Digging Digital Archaeology


nimm_dich_selbst_by_der_nase Vogel Selbsterkenntnis” (Bird of self-knowledge), painting (oil on wood), picture taken at the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum by Javier Carro, 2006, Wikipedia.

In “Archaeology: the loss of innocence’” (1973), Clarke –a quite influential archaeologist and a processual thinker– stressed the necessity of a critical disciplinary self-consciousness, as a stage that archaeology can actually manipulate its own development adopting computer methodologies in its practice, regarding them as ‘powerful hammer-and-anvil procedures to beat out archaeological theory from intransigent data’ (Clarke, 9). Illustrating its disciplinary system to be ‘adaptive one, related internally to its changing context and externally to the spirit of the times’, Clarke points out that through the critical self-aware capacity of such adaptation, archaeology could reinvent itself via the consequences of new archaeological observations (Clarke, 12-15). Four decades later, the well-established relationship between archaeological practice and computational applications has transformed how such adjustment being sought and defined, while the role of critical engagement into the disciplinary thought that accommodates such methodologies, is still being explored.

Digital archaeology -term most often used to characterize the digital practice in archaeology –(for an ontological anxiety about the disciplinary identity and its terminology see Huggett 2013)  can be seen as a multi-tool approach that while it is maturing through the practice, extraction of archaeological knowledge, manipulation and dissemination of data, the same time questions (or should be) its own identity in the digital sphere. The digital shift in modes of handling, interpreting, and representing such data through computational approaches has been rapidly advancing­ the dialogue surrounding archaeology as a discipline (and in humanities broadly) trying to unlock how such digital workflows re-structure and/or impose the co-occurrence between practice-theory-methodology. Through the historical development of archaeological computing, Lock observes not only the necessity that theory has into computational archaeology but also highlights that the former might be powered by the latter recomposing it (2009). How could it be feasible, however, for archaeology to be productively and not mimetically adaptive without critical concerns and external observation of the internal changes of both practice and methods? Many calls from scholars shape such debates in many different frameworks, analysing the imperative need for a more reflective and introspective shift in the nature of digital archaeological practice (Huggett 2015). What Huggett points out through his ‘manifesto for an introspective digital archaeology’, is nothing more than the acquisition of criticality on how technological capacities reframe the disciplinary implications in order for the research process to be purposeful, not mechanical and abundant. As such­­­­, the new consequences that Clarke underlined, tend to have the potential to impact on disciplinary development and tendencies, remodelling it through self-evaluation of the influences.

Huggett’s manifesto is not the only call that embraces such anxieties. The whole recent volume of ‘Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology’[1] illustrates and in some chapters extends or supplements Huggett’s voice. Considering the motivation of the given papers can be traced to ‘frustration by the lack of intra-disciplinary discourse’, many scholars try to evaluate the reasons behind and propose new reflexive forms of engagements triggering inter-disciplinary thought (Averett et al. 2016). In his paper ‘Mobilizing (Ourselves) for a Critical Digital Archaeology’, Rabinowitz includes into three manifestos different lens that critique can be offering concerns regarding a critical digital archaeology: celebratory, reflective, and cautionary. He underscores the fallacy that the socio-capitalist speed generates in terms of quality and how such tendency actually shapes the archaeological production with ease to follow through enhanced digital tools overuse. The counterweight of such practices can be seen in filtering the interactions between practitioners and tools, while importance is given in constraints such tools can potentially have that without observation could build false directions, transforming the discipline just as a mere consumer of technology (Rabinowitz 2016). This uncritical and uncontrolled speed of using digital media without questioning them has fueled the conception of a “slow archaeology” by Caraher in the same volume as an “…archaeological philosophy that urges more caution about the speed and growing industrialisation of our fieldwork processes…” (2016).

The actual impact of the digital shift upon archaeology has been recognised by many scholars from many various disciplines. The acute need for a reconsideration that should encourage critique of the way the discipline is rapidly transformed, can be acknowledged as well. Therefore, the appearance of new terms, manifestos, paradigm shift tend to be indicative of how the engagement must adopt a  ‘critical disciplinary self-consciousness’ in order to monitor its own evolution.

[1] Averett, Erin Walcek; Gordon, Jody Michael; and Counts, Derek B., 2016, “Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology”, Mobilizing the Past. Book 1.
https://thedigitalpress.org/mobilizing-the-past-for-a-digital-future/, Web. Accessed 03/12/2016.

Referenced works:

Caraher, William., 2016, “Slow Archaeology: Technology, Efficiency, and Archaeological Work.” In Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology, edited by Erin Walcek Averett, Jody Michael Gordon, and Derek B. Counts, 421-441. Grand Forks, ND: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Web. Accessed 03/12/2016.

Clarke, D.L. 1973 ‘Archaeology the loss of innocence’, Antiquity 47, 6-18.

Huggett, J., 2015, “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology,” Open Archaeology 1:86-95, Web. Accessed 03/12/2016.

Huggett, J., 2013, Disciplinary issues: challenging the research and practice of computer applications in archaeology, In Earl, G., Sly, T., Chrysanthi, A., Murrieta-Flores, P., et al. (Eds.), Archaeology in the Digital Era: Papers from the 40th Annual Conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Southampton, 26-29 March 2012, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 15-17.http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/92301/, Web. Accessed 03/12/2016.

Lock, G., 2009, Archaeological Computing Then and Now: Theory and Practice, Intensions and Tension,. Archeologia e Calcolatori, 75-84, Web. Accessed 03/12/2016.

Rabinowitz, Adam., 2016, “Response: Mobilizing (Ourselves) for a Critical Digital Archaeology.” In Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology, edited by Erin Walcek Averett, Jody Michael Gordon, and Derek B. Counts, 493-518. Grand Forks, ND: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Web. Accessed 03/12/2016.