Digital Archaeology (Humanities) or archaeology (humanities), digitally?

The question of whether Digital Archaeology ought to be a sub-section within archaeology is a question which both Andre Costopoulos and Jeremy Huggett concern themselves with, albeit in different ways. Both view Digital Archaeology through different lenses. For Costopoulos, all archaeology is, by its nature, digital in the present era. (1) For Huggett, it is much the same – all archaeology is digital owing to the practices of archaeologists, but Digital Archaeology is separate (‘Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology’, Introspective Digital Humanities). In Huggett’s perspective, the role of Digital Archaeology is to explore the technology being used, and the implications of this technology. Yet, it needs also to be asked whether the burden of this questioning should fall solely on Digital Archaeologists.

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Too many questions for Costopoulos’ taste, and for Huggett it is Digital Archaeology’s burden to answer them. Illustration by Shauna Colgan

Huggett raises a number of questions over aspects of Digital Archaeology – does it result in the archaeologist being at too much of a remove from the artefacts (‘A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology’, 90)? What impact does open access have on archaeological data (90)? Does digital archaeology reduce archaeologists to technicians? (Granted, that issue is implied more than addressed.) While Huggett is correct in asking such questions and more, his laying the answering of these questions at the doorstep of Digital Archaeologists is in itself questionable. If, as he and Costopoulos both agree, all archaeologists are effectively digital archaeologists, is there not thus an onus on all archaeologists to at least contemplate the implications of their use of digital technology? In this regard, there is no sense in Digital Archaeology and “ordinary” archaeology being separate entities, particularly as many of the problems of Digital Archaeology are, as Costopoulos rightly argues, the problems of archaeology as a whole (2). I, for one, feel that the practical function of Digital Archaeology is not to contemplate these theoretical problems separately from archaeology as a whole, but to, as Huggett writes, design, develop, implement, and sometimes build the tools used (‘Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology’). The theoretical issues, particularly of ownership and ethics, are ones for which there needs to be a framework across all of archaeology. Similarly, these are issues which need to be considered not only in Digital Archaeology but in Digital Humanities also, and in humanities disciplines as a whole.

Digital Archaeology and Digital Humanities share similarities in the debates surrounding them. Illustration by Shauna Colgan
Digital Archaeology and Digital Humanities share similarities in the debates surrounding them. Illustration by Shauna Colgan

This argument between Huggett and Costopoulos (which, I suspect, is one which has been addressed by other archaeologists) over the nature and role of Digital Archaeology is reminiscent of the argument over the nature and role of Digital Humanities. Whether the role of digital humanists is to build the tools used by the humanities at large, to be the technicians using these tools, or to interpret the data produced has been argued over since the inception of the discipline. As with Digital Archaeology, I feel the role of Digital Humanities is the intersection of these three functions. To build, to use, and to interpret – Digital Humanities and Digital Archaeology bear more similarities to each other than half a name.

Works Cited

Costopoulos, Andre. ‘Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’. Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3 (2016): 1-3. Frontiers. Web. 29 November 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. ‘A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology’. Open Archaeology 2015; 1: 86–95. De Gruyter Open. Web. 29 November 2016.

–.’Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology’. Introspective Digital Archaeology. 2016. Web. 29 November 2016.

1 thought on “Digital Archaeology (Humanities) or archaeology (humanities), digitally?”

  1. While I agree that Jeremy Huggett is a greater advocate for the continual study of issues surrounding the implementation of digital techniques in archaeology than Costopoulos, I would not go so so far as to say that he believes digital archaeology is a separate field. Rather I feel that Costopoulos’ interpretation appears to work off the assumption that all archaeologists have the same level of technological literacy within their field and that digital archaeology itself has evolved to the extent that it is now a static process with no future of development and, therefore, no need for further inquiry. Or perhaps his lament over the continuous debates surrounding digital archaeology is simply a feeling of restlessness supported by his rejection of the humanities’ theoretical characteristic. In contrast, Huggett agrees that while all archaeologists are digital archaeologists their level of digital literacy and implementation varies across a field. I do not think that this means he sees digital archaeology as a separate subsection of archaeology as a whole but rather the opposite. For Huggett the extensive possibilities of digital archaeology are so wide that the significance and specialities of all these applications must be examined and made clear to the community as a whole, for the the benefit of those who specialise elsewhere. In this way I believe Huggett sees the potential for archaeologists to have dual-specialities, one concerning the humanity and the other concerning the digital technology applied.

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