Posts in category "News"

Conference: Critical Perspectives on the Practice of Digital Archaeology

January 23, 2017

Early next month, the AAI will participate in a conference at Harvard University on Critical Perspectives on the Practice of Digital Archaeology. Hosted by Harvard University’s Standing Committee on Archaeology, the February 3-4 event will cover topics related to digital technologies and how they are transforming archaeological practice.

trowel-world-transparentConference co-organizers Eric Kansa (Program Director for Open Context at the AAI) and Rowan Flad (Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Standing Committee on Archaeology, Harvard University) ask participants to consider how current research data management and curation practices can better support new scholarship, instruction and engagement in archaeology. Speakers herald from the Harvard community and from institutions across North America and include partners from the DINAA project and the Secret Life of Data (SLO-data) project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities, respectively.

An overarching theme of the conference is the need for new skills, professional roles, and professional incentives to make data more meaningful to scholarship. Attendees will hear presentations and panel discussions on the first day discussing the impact of digital technologies on the entire life-cycle of archaeological data, from the process of data capture and creation to the challenges of data curation and reuse.

The second morning of discussions in a workshop format, led by Anne Austin (Stanford University) and Eric Kansa, will introduce archaeologists to the fundamentals of good data practices, open source software tools for data cleanup, and practice to better share and preserve research data.

Kansa, who for more than a decade has led programs to preserve and share archaeology’s digital record through AAI’s Open Context data publishing service, explains that the industry is at a crossroads with most archaeologists, historians, and other social scientists uninformed about how to make their research accessible. “There is an urgent need for this conference to improve the application and integrity of stored research data,” Kansa said. “We have a tremendous responsibility to the public to share our understanding about what’s factual, what’s uncertain, and do so in a way that builds more trust and confidence in research. That’s why data skills are so critical in the 21st century.”

Visit the conference webpage to view the full program and panelist bios: The conference is free and open to all, but attendees are requested to register on the website by January 25.

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2016 Perspectives: The Necessity of the Humanities

December 30, 2016

“…though the past never really repeats itself, it offers lessons about the risks and opportunities of periods of fundamental change.”


The end of the year invites reflection about changes and prospects for the future. Obviously, 2016 brought considerable turmoil and uncertainty to key institutions. The past year highlighted issues of “fake-news” and disinformation, as well as widespread suspicion of science and rationality.

As social scientists, we recognize the complexity and challenge of understanding the forces behind the events of 2016. As historians, we also recognize that though the past never really repeats itself, it offers lessons about the risks and opportunities of periods of fundamental change. If anything, 2016 highlights how the conventional wisdom of recent years got so much so wrong.

Conventional wisdom saw technology and innovation as keys to prosperity and global competitiveness. Public policy promoted science, technology and engineering for narrow and short-term immediate goals. The social science jargon term for this is “instrumentalism,” meaning learning and knowledge have to have immediate practical application to be of value, while learning for the sake of curiosity or the joy of discovery represents nothing but waste. However, instrumentalism has costs. In the process of ignoring and marginalizing learning about culture and history, we lost perspective. Technology is not divorced from society and culture, and if we fail to put as much energy and care into understanding and improving society and culture, we’ll lose or badly warp any gains we make from technical innovation.

Moving forward, we urgently need humanistic and historically-informed perspectives. Archaeology provides a lens to explore past cultures and alternate ways of organizing society. In learning about the past, we broaden our horizons and that broadens our imagination about better futures.

AAI helps fill this gap. We unite learning and excellence in technology with the exploration of culture and history through the archaeological past. Just as importantly, we also work to imagine new institutional frameworks to support research and learning. Currently, the vast majority of our understanding about the human past is locked in the Ivory Tower behind expensive pay-walls. This hinders important breakthroughs and stifles progress.

Much of this research is publicly funded, paid for with your tax dollars, but has been privatized and made accessible only to a few. AAI democratizes knowledge by opening-up access to databases, images, and other excavation discoveries – primary sources that are rarely shared and vulnerable to loss.

Through our open-data publishing program, Open Context, we work to break down those pay-wall barriers by pioneering ways to make heritage accessible to everyone.

As 2016 comes to a close, we invite you to share in our mission by making a 100% tax-deductible contribution and join some of the major institutions that have supported our organization, including the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Google (via Eric Kansa), and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Learn how AAI and Open Context are helping to bring about the democratization of scientific research, and consider supporting this important change that is gaining global momentum.

We would greatly appreciate any donation amount. Every act of support will help us develop a better way to unlock our past, and inspire the future.

Posted in: News, Perspectives

New Award Supporting AAI Research Fellow

December 15, 2016

We are happy to announce that Dr. Federico Buccellati will join the AAI in 2017 as a Research Fellow, thanks to the generous support of his project by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In an announcement from the NEH this week, Buccellati is named as one of 86 recipients in the Fellowships grant program. His grant is a Fellowship for Digital Publication, supported jointly by the NEH and the Mellon Foundation.

Federico is the principal investigator of Calculating the Costs of Ancient Buildings, an innovative publication project that makes the study of ancient architecture and the logistics of constructing monumental buildings more reproducible.

“Architecture is one of the main elements of material culture that archaeologists find in the archaeological record. One of the most important aspects of architecture is the process of construction leading up to the first use of the building. Cost-calculation-algorithms can be applied to the volumes of ancient architecture to explore the temporal, material or energetic ‘cost’ of the steps of that process. Up to now this has been done on an ad-hoc basis, with scholars finding appropriate comparisons. This project will produce an interactive interface where scholars enter volumetric data from their research. The algorithms draw from a wide variety of sources from across diverse cultural spheres. The final result will be a web-based interface published on GitHub so that future scholars can add to the algorithms and sources.”

We are very excited about this project because it ties together the types of data we work to curate with the kinds of reproducible analyses needed to strengthen the rigor of our knowledge about the past. The AAI and Open Context will provide Federico with technical assistance and support in developing, disseminating and preserving his publication outcomes.

Posted in: Awards, Fellowships, Grants, News, Projects

Fall 2016 Roundup

December 12, 2016

img_20160708_125051This past summer, we kicked off a 3-year project aimed at improving the flow of information from the moment of discovery through to publication and beyond. This project, funded by a grant from the NEH, takes a unique approach of exploring the data lifecycle through a series of interviews with data creators and reusers, in excavation and laboratory settings. Work this past summer included interviewing archaeologists about their field data collection procedures and visiting excavations to conduct ethnographic observations on data documentation processes in the field. This work resulted in an abundance of unstructured and semi-structured observation and interview content for our team to analyze. In order to do this analysis, however, we had to develop a codebook—a set of terms that we could use to mark up and analyze the transcriptions. img_20160908_130439In September, our team came together for four days to develop the codebook and to begin coding interview transcriptions to determine our rate of inter-researcher reliability. We are fortunate to have team members with experience in enthographic research, interview coding and qualitative social sciences. We will share the interview protocols and codebooks that our team develops over the course of this project on the project webpage, with the hope that others will find these tools and approaches useful for the analysis of qualitative data.
(At left: NEH project team members and codebook developers Anne Austin, Ixchel Faniel and Jennifer Jacobs;
Top right: A view of one of the excavations where we carried out our field data collection

In November, the DINAA project held a face-to-face meeting in Berkeley, CA, supported by a new grant from the IMLS. DINAA team members attended the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum’s Native American Advisory Council meeting to present the DINAA project and discuss the promises and challenges we face as DINAA expands. Currently, DINAA has published almost half a million sites from 15 states. With new funding from the IMLS and the NSF, DINAA’s coverage will expand to include most the continental US over the next two years. The coverage is comprehensive enough already to enable innovative visualizations that can help understand important issues such as the impact of projected sea level rise on coastal archaeological sites (shown in the example below). We also made progress using DINAA for linked data applications, as discussed in this recent blog post.

Map showing site density as it relates to potential loss from sea-level rise, and grouped by elevation in meters above present mean sea level, illustrating all sites within a buffer of 200 km from the present coastline in gray (Anderson et al. 2015a, 2015b).

Map showing site density as it relates to potential loss from sea-level rise, and grouped by elevation in meters above present mean sea level, illustrating all sites within a buffer of 200 km from the present coastline in gray (Anderson et al. 2015a, 2015b).

Anderson, D.G., S.J. Yerka, E.C. Kansa, S.W. Kansa, J.J. Wells, T.G. Bissett, R.C. DeMuth, and K.N. Myers. 2015a. Big Data & Big Picture Research: DINAA (The Digital Index of North American Archaeology) and the Things Half a Million Archaeological Sites Can Tell Us. Poster presented in the session “The Acid Test: Exploring the Utility of the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) for Use in Applied Research” (Sponsored by Digital Index of North American Archaeology), organized by Stephen Yerka and Kelsey Noack Myers, at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology 16 April 2015, San Francisco, California.

Anderson, D.G., S.J. Yerka, J.J. Wells, E.C. Kansa, and S.W. Kansa. 2015b. Climate Change and the Destruction of History: Documenting Sea Level Change and Site Loss Using DINAA (Digital Index of North American Archaeology). Paper presented in the session ‘Responses to Climate Change’ at the Second Disasters, Displacement, and Human Rights Conference, Knoxville, Tennessee. 26 September 2015.

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AAI Receives Grant to Expand a Gazetteer of North American Archaeology

April 12, 2016

The Institute of Museum and Library Services has awarded the AAI a National Leadership Grant for a project that will expand the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA). Under the direction of Eric Kansa, Program Director for Open Context, the AAI joins many partners collaborating on the development of DINAA, a project originally launched with a National Science Foundation grant in 2012 and led by David G. Anderson (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) and Joshua Wells (Indiana University, South Bend).

The two-year IMLS-funded project will expand DINAA’s network of collaborating partners to include tribal archaeology professionals, library professionals, and museums as represented by the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. The grant will focus on documenting the human presence on the North American landscape since the Pleistocene by aggregating archaeological and historical data from governmental authorities that manage heritage resources. DINAA will curate and provide open access to decades of data collection—all resulting from public investment in historical preservation.

DINAA has already integrated and published archaeological site data from 15 states in Open Context, encompassing the rich chronological, cultural, and anthropological metadata used by authorities and researchers alike. Researchers and the public can currently download over 380,000 site file records (with sensitive location, ownership, and other data redacted), free of charge and intellectual property restrictions. With IMLS funding, the awardees will continue to expand DINAA to eventually encompass an estimated two to three million archaeological sites across the United States. In doing so, DINAA will provide researchers, museums, libraries, government offices, stakeholders, and the general public with a powerful gazetteer of all known archaeological sites in the United States, as well as critical infrastructure for indexing widely distributed archaeological and collections databases, and tens of thousands of reports now languishing as nearly inaccessible ‘grey literature’.

A key focus of this project is to make stewardship and understanding of North American cultural heritage more inclusive. A crucial component of the project will consist of collaborating with tribal officials and their representatives across the country. Linked data and improved accessibility based on this consultation will better enable sovereign tribal nations to effectively manage and protect their ancestral cultural heritage, while improving government-to-government relationships between tribal nations, U.S. federal agencies, and associated state or museum entities.

The grant to the DINAA team is one of 20 grants to institutions totaling $6,339,441 under the National Leadership Grants for Libraries program. The program supports “projects that address challenges faced by the library and archive fields and that have the potential to advance library and archival practice with new tools, research findings, models, services, or alliances that can be widely replicated.” In congratulating the award recipients, IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew said these are “forward-thinking and creative projects that recognize some of the most pressing needs of the fields of library, archive, and information science,” and that the “long-term impacts of these IMLS investments will be evident for many years to come.”

imls_logoAbout the IMLS: The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in: Awards, Grants, News, Projects