#279 Wildnote and CRM Archaeology

Here's another re-post from Wildnote - this time from the blog. It's a quick explanation of all the tools currently available for CRM Archaeologists.

CA DPRa Primary form export example.

CA DPRa Primary form export example.

Wildnote Delivers Ready-to-Use Cultural Resources Management Forms and Exports

Calling all Cultural Resources Managers and field staff (aka shovelbums): Wildnote has just released a suite of 48 CRM forms and exports that can ease your evolution into digital recording and reporting. We believe that just because you record the past, doesn’t mean you have to live in it! We are very fortunate to have digital data collection pioneer, Chris Webster, a CRM archaeologist with DIGTECH and the Archaeology Podcast Network on our staff guiding the development of these new CRM tools. He has put countless hours into designing and testing forms and quality assuring the state agency exports. The Photo Sheet and Photo Log alone will save you countless hours, and we even have a FCC 620/621 form.

Read the rest of the article here.

#278 Wildnote

About a year ago I started working for a company called Wildnote as an independent consultant. I saw something in their company's attitude and ethic - and of course in their technology. They were working on some great form building stuff for biology and wetlands and I thought the platform would be great for archaeology as well. 

Now it's 8 months later and I'm on the verge of becoming a full-time employee with this amazing company! Since I don't use this blog much anymore - the Archaeology Podcast Network is my outlet now - I'm not going to say much. What I will do, though, is link to a great case study that was recently published over at Wildnote.

If you have questions about the archaeological and business applications for Wildnote then email me at

Sign up for your free trial at


Digital Data Collection: CRM Comes of Age

Luke Carretta studies the past and dreams about the future. With 10 years’ experience as a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeologist, Carretta currently serves as crew chief, project management assistant, and laboratory supervisor for Morton Archaeological Research Services in New York State. He believes the real value of archaeology lies in making the historical record available to other archaeologists, the public, and enthusiasts. He hopes others will follow in his footsteps.

Read the rest of the article here.

#272 Beyond Paper-Based Methodology

We've got tablets and we really don't know how to use them...just like Data and Mr. Tricorder. Seriously.

Switching to Tablets

I was in graduate school when I got the first iPad about 6 years ago. I didn't really have any knowledge about what apps to use for what tasks - primarily because there wasn't many available and no one really knew what to do with them anyway. My first thought, after working in the southeast for a number of years and dealing with soggy, muddy, paperwork was to use it for archaeology. 

In one of my classes we were doing a shallow geophysical study of a portion of the Athens Cemetery on the campus of the University of Georgia. There were a lot of basic data points that needed to be managed with the various methods we were using. I set up a simple spreadsheet in the Apple Numbers app which I tied to an entry form. It was pretty slick. The spreadsheet didn't really do much except record and store data. I didn't know it, but, right out of the gate I was using an app exactly how it should be used. What I mean is, the entry form function of Numbers is only available on the iPad app and not the desktop app. So, it's a truly mobile feature of that particular app.

Advanced Data Entry

Shortly after that, I discovered TapForms. This app allowed me to do slightly more complex activities. I created drop down menus for common tasks, auto-filled text in boxes that never really changed, and duplicated records to increase efficiency. This was a great step forward, but at the same time, was a huge step backwards. Well, maybe not backwards but I definitely wasn't moving. More on this later.

Intense Field Trials

Last year I had a chance to send my iPads into the field on a couple of massive field surveys in California. There were certainly issues but we overcame them. For the ones we couldn't overcome we adapted and modified our methods. Remember that point - we modified our methods. This doesn't mean that the archaeology suffered or that we chose to change what we recorded. We simply changed how we recorded in order to fit the application. 

One common and frustrating issue we had was in the export of the data. Actually, the basic export of a CSV file wasn't that bad. Photos sucked because the name of the photo was a hexadecimal UUID that was impossible to read. Where the workflow suffered was converting from the CSV file to a Word document. It worked most of the time but there were problems. We worked it out and still had 85% time and cost savings over the course of the project.

Now, I've recorded many sites on a tablet and I've done it in a number of ways. I hear of other companies adding words to Word documents live (no, that can't be right - except that it is) and still others entering words into fillable PDF documents (dear GOD make it stop). I say “words” because the result IS NOT DATA. Likewise, Word documents ARE NOT DATA. But why should you care? 

We collect a lot of data in the field. At the end of the report, those data are locked in useless Word documents and PDF files. It's rare that you'll get a copy of the raw data tables with a report and nearly impossible to see those data with a site record. Let's change that. But first, a quick look back.



Origins of Archaeological Methodology - The CRM Edition

I came to the stark realization recently that our ENTIRE methodology in archaeology is based on paper and budgets. Don't believe me? Think about it. Why do we not take points on every single flake on a site? Why doesn't every artifact, flake, can, and glass shard get a photograph? The answer to all of those questions is budget and the site forms are quite frankly designed around that budgetary constraint. 

Paper on Glass

What I realized after thinking through the last point is that what we've been doing with tablets is simply putting paper on glass. While that's a step in the right direction, it's not the best step and it's time to move on. 

I mentioned using the form entry function of Numbers on the iPad at the beginning of this post. That was an early version of what we should be doing - using the tablet for things a tablet does well.

So, instead of trying to create a tablet application or workflow that mimics your paper forms, perhaps we should stop and consider what we'd actually like to record on archaeological sites and work back from there. Don't just create a data entry form on the iPad that does all the things paper does (like I did). Instead, flip the archaeological methodology and consider the science.

The Tricorder

They way I'm doing this is imagining what the perfect site recording would entail. Of course, I invoke Star Trek and come up with a Holodeck-Tricorder-Jordi LaForge-type work flow that gets me - wait for it - ALL THE DATA. That's right. If we could, wouldn't we record absolutely everything about a site? Wouldn't we want those data for future analytical purposes? Of course we would. So, start from that standard and work back to the technology we have today.

#Codifi - Welcome to the Future

#Codifi - Welcome to the Future

This is exactly what Codifi is all about - Flipping the Site Record and focusing on data, not data entry. We want to focus on quick and efficient data collection of as much of the site as we can. Basically using the "every artifact is sacred" model. This won't take any more time or effort because we're doing it automagically. Seriously, though, that's the point. Take the same amount of time, or better, and record more data. Actually, not just more data, but better data.

Next time you're recording a site, think about why you're recording it they way that you are. Also think about what you'd like to record if time and money weren't an issue. What questions could be answered? Also think about what questions might exist in the future that we could ask about that site, but, can't answer because the data were not collected. It's a sobering thought.

More to come. Follow Codifi Inc on Facebook.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field!!

#251 Diversity Isn't the Problem, Yet

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I wasn't planning a blog response to Bill White's first post on race and diversity in archaeology, which itself was a response to Episode 51 of the CRM Archaeology Podcast about diversity in Archaeology.

Then I saw the first episode of the "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore". It was a stereotypical race-bashing extravaganza! For the first time ever a black man gets a show on a major network in a popular time slot, according to Wilmore anyway, and if anyone had to guess what the topic of the first show would be, most of us would have said race. Well, you're right.

We're trying to talk about racism in archaeology and how to get more non-whites interested in a career in the field but we have a long ways to go before we can even tackle that problem. First, black artists are going to have to stop thinking they have a free pass to talk about racism. It's just as racist as white people doing it. Black artists are making the problem worse by making fun of it and by CONSTANTLY TALKING ABOUT IT. I'm not saying we/they shouldn't talk about racism and how to fix it. I'm saying don't make it a punchline.

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Wilmore started the show by talking about the Academy Awards and the movie Selma. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Song (for Glory) but not best Actor or Director. Now Al Sharpton is leading a charge to bring action against the Academy Awards for being racist. Really? How can you possibly prove that? What amount of nominations would have made Sharpton happy? Does EVERYTHING that has to do with MLK have to be elevated and celebrated? Anything associated with all of those decisions is racist no matter how you look at it.

The second episode of Nightly

The second episode started with Bill Cosby and the crap he's been going through. Is the show only going to be about black celebrities and issues? Wilmore is a funny guy and shouldn't have to just talk about race issues on his show. Why can't he just be a comedian? Is it the public's fault? Do we only except racist comedy from non-white comedians? We have a long ways to go.

Where do we go from here?

Every time I write that line I think of Buffy. Anyway...

We need to stop making race a punchline. That's it. Start there and see what happens. I don't care if you're black. If you make a black joke or a joke about race then you're a racist. As a white man, If I make a white joke then I'm racist. Any time you make a color-based joke or reference, YOU'RE RACIST. 

I hope the Nightly Show starts covering other news. I hope they do it from a perspective other than race. Think about what you say and how you say it regardless of your race. Stop thinking you get to use a "Get out of racism free card" just because you aren't white. Become part of the solution and start talking about how we can move forward.

I'm not really sure where to share this post. If you think it should be shared, either for ridicule or comment, then please, share it.

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

#250 Tom King is Wrong

I drafted this post a few weeks ago and never got around to finishing it. Now it’s about to encompass a couple things that Tom King is wrong about.

Do we need archaeologists?

It all started with a podcast interview I recorded with Tom a couple months ago. The interview is for a podcast that isn’t quite ready yet so I have no link for it. We were talking about archaeology and archaeologists and the idea of professional licensing. I asked Tom why we don’t have licensing for archaeologists. He told me it’s because we don’t actually need archaeologists. We need plumbers and electricians so we have licensing for them. He apparently thinks we need nail and hair salons too since they also require licensing.

Was Tom King right? Do we not have a NEED for archaeologists? I guess it depends on your definition of “need”. If you take it to the absolute reductionist view of my friend, Dave, then we don’t really “need” anything beyond a cave to sleep in and some food to eat. However, most of us have more extensive needs.

We need archaeologists the way we need science, medicine, and space travel. These things help us live in this world in a better way than our ancestors did. They help us live healthier lives and learn from our past. Archaeology teaches us what has and has not worked in the past. It shows us what’s been tried and how we can proceed. More than that, archaeology is a record of human achievement. Whether we need that or not, again, depends on your definition. I think we do need archaeology and I think the world would be worse off if our heritage were not recorded for descendent generations to learn from.

Consider this, everything from farming to chemistry to physics to industrialization is recorded by archaeologists. ALL HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT is part of history and archaeologists record that history.

Do we need licensing?

The follow-on question is, of course, should we license archaeologists? What would that get us? What is the benefit to the public and what is the benefit to the archaeologist?

The public benefit is the secure knowledge that someone with sufficient training is recording their precious history. We’ve all heard of, and have possibly seen or been party to, those excavations where someone blew through a feature. We’ve seen people blow off sites while on survey. Would licensing prevent those things from happening? Maybe. With licensing would come the need to maintain that license. We would have to go through regular training and continuing education. We could bring in an ethical component too, and, harsh penalties for violating those ethics. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but, in the end I think there would be a huge benefit.

Archaeologists would benefit as well. Aside from the continuing training, archaeologists would likely get paid more and would have a higher credibility amongst the other field sciences. Maybe these things don’t mean much to some, but, from questions asked on the Profiles in CRM podcast it’s clear that pay and respect are high on most archaeologist’s lists.

Do you have to publish to be an archaeologist?

The other thing Tom King is wrong about is that you don’t have to publish to be an archaeologist. Let me explain.

I shared a link on my Facebook page to a podcast from Joe Schuldenrein:

On that episode Joe interviewed a couple of grad students and asked them about their program and what their plans are. The show was completely from a grad student perspective.

Along with the post on Facebook I commented that it was a good episode but ignored the fact that most archaeologists don’t have a graduate degree. Then Tom started commenting.

Basically, Tom said that the industry standard for getting hired at a museum or university is that you have to publish. Sure, I’ll buy that. The problem is that most archaeologists in the United States work in Cultural Resource Management (CRM). Most CRM archaeologists (Tom is cringing at that term right now) are field technicians. Most field technicians have a BA/BS in anthropology or archaeology. So, most archaeologists do not have graduate degrees.

I explained this and the conversation turned to whether field technicians are archaeologists at all. Just because they dig holes and walk lines doesn’t make them archaeologists, according to Tom. If they don’t do research and they don’t publish, then they just aren’t archaeologists.

Wow. What they hell do we call them, then?

What is an archaeologist?

An archaeologist is someone that studies the material remains of human activity. The papers and reports that are written about archaeological topics are based on data from the field. Those data are collected by field technicians. Field technicians need to be able to identify artifacts and sometimes assess the condition of sites. They need to have a knowledge of many different types of artifacts and features in order to do their jobs. Anyone can dig a hole, but, not everyone can determine the soil horizons they’re digging in and what they mean. Not everyone can look at a piece of glass and know that it’s from 1970 so we shouldn’t waste our time there. Of course these things just take training, but, it’s that training, on top of a degree, that makes a person an archaeologist.

Do you need a degree to be an archaeologist?

Yes. You want more? Fine. You need a degree because going through college gives you a perspective that people that don’t go through college just don’t have. Over the course of an anthropology or archaeology BA/BS you’ll be exposed to writing, research, and analysis. The quality of those activities is variable, but, you’re exposed nonetheless.

When I was a field technician I freely called myself a scientist. I encouraged others to do the same, even though they saw themselves as shovelbums. In fact, I want to do away with the label “shovelbum”. It’s derogatory and in no way describes the fantastic people that I’ve had the privilege of working with. At my CRM firm I don’t hire shovelbums. I hire archaeologists. Shovelbums can go look for work at Home Depot.

So Tom King is wrong, in my opinion. Archaeology IS important. We SHOULD be licensed. You DON’T have to publish to be an archaeologist.

Eviscerate me in the comments…

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


#247 College - GET IT OVER WITH!


I recently chatted with a friend on Facebook about what she should focus on for her undergraduate degree. She asked whether she would be fine with an Anthropology BA or with An Anthropology BA with a focus in Archaeology. She's already taken a lot of archaeology classes and has extensive lab experience. 

Essentially, I told her to do what she has to do to graduate. Don't over-complicate things. In the end, most employers aren't going to care what you did in college and just want you to walk in the desert or dig holes. I'm not saying to take fluff classes. Certainly, if you need the credits and can take a fun class that pertains to your interests or your career then, by all means, take the class. I wouldn't, however, take an extra semester just to get an archaeology focus, or, something that you don't really need for CRM. 

I didn't take any specific archaeology classes during my undergrad. It's not that I wasn't interested...I just didn't know what I wanted to do. My focus was on bio classes and paleoanthropology topics. Did that prevent me from getting a job a couple weeks after I first applied for one? Not at all. Did it hurt me when I went to do my first job? Maybe, but, I learn fast and I ask a lot of questions.

Unless you take a class that specifically covers the things you'll typically see on survey in a given region then no class is going to really prepare you for a CRM-style survey. I'm already cringing at Tom King commenting on that last phrase!

What it all boils down to is GET OUT OF SCHOOL AND GO TO WORK!!! You can take more classes later or during grad school. For now, just get your degree and go to work. You might find that your interests will change or that you don't even like CRM-style Archaeology. Don't worry, you won't be the first. My own wife has a BS in Archaeology and a BA in Biology and decided after six years of fieldwork that it wasn't for her. Now she's doing what she loves and is much happier. Don't let student loans and guilt keep you in a field you don't absolutely love because you'll hate yourself for it.