#119 Re-imagining Archaeological Site Recording

Recording a site in the Great Basin a few years ago.As my readers know, I’m an archaeologist in the Great Basin.  As you also know, I’m a huge tech geek.  My wife and I shut off our cable back in January because all we were watching was crap.  Well, I really enjoyed pretty much everything on HGTV.  That’s right.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I love watching House Hunters (International included) and Holmes on Homes.  However, now instead of watching cable TV I now watch video podcasts.

Most of the podcasts I watch are technology related.  Most of those are related to new products and new apps for iOS and Android.  I also watch the TED Talks podcast.  Every day one talk, ranging from several minutes to about twenty minutes, from TED conferences and TEDx conferences from around the world is put into the feed.  I don’t often get to watch everyday so the first day of my weekend is often spent drinking coffee and watching TED talks.

For those of you that don’t know TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  TED talks started in 1984 and they are devoted to “ideas worth spreading”.  There are two annual conferences and numerous independently organized TED conferences called TEDx.  The talks are inspiring and are given by people with ideas that will change the world.  They are strong and confident and nothing is more inspiring than watching TED talks.  What does this have to do with CRM archaeology?

I’ve been having more and more conversations with co-workers and other CRM professionals regarding the use of tablets in the field for site recording.  I’m starting to feel like a broken record when I talk about this but I truly believe that a paradigm shift is coming in archaeology.  Maybe the TED talks are convincing me that recording a two-can site with an iPad will change the world but I don’t care.

The fundamental problem with the conversations I’m having lies with the thinking process of the people I’m talking to.  In the IMACS states (see my post here) we type up site forms in an MS Word document.  Most people I talk to seem to think that recording via a tablet would mean typing up that Word document in the field.  Let me say that again: people think we should be filling out Word documents in the field.  That is the worst possible solution and I’ll tell you why.

Tablets represent a shift in the way we create and consume electronic media.  We need to have a corresponding shift in the way we record sites.  No longer are we restricted to the state site form template or the template that our companies have created.  We no longer have to jump around the paper site form to record a site in an efficient way.  Most Crew Chiefs have a certain way they record every site.  They have a particular order of operations.  Having a plan of action is a good way to ensure that you’ve covered everything and that you didn’t miss anything.  With a tablet you are able to adjust the form on the fly to suit your needs and the needs of the site.  With a tablet you are able to freely record the site in the most efficient way.

I’m currently using the TapFormsHD app (link to the App) for iPad to record sites.  Eventually I’d like to use an app created specifically for recording sites using the Nevada IMACS Site Form or the full IMACS site form.  The app would be designed to collect every single piece of information required on the form quickly and efficiently.  It would output in a variety of ways including as an MS Word document that would need minimal editing in the office to complete.  The editing should take no more than 30 minutes for the average site.  That’s pretty quick compared to the three hours required for digitizing and editing that most companies budget for.

So, will tablets change the world as far as archaeological site recording is concerned?  Maybe.  One thing I’m certain of, though, is that we need to move to a place where we are digitally recording sites because that is where the world is going.  We have the opportunity right now to choose to be innovators in this area or to play catch up five years (or less) down the road when clients expect us to be fully digital.  Archaeology has always played catch-up where technology is concerned.  Let’s help the next generation come into a field that is as technologically advanced as the world they grew up in was.

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