DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGY

Digital archaeology is the study of our archaeological past using the latest digital technologies such as photogrammetry, laser-scanning, augmented  &    virtual   reality      systems,      3D        modelling     and  printing. These new modes of technology prompt archaeologists to re-evaluate the ways in which they analyse, interpret and disseminate their findings in relation to archaeology.  But even though digital technology is evolving at a fast rate, there are still those who reject modernity and are slow to move away from traditional methods of archaeology.

Source: www.finder.com.au
Source: www.finder.com.au

This is due to various reasons such as problems with intellectual property and a lack of standardisation across all the fields and sub-fields of archaeology. Costopoulos states that the “tendency to make approaches and tools into objects of study” and emphasises “the implications in other fields of the use of new digital tools” (Costopoulos, 2).  I do agree with the assertion that there are problems with the merging of traditional and digital archaeology such as standardisation, but I do feel that traditionalists will have to embrace digital or face getting left behind altogether.  I share Huggett’s opinion which outlines the fact that “unless doing digital archaeology includes the conversations surrounding doing archaeology digitally it will only be partial archaeology” (Huggett, 4).

The scope of archaeology is extremely broad and incorporates many other sub-disciplines of archaeology such as space, underwater, environmental, and osteo, to name a few.  However, although they are different fields of archaeology, they are similar in theory and methodology.  The theoretical framework of traditional archaeology or cultural historical archaeology as it is known involves the removal of an artefact from its context and the subsequent analysis of that data.  These artefacts are then analysed and catalogued and placed in the archaeological record.  According to Renfrew and Bahn, “[t]raditional approaches tended to regard the objective of archaeology mainly as reconstruction: piecing together the jigsaw” (Renfrew and Bahn, 17).  In this definition, the term “reconstruction” is used in its traditional meaning, but it is important to point out that this term is extremely problematic in conventional archaeology as well as virtual/digital archaeology.  One of the problems associated with digital archaeology is that visualisations are considered to be “reconstructions” (Clark, 63).  This term is widely used in virtual/digital archaeology and there are numerous examples such as the Digital Reconstruction of the Northwest Palace, Nimrud, Assyria on YouTube that emphasises the terms use.  Clark quotes the archaeologist Walter W. Taylor who criticised the use of the term reconstruction.  Clark agrees with Taylor’s opinion and adds that, especially within the context of digital archaeology, it is fallacious to talk about “reconstruction”.  He suggests that the term which should be used instead of reconstruction to identify both the process and the product is “model” (Clark, 67).  I personally agree with Taylor and Clark that the word “reconstruction” cannot and should not be used both in traditional and virtual/digital archaeology as they imply, as Taylor emphasised, “rebuilding to exact former specifications”.  It is impossible to have the exact measurements of an object or building.  Furthermore, it would be even more erroneous to use this term in virtual/digital archaeology which recreates an artefact or building in an intangible medium.

I think that no matter how one feels about digital archaeology, there is no doubt in my mind that it is here to stay.  The potential and benefits of using digital tools and methods far outweighs any negative criticism traditionalists might have.  I feel that archaeology is interpretative, no matter whether we use traditional and/or digital methods and tools.

Bibliography

Clark, Jeffrey T.  “The Fallacy of Reconstruction”. Cyber-Archaeology, edited by Maurizio Forte, BAR International Series 2177, Archaeopress, 2010, pp 63-73, available from www.academia.edu/1183290/The_Fallacy_of_Reconstruction.   Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Costopoulos, Andre.   ‘Digital Archaeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’.   Frontiers in Digital Humanities, 16 March 2016, available from http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004/full Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. ‘A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology’. Open Archaeology 2015, Vol. 1, pp 86–95, available from http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/104047/1/104047.pdf.  Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. ’Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology’.  Introspective Digital Archaeology, 10 May 2016, available from https://introspectivedigitalarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/lets-talk-about-digital-archaeology/.  Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn.  Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practices.  Thames & Hudson, 2012.

One thought on “DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGY”

  1. I agree with the view expressed at the beginning of the post in about digital archaeology. Indeed, digital technology has introduced many tools and methods in archaeology, which have helped immensely in development. Of course, for me, it is hard to say, certainty, whether there are archaeologists who reject this “digital help” completely. But, in general, it has been very puzzled the archaeology sectors this shifting to technology. This reflection is formulated in a much-targeted manner in the dialogue between two prominent archaeologists of Huggett and Costopoulos, the texts of which you mentioned as well. Then I could not just figure out how you made the transition after all to the “reconstruction” of the past.
    One of the goals of archaeology is to reconstruct the past. This can be achieved by using all available, either traditional or more modern (digital), means; the appropriate tool will be used depending on the case. Each archaeologist is responsible for which method they choose to follow and for which tools will be used in order to complete their work successfully. Of course, it makes sense the most modern means and methods would be at the top of their choices, but still the opportunity for everyone of them to decide how they want to work in order that has the best possible result.
    However, digital archaeology is not here only for the reconstruction and is not only useful tools and methods for the specialists. Ultimately, not only digital archaeology introduces a new way of working, but a new perspective of the whole sector of archaeology. It has changed the way that archaeologists develop, record and evaluate the data. It is not only about practical changes in locales of the excavations and laboratories but changing the way archaeologists think about their work. For instance, they use the method of photogrammetry to create a 3d copy of an object not only to see how easy or difficult this could be but, also, to examine whether this new item and this new method have a substantial impact on archaeology and contribute to its development.

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