Teaching with the Archaeology Data Service and Internet Archaeology

It’s fairly well-known that I’m a fan of the Archaeology Data Service, lauding their efforts and crashing their parties whenever I can. It is amazing to be right down the hall from the hive of archival activity, and Internet Archaeology is just up a couple of flights of stairs. I’m always happy to publish in Internet Archaeology, as the journal’s Open Access ideals and flexible data formats work well for digital archaeology.

What didn’t occur to me, at least at first, was the powerful teaching tool that combining the two would represent. This year I led on Accessing Archaeology, a module that our entire first year cohort of undergraduates takes. Students are introduced to basic concepts of Archaeology, including sessions on Landscape, Material Culture, Excavation, Archaeology & Science, etc. Each week students are in seminars wherein they discuss these concepts, using a textbook (available online through the library) and, importantly, present in small groups on a particular case study that shows the application of these concepts.

Some of case studies that the students present are from Internet Archaeology, and many of these articles have backup datasets stored at the Archaeology Data Service. For example for the seminar on Excavation, we use:


Wickham-Jones, C R and Dalland, M (1998), A small mesolithic site at Fife Ness, Fife, Scotland, Internet Archaeology, vol. 5


Richards, J D (2001), Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian Cottam: linking digital publication and archive, Internet Archaeology, vol. 10

The Cottam excavation is archived with the ADS and students are encouraged to find out more about the site and excavation techniques by investigating the archive.

I did not design the module–the heavy lifting was done a few years ago by my colleague Dr Steve Ashby (of Real Vikings fame), but I find that the way it integrates teaching the basics of archaeology with specific case studies presented by students to be an excellent method of engaging students with the material.

The module culminates (as many do) with an essay, and this year I set the question to draw from two different lines of evidence (say, analysis of structures + zooarchaeology or human remains + environmental sampling) from a single site to make an argument. Sorry I’m being a bit vague–I’d like to use variations on the theme in the future!

The students were able to pick one of six sites, five of which were archived with the Archaeology Data Service. This way they could access not only the associated official publications, but they could really dig into (sorry) the excavation data to query the methods used at the site. One of these sites was Sutton Hoo, which has a huge amount of data archived at the ADS. Students can access field reports, images, specialist reports, maps, and other archaeological gray literature to build their arguments.

I’m fairly new at teaching with archives, but I hope to integrate more of the materials at the ADS into the courses I teach as it’s an incredible resource and evokes both the desk-based assessments that archaeologists must perform before archaeological investigation and reveals how archaeologists make arguments with archaeological data–for better or worse!


New Article Published! The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

Matt Law and I have published our co-authored article in Present Pasts, The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment: Online Sustainability and Archaeological Sites. Matt had a very nice small data set on the closure of Geocities and how it affected archaeological websites. I keep citing it in my presentations, so I’m very happy to see it published formally. My deep thanks to Matt and the fantastic team at Present Pasts!

Here is the abstract:

After 15 years of hosting millions of user-built webpages, in April 2009 Yahoo! announced that they would be shutting down their United States Geocities webpages. Geocities was once the most common hosting service for low-cost personal webpages, including hundreds of public outreach sites about archaeology. Were the webpages moved to another hosting site, archived, or just abandoned? We tracked and recorded the fate of 88 of these webpages, eventually sending a survey to the webmasters asking them a range of questions. While we received relatively few responses, the answers to the questions were illuminating. Much of the current digital outreach performed all over the world relies on ‘free’ services such as Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google Pages, or Facebook to host their content. What can the fate of archaeological content on Geocities pages tell us about the benefits and risks of using commercial infrastructure for archaeological outreach? We propose that sorting through the digital wreckage of past outreach efforts helps us to evaluate the eventual fate of the archaeological presence online.