Internet Archaeology

Article excerpt

Published twice yearly; ISSN 1363-5387. 39.50 [pounds sterling] to individuals, 105 [pounds sterling] and US$190 to institutions (access to Volume 1 free).

An invitation to review Internet Archaeology (hereafter IA) came as an interesting challenge. I had looked at fewer than I had imagined, and it soon became clear that I could neither judge it on appearance alone nor read every paper to assess the overall academic quality. I therefore elicited help from a young, electronically literate colleague (Nicky Milner) and two experienced users and designers of archaeological websites, postgraduate students Marc Johnston and Jessica Kemp. We accessed IA on PCs of differing ages and power, using academic Ethernet and a domestic telephone line, and viewed it with both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape. IA's editor, Judith Winters, answered specific queries and recommended papers that made most of its publication format. This review will look at problematic aspects of IA before highlighting some of its many good points.

IA's home page is austere, and I find its sanserif typeface unattractive despite several years' familiarity. Rows of numbered pastel-coloured squares link to each half-yearly issue, but do not show the year of the issue or the titles of themed issues (6: digital publication; 8: visualisation; 12: education and archaeology). There are no cumulative tables of contents, or indices by author, subject, chronology or geographical area; some limited search facilities appeared while this review was being written, however. Even on a large monitor, the print size, amount of white space and length of many pages push clickable buttons out of sight and necessitate energetic mouse and keyboard activity; regular readers should take steps to avoid Repetitive Strain Injury. Using a browser's controls to reduce the size of the print has unpredictable effects (shrinking the dialogue boxes used for searches, for example) and makes the text of any other site visited unreadably small. Each paper's table of contents is comprehensive, but most spread over several screens and cannot be expanded or collapsed hierarchically in the manner of Microsoft Word's outline facility.

Buttons within individual papers sometimes feel counter-intuitive. There are many links between pages, but the button labelled `back' skips to the previous page, not the page one has just come from--and this is not immediately obvious in papers that lack section numbering. A user must always remember to use the browser's back button. Similarly, the button labelled `contents' may either take you to a paper's contents or that of the whole issue, according to what page you are on. These problems make it almost impossible to navigate successfully from a multi-screen table of contents to specific pages, from text pages to data search-screens, and from tables of query results back to the correct place in a paper. It is not possible to use Google to find individual pages because its webcrawler cannot reach below the table contents of a paper--a pity, since IA's informative page of user-statistics show the high frequency of its visits. Many of the problems described in this paragraph would be solved by labelling all buttons explicitly and unambiguously, and adding side-bars indicating one's place within a document; compare the design of Millett et al's data-rich paper on `The Ave Valley' in Portugal in IA issue 9 with another project Millett has been involved in at Penaflor in Spain (http:// www.arch.soton.ac.uk/Research/Penaflor). Some papers in IA do use simple mechanisms to help users. In the very next paper in issue 9 (Hunter-Mann et al. on excavations at Brough-on-Humber) it is rarely necessary to return to the complete table contents; each section starts with a box containing a pick-up list for jumping to other sections and a summary of all links within the section, while illustrations open in new windows. …