W(h)ither archaeological knowledge? Towards a (re)Map

In a recent paper in the Journal of CAA, co-written with Jeremy Huggett and Gary Lock (Huggett et al, 2018), we explore a variety of scenarios depicting how knowledge is produced, circulated, enriched and maintained around the discipline/profession of archaeology, positing four alternative, but not mutually exclusive, potential knowledge regimes. Within each scenario we investigate the question of how do we know what we know? Or, put another way, how do we tap into disciplinary knowledge? When knowledge is explicit it can sit quite comfortably inside a system of libraries, museums and other archives where it might be associated with some sophisticated ontology created under the auspices of long-standing disciplinary institutions and organisations. Increasingly, even such explicit archaeological knowledge now languishes disconnected or adrift in grey reports and isolated databases. Most importantly, it seems to us (me), our practice-based knowledge, which is often tacit in character, is distributed across a wide body of people and sub-groups of the archaeological community, each with their unique perspectives, filters, and ways of mediating what they know and what other knowledge they have access to. How do we connect with them?

We named our scenarios: the ‘Ministry of Digital Orthodoxy’; the ‘Academy of Digital Advancement’; the ‘School of Digital Citizenship’; the ‘Commune of Digital Anarchy’. Each scenario is plausible and, indeed, we show that aspects of all of them are visible in archaeological practices today. In reality they represent overlapping practices with their own blend of strengths and weaknesses.

However, the issue that emerges across the board is that knowledge production in archaeology today is somewhat precarious and access to much of that knowledge is piecemeal, sometimes restricted, and at risk of being severely impaired or lost. I won’t rehearse the arguments here but, in summary, archaeological knowledge is being created ‘in the wild’, that is far outside the traditional environs of the academy and its established modes. There are an unknown number of loosely connected or unconnected knowledge sources which are (un)curated in alternative and perhaps vulnerable knowledge repositories. However, there are no end-to-end maps depicting the many (and ever expanding) activities of archaeologists and where much of this extensive, and possibly idiosyncratic, disciplinary knowledge can now be found.  We therefore proposed that a digitally-mediated mapping of our disciplinary knowledge would be a challenge that the archaeological community as a whole might engage with for our own collective self-enlightened interest. At the very least it would help reduce unnecessary and avoidable duplication and re-invention. More positively it might free up new creative spaces for the discipline to build upon.

We have to be realistic here. There is no single knowledgemap and no one, common, central, or overriding,  perspective. There must and should be pluralism, so we might instead think about an atlas of knowledgemaps, utilising an array of projection techniques, and tinted by many different perspectives and contexts. Any given knowledgemaps will likely be out of date almost from the moment that they are conceived and require constant review to remain of use. And there is the rub. A knowledgemap has no value by itself. It must serve a purpose to have any authority, to be credible, and to warrant the effort of creating and maintaining it. In short it has to have some use. With this in mind, John Pouncett, Stephen Stead and myself are organising a round table session (Session 19 “Our Knowledge is All Over the Place”)  at CAA 2019, Krakow to explore a range of different perspectives on digitally-mediated alternatives – provided by colleagues from around the world and different parts of archaeological practice. It is therefore very timely that Mark Gillings,  Piraye Hacıgüzeller, and Gary Lock (Gillings et al, 2018, pp. 10-12) have laid out a manifesto which I feel we would do well to keep in mind as we share our unique perspectives on what a digitally-mediated knowledge map might look like.

  1. “Maps are never stable and we continually need to question what a map is, as well as what the potential consequences are of its creation.”
  2. “Our maps have histories (and genealogies), and we need to understand these in all their nuanced detail.”
  3. “How we map shapes what is possible to do with the maps we create.”
  4. “Our maps can act and should be encouraged to do so. We need to accept that our maps can be affective as well as effective and must embrace their performative character.”
  5. “There is nothing wrong with maps that are argumentative, discordant, disruptive, playful, provocative or simply beautiful.”
  6. “There should be no limits to what is deemed mappable.”

Hear hear! I for one am looking forward to the conversation that will follow. What shall we discover? Plurality, status quo, declining horizons? W(h)ither archaeological knowledge?


Gillings, M., Hacıgüzeller, P., and Lock, G. 2018. ‘On Maps and Mapping’, in: Gillings, M., Hacıgüzeller, P., and Lock, G., (eds.), Re-Mapping Archaeology: Critical Perspectives, Alternative Mappings. London: Routledge, pp 1-16.

Huggett, J., Reilly, P. and Lock, G., 2018. Whither Digital Archaeological Knowledge? The Challenge of Unstable Futures’, Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology, 1(1), pp. 42–54. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jcaa.7r


Digital Practice at CAA Tubingen

CAA2018 banner

The Call for Papers for CAA 2018 to be held in Tübingen, 19th-23rd March, 2018 is open until 29th October 2017. There are two exciting sessions focusing on Digital Practice and Digital Scholarship in archaeology. Both these sessions in their different ways explore the value of digital practice to the discipline and to practitioners.

To save you looking, I have attached them below. We welcome all view points. If you would like to deliver a 15 minute viewpoint or 5 minute flash statement at the round table, or present a 10 minute paper please make your submission here or contact me.

S3 Digital Archaeology Scholars in a Changing World: Problems, Perspectives, and Challenges

Advances in the use of digital and computational methods in archaeology have encouraged great hope among archaeological computing practitioners regarding the potential of digital archaeology to transform archaeology as a discipline. Such an optimism was apparent in the diverse response received at the “Challenging Digital Archaeology” sessions organised in CAA 2014 and CAA 2015 (Hugget 2015 https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/opar.2014.1.issue-1/opar-2015-0003/opar-201 5-0003.xml). Nonetheless, positive views on the future of digital archaeology often come into contrast with the reality in academia for most archaeological computing practitioners, who sometimes face significant challenges in making their work accepted as genuine archaeological research and are often considered as “hybrid scholars”. Digital archaeology specialists often find themselves into an in-between space comprised of two or more disciplines, trying to create their own distinct identity, demonstrate their value, and get credit for their contributions to these fields. Academic hierarchies, conservatism, and established processes and practices are only a few of the challenges that hinder digital archaeologists from securing their status in academia. At the same time, digital and computational approaches to archaeology have created continuous needs for new modes of research, evaluation, collaboration, teaching, and publication that don’t always conform well with traditional academic practices. The focus of this session is on the role of digital archaeology scholars in a changing world with constant transformations in the academic ecosystem. Participants in the session are expected to contribute short papers of no more than 10 minutes. A ten-minute discussion will follow after each talk, while the session will conclude with a general discussion (30 minutes). Contributions that discuss philosophical and theoretical aspects of digital practice and scholarship are especially encouraged, as well as reflective works drawing from personal experience in distinct digital archaeology fields. Some relevant topics include but are not limited to: -What is the value or potential of digital archaeology research and how this is reflected in or contrasted with perceptions of digital scholarship in the wider discipline of archaeology? -To what extent are digital outputs and digital creations (e.g agent-based models, virtual worlds etc. ) accepted as genuine archaeological research? -What is the contribution of digital archaeology to new forms of research (e.g. crowdsourcing) and teaching practices (e.g. MOOCs, SPOCs, serious games etc)? -In what ways trends in computational archaeology for open data and open software policies, as well as reproducible research, could transform archaeological scholarship and publication practices? -To what degree the role of Digital Archaeology practitioners ties in with the concepts of hybrid-scholars and alt-academics discussed in Digital Humanities?

Eleftheria Paliou, Jeremy Huggett, Konstantinos Papadopoulos

S7 What is the Value of Digitally Mediated Archaeology?

For more than six decades archaeologists have been exploring the power of computer-based methods and digital technologies to advance archaeological inquiry and practice. Successive cohorts of CAA members have been, quite rightly, anxious to articulate the relevance and impact of their work to archaeology in general. However, Costopoulos in ‘Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’ Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3:4 (2016) http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004 suggests that there has been too great a focus on debating digital approaches and tools as objects of study and argues that far more emphasis should be placed on articulating the practical benefits of deploying digital tools in archaeology. In this Round Table session we ask “what is the value of digitally mediated archaeological practice?” We will question whether digital archaeology is merely the latest ephemeral fashion – just another technological fetishism, a significant upgrade to traditional methods, or an important new paradigm for archaeological practice. This round table welcomes participants from all segments of archaeological practice including but not limited to university-, state-, museum-, commercial unit-, and public-archaeology.  This format of this Round Table will be a series of pairs or triplets of presenters offering short points of view (c.15 minutes or less) followed by periods of moderated discussion, chaired in rotation by the organisers. We also welcome ‘flash statements’ (less than five minutes). The session will be concluded with an open dialogue based on the accumulated discussion and a wrap-up report by one of the organisers, summarising the discussion and suggesting follow-ups. Some potential discussion points: What benefits does digital archaeology offer? How do we evaluate it? How should we evaluate effectiveness and impact compared with traditional techniques? How might we best monitor and track progress? What new benefits could we propose to archaeology more generally? How does digital archaeology better connect us to other disciplines, the heritage sector and the public? Please contact the organisers if you wish to offer a point of view or flash statement.

Daria Hookk, Paul Reilly, Jeremy Huggett, Irina Grevtsova, Sorin Hermon, Franco Niccolucci