Computer Applications in Archaeology 2014 Call for Papers

The 2014 meeting of the CAA will be held in Paris, France, from April 22 to 25, 2014.  The Call for Papers has been announced, with submission deadline set for October 31.

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Three Dimensional Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology: A Short Introduction to a Blog Project

Reblogged from The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World:

Click to visit the original post

Over the past half decade, Mediterranean and Old World archaeology has entered a bold new world of inexpensive three-dimensional documentation. Using photogrammetry software like Agisoft Photoscan, increasingly powerful laptop computers, low-cost drones and airships, and high-resolution digital cameras even projects without access to robust digital infrastructures can now produce centimeter accurate 3D models of trenches, architecture, and even topography. These new resources bring opportunities for new ways to document sites and, of course, opportunities to reflect on the role of technology in archaeology.

Read more… 791 more words

Upcoming series of interest.
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Archaeology, Humanities, and Data Science | The ArchaeoInformant

Archaeology, Humanities, and Data Science | The ArchaeoInformant.

Filed under: Academia, State of the Field Tagged: informatics

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Archaeology, Humanities, and Data Science

I’m going to get on a soapbox, here.  I hope that this elicits some debate/discussion/verbal thinking aloud by others.

I was recently forwarded a posting from LinkedIn,[1] which, like many, discusses the coming wave of needs for data scientists.  The amount of data generated is increasing exponentially.  The person forwarding to me the link wondered why archaeologists  are rarely included in the list of ‘big data’ fields – fields which have developed capacities to organize, manage, mine, and analyze large sets of information to extract meaning and insights about questions of relevance for a myriad of societal needs.  I wonder that as well.   I think it may have to do with some misconceptions by those outside the field and missed opportunities on the part of the humanities and social sciences.

To break down the post’s argument, data is increasing, and we need more data scientists – people who understand the power of large datasets and can derive meaning from them. We therefore need more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).  There are more articles, blogposts, and reports using this argument than you or I can shake a stick at.  It is a common rallying cry – more STEM.  We hear this cry from the White House, Congress, state houses, and the business world.  More STEM.

I would disagree with the perceived solution.  Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against STEM.  I love STEM.  Some of my best friends are involved with STEM.  I’ve published in STEM.  The amount of advances in STEM research is incredible, with new discoveries daily.  The voice of Carl Sagan has been joined by Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, persuasively arguing for a love and appreciation for STEM topics.  My own work in STEM has opened up incredible avenues for research and discovery. STEM is awesome.

Understanding the complexities of data bits and being able to pull and synthesize and analyze information are important skills to have.  We need to develop more people with them.  However, where does one generate the questions that need the big data – the questions that are not answerable by the sums of ones and zeros, but are soft and malleable – the questions that involve the complex, nuance, and multivariate elements which constitute our integrated, globally-connected world?  Where does one go to understand context, predict implications and impacts?

The social sciences and humanities.  As much as there is a need for the skills in data management and manipulation, there is a need for understanding what the data means.[2]  As argued by the chief analytics officer at SAS Australia:

The software can do the crunching of information but the talent to interpret lies with the data scientists who know how to apply that number-crunching capability.[3]

Consistently, it appears that those from within the world of data science see the need for skills in application, creativity, and synthesis.  I DO NOT mean to imply that critical thinking, synthesis, and application are lacking or not emphasized in STEM subjects.  This clearly happens. I DO NOT mean to imply that there aren’t real-world questions and answers emanating from these areas.  What I do see, typically, is that proponents of STEM often miss that these skills are developed equally – and for some situations most effectively – in the social sciences and humanities.  Within society, there seems to be a popular sense that combining English and math is somehow an ill fit.


There are a myriad of examples of the ‘digital humanities.’ The NEH has had a DH division for some time now, and the number of conferences, symposia, books, and articles is quite large and growing.  Within archaeology, once can point to a number of blogs[4], research centers/clusters[5], and data repositories[6] – the ones referenced are just examples that immediately pop into my head.  There are others (and, dear reader, if you wish to share your favorites, please feel free).  There is clearly a substantial and growing number of people involved in this type of research.

So, why doesn’t this permeate through to a popular understanding of humanities and social sciences as being a part of ‘big data’?

Simply put (which should always indicate that what is to follow not at all simple), some of us missed the boat, and it’s easier to create new data than transfer old data.

As humans, we’ve been recording information for millennia.  On caves, tablets, papyri, books, and now as 1s and 0s.  Just as it’s a pain to move from vinyl to tapes to cds to mp3s to digital streaming, it takes energy to move information from previous versions to the new.  This takes time, but we are well down this road – Project Gutenberg and Perseus come easily to mind.  Part of the issue, then, is that much of our data hasn’t been in digital format, so there’s been no need to go there.

Oftentimes, these are projects that involve humanists who have picked up skills in data science on the side, or in some cases hybrid individuals who have taken the plunge and gained formal training in humanistic and computational fields.  Formalized programs or degrees in DH are appearing, but I get the sense that these are seen by some as ‘soft’ on the humanities – somehow not true to the traditional rigor of humanistic inquiry and put in place to ‘serve’ those with real questions.

What I would hope to see is a shift in perception – inside and outside of academia.  Data is data – whether stored on a tablet, scroll, book, or in a table.  What I see as happening is that when the digital revolution hit, we didn’t see it as the new means of information storage as we should have.  We didn’t retool, and we certainly didn’t alter our training of students to incorporate this new system. Instead, we wagged our heads and dismissed these approaches as incompatible and ill-fitting to our pursuits.  The proponents of technology didn’t assist by seeing the easy association of “T” with “S,” “E,” and “M.”  Today, our information is in analog and digital form.  Understanding how the digital is organized not only unlocks interesting approaches in the humanistic and social sciences, but increases the capability to combine these elements with information coming out of STEM.

And that, is where some awesomely insane things can happen.

I would like to see a future that consists of informatically trained humanists and humanistically trained informaticists.  In a perfect world, informatics should be driven across the curriculum.  Information is used by all aspects of society.  Increasingly, information is digital.  Acquiring, organizing, and analyzing this information, therefore, is a need for anyone – it is a skill that should not be relegated to one sector of society.  We have terms for a period when information and the keys to it are restricted to a confined group of people – ‘Dark Age.’

This is a call for greater engagement.  A call for an end to the notion of ‘digital humanities’ in place of a construct where ‘digital’ is a given.  A construct where it is expected that anyone coming out of an institution of higher learning can be assumed to have literacy in data mining and processing.  Computational skills should be released from the view as the domain of those with specific skills.  Those skills should be seen as basic to any form of inquiry.  Certainly, there’s room for programs in Computer and Data Science, but all should have an understanding of who these tools come to bear on their own areas of interest.

This will require those of us in the universities to think about what and how we teach; what are the principle building blocks of research skills required for furthering the progress of inquiry; what are the elements that have resonance and meaning both to the pursuit of knowledge, but also transfer to other careers and opportunities?  Answers/suggestions to these questions are welcome.

Until the revolution happens, I would note that archaeology is a place within the social sciences and humanities where the nature of the work deals with ‘big data’ – much of it fragmentary, from a variety of sources from a wide array of disciplines, rarely in the same format or scale.  This exploration is not a unique occurrence – archaeology routinely requires generating and engaging with these wide-ranging data types.  Archaeology develop questions that demand people to collect, organize, process, and synthesize data to develop models and interpretations about complex natural and human interactions – questions that regularly cross across the disciplinary boundaries of the humanistic, social, natural, mathematic, and computational sciences.  It is set of inquiry that routinely requires practitioners to retool their skill sets and toolboxes based upon the question at hand.

That sounds like an exciting application of data science.

[1] Swantee, Olaf. 2013. “Data Scientists Are the New Rock Stars as Big Data Demands Big Talent.” Accessed July 30.

[2] Merrill, John. 2013.  “Looking for a Data Scientist? Here’s Who You Need.” VentureBeat. Accessed July 30.

[3] Quoted in Karena, Cynthia. 2013.  “Big Data Scientists, Who Needs Them?” The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed July 30.

Posted in Academia, informatics, State of the Field | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Three-Dimensional Modeling in Mediterranean Archaeology: An Open Invitation

Reblogged from The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World:

The positive response to my call for blog posts on issues centered on 3D modeling in Mediterranean archaeology has continued. For recent posts on this topic see here, here, and here.

My motivation for doing this came from this a number of sources. The most proximate inspiration came from a recent, fine article: Brandon Olson, Ryan A. Placchetti, Jamie Quartermaine, and Ann E.

Read more… 626 more words

Bill Caraher “The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World” is in the process of soliciting posts to his blog on the use of 3D imagery in archaeology. Not only is the topic interesting and somewhat timely, but I am looking forward to seeing how the process of gathering and disseminating these posts develops.
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“Day of Archaeology”

A few years ago, some individuals in the United Kingdom got together and thought it would be interesting if professional archaeologists, on a single day, would write about what their job entailed.  The ‘Day of Archaeology’ began in 2011 and appears to be increasing in interest.  This year, given that I’ve been rather sparse in my blog posts, I contributed.

What I find interesting is the distribution of entries according to topic.  A tremendous amount of the topics address ‘community archaeology.’  Given that the idea is garnered around an element of outreach, okay, this makes sense.  I do hope, however, that other archaeologists in academic capacities chirp up and contribute.

Before I’m accused of being the pot that is name-calling a certain black kettle, things have been busy.  As Director of the Archaeology Program at the College of Charleston, I have been overseeing the development of electronic and social media venues and a whole slathering of other administrative tasks in order to help roll out the newest major for the College of Charleston – Archaeology.  Like us on Facebook, visit the website, tell the world.  Charleston is one of the most unique places on the planet (certainly in North America) for the study of archaeology, and I am excited to help bring this program to the forefront of people’s attention.

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Linear B Archives Project in Full Swing

This post will be a brief introduction to an ongoing project, currently in field data collection.   As announced nearly a year ago, a small team, under the direction of Dimitri Nakassis (Toronto) and Kevin Pluta (Charleston), is involved with the documentation and publication of the palatial archives from the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, Greece.  Beyond traditional documentation, including photographs, illustrations, and transcriptions, the team is using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) and 3D white light scanning technologies to collect the highest resolution imagery and information to date on a Mycenaean administrative corpus.

Ben Rennison calibrating the Breuckmann smartSCAN3D-HE

Ben Rennison calibrating the Breuckmann smartSCAN3D-HE

Kevin Pluta, Jami Baxley, and Dimitri Nakassis testing the RTI procedures.

Kevin Pluta, Jami Baxley, and Dimitri Nakassis testing the RTI procedures.

Linear B – the script used in these archives – is the oldest form of Greek known to man, and was used to record on clay tablets administrative activities of the Mycenaean political centers (ca. 1400-1200 BCE).  As such, they provide incomparable information on the inner workings of one of the earliest complex state societies in the Greek world.  The largest deposits of these tablets are from the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Crete, the Palace of Nestor at Pylos, and in the Bronze Age citadel at Thebes.  While there were likely many more tablets in existence at the end of the Bronze Age, they have rarely survived because they were not intentionally baked.  If the tablets were stored in a location that was not destroyed by conflagration, they could not survive until today.  As a result, the tablets that have survived are that much more irreplaceable.

The tablets from most of these deposits have received a full corpus publication.  The Pylos corpus, which is one of two major Linear B corpora in the entire Aegean world, remains only partially published.   The initial transliterations edited in the 1970s by Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., and Jean-Pierre Olivier still stand as the most complete publication of the corpus to date.

The project will be collecting and compiling data to present the Palace of Nestor administrative documents in their entirety to the scholarly community, students of antiquity, and the broader lay community for the first time.  The project will collate and organize the documentary system, synthesize transcriptions, and present the tablets in line drawings in 2D and 3D image formats.  Beyond the objects as texts, the project will collect and collate data related to the objects as artifacts, including geochemical and geospatial information.  Outputs consisting of a traditional print volume and an online companion are planned.

Currently, the team, consisting of Dimitri Nakassis (Toronto), Kevin Pluta (Charleston), Jim Newhard (Charleston), Ben Rennison (Clemson), and Jami Baxley (Charleston), has completed the first week of  a 4-week initial season.   During this time, the RTI (aided by Hembo Pagi of the Archaeological Computing Research Group, University of Southampton)  and 3D white light scanning (conducted by Rennison, Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Clemson) procedures have been tested and refined, and data collection is beginning to take up speed as instruments, researchers, and instruments find their groove.

Posted in 3D Capture, 3D visualization, Linear B, Projects, RTI, white light scanning | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Lord Ashley Excavation Blog

The Lord Ashley site is currently undergoing excavation by the College of Charleston and Charleston Museum.  Excavation blog just went up.  The Lord Ashley site is a 17th century settlement/trading post, established by Lord Ashley – one of the original Lords Proprietors for the Carolina colony.  Interesting stuff!

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Summary of Byzantine survey colloquium via Bill Caraher

Bill Caraher has summarized his thoughts from the recent colloquium on Byzantine survey, held at Dumbarton Oaks last weekend.

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Modeling Connectivity


Classical Charleston

Modeling Connectivity:
Cultural Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean

New approaches and technologies for interpreting space – “the spatial turn” — are having a profound impact on human communication, and the structures of social, economic, and political systems. This colloquium will model three perspectives for social networking and connectivity, bringing together the past and future.

On Thursday, February 21
“The Character of the Inhabitants:
Environmental Theory in Classical Antiquity”
Prof. Michael Maas | 4:00 p.m., Randolph Hall, Alumni Hall


“How Romans Saw the World through Portable Sundials”
Prof. Richard Talbert | 5:30 p.m., Randolph Hall, Alumni Hall

On Friday, February 22
“Deep Mapping Archaeology:
Qualitative GIS, Citizen Science, and Immersive Sensual Worlds”
Prof. Trevor Harris | 3:30 p.m., SSMB, Rm. 129

The College Co-sponsors: School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs;
of Department of Art History; Department of Political Science /Geography Program;
Charleston Historic Preservation & Community Planning Program; The Santee-Cooper GIS Laboratory; Classics Club

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