Archaeological Practicalities In A Digital Age

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#1

INT21

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#2
The last few years will mark a sudden and drastic change in any field that used to rely on historic data.

Also the age of 'biographies' is finished.

How can one follow what is going on when it is all on computer files ?

I, for one, have no idea what is on many of my digital storage systems. I have, chronologically, tape cassettes, 8" floppies, 5 1/4 " floppies, 3 1/2" floppies, 3" floppies. Flash drives, hard drives. And probably some others I can't remember.

Back in the day there was letters between people to study. No we have Email.

Some person of importance dies, and his work and knowledge die with him/her.

Who is going to start trawling through thousands of files on the of chance there may be something of interest.

And, of course, each of the above mentioned storage systems requires it's own hardware to read it.

Yes, back in the day of the written word, things were easier.

INT21
 

EnolaGaia

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#3
I'm not sure some of these issues can be adequately addressed without a broader debate on 'archaeology' itself. By this I mean revising the basic definition(s), scope, and / or institutional associations for the field itself.

The need for such a debate isn't all that new. One could just as easily fault (e.g.) the classical archaeologists (broadly construed) of the first half of the 20th century from going beyond the scope of what they dug up to offering opinions on what the excavated finds represented in (e.g.) socio-cultural terms.

One could just as easily fault commentators and academics from a variety of fields for generating elaborate descriptions of (e.g.) socio-cultural - and even personal / cognitive - characteristics based on archaeological evidence whose form and implications they are ill-equipped to appreciate.

One could argue there's been a trend toward ephemeralization in human life for centuries, and even millennia. We've now pushed such ephemeralization to the point that physical artifacts represent no more than the vehicles for dissemination and maintenance of socio-cultural 'meanings'. Without the data, a fully-functional digital device is in effect a blank slab rather than a (literal or figurative) Rosetta Stone.
 

INT21

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#4
In a way the above can be said about the ufo situation.

People see something. Then it becomes anything from time travelers to intergalactic visitors. All without a shadow of real evidence that the aforementioned groups even exist.

When all that actually happened was someone saw something they didn't recognise.

Looking at some shard of pottery and saying it was last used by a Roman Centurion to eat his supper from is the same thing.

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Coal

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#5
People see something. Then it becomes anything from time travelers to intergalactic visitors. All without a shadow of real evidence that the aforementioned groups even exist.

When all that actually happened was someone saw something they didn't recognise.
...and then the brain interprets this as something 'wanted to be seen' or 'expecting to see'. If only there was a name for this kind of cognitive bias...oh. Wait.
 

James_H

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#6
How can one follow what is going on when it is all on computer files ?
Statistically, and using 'big' data techniques. I imagine all of that information is stashed in disks, photographs, and various incompatible file formats. If the world corpus of information on archaeological digs was all kept in one database, imagine what could be done with a sufficiently intelligently designed (or intelligent) computer program.
 

AlchoPwn

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#7
Looking at some shard of pottery and saying it was last used by a Roman Centurion to eat his supper from is the same thing.
That shows a remarkable disdain for archaeology INT21. In terms of potsherds, before there were modern scientific dating methods there was a pretty solid amount of research that was put into typing and dating potsherds. It was pretty interesting what was discovered just by tracking distribution, where they occur in the soil layers, patterning, materials etc. It was possible to track the sources of the clay, and from other materials, to understand a lot about old trade routes, and quite a bit about the societies involved in the use of the objects. Better yet, when the dating technologies emerged, nearly all of the older findings were confirmed.

So, if you find an example of high grade heavily decorated ceramic of an appropriately Roman provenance in the remains of a roman fort, in an area that fits with a personal chamber (indicating high rank), then there is good reason to suppose that a Roman officer did in fact use it, and perhaps even broke it, as there aren't many alternative answers that seem likely.
 

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That shows a remarkable disdain for archaeology INT21. In terms of potsherds, before there were modern scientific dating methods there was a pretty solid amount of research that was put into typing and dating potsherds. It was pretty interesting what was discovered just by tracking distribution, where they occur in the soil layers, patterning, materials etc. It was possible to track the sources of the clay, and from other materials, to understand a lot about old trade routes, and quite a bit about the societies involved in the use of the objects. Better yet, when the dating technologies emerged, nearly all of the older findings were confirmed.

So, if you find an example of high grade heavily decorated ceramic of an appropriately Roman provenance in the remains of a roman fort, in an area that fits with a personal chamber (indicating high rank), then there is good reason to suppose that a Roman officer did in fact use it, and perhaps even broke it, as there aren't many alternative answers that seem likely.
I understand what you are saying and certainly I am no expert on archaeology, just have a passing interest. What I have difficulty in accepting is the Time Team type approach to the subject (entertaining as it can be) in that say a shard of something is dug up and what appear to be extraordinarily detailed conclusions are drawn from the find. Ok it's TV and a snapshot of the story, but am I being a touch cynical about the conclusions being drawn? Genuinely interested in your view AP.
 

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#9
I understand what you are saying and certainly I am no expert on archaeology, just have a passing interest. What I have difficulty in accepting is the Time Team type approach to the subject (entertaining as it can be) in that say a shard of something is dug up and what appear to be extraordinarily detailed conclusions are drawn from the find. Ok it's TV and a snapshot of the story, but am I being a touch cynical about the conclusions being drawn? Genuinely interested in your view AP.
Not what happens in "real" archaeology :)
 

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#10
I understand what you are saying and certainly I am no expert on archaeology, just have a passing interest. What I have difficulty in accepting is the Time Team type approach to the subject (entertaining as it can be) in that say a shard of something is dug up and what appear to be extraordinarily detailed conclusions are drawn from the find. Ok it's TV and a snapshot of the story, but am I being a touch cynical about the conclusions being drawn? Genuinely interested in your view AP.
Two things about Time Team and similar programmes:

1) They will always prioritise entertainment over accuracy, and for most of the audience, "quick and easy" is more entertaining than a lot of facts and academic uncertainty.

2) It is unlikely to be filmed in real time. If you see them dig up a buckle or potsherd then they may well have dug it up, examined it, reburied, and dug it up again, filming it from different angles to make a good story. Audiences prefer narrative to dry discussion.

A third thing (not about Time Team, but about archaeology) is that many items are generic. If you know a bit about the dates of site that you're looking at, and you find a piece of pottery with typical period design details, someone with a decent knowledge of the subject can date it accurately enough for a general interest programme.

It is rare to find something that genuinely adds to or changes our understanding of history. It is far more common to find good, typical, or poor examples of things we already know about.
 

INT21

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#11
James_H,

...If the world corpus of information on archaeological digs was all kept in one database, imagine what could be done with a sufficiently intelligently designed (or intelligent) computer program...

Indeed. But it would require an international agreement on what format to use. And it would ideally be a format that would never be changed. and suitable machines maintained/renewed to run it on.

This would require a form of 'priesthood' techies to maintain the system.

But it would work.

Sadly, people would no doubt start shouting 'Big Brother'.

INT21
 

INT21

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#12
AlchoPawn,

...That shows a remarkable disdain for archaeology INT21...

No, not a disdain. I have always looked at things from the 'Scientific Method' approach.

And, in the case you present above, all the evidence points to the conclusion you suggest.

But there is also a chance it was an item that just happened to be picked up on a market stall by someone who thought it looked nice. Same period perhaps, but not related to aforesaid Centurion.

In history, as in physics, one should stop when you get to the end of the provable data. Nothing wrong with speculating further, but note it is speculation.

You reach a point where you have to admit that 'best guess' is all you have.

It is similar to the trend in popular science for astronomers, who should know better, to refer to 'the end of the universe'.

But no one knows if the Universe actually has an end. And if it did, what would be on the other side ?

INT21
 

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#13
In history, as in physics, one should stop when you get to the end of the provable data. Nothing wrong with speculating further, but note it is speculation.
er.... you say this as if it is not how Real Archaeologists work?

the epistemology of the data was a subject as far back as the early 1980s in undergrad courses, and before that as well - that's just my first person testimony!

"theoretical archaeology" goes back at least into the early 1900s and is a sub-discipline itself, as well as being part of other fields.

Things like Time Team are rather like the 1970s weekend wrestling on the telly with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks lololol

And yes, efforts to deal with the existing corpus in different ways have been going on for many years: for example the useful and welcoming Archaeological Data Service.

What you are saying is true (hurrah) but it's a bit like the proverbial motherhoodandapplepie line.....
 

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#14
Indeed. But it would require an international agreement on what format to use. And it would ideally be a format that would never be changed. and suitable machines maintained/renewed to run it on.

This would require a form of 'priesthood' techies to maintain the system.

But it would work.

Sadly, people would no doubt start shouting 'Big Brother'.
The excitment and interest of the area isn't on agreeing tech standards - which has become a much more acceptable and achievable prospect over the last 30 years.

It's about the paradigm within which the data was collected.
 

INT21

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#15
...What you are saying is true (hurrah) but it's a bit like the proverbial motherhoodandapplepie line...

Not really.

All it requires is that professionals (and others) say 'We have found this. We know where it was found. We believe we know the history of the area. But we can't be certain about any other detail. However, here is our best guess based on what we do know.'

And leave it at that until further evidence presents itself.

INT21
 

Coal

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#16
Things like Time Team are rather like the 1970s weekend wrestling on the telly with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks lololol
I liked this show but do recall a number of animated debates entered on the gulf between "the actual data" and "wild speculation".
 

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#17
All it requires is that professionals (and others) say 'We have found this. We know where it was found. We believe we know the history of the area. But we can't be certain about any other detail. However, here is our best guess based on what we do know.'
You seem sure that we don't do this. Is it your own professional (or amateur!) practice in the field which leads you to these views?

Given the data, and the study, and the techniques... we can say a lot more than you are indicating.

What area are you discussing? As in discourse.
 

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#18
Things like Time Team are rather like the 1970s weekend wrestling on the telly with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks lololol
I presume that you are saying that my slight cynicism to the Time Team approach is justifiable then? I still quite enjoy the programme but what aspects of the information provided should I be wary of in particular?
 

skinny

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#20
One could argue there's been a trend toward ephemeralization in human life for centuries, and even millennia. We've now pushed such ephemeralization to the point that physical artifacts represent no more than the vehicles for dissemination and maintenance of socio-cultural 'meanings'. Without the data, a fully-functional digital device is in effect a blank slab rather than a (literal or figurative) Rosetta Stone.
A trend away from what, do you think? Think back, EG. I'm sure you can remember.

My own journey through archaeology started about 30 years ago, and since then I've seen the field flounder under the mass of speculative opinion, as you say, disseminated through the broadscale digital media. Everyone feels compelled to express themselves as an authority, even with no formal training or having read a book on a subject. The informed and experienced voices are rarely sought, because, well, it's just too many clicks to do that, isn't it. Archaeology is becoming subsumed under a myriad of shallow anthropological banners, and the science is just too much like hard work for the commentators.

I'm about to embark on a postgraduate history degree, and although I'm excited by the possibilities, I'm also expecting to be overwhelmed by the glut of bullshit info in the way of reasonable scientifically-supported data. I'll be applying to the elders here for help with search economy when the time comes. My focus will be on the lateral impact of major recorded events in history on the communities surrounding them. I have a nice precis of the theory in my diary, written a couple of years ago on a bus ride to work. Almost time to start developing the groundwork. [yawn]
 

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#21
Hmmmmm ...

It seems to me there are two spins on the 'ephemeralization' theme in play here:

(1) My earlier comments referred to the broad theme of socio-cultural residue progressively shifting from strongly tangible / physical representation toward relatively transient, highly symbolic, and intricately context-sensitive forms. Think of it as an evolution from megaliths to memes.

(2) Your comments about the declining importance attributed to archaeology (the field) seem to allude more to popular preference for fully fleshed out (if merely hypothetical or outright fictional) scenarios for what ancient life was like, regardless of how far the physical evidence and analyses thereof support them.

Your reference to the field of history is relevant here. History can be seen as the interpretive analysis of the past in all its multi-faceted glory. Historians are well advised to avoid clashing with archaeological evidence, but they are not required to limit their theoretical concepts to the scope of archaeological finds to date. This gives historians some measure of 'wiggle room' that archaeologists don't have.

Anthropologists arguably enjoy even more wiggle room than the historians in the sense that 'culture' is ephemeral by definition and need not be strictly correlated with infrastructure remnants.

It seems to me that professional / academic archaeology is being relegated to a technical back room supporting role, analogous to the role of a forensic lab within the broad sweep of police work or crime-fighting. Fewer and fewer people are expecting the folks who dig up the evidence to also serve as the authoritative sources for how that evidence translates into the fleshed out narratives they seem to desire.
 

Coal

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#22
scenarios for what ancient life was like, regardless of how far the physical evidence and analyses thereof support them.
I'm sure I'm in a minority, but nothing spoils a museum for me, quite as much as 'life displays' with rubbish manikins. I don't need to see a rubbish model of a bronze age burial, I'm much more interested in the artefacts. We have local museum which was quite wonderfully overflowing with artefacts of bronze and stone ages (among others), then it had a 'renovation' and swathes of artefacts vanished to be replaced with unconvincing and dull 'models' of people and scenarios. Completely ruined it.
 

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#23
I'm sure I'm in a minority, but nothing spoils a museum for me, quite as much as 'life displays' with rubbish manikins. I don't need to see a rubbish model of a bronze age burial, I'm much more interested in the artefacts. We have local museum which was quite wonderfully overflowing with artefacts of bronze and stone ages (among others), then it had a 'renovation' and swathes of artefacts vanished to be replaced with unconvincing and dull 'models' of people and scenarios. Completely ruined it.
Coal do you have some examples, URL's, papers?
 

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#25
What puzzles you? You claimed important - genuine ancient artifacts were being intentionally replaced with so-called dull items (BTW what constitutes dull artifacts). Case in point they are many critical artifacts exhibited i.e.: Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, Hebrew, Sumerians, etc. in museums all over the world for all to see. Below I list but a few.
I've never heard -read any paper, writeups, trustworthy videos, valid scientific claims to substantiate this? Your post sounds like it could go in the conspiracy tread the "way I read it".

https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/sightseeing/london-attraction/museum/best-museums-in-london

http://www.britishmuseum.org/

https://www.si.edu/spotlight/ancient-egypt
 

Coal

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#26
What puzzles you? You claimed important - genuine ancient artifacts were being intentionally replaced with so-called dull items (BTW what constitutes dull artifacts). Case in point they are many critical artifacts exhibited i.e.: Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, Hebrew, Sumerians, etc. in museums all over the world for all to see. Below I list but a few.
I've never heard -read any paper, writeups, trustworthy videos, valid scientific claims to substantiate this? Your post sounds like it could go in the conspiracy tread the "way I read it".

https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/sightseeing/london-attraction/museum/best-museums-in-london

http://www.britishmuseum.org/

https://www.si.edu/spotlight/ancient-egypt
Regretfully, I conclude you are wilfully misinterpreting my post. :hoff:
 

EnolaGaia

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#27
I thought Coal was simply alluding to museums removing large collections of artifacts from frontline display in favor of conceptual scenes (e.g., dioramas).
 

Coal

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#28
I thought Coal was simply alluding to museums removing large collections of artifacts from frontline display in favor of conceptual scenes (e.g., dioramas).
^this^
 

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#29
[QUOTE="Jim, post: 1790027, member: 51945". [/QUOTE]

Enola has shed light on this. As for willingly "wrong". Never heard of such practices nor did you make an attempt to substantiate them, when I here such claims I wonder about the validity - science behind them that's all
 

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#30
I thought Coal was simply alluding to museums removing large collections of artifacts from frontline display in favor of conceptual scenes (e.g., dioramas).
I suspect dioramas and the like are meant to appeal to the general public, putting artefacts into some sort of visual context. Having said that over the decades I've seen some pretty poor attempts.
 
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