Digital archaeology is the study of our archaeological past using the latest digital technologies such as photogrammetry, laser-scanning, augmented and 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.
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.
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.