, as the meaningfulness of the artefact is lost in the aesthetic valuing of the process by digital archaeologists, for the purpose of ‘seeing like a digital device.’ This theory of digital archaeologists may be the nail in the coffin for digital archaeologists from the perspective of traditional archaeologists. The problem with this viewpoint, however, is that is does not allow for the idea of collaborative study within the field. It is more beneficial for both parties to integrate in their studies but as archaeology stands at the moment, traditional archaeology focussed primarily on new digs, while digital archaeologists concentrate on older findings and digitise them for reasons of preservation. Realistically, these traits should operate cohesively, but this is sadly not the common case.

    While you make the excellent point that traditional archaeologists have been using technology in their work for years, it is important to note that the methods of technological use are not the same. Traditional archaeologists will normally agree that pen and paper, combined with use of photography, will normally prevail over the use of primarily digital tools, due to, yet again, the want of the traditional archaeologist to not ‘see like a digital device’, but rather to read the context of the item and tell it’s history. It is through these ideas that we see why the integration of traditional and digital archaeological methods is still far from a state of sound collaboration.

Leave a Reply to Caoimhe Burke Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *