Frison Institute Symposium: The Future of "Big Data" in Archaeology

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Archaeology is currently experiencing a new ‘revolution’ toward the use of ‘big data’. Various research teams worldwide have started to integrate the enormous masses of archaeological data generated since the 1960s into online databases that are openly accessible to the entire profession and public. This enhancement of data accessibility promises to transform multiple facets of the discipline, from the leveraging of CRM grey-literature, to the kinds of scientific questions researchers are able to ask, to the greater involvement of archaeology in inter-disciplinary research and public engagement. The nascent turn toward big data approaches means that many of the theoretical and methodological problems/prospects involved with this kind of research must still be critically assessed at project-comparative, international scales. This symposium brings together different big data projects worldwide in order to address many of the outstanding theoretical and methodological problems/prospects and provide a framework for the future.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-16 of 16)

  • Documents (16)

  • Big, Slow, and Linked: Toward Distributed and Scalable Data Practices in Archaeology (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Eric Kansa. Sarah Kansa.

    This paper highlights the social challenges of bringing "Big Data" to archaeology. In the political economy of universities, corporations, and governments, Big Data enjoys a special status because it tends to require and reinforce institutional and information centralization. We often imagine that the research and analytic opportunities promised by Big Data are a function of the economies of scale offered by the centralized aggregation of fungible datasets. However, many forms of archaeological...

  • Building a Global 14C Database (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andrew Martindale. Konrad Gajewski. Michelle Chaput. Pierre Vermeersch. Carley Crann.

    Since the launch of the upgraded Canadian Archaeological Radiocarbon Database (CARD) in April 2015, CARD has expanded to contain more than 70% of the world’s online 14C archaeological dates across six continents. CARD’s transformation into a global repository raises concerns about access, security, protocols, management, capacity and the prospects and long-term future of a single, comprehensive global 14C archaeological database. CARD is a template for that global database Here we present a...

  • The Challenges and Prospects of Developing Radiocarbon "Big Data" for the Study of Prehistoric Demography (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Robert L. Kelly. Erick Robinson.

    The use of large radiocarbon datasets has the potential to transform archaeology and its place in the social and natural sciences in the coming decades. Radiocarbon ‘big data’ enhances the unique contribution of archaeology to reconstruct human demography over vast spans of time. This move towards big data is confronted by some central challenges in archaeological method and theory, such as the use of legacy data of disparate quality and working over broad spatial and temporal scales. For some,...

  • "Constraint and Freedom" in the Era of Big Data (2017)
    DOCUMENT Full-Text Kyle Bocinsky.

    Twenty-seven years ago, Bruce Trigger presented a "new synthesis of archaeological explanation," seeking to harmonize neo-evolutionary explanations dominant in the 1970s with socio-historical perspectives of the 1980s. Central to his thesis was the distinction between "external" constraints that structure human agency independent of humans themselves, and "internal" constraints that are historically and culturally constructed. Here, I critique Trigger's formula by acknowledging that even...

  • Data Integration in the Service of Synthetic Research - SAA Vancouver Annual Meeting (2017)
    DOCUMENT Full-Text Keith Kintigh. Katherine Spielmann. K. Selçuk Candan. Adam Brin. James DeVos. Tiffany Clark. Matthew Peeples.

    Addressing archaeology’s most compelling substantive challenges requires synthetic research that exploits the large and rapidly expanding corpus of systematically collected archaeological data. That, in turn, demands an integration procedure that preserves the semantics of the data when combining datasets collected by multiple investigators who employ different systematics in their recording. To that end, we have developed a general procedure that we call query-directed, on-the-fly data...

  • Detecting spatially local deviations in population change using summed probability distribution of radiocarbon dates (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Enrico Crema. Stephen Shennan.

    The increasing availability of large radiocarbon databases encompassing continental geographic scales (e.g. CARD, EUROEVOL, AustArch, etc.) is now opening new possibilities for evaluating spatial variation in prehistoric population. We have, for the first time, the opportunity to determine whether and when different geographic regions experienced distinct demographic patterns using an absolute chronological framework. This line of research is however hindered by spatially uneven sample sizes...

  • Early warning signals of demographic collapse detected in a meta-database of European Neolithic radiocarbon dates (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sean Downey. Randy Haas.

    This study uses statistical tests known as "early warning signals" (EWS) to determine whether declining socio-ecological resilience presaged a pattern of collapse during the Early Neolithic Period in Europe. Our earlier research has shown with a high degree of certainty that radiocarbon-inferred human demography during the Neolithic exhibits a boom-and-bust pattern. In this new study we analyze our meta-database of radiocarbon dates in order to determine whether societies on the verge of major...

  • LiDAR data and the temporal trends in the frequency of hunter-gatherer sites in the northwest coast of Finland 10,000-2,000 calBP (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Petro Pesonen. Miikka Tallavaara.

    Investigation of LiDAR visualizations has become a standard tool in archaeological site detection in Finland, as large part of the country has been LiDAR scanned. Because archaeologists alone do not have enough resources to thoroughly analyze these big data, part of the work has been crowd sourced. Thanks to active volunteers, not only the number of sites has increased, but we now have new types of sites, and sites in environmental contexts that have previously been ignored in archaeological...

  • Networking: digital archaeology repositories in Argentina (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andres Izeta. Roxana Cattáneo.

    The digitization of primary data in social sciences and humanities, including archeology, has been a central issue in the management of science in Argentina by federal agencies, public universities and private foundations. About this topic, Argentina´s National Research Council (CONICET) created the Interactive Platform for Social Science Research, an interdisciplinary space, that over six years has generated protocols related to digitization and ways to share these results under the concept of...

  • A New Stable Isotope Data Repository within the Neotoma Paleoecological Database (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Suzanne Pilaar Birch. Russell Graham. Eric Grimm. Jessica Blois. Jack Williams.

    The Neotoma Database ( functions as an interdisciplinary, open-access, and community-curated database for paleoecologists. Primary data types include proxies such as pollen, vertebrate remains, diatoms, and plant macrofossils. Because stable isotope data carry essential paleoenvironmental information about hydrology, diet, foodweb, and other signals, the structure of Neotoma has been modified to accommodate isotope data, thus facilitating the integration of these data with other...

  • PeriodO 2: ‘Big Data’, Linked Data, and the reconciliation of absolute dates and traditional periodizations in archaeology (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Adam Rabinowitz. Ryan Shaw. Patrick Golden.

    ‘Big Data’ requires consistency in the structure and description of data from different sources, so that patterns in the same attributes can be identified across datasets. Unfortunately, archaeological datasets are notoriously inconsistent in both structure and terminology. Various attempts have recently been made to resolve this problem and enhance interoperability. One strategy that has worked well for the aggregation of spatially-situated data involves spatial gazetteers expressed as Linked...

  • PIDBA (Paleoindian Database of the Americas): Long term Collaborative Research at International Scales (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Anderson. David Echeverry. D. Shane Miller. Stephen Yerka.

    Compiling and making accessible primary archaeological data from multiple sources and across large areas is one of the grand challenges facing archaeology in the twenty-first century. The Paleoindian Database of the Americas (PIDBA) has been operating for over 25 years to make Paleoindian data openly accessible online to all interested parties. Data from more than 100 scholars, including locational data on over 30,000 projectile points, has been made available in digital form that has been...

  • Protecting Our Fossil Fuel: Bone Dates, Date-Assessment Protocols, and the Need for a Worldwide 14C Database (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Oliver. Russell Graham. Thomas Stafford, Jr..

    Large datasets of bone 14C dates are the foundation of integrative research in Late Quaternary faunal paleoecology, biogeography, paleogenetics, responses to environmental change, extinction occurrences and rates, and roles of climate and humans in the extinction process. This research requires strict date-assessment protocols including knowledge of material dated, taxon, sample chemistry, fraction dated, isotopic and C/N values. Currently, however, using 50+ years of 14C dates and implementing...

  • Size isn't everything: are our data good enough to be big? (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Julian Richards.

    Archaeological data may not yet meet the criteria for Big Data, but the growth of archaeological cyber-infrastructures is providing the foundations for ‘big data’ research. Using digital repositories such as the ADS in the UK and tDAR in the USA, we have access to millions of records, from multiple resources. Data and text mining tools allow us to extract information from published and unpublished fieldwork reports, whilst the ability to create Linked Open Data or to integrate metadata via...

  • Tackling the Big Challenges of Big Data: An Example from the U.S. Southwest (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matt Peeples. Barbara Mills. Jeffery Clark.

    We see archaeology in the twenty-first century as an increasingly cumulative enterprise. The sheer volume of data produced in recent years has both facilitated and necessitated new approaches to synthesis that involve the compilation of massive databases and the development of new platforms for archiving and accessing data. ‘Big data’ compilations are poised to be the backbone of many new advances but with ‘big data’ come big challenges. In this presentation, we summarize several daunting issues...

  • Waist Deep in the Big Data: How the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) Implements Ontological and Loosely Coupled Organization around the Construct of the Archaeological Site (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Joshua J. Wells.

    Archaeology’s disciplinary engagement with big data is confounded by the variety of information types recorded, variability of data due to differential preservation of materials and theoretical orientations of observers, and complexity of archaeological concepts daring to be caged in explicit digital expressions. The Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) is a linked open data hub, centered around the theoretically, practically, and interpretively fraught definition of...