Process and appropriation in the digitalisation of archaeological archives and archiving practices

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Thu, 01/16/2014 - 12:52

Presentation at the CAA 2014 conference in Paris.


In contrast to the considerable investments in creating technologies, infrastructures and standards for digitalisation, preservation and dissemination of archaeological heritage, there is still only little indepth research on the consequences, opportunities and implications of digitalisation to archaeological work, the emergence of archaeological knowledge and how it is used by diverse stakeholder groups from ordinary citizens to researchers, museum professionals, landowners and property developers. Apart from the excavating or prospecting archaeologist with a personal experience of a particular site, the principal source of information for other stakeholders is the 'archaeological archive'. There are on-going national and international (e.g. ARCHES-project and the archives workgroup of European Archaeologiae Consilium) initiatives to standardise archiving practices in archaeology and a relative long albeit somewhat slender line of theoretical and practice oriented research on the topic (e.g., Merriman and Swain, 1999; Swain, 2006; Brown, 2011; Lucas, 2010). What is lacking, but would support the practical work and to contextualise earlier theoretical openings, is a broader empirical understanding of the everyday premises of how archaeological archives are managed in practice and how archiving is and is not related to the development of archaeological information systems, databases and archaeological information management practices.

The presentation reports of a Swedish interview study that explicates and maps the work practices and perspectives of the primary stakeholders of archaeological archives. The analysis of the interview records show that there are multiple technical, legislative, conceptual and structural problems that complicate the building, management and use of archaeological archives. Privatisation of archaeological fieldwork, the diversity of involved actors, and often diverging practical and statutory requiments and responsibilities of preserving different types of materials. Further, the digitisation and growth of the amount documentation material has brought demands for effective means of capturing and preserving new forms of data, but also a need to reconsider the concepts of “archaeological archive” and ”archaeological data”, and their functions in archaeology and the society as a whole. The analysis shows that the different actors appropriate (as e.g., in Ramiller and Chiasson, 2008; Twidale et al., 2008) rather than share or even translate the ideas of archaeological information process, archaeological data and archives from a widely different premises to fit their urgent priorities. The findings have several both theoretical and practical implication to the mapping of the digitalising archaeological information processes from the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, standardisation and documentation of current practices and clearer definition of responsibilities, explicit allocation of budgets for archival tasks and the explicit acknowledgement of the diversity of how archaeological information is produced, archived and used.

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