#118 Day of Archaeology 2012

Disclaimer: The thoughts, opinions, and outright genius, presented in this blog are solely the responsibility of the author and in no way represent any archaeology firm or company.  That should cover it.

June 29, 2012 is this year’s Day of Archaeology.  I was supposed to be in the field but as I’m not this post is going to be slightly different.  Last year (Part 1 and Part 2) I was monitoring for another company and I was in a very different place.  What a difference a year can make.  On to my day.

In most CRM (Cultural Resource Management) firms in the United States, well, the Great Basin anyway, there is a lot of time spent typing up site records.  We generate a mountain of paperwork when we record a site in the field.  Let’s break down a simple site.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) used to have a minimum four page form for filling out site records in several intermountain states.  It’s called the IMACS form and it stands for “InterMountain Antiquities Computer System”.  Odd name for a form, I know.  It was designed to have codes for each entry that could be entered into a database (using an encoding form) with the intent that the information could be recalled more efficiently.  Side note: people here sometimes refer to a single form as an “IMAC" form.  That, as you can see, is incorrect.  The “S” stands for system and is not a pluralizer (what?) of IMAC.  Back on track.

The form consisted of two pages of administrative and environmental data (i.e. Landform, location, sediments, vegetation, etc.) and then additional pages depending on the type of site you have.  There are two pages for prehistoric sites (Page 1 and Page 2) and two pages for historic sites (Page 1 and Page 2).  There are even more pages for things like rock art.  As you can see, I’ve mentioned all of this as being in the past.  The BLM came out with a new form, sort of, in October of last year.

The new form is one page.  All the data you were expected to collect on the old forms now goes on one page and if you forgot something because you are new then, I guess, you weren’t trained properly.  I like having one page because it’s less paper and I know how to fill out a form but I wonder about the next generation of users that are unsure of what to put on the form.  Everyone records a site by themselves at least once and, unless the training was really good, which it usually isn’t, then something will get missed.

What does this have to do with what I did today?  Well, I was typing up site forms from the field all day.  One site with few artifacts and over twenty features took me several hours.  I didn’t do any interpretation or research.  I simply typed up what was recorded and made the record digital.  This procedure is not unique to the company I currently work for by any means.  Most companies have armies of field techs typing up site records.  The process really slows the project down and is often the reason projects go over budget.

Instead of manually digitizing site information in the field we should be collecting it in a digital form to begin with.  I don’t know how long it took archaeologists to trust those newfangled GPS devices back in the day but I’m sure it was longer than the rest of the scientific community.  The same is true for digital site recording.  I feel that we are behind the curve on this one and need to catch up.  I’m attempting to do just that one step at a time.  A few weeks ago I finally convinced a field supervisor to let me record at least my portion of the sites on my iPad.  Since I’m a Crew Chief that means I do the bulk of the writing.  We figured that when calculated at the rate for office work I probably saved about $3-4000 during one 8-day session.  If all the crew chiefs were doing what I did we would have saved $9-12,000.  If the entire crew were doing that we would have saved at least $20,000.  That’s for one session.  I don’t know what the budget for that project was but I’m guessing we could have cut it in half.

There are naysayers out there that say tablets are too fragile and they are too expensive.  What if you drop it and break it?  What if you loose all of your data?  What if the battery dies?  Good questions, all.  And, they all have answers.

First, what if you drop it and break it?  Assuming the other questions are answered satisfactorily you are out a tablet.  Well, there is insurance that would replace the tablet.  Also, with as much money as you are saving you could just about afford to buy new ones every time you went out.  What about losing data?  When I used my iPad to record sites I tethered it to my iPhone periodically and uploaded the data, securely and encrypted, to my DropBox account.  The data was encrypted so even if the DropBox account were hacked it would take a super computer to break the code.  What’s that you say?  You don’t have cell service in the middle of no where?  No problem.  Get a rugged external hard drive that lives in your backpack.  Seagate makes one that is 250GB, has its own battery, generates a WiFI signal, and can be transferred to and from using any tablet or smartphone.  As far as the battery goes, it’s generally not an issue.  The iPad battery will more than last through a work day of any length, and generally longer.  If it does die there are external battery backs of different types (here, here, and here) that will provide a few charges should you need them.

So, what I did today was type up site records while fighting to stay alert and focused.  I also daydreamed about a day in the, hopefully, not to distant future, where we spend more time in the field than in the office.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field.