Digital Archaeology vs Digital Humanities, or Why Labels are Important



In his foreword to the Digital Archaeology section of the Frontiers in Digital Humanities online journal, Andre Costopoulos writes that, “I want to stop talking about digital archaeology.  I want to continue doing archaeology digitally.”  In a series of provocative statements, Costopoulos suggests that conversations concerning the implications of new digital tools are somewhat obsolete as digitisation continues regardless.  He finishes by saying, “Forget the label.  We are building a digital archaeology by doing archaeology digitally.  This is what we do” (Costopoulos).  In his response to Costopoulos’ piece, Jeremy Huggett writes,

There’s no doubt that every archaeologist is a digital archaeologist, in the sense that everyone uses a computer to some extent at some point in their work….  However, not everyone is a digital archaeologist.

It is Huggett’s view that to avoid having conversations concerning the implications of new digital tools would be an “abrogation of responsibility” (Huggett, Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology).  At first glance, both contributions seem directly applicable to Digital Humanities and that is how they were read by many participants in a recent group discussion, myself included.  However, on closer reading the relationship between Digital Archaeology and Digital Humanities becomes tenuous.  Should we read the debates within Digital Archaeology as though are synonymous with those in Digital Humanities?



The answer to this question largely depends on how we define Digital Humanities and the relationships between Digital Humanities and independent humanities disciplines, including Digital Archaeology.  As Matthew Kirschenbaum points out, this is a question to which the multiplicity of answers now constitutes a genre (Kirschenbaum, 1).  For me, Digital Humanities is a transdisciplinary field of study, not a sub-field or sub-discipline and it is equally grounded in the theoretical, the methodological and the practical.  To my mind, such a definition attests to the applicability of digital technologies across the humanities whilst giving sufficient recognition to the fact that Digital Humanities constitutes an independent field of study.  I do not consider myself a Digital Humanities scholar because I apply digital tools to Medieval Irish material (or perhaps more accurately I intend to apply digital tools to Medieval Irish material).  If such work required a label, I would say that I am a Digital Medievalist.  What sets Digital Humanists apart from those who employ digital tools within their independent disciplines is that they have considered the wider institutional, cultural and political issues.

Perhaps more telling, however, are the attitudes of Digital Archaeologists and Digital Humanists themselves.  In 2012, Stuart Dunn wrote that the relationship between archaeology and Digital Humanities has been curiously lacking (Dunn).  In a paper, referencing Dunn’s work, Huggett writes that “digital humanists are not queuing up to access DA and digital archaeologists are not knocking on the door of DH” (Huggett, “Core or Periphery? Digital Humanities from an Archaeological Perspective”, 92).  In 2015, he highlighted the divergences in the developmental histories of the two fields and argued in favour of a “third wave” for Digital Archaeology which greatly differs from the “third wave” proposed for Digital Humanities (Huggett, “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology”, 89).  From a Digital Humanities perspective, Figure 1, originally published in 2002, maps the various methodological commons of Digital Humanities and archaeology is notably absent.



I am not suggesting that discourse within Digital Archaeology cannot be beneficial to Digital Humanities scholars, or vice versa.  There are undoubtedly many strong parallels between Digital Humanities and Digital Archaeology.  However, one should exercise caution when reading Digital Archaeology material and should not assume that Digital Archaeology is synonymous with Digital Humanities.  To paraphrase Huggett in his article cited in the above introduction: there’s no doubt that every archaeologist is a digital archaeologist, in the sense that everyone uses a computer to some extent at some point in their work.  However, not every Digital Archaeologist is a Digital Humanist.


Further Reading:

Costopoulos, Andre. “Digital Archaeology Is Here (and Has Been For a While).” Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3 (2016): 1-4. Web.

Dunn, Stuart. CAA1 – The Digital Humanities and Archaeology Venn Diagram. N.p., 206AD. Web.

Huggett, Jeremy. “Core or Periphery? Digital Humanities from an Archaeological Perspective.” Historical Social Research 37 (2012): 86-105. Web.

—. “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 1 (2015): 86–95. Web.

—. Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology. N.p., 2016. Web.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments.” ADE Bulletin 150 (2010): 1–7. Web.

Reflections on the Ethics of Tangible Cultural Heritage Reconstruction


When reflecting on the recently reconstructed Triumphal Arch from Palmyra which was destroyed by ISIS in May 2015, I have found myself considering the anxiety that surrounds the recreation or reconstruction of cultural heritage artefacts.  On the face of it, the use of digital technology adds extra dimensions to discussions about the ethics of cultural heritage conservation.  In an age of digital reproduction, one of the primary questions appears to have become not whether we can reconstruct cultural artefacts, but rather whether we should.  This question becomes particularly sensitive when it is applied to the physical restoration of tangible cultural heritage that has been destroyed as a result of armed conflict.  Even more so, when the culture in question is still the subject of deliberate destruction.


However, when we drill down into the question of whether or not we should be reconstructing cultural heritage objects we find that there is nothing particularly new about the situation in which conservation professionals now find themselves. Firstly, the replication of cultural artefacts (both 2D and 3D) is not a modern phenomenon nor are the anxieties surrounding their reproduction.  In 1936, Walter Benjamin wrote that ‘man-made artefacts could always be imitated by men’.  Benjamin was most concerned with the ‘aura’ of the artefact and according to him the most destructive social consequence of mechanical reproduction is ‘the liquidation of the traditional value of cultural heritage’ (Benjamin).

Secondly, whilst concerns for cultural heritage during times of armed conflict run the risk of appearing indifferent to the immediate need to preserve human life, the desire to conserve and protect cultural heritage objects during times of active combat is well documented.  Perhaps most famously, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program was established during the second world war to protect and preserve Europe’s cultural heritage.

Similarly, the reconstruction of a people’s cultural heritage post-armed conflict is not without precedent.  Moreover, the restoration of cultural artefacts in the immediate aftermath of the object’s destruction is not unprecedented.  The example of the destruction of the Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic) of Sri Lanka destroyed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in 1998 will serve as an example for both points.  In the day immediately following the destruction of the Temple, calls were made for its restoration and Sri Lankans proceeded to rebuilt this significant cultural symbol.  So why the anxiety?

The anthropologist Valene Smith has written: ‘Wars are without equal as the time-makers of society.  Lives are so irrevocably changed that culture and behaviour are marked by three phases: “before the war”, “during the war”, and “after the war”’ (Smith).  Cultures develop and transform throughout the course of and as a direct result of armed conflict.  In relation to the 3D-printed scale model of the Triumphal Arch from Palmyra, Mark Sinclair has suggested that what is unprecedented is the ability to reconstruct cultural artefacts “during the war” (to employ Smith’s terminology) and to my mind this is ultimately the source of the anxiety surrounding the reconstruction of the Arch of Triumph (Sinclair).


The question then, is not really should we reconstruct cultural heritage objects, but rather when should we reconstruct them?  One advantage that digital reproduction has over mechanical reproduction is the ability store large amounts of detailed information without having to produce replications.  Given that it is no longer necessary, is it appropriate to recreate the artefacts of a culture that is still under threat?  As the copyist Adam Lowe has observed, ‘the critical thing now is to document. Later we can decide what to do with the material we collect’ (Sattin).


Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. N.p. Web.

Sattin, Anthony. Meet the Master of Reproduction. N.p., 2015. Web.

Sinclair, Mark. Should Museums Be Recreating the Past. N.p., 2016. Web.

Smith, Valerie. “War and Tourism: An American Ethnography.” Annals of Tourism Research 25.1 (1998): 202–27. Print.

Further Reading

Stanley-Price, Nicolas. Cultural Heritage in Postwar Recovery. ICCROM, 2005. Web.

Reflections on Copyright Law in Ireland and Public Engagement 3D Scanning Projects



The issue of copyright is a contentious one, particularly in the modern era of digital productions and reproductions. In what follows, I offer briefly a couple of thoughts which have occurred to me during my recent endeavour to get to grips with copyright law in Ireland as it applies to the digitisation of cultural heritage artefacts. Foremost in my thoughts have been the implications for copyright of public engagement projects involving photogrammetry and structure in motion software. In the absence of legislation dealing specifically with digital works, I have followed the examples of others in examining the current legislation as it applies to photographic materials (Weinberg, 3-6; Margoni, 26-50).


The primary legislation governing copyright in Ireland is the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000-2007 (CRRA 2000). Section 2(1) CRRA classifies a photograph as an ‘artistic work’. As such, photographs must be original in order to attract copyright protection. Traditionally, for originality to be considered present it was required that an artistic work display a modest level of skill, labour and effort on behalf of the author and that it should not be copied from another source. However, a recent report aimed at improving national copyright law recommended that the development of the statutory definition of ‘originality’ should be left to the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (EJC) (Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, 33-4). Under EU law the required originality standard is that the work being protected is the ‘author’s own intellectual creation’. The author’s own intellectual creation is present when the author can make free and creative choices and put their own person stamp in the work. Consequently, ‘labour, skill and effort’, no matter the amount, do not necessarily result in originality. The EU originality standard further specifies that in instances where an expression is governed by technical or functional rules or a specific goal, no originality can be present (Margoni, 14-16).

Community Engagement Projects

In recent years, a number of heritage projects within Ireland have actively sought to engage the public in the production of 3D records and visualisations (see below for a list of references). In doing so, they have highlighted the affordability, accessibility and, perhaps most importantly, the simplicity of new recording technologies. For example, the coordinator of the Roscommon3D and Galway3D citizen science projects, states that ‘there is very little skill invovled [sic] as most of the work is done by a computer’ (Dempsey, 3).


In attempting to establish whether or not the individual digitised objects created by these community based projects would acquire copyright protection, an application of the EU originality test would more than likely produce a negative result. Firstly, the author (defined here as the photographer) cannot exercise free and creative choice. These projects specify photographic subjects and the success of the subsequent three dimensional visualisation is dependent on the accuracy of the photographs, that is to say that the photographs must be taken according to a predefined set of rules. Secondly, an author might argue that processing legitimises their claim to originality as the EJC left a certain degree of ambiguity in this respect in the Painer case. However, by highlighting the lack of human input required by the technology, community based 3D modelling projects have negated this ambiguity. In my view, the individual digitised objects created for these projects would fail in a copyright claim as they appear to fall short of the requisite originality standard in every respect.




Government Reports:


3D Public Engagement Projects:

Further Reading: