Digital archaeology: a workshop

I have agreed to present a half day workshop in my Department here at Flinders University on what I am calling ‘Digital Archaeology’. It’s aimed graduate students in our archaeology and cultural heritage programs who want to know more about how digital/web technologies are radically changing how we go about doing archaeology. It’s a little similar to what some in the USA seem to call cultural heritage informatics, but that’s not a term that is in very wide use here in Australia at this stage.

The workshop will be a three to four-hour long introduction to the technologies that students can use to improve how they collect, analyse, manage and share archaeological data. I want to focus on things that students can use now, and that will likely be around in one form or another for some time. Where possible, I want to advocate open access/source approaches. It will be entirely introductory and assume that participants have little or no experience using many of the technologies being covered. I may be assuming that they know too little, but I think we need to offer a basic entry point into this material for people who are not at all familiar with it.

I am, however, keen to make sure that this workshop is useful to participants and that it covers things that are of widest possible value. This may be a little cheeky of me, however I am posting my brief thoughts here on what I am planning to include in the hope that you, dear reader, might spare a minute to comment. I’m glad for people to adopt ideas too, but be kind and acknowledge where possible: in this regard, I have benefited from talking to/reading stuff by Ethan Watrall and others associated with the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative.

Core concepts:

  • What is digital archaeology?
  • What are digital data?
  • What are ‘open access’, ‘open source’ and ‘creative commons’ and why are these things important?

Digital research tools:

  • Web feeds and archaeology (or keeping abreast of what’s going on)
  • Managing bibliographic data with Zotero
  • Google Earth and its application to archaeology (managing GPS data, creating basic maps and some discussion of the way it has been used in research)
  • Geographic information systems – QGIS (this will be brief)

Digital images

  • What is metadata and why is it important?
  • Scale, resolution and formats: a quick primer
  • Managing and sharing images with Picasa
  • Sharing your work: Flickr and Picasa Web

Finding, collecting and cleaning digital data

  • Why is it important to standardise archaeological data?
  • Cleaning up other people’s data (using Google Refine or basic functions of a spreadsheet)
  • Creating geographic data (using Fusion Tables to create KMLs for gEarth/gMaps/QGIS)

Communication and collaboration

  • There’s more to the web than Facebook!
  • ‘Bloggy’ media (Tumblr, Twitter, Blogging)
  • Web collaboration (Google Docs at this stage)

Yes, it is a lot however its an introductory workshop that aims to increase awareness of these issues and technologies rather than how to actually use them all. I’m hoping that it may prompt a few of our research students to get more interested in this stuff. Comments appreciated!

Post image is Portable GPS Device – Finished (Kinda) by 3D King (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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  • Alun

    Sorry for the slow response. I think this looks like a good introduction, but I wonder if it’s a bit much for three hours. Would a split between webbed and unwebbed data be better in two 2 hour sessions? One primarily on GIS and geotagging and then a second on collaborative bibliography, Creative Commons, Flickr etc?

    It’d be difficult in a half-day, but maybe that split with a coffee break at the halfway would also help draw in people who fear GIS for the second session? The late-comers would miss geotagging which would be a shame for Flickr, but hopefully that’s the hook that would draw them to the 1st session if you run the afternoon again in another term/year.

    • http://mickmorrison.com Mick

      Hmm thanks Alun, you’re probably right – looking at it now in relation to your comments it does seem a lot, even at an introductory level. Splitting it into webby/non-webby stuff may break it up. I could probably make them do 2 x 2 hr sessions, drop the GIS stuff and then include something that is a bit more practical in the second – e.g. create a WP & Gmail account and then get some archaeo data onto their blog using Gmaps. Thanks for comment!

  • http://matrix.msu.edu Ethan

    great idea, and I’m glad you are doing it. I would agree with Alun that this is probably a lot to digest in the amount of time. Might be between to break it out into a variety of topics – and then turn the whole thing into a workshop series. In terms of GIS (and I’m no expert in this domain), you might want to include a look at other tools for working with (and visualizing/publishing) geo data: GeoCommons (http://geocommons.com/), Open Layers (http://openlayers.org/), and MapBox (http://mapbox.com/).

    I would also very much consider talking about digital archaeological data repositories. Great examples can be found at tDAR (http://www.tdar.org/), ADS (http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/), and Open Context (not strictly a repository, but along the same lines – http://opencontext.org/). You might also want to talk about the platforms these repositories are based upon: Fedora Commons (http://fedora-commons.org/), DSpace (http://www.dspace.org/), and others. I would very much recommend looking into our own digital repository/digital archive platform: Kora (http://kora.sourceforge.net/). Kora was designed it be incredibly flexible, (almost) incredibly extensible (with a plugin architecture), extremely usable (certainly in comparison with other digital repository platforms), and very interoperable with every conceivable data standard and platform (something that you don’t find with other digital repository platforms). We use Kora for wide variety of more “historical” digital repositories/archives. We’re also looking to start using it in some archaeological digital data repositories (the Michigan Archaeological Data Trust will use Kora)