Publishing in the Round: A Role for CD-ROM in the Publication of Archaeological Field-Work Results

By Powlesland, Dominic | Antiquity, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Publishing in the Round: A Role for CD-ROM in the Publication of Archaeological Field-Work Results


Powlesland, Dominic, Antiquity


Some five months have elapsed since I was invited to write this paper and, as seems always to be the case, the continued rapid change in applied computing and available technology has transformed my view of the potentials offered by CD-ROM (Compact Disk-Read Only Memory) as a publishing medium. The paper I now offer is substantially different in content; the conclusions, however, are the same.

Although the discipline of archaeology is relatively new, it is a subject in which the methodology applied both during and following fieldwork is substantially determined according to tradition. Perhaps as a consequence of the continued broadening of the subject through the application of new specialist research areas to archaeology, we have become at times burdened or excited by the need to understand at least parts of these other disciplines, leaving little time to reflect upon how and why we work in a particular way. Nowhere is this more obvious than with publication. I, like most others in the profession, learned how to write up an excavation not so much by analysing the most effective method to get both the data and the interpretation across but by examining the best reports I could find and following the format. Pitt-Rivers' Excavations in Cranborne Chase (1887-98) and Mortimer's Forty years researches (1905) made a good starting point. Wheeler's Maiden Castle (1943) and Hope-Taylor's Yeavering (1977) provided excellent examples from the middle parts of this century and more recently Philip Dixon's Crickley Hill (1994) and Cleal et al.'s Stonehenge (1995) provide fine examples to follow.

However, in each case the paper publication lacks the sort of access to data that would allow a researcher quickly to extract the data they needed; only in the case of Crickley Hill has there been a clear and independent presentation of the source data. During the early 1970s I was fortunate to work in Winchester as a volunteer, under the direction of Martin Biddle. It was a time when recording methodologies were a subject of considerable debate. Biddle was passionate about attention to detail, accuracy, stratigraphic integrity and careful on-site planning in full colour. Until the middle of the 1970s the argument raged at conferences and in public houses whenever archaeologists got together, that although full-colour planning was perhaps highly desirable you could never hope to publish the results, and therefore the technique was a waste of time. By the end of the 70s the colour-planning issue had effectively died as it was replaced by the use of more schematic and easily published plans in black-and-white which could more economically be archive copied and published. The argument was not in fact won or lost, but the costs of paper publication had forced a compromise. This discussion is relevant as it is a demonstration of the weakness of paper publication alone for publishing full data-sets. As new specialists were brought on board excavation reports expanded and continued to expand, but not for long, with microfiche offered as a method of publishing data that, although considered important, did not deserve publication on paper. How we ever accepted this compromise I do not know; wading through data tables on fiche is an order of magnitude worse than performing the same action on the printed page; neither matches the potential offered by searching a digital data-base. If I compare the number of colleagues with a personal fiche reader to those with a computer including a CD-ROM, the statistics look very bad for micro-fiche. CD-ROMs make it possible to publish real data in large quantities, while CD-ROM technology offers significant publication advantages over and above the printed page, and at present, the Internet.

CD-ROMs

* Provide digital data storage.

* Have a relatively large capacity (650Mb)

* Can be read on any suitably equipped PC, Macintosh or Unix workstation

* Are cheap

* Are found in any currently available computer unless the purchaser specifically requests its removal. …

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