Friday, April 4, 2008


To review:
  1. Charles Watkinson wrote about "drilling-down" in archaeology.
  2. I responded
  3. Charles replied.
  4. Bill Caraher joined in
  5. Tom Elliot took us into orbit
  6. Eric Kansa took note
  7. Bill re-upped
  8. The whole thread hit the Big Time.
In my first response I picked up on one small phrase in Charles' original post, "Nobody wants to share their data", and ran with it. I thought I would just take the time to pull out the following additional passages:
So where next for the dream of seamlessly linked publications and their data in archaeology? Some current trends are encouraging.
And his finishing paragraph:
The "drill down" may never be as easy as it sounds, but it is more attainable technologically, intellectually, and politically now than it has ever been in the past. The prospect of linking archaeological publication with the data that inspired it is coming within sight.
It's seems clear that we're all looking to a similar future.

There is substantive discussion about what's holding us up. Among the themes I see in the flow of thoughts is "who shares what, how, and why (or why not)?" Charles introduced the metaphor of faunal equivalence and that has caught on. At the substantial risk of mischaracterizing Charles' larger point, he seems to be marking those who do share as exceptional and to focus on why people don't. I mean that as an observation and not as a judgement and I hope to be corrected if wrong.

Bill's latest post expanded on Charles' evocation of the fundamental lack of replicability in the archaeological process by writing:
The valuable cognitive and phenomenological patterns, for example, that comprise an archaeological "sense of place" would form a kind of metadata that does not translate easily into print or digital media.
So not just who shares, but, of the archaeology happening at the edge of whatever tool, methodology or metaphor you choose, what are we able to share.

I do note that Bill also ends on what I take as a positive note:
The work of the Grey Panthers and their collaborators will certainly resolve many of these issues in the near future, but for now with all the other pressures of data collection (i.e. archaeological fieldwork), writing, and teaching, we can only do so much toward making our data publicly available electronically. As someone committed to the concept, however, it is my hope that in the near future greater technical and financial resources will make it easier to do the right thing.
Let me say that I, too, am an optimist. In part because I take the following sequence to be fairy self-evident:
  • We all create at least some data that is either already digital or can be digitized.
  • Nobody is going to actively destroy their digital data. (I'll invoke exceptions as proving the rule.)
  • We will all make some arrangement to put our data somewhere and this will happen either before or after we're "done" with them ourselves.
Optimistically, though certainly not naively, I draw from this formulation the conclusion that we will all share, eventually and somehow. With again not wanting to mischaracterize anyone's meaning, I think I'm on vaguely the same page with Bill when he writes:
In fact, from my perspective here in Greece, the dominant attitude among juniors scholars is frustration that archaeological data is not available. One can only hope that this frustration will be a powerful impetus toward making archaeological material accessible to the scholarly community quickly and openly.
Having looked for common ground, I am not afraid of disagreement. My current focus is resolutely on sharing and I see it all around me. On the Stoa, on Open Context, on the Archaeological Data Service, on Wikipedia and its attendant Wikimedia Commons, on Flickr, in the incipient rumblings out of ISAW, from the Center for Hellenic Studies, from the legislative and executive branches of the United States government, from epigraphers, from museums, from numismatists, from big projects going part way, from big projects going all the way, from many other field projects currently dipping their toes into the water via websites and probably inclined to do more, and even - dare I say it - from journals going not nearly far enough. I could go on (and on)...

Hence my title. We already have an entire ecosystem of sharers and it's only going to get more diverse. It doesn't matter what kind of animal you are, as long as your data survives.

So I am an optimist on the basis of quickly formulated principle, on the basis of current observation, and due to the resulting extrapolation of future trends. But I'm a little grumpy, too. If you don't share, you won't matter. Simple as that.

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