Toward a Slow Archaeology

Presenter: Bill Caraher (University of North Dakota)

Over the past century, technology has influenced archaeology in myriad ways. From photography, the introduction of personal computers, to the use of 3D scanners, tablet computers, and open access online datasets, archaeology has long embraced the latest technologies to document artifacts and contexts in increasingly detailed ways. Technology has had a particularly significant impact on field practices by shaping archaeological workflow and the social organization of archaeological projects. This has brought with it some obvious rewards in terms of efficiency, detail, and consistency of archaeological recording.

In recent decades these changes have accelerated with rapid changes in technology, and many archaeologists find themselves spending as much time looking at a computer screen as a trench or survey unit. The interplay of technology and archaeological methods have slowly changed how we work in the field. Complex tasks have increasingly been fragmented to produce data friendly bits of information that become the basis for archaeological analyses conducted in a computer lab or a faculty office. The archaeologist has increasingly seen the field as the place for efficient data collection and analysis as something that occurs later. This paper introduces the idea of “slow archaeology” as a way to prompt some critical reflection on this way that technology has impacted the production of archaeological knowledge, the structure of fieldwork, and, ultimately, the nature of the discipline.