Archaeology in the Digital World

In the discussion between Jeremy Huggett and Andre Costopoulos concerning digital archaeology, they both make points for and against the theory of digital archaeology and practicing digital archaeology. But what I’d like to focus on is the term itself; digital archaeology. The both share the opinion that all archaeologists are now digital archaeologists. But if this is so, why is there a differentiation between archaeology and digital archaeology and what skills does a digital archaeologist possess that a traditional archaeologist does not?

In the humanities discipline, there is a distinction between humanities and digital humanities. The website offers various definitions of digital humanities provided by participants from the Day of DH. Sarah Melton describes it as “using digital tools and methods for humanities research” while Adeline Koh sees it as an “umbrella term” for the same reasons. In terms of differentiating the digital humanities and the traditional humanities, Barbara Fister offers an interesting quote; “Digital Humanities is what we will soon call ‘humanities’”. I agree with this statement, I believe that in the future everything will be done digitally and those in the humanities will have to embrace digital tools and methods.

So can the same then be said for digital archaeology and archaeology? Katy Meyers argues that digital archaeology is simply “a different specialisation” within the discipline of archaeology (Meyers, 2013). Unlike digital humanities and humanities, the line between archaeologists and digital archaeologists is blurred. A traditional archaeologist may use basic digital tools such as a computer to write up their findings after their research, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a digital archaeologist. If you compare this to a digital humanist and a historian, a digital humanist uses different digital tools and methods to carry out their research whereas the historian may only use digital methods to present their work.

In terms of archaeology, using digital methods such as Photogrammetry and RTI sets digital archaeologists apart from archaeologists. These digital methods can enhance the skills the archaeologist already has and offer more insight into their work. The output that the digital archaeologist creates also differs from a traditional archaeologist. These digital advancements can now allow the creation of 3D reconstructions of artifacts and augmented realities. (Morgan and Eve, 1). Artifacts and buildings that have since been destroyed can be brought back to life digitally through these methods. These creative representations of cultural heritage and history are more engaging to a larger audience who live their lives in a technological and digital world. With social media there can now be “open archaeology” which Colleen Morgan and Stuart Eve believe to be a move away from traditional archaeology which was sometimes inaccessible. (1-2.) Almost everything is open and discussed online in today’s digital world and in order to keep with the times, archaeologists need to move into this digital space and get involved.

I think this is how to distinguish whether a discipline can be defined as digital or not. If digital methods and tools are used throughout the whole process, then the term digital can be used. If, however, there are more traditional methods used during the process and it is only presented digitally it is hard to group it under the digital umbrella. I also believe that there can be a smooth transition from the traditional to the digital. Archaeologists can learn these new digital methods and can then incorporate them into the work that they are already doing. So while I don’t think that all archaeologists today are digital archaeologists, I believe they can acquire the skills to become digital archaeologists in the future.


Costopoulos, Andre. “Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While).” Frontiers, Frontiers, 29 Feb. 2016. Accessed 11th Dec. 2017.

Heppler, Jason A. “What Is Digital Humanities.” What Is Digital Humanities, Accessed 11th Dec. 2017.

Huggett, Jeremy. “Let’s Talk about Digital Archaeology.” Introspective Digital Archaeology, 10 May 2016, Accessed 11th Dec. 2017.

Meyers, Katy. “Defining Digital Archaeology.” Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative, 9 May 2013, Accessed 11th Dec. 2017.

Morgan, C., and Eve, S. DIY and digital archaeology: what are you doing to participate? World Archaeology 44, 2012, 521–37. doi:10.1080/00438243.2012.741810. Accessed 11th Dec. 2017.

2 thoughts on “Archaeology in the Digital World

  1. Hi Sinéad.

    I would agree with your statement that “there can be a smooth transition from the traditional to the digital”. Indeed, both Costopoulos and Huggett seem to be in agreement that this transition is already well advanced, though not yet matured (Huggett , 2016, comments).

    Archaeologists have always been early adopters of technological advancements, from photography to computing; geophysical survey to LiDAR. These technologies have not defined the practice in the past, nor were they considered part of a new discipline; they were simply regarded as new tools. What is distinctive about Digital Archaeology, according to Huggett, is that its processes constitute new ways of doing archaeology integral to interpretative processes rather than mere tools (2012).

    Despite this, we could justifiably speculate that archaeology will evolve and that “Digital Archaeology” will be subsumed into the general discipline as these techniques become mainstreamed within archaeological practice and education. If the term “Digital Archaeology” persists, perhaps it will be as an umbrella term for a wide range of technical specialisations within archaeology, for example, structure-from-motion recording of archaeological layers in excavations (Doneus, et. al.), or the formal analysis techniques of structural analysis modelling (see Miles ), and line of sight analysis (see Paliou et. al.).

    Perhaps the greatest legacy of this transitional period will be digital technology’s influence on dissemination. Concepts such as open data and open archaeology, combined with the use of blogs and dedicated project websites, such as the 2012 Prescot Street project in the UK, offer radical transparency compared to traditional reports with limited circulation and accessibility (Morgan & Eve, 522-254).

    While the epistemological implications of technological use in archaeology require further study in order to understand their influence and mitigate against black-boxing (Huggett, 2017), the digital techniques we now consider to be innovative will become ubiquitous and mundane. The democratisation afforded by digital technologies might yet be the most salient change in archaeological practice, enabling wider dissemination, participation, appreciation, and therefore, greater protection for our shared cultural heritage.

    Works cited:

    Doneus,M.,Verhoeven,G.,Fera,M.,Briese, C.,Kucera,M.,Neubauer,W.2011. ‘FromDeposittoPointCloud–A Study of Low-cost Computer Vision Approaches for the Straightforward Documentation of Archaeological Excavations’, In Pavelka, K. (ed.) XXIIIrd International CIPA Symposium on Geoinformatics6.81–88).

    Huggett, J. 2012 ‘What lies beneath: lifting the lid on archaeological computing’. In: Chrysanthi, A., Murrietta Flores, P. and Papadopoulos, C. (eds.) Thinking Beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process. Archaeopress: Oxford, 2017, pp. 204-214.
    Huggett, J. 2016 ‘Let’s Talk about Digital Archaeology’. Introspective Digital Archaeology, 10 May 2016, Accessed: 08/12/17

    Huggett, J. 2017 ‘Is Digital Archaeology Busted?’ Introspective Digital Archaeology, 24 Oct. 2017, Accessed: 08/12/17

    Miles, J., Erkal, A., D’Ayala, D., Keay, S., and Earl, G. Reconstruction of Ruined Archaeological Structures Using Structural Analysis Methods In Archaeology in the Digital Era : Papers from the 40th Annual Conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Southampton, 26-29 March 2012. Accessed 11th Dec. 2017.

    Morgan, C., and Eve, S. DIY and digital archaeology: what are you doing to participate? World Archaeology 44, 2012, 521–37. doi:10.1080/00438243.2012.741810. Accessed 11th Dec. 2017.

    Paliou, E., Wheatley, D., Earl, G. P ., 2011 “Three-dimensional visibility analysis of architectural spaces: iconography and visibility of the wall paintings of Xeste 3 (Late Bronze Age Akrotiri)”. JournalofArchaeologicalScience.38:375-386.


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