Teaching Archaeology with a Digital Data Collection Protocol

PresenterRebecca Bria (Vanderbilt University)

In 2011, the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA, Peru) inaugurated an archaeological field school that employed a comprehensive digital data collection protocol for field and laboratory archaeological research. We taught students how to record and organize archaeological data on computer tablets using our custom relational databases for excavation, human skeletal recovery and analysis, and artifact classification. The databases integrated digital media, such as vector drawings, annotated photos, and Harris matrices. We also instructed students to digitally map features and artifacts, lay out an excavation grid with a total station, and georectify then draw plan maps using GIS. The students used the computer tablets to visualize relationships between the data, analyze the excavation contexts, and make preliminary interpretations.

This paper reviews the benefits and challenges of using a 100% digital data collection protocol to teach archaeological methods to students. It discusses how digital data collection and analysis can enhance student understanding of archaeological field and laboratory analysis, especially when paired with training in traditional pencil and paper data collection techniques. Through an analysis of three years of our field school training, the paper argues that digital technology is not simply a means of more efficient data collection. Rather our digital database develops more perceptive archaeologists who can immediately recognize and interpret different possible relationships between archaeological materials, contexts, and features. The technology, then, not only aids in-field planning and interpretation, but also cultivates critical thinking skills.