#20 Digital Archaeology

I'm officially an Apple Application Developer.  It's not as glamorous as it sounds but it did cost $106.  They don't want people screwing around just to get the Software Development Kit (SDK) and the ability to receive advance copies of iOS software (such as the new iOS5 that should be out in the Fall).  All this means is that I can take my application development to the next level: creation and testing.  You can't test your apps on an actual iOS device without being a part of the Developer Program and you can't distribute your apps on the Apple App Store either.

I have several apps in mind.  The first is a site recording application based on the Inter-Mountain Antiquities Computer System forms currently in use in the Great Basin and the Rocky Mountain region (for the most part).  The IMACS forms consist of several parts.  Part A is filled out for every site and includes two pages of site location, site description, topographic, vegetation, and soil information.  There is company information and eligibility (NRHP) information as well.

The next two parts depend on the type of site you are recording.  Part B is a two page (minimum) form for prehistoric sites and Part C is a two page (minimum) form for historic sites.  There are additional forms for petroglyphs and for encoding the main IMACS form.

So, at a minimum, you need four pages to record a site.  However, you have to include a site map, artifact tallies, continuation forms with feature descriptions and field specimen descriptions, photographs, and whatever else should be included.  I recorded an historic mining complex near Tonopah that ended up being about 60 pages (in the field, less when typed up)!  Let me say that again: 60 pages!  That page count means that I had to have those forms with me, in my backpack, and/or in my clipboard.  The typical Crew Chief also carries a binder full of information for dating and identification as well.  I've eliminated the binder by PDFing (in 2011 that is certainly a word) all of the historic and prehistoric reference material and uploading all of it to my iPad.  I can't get away from the forms, though.

My vision for site recording in the Great Basin would include at least two to three iPads (or other tablet device if someone wants to write the code) per crew.  The Crew Chief would have the "master" iPad and the crew members would have the "slave" iPads (electronics term; not a slight on the current position of field techs in this country, although not far off).  The CC could "distribute" via Bluetooth certain sections of the IMACS form to be filled out by the crew members.  Once they filled out their specific parts they could upload back to the "master" device.  The "master" device would have the ability to upload to the cloud or to a company server at any time for backup purposes.  It could also print the IMACS form in any format the company desires.  

There would be a few more time saving features as well.  IMACS sections are typically filled out in a fairly robotic way with canned sentences and variables.  A typical site description starts out, "This site is a 20 x 40 m lithic scatter with five features".  There is no reason the device can't create that sentence based on the inputed information.  Other sections could be filled out in a similar way.  The IMACS form could be customized as the user records the site based on a series of questions.  For example, you could select to start a new site.  The app asks what the site number is, what type of site it is, and what the coordinates of the datum are.  The rest of the sections are populated and changed as you fill out more information.

This is all fairly complicated and I'm not sure how I'm going to do it on my own.  It might take a while.

I have ideas for projectile point identification and historic reference information as well.  Once I get some programming experience under my belt I'd love to design apps for companies that have specific site recording needs.  

I feel that we can drastically reduce the overhead costs of archaeology by streamlining the site recording process.  Many Great Basin companies typically have a couple of people in the office whose sole responsibility is to type up IMACS forms.  It is a long and tedious process that potentially includes written errors from the crew, input errors from the typist, and translation errors (reading lefty scrawl like mine!).  These people are typically earning $30-40k per year or more.  That money and those people could be put to better use.

I'll give updates on my progress throughout the development process.  I also welcome any suggestions.

See you in the field!


Written at Starbuck's on Kietzke in Reno, NV.