Digital Antiquity: Enabling and Enhancing Preservation of and Access to Archaeological Information

Project: Research project

Project Details


Digital Antiquity: Enabling and Enhancing Preservation of and Access to Archaeological Information Digital Antiquity: Enabling and Enhancing Preservation of and Access to Archaeological Information If the proposed grant is approved, the Digital Antiquity project has the opportunity to transform our knowledge of the rich and complex heritage of ancient and historic North America and to broaden the availability of archaeological information about the American past. Arizona State University and the team assembled to govern and implement the project are uniquely positioned to make an investment that will lay the foundation for an extraordinary transformation in archaeological scholarship. The transformative potential for improved preservation and access to digital records of archaeological investigations extends across all sectors of professional archaeology in the US: cultural resource management (CRM3), academic, government, and museum. These sectors are intertwined in numerous ways. Collections (both of artifacts and documents) from legally mandated field archaeology are required to be curated in museums or government repositories. CRM research is conducted under legal mandate by private sector contractors or by archaeologists working for government agencies or university or museum CRM units. Much academic and museum research is done under a government permit or with government funding and with formal arrangements for artifact and record curation with repositories. In the US, between $650M and $1B is spent annually on CRM,4 of which a large proportion is devoted to archaeology. Nearly all of this work is performed to comply with laws that require government agencies to take into account the effect of their actions on cultural and historical resources. On the order of 50,000 field projects a year are carried out by federal agencies under these mandates, with another 50,000 federal undertakings requiring record searches or other inquiries that do not result in fieldwork. Nearly all of the 50,000 annual field projects and many of the additional 50,000 undertakings generate reports that together constitute the "grey literature" whose inaccessibility has long been an issue of major concern. Today these reports (ranging from a few pages to thousands of pages) are generated digitally but are generally not archived digitally; most survive only in their paper forms. A large fraction of projects will produce databases or spreadsheets of primary data and photographs and other sorts of images. Many will generate GIS or CAD files and some will have other kinds of digital data, including 3D scans and geophysical data. Project records (including digital records) and artifacts of federally mandated projects are generally subject to the federal curation regulation (36 CFR 79 Curation of Federally-owned and Administered Archeological Collections) that requires preservation and access to the collections in a repository meeting federal standards. With so much work being performed and so much data being generated, it is not surprising that archaeologists working in the same region do not know of each others work. Decisions about whether to preserve particular sites, how many of specific types to excavate, and how much more work needs to be done are being made in an informational vacuum. The situation is so dire that the Bush administrations Preservation Summit targeted access to digital CRM information as one of the countrys most important historic preservation goals for the next decade. The vast majority of CRM archaeology is done by private consulting firms, CRM units housed in universities or museums, or by government agencies themselves. The intertwined CRM and government sectors comprise the core constituency for the proposed initiative, though it is important that the research-oriented academic sector (which is numerically large and also influential) and museum sectors remain in the conversation. By far the largest professional association, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), has about 7,300 members, including students. A recent estimate4 indicates that there are approximately 9,5
Effective start/end date12/22/085/31/12


  • Mellon (Andrew W.) Foundation: $1,294,000.00


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