Author(s): Russell Alleen-Willems

Year: 2012


Archaeological digital data, like archaeological artifacts, are non-renewable resources that, once lost, are gone forever. Because digital data are so new in comparison to paper records, archaeologists lose data frighteningly often. First, this thesis summarizes my experience interning with Digital Antiquity, an organization specializing in preserving digital data. Second, this thesis details considerations in preparing, storing, and disseminating digital archaeological information. Finally, this thesis describes potential cultural, professional and educational concerns for users of digital archaeological repositories. As archaeologists create greater amounts of digital data, the digital curation crisis will grow. While a perfect solution has not yet been implemented, pioneering archaeologists have identified steps every archaeologist can follow to ensure that the fruits of their intellectual labors are not lost, while at the same time taking advantage of the unique properties of digital data to improve data and information sharing and use in archaeology.

Digital data are useful in ways that data on paper are not and cannot be. Digital data allow archaeologists to collaborate on large projects, communicate more effectively, and even reconstruct entire excavations. However, digital data are also far less stable than paper records. While a paper record may last well over a thousand years if kept in the right conditions, digital data are often unreadable in less than ten years, even when traditional preservation methods are used.

Digital storage is becoming the norm for archaeological publication, even though most archaeologists probably do not consider the downsides of digital publication. Moreover, many specialized archaeological data only exist in digital formats (e.g., laser scans, digital photographs, extensive databases) and archaeologists will (and have) lost these datasets because of faults in digital preservation. Digital data often represent the only record left after archaeologists excavate a site, and the loss of such valuable data is akin to bulldozing a site.

This thesis details my experiences during my internship at Digital Antiquity (an organization which specializes in data archiving), provides examples of other projects working on the digital curation crisis and gray literature problems, and finally discusses the needs that these organizations may not be considering fully in their plans. This information will provide a primer for archaeologists about what and who to consider when creating, publishing, and storing data and information in digital formats.

Cite this Record

DESIGNING THE DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD: COLLECTING, PRESERVING, AND SHARING ARCHAEOLOGICAL INFORMATION. Russell Alleen-Willems. Masters Thesis. Northern Arizona University, Anthropology. 2012 ( tDAR id: 454756) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8454756

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