How do we grapple with the idea of the digital in archaeology and the humanities? In terms of the digital within the humanities or sciences can mean so many different things, and have connotations at so many different levels. If we think of the digital in its most general sense, the use of say computers to keep records, or even to crunch numbers or write reports, the ‘digital’ is by no means a recent phenomenon. However it is a far different matter to consider not the use of the digital in archaeology and the humanities, but rather digital archaeology, or digital humanities–and subsequently those who work under those titles.
Of interest is this sort of generalization which has begun to occur, in which digital archaeologist becomes not a specialization, but rather interchangeable with any sort of archaeology which employs a digital method. Both Huggett and Costopoulos grapple with this idea–and, by and large, fall on the side of generalization, though from different angles. For Costopoulos, this means the recognition of the digital skills and toolsets that the majority of archaeologists are, or have been made to rapidly become, proficient in. As Costopoulos carries on, the idea that a person would even need to define an archaeologist as someone who uses digital methods is “in fact a mundane recognition of a state of normality that has existed for at least 20 years and has described a significant segment of the archeological community for at least 40 years” (2016). Instead, for Huggett, this means having to navigate, and then somehow position the digital archaeologist, and the Digital Archaeologist–that is, those who use digital tools to undertake archaeological research, even highly complex tools, vs. those who not only use potentially complex digital tools within archaeological research but to also further the discussion of digital archaeology and the humanities more generally (2016).
It is a compelling idea that the use of the digital within traditionally non-digital fields has not only evolved to become productive within those fields, but fundamentally intrinsic to their practice. But does this actually mean the shift from something like archaeology or the humanities to digital archaeology and digital humanities as an all encompassing idea as Costopoulos, Huggett, and many others seem to present? Or might a more distinguished terminology be appropriate? In archaeology, the digital does not stop at the writing of field reports to bolster efficiency, but includes, and has included for many years (as Costopoulos advocates), the use of alternative technologies such as total stations, photography, and more recently Geographic Information Systems, LiDAR, etc. However this doesn’t mean that more traditional toolsets such as diagrams of stratigraphy, notes, etc. have been abandoned. In the opening of their work, Daly and Thomas show a certain apprehension of the use of too much technology, writing that “in a very short period computers have come from being great number crunching machines to being ‘neat’ and ‘nifty’ gadgets, from being almost inaccessible to being every day devices that we have come to rely upon–perhaps too much” (2006:2).
But the whole idea is that not everything in an excavation or a humanities project is digital–and it never should be. Just because a tool is available that makes something more efficient, does not mean that tools are going to be more efficient, or productive, for everything. But what this also means is that there isn’t, or rather shouldn’t be in my opinion, a complete loss of the archaeologist or humanities scholar, in lieu of these new digital titles–but there should be these titles. You may be able to be an archaeologist without being a digital archaeologist, but I don’t believe that you can be a digital archaeologist without first being an archaeologist. What we need instead, and what Huggett really argues for, is a greater discussion of digital archaeology and the humanities considering these debates.
Costopoulos, Andre. “Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While).” Frontiers, Frontiers, 29 Feb. 2016. www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004/full.
Evans, T.L., and Daly, P.T. (2006). Digital Archaeology: Bridging Method and Theory. London: Routledge.
Huggett, Jeremy. “Let’s Talk about Digital Archaeology.” Introspective Digital Archaeology, 10 May 2016, introspectivedigitalarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/lets-talk-about-digital-archaeology/#more-389.