Student-Based Digital Data Collection in Archaeological Field Schools

Benjamin Carter and Timothy Clarke (Muhlenberg College)

Archaeological field schools pose distinct challenges for data collection. First and foremost, because archaeology is context dependent, the process is inherently destructive; the removal of objects from the earth (i.e., excavation) destroys their contextual data which is only preserved through accurate recording. Therefore, systems must be developed that allow students to collect data in a manner that is well-developed, organized, consistent and, yet, dynamic in rugged environments in remote locations. Most field schools use a system of static paper forms, drawings and maps along with field journals to record both standardized and irregular data. However, much of this data is analyzed digitally, which means paper must be converted into digital, a laborious and error-prone process. Digital data collection in the field can increase data reliability through dynamic forms that provide appropriate choices, drawing programs that allow the recording of multiple layers of data in a single document, retain the ability to document student learning through a daily journal, while avoiding the mind-numbing data entry required by paper forms. This presentation describes two systems developed by the presenters. The first was used by students during an archaeological field school in 2013, but was found wanting. Limitations largely revolve around the restrictions due to the use of proprietary software. We also present our plans for the next stage of development, which will be based upon open source tools. Our goal during this presentation is to both share our experience and to encourage feedback from audience members.