That’s right. Someone finally did it. Why isn’t there a group of programers out there that also happen to be archaeologists? If I ever own my own company, instead of having armies of people typing up site forms, I’m going to have a few software developers creating and supporting field apps that are designed by, and for, archaeologists. But, I digress…
A couple of software developers from China have turned the $185 Munsell Color Book into an app for iOS and Mac. The iOS version is a universal app for $4.99 which means you can buy it once and have it on your iPhone and on your iPad. I likely won’t use it much on the iPad but I can already see the usefulness for the iPhone. My iPhone has an OtterBox case which will allow me to either hold soil on a trowel over the screen or put soil directly on the screen to allow me to determine the color.
The Munsell app, officially called mColorBook, or mColorBookLite if you want the free, truncated, version, is highly customizable. First, a quick primer on Munsell colors. The “Hue” is the page you are on in the book. It’s the “2.5YR” part of “2.5YR5/6”. The “value” is on the vertical axis and the “chroma” is on the horizontal axis. Those are the “5” and “6” in the example, respectively. I just decided to do a post on the Munsell system. Your welcome.
With the app, you can select your hue increment from six different values (0.5, 1, 2, 2.5, 5, and 10). This is useful if you already took some readings and know what you need. You can eliminate some of the less useful pages by changing your hue increment. The “value” can be changed between 0.5 and 1, and the chroma can be set at 0.5, 1, or 2. Play with different settings to determine what you need.
On the iPhone app you can zoom in to see just a few color chips on the screen. You can then put some soil on, or near, your device and scroll through the colors looking for the right one. Flipping through pages will let you compare different hues. It’s interesting to focus on a single chip while flipping through the hues. You can see the very subtle color changes that take place. Tapping on a color chip brings up the color number. I’ve spoken to the developers and they plan to include the color name in a future update. As far as I can see, that’s the only thing missing.
So, field test this app! Try the free one first. I’ve done some trials where I have someone read the soil with the book and then a different person uses the app. The results are similar. Of course, you can have 10 different people read colors using the book and they’ll all come up with different things. It’s not perfect. It’s still fun, though.
The developers also have an app called mColorMeter, available for iOS and Mac. I haven’t tried this one yet but it has some interesting possibilities. Ever come in from the field and find out that your field tech forgot to Munsell the profile of the unit they profiled? Well, mColorMeter will let you Munsell photographs on a computer or an iOS device. I don’t know how accurate it is but it would probably get you in the ballpark. Let me know if you try it out.
See you in the field!
I've seen a lot of comments in various places regarding the use of technology in archaeology. Some people seem to think that all I want is to use digital technology to record sites and to never see a hard copy. That's not true. My position is to simply open people's minds to the possibilities that are out there. As we progress through this new era of technology there are going to be pitfalls and successes. If we discuss these things together and share our experiences and thoughts it will go much more smoothly.
So, please realize that I will still use my Munsell book in the field. If I happen to loan it to someone then I'd try the app just to get an idea. If it works out then I'd use it more often. Of course, if I drained my battery checking Munsells all day I'd have nothing left to check the comments on my blog posts on the drive home!
Keep the comments comming and, more importantly, keep the discussion alive. We're scientists: we make hypothesis, we test them, we confirm or reject them, and we move on.