#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.

#2 Digital Tool Box

When I worked on the Ruby Pipeline in Northern Nevada a couple of years ago I was astonished at the amount of paper that we carried in the field. We had a three ring binder for IMACS forms (standardized site recording forms used in several western states) and associated supporting forms, and a binder for reference material. We were recording a fair number of historic sites and had glass and can identification material. Fortunately, many of our sites were near access roads which limited the need for packing that material into the site. It did happen, albeit occasionally. I needed a change.

During my various careers I have strived to find ways to make my job more efficient. My approach to archaeology is no different. The solution to my paperwork problem came with the purchase of my first smartphone: an iPhone 3GS. I instantly embraced the technology. All of the reference material that we had was already in PDF form, with a few exceptions, and the IMACS Guide, which also has good reference material, can be found online. I began using Apple's MobileMe service which gave me online storage and cloud syncing. I still kept the reference binders in the truck but that is where they stayed, in the truck. Using the iPhone made everything much more efficient for me. The iPhone's small size was the only limitation. Enter the iPad.

Only a couple weeks after it's debut I purchased my first iPad. Immediately, I saw the applicability of this device to field archaeology and site recording. I moved my PDFs to the iAnnotate App for the iPad which is a great reader and annotator for papers. I also use Pages, Numbers, and DocsToGo for spreadsheet creation and editing and document creation and editing. I'm not done yet...

I'm currently teaching myself how to program and develop apps for the iOS platform. My initial idea is for an IMACS site recording app. The IMACS form has a minimum of two parts, more if the site is multi-component. The app could be used not only for just filling out the fields but could have the reference material linked to appropriate fields and could have the ability to add the references to the end of the document as well. All this would be done in real time, as opposed to later in my hotel room or by someone in the office later on. With multiple tablet devices on the site the different parts of the form could be electronically delegated to other crew members via Bluetooth or onsite wifi technology. Upon completion of all requisite parts of the form it could be uploaded to a server and/or printed out in any format desired.

Now, a common complaint I hear to my ideas is what happens when the battery fails, or when I drop the iPad down a mine shaft, or when I drop it on a rock. As for the battery, the iPad can easily run for an entire work shift and then some, as long as you aren't watching video all day. In 2011, battery life is becoming less and less of a concern as battery technology improves. Also, there are energy storage devices that can charge devices in the field (Zagg Sparq). The other two issues that involve destruction of the device are also solved by evolving technology.  My iPad and my iPhone are both in cases made by Otter Box (iPad case, iPhone case) As of right now, there are large parts of the west that do not have access to cell service. For those areas, the data within the iPad would have to be uploaded at end of each day. This is similar to what most companies currently do with GPSs and digital cameras. In areas with service, the data can be backed up in real time to a dropbox, cloud server, or company server. How great would it be to tell your PI that the form is on their computer right now and that they can provide input and feedback instantaneously?

The last piece of equipment in my tool box is my BlueAnt T1 Bluetooth Headset.  This thing is great!  It has two microphones, one for talking and one for extraneous noise cancelation (i.e. wind).  It will also do bluetooth streaming from a smartphone which means I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks during those long surveys in the desert.  The benefit to using bluetooth is, first, that I still have one ear out and can interact with others.  Second, I can shovel test, excavate, survey, climb up boulders and steep hills, and whatever else is needed with out pesky wires getting in the way.  Also, most older project managers don't yet understand bluetooth and don't put it in the "headphones" category.

A short side note on headphones.  Generally, unless safety and heavy equipment is a concern, I don't think headphones are all that bad of an idea.  Just don't have both ears in and don't listen to blasting music.  If you can't interact then it's unsafe.  Podcasts and audiobooks are much less intrusive and let you learn at the same time.

I've only just begun to incorporate this type of technology into the field of archaeology. I hope that others can provide their experiences and concerns regarding this shift. I'm not arrogant enough to think that I've thought of everything and welcome suggestions.