Free Archaeology & Nabonidus

Came across a forum for the discussion of archaeometrics, quantitative studies, informatics and so on in archaeology, which lives here; it might be of interest to others, though when I clicked through on some links they were dead.  I found it from the Nabonidus Archaeology Home Page (“The Future of Archaeology”). I’ll be examining what Nabonidus has to offer and I’ll let you know what I find…

Machine translation

Not so long ago, I wrote the Government of Canada’s official bilingualism test for anglophones, as part of the process of winnowing out candidates for a job. First, a multiple choice test of my reading comprehension, then a multiple choice test of my knowledge of the intricacies of French grammar, and then (if the first two tests went well) an oral test of my actual ability to communicate in French. It’s worth noting that all of the test questions were framed in bureaucratese. Interestingly, I scored a perfect on my reading comprehension, but utterly flunked the grammar – which meant I never even got a chance to try my spoken French. My question to the examiners was this: if I understand someone’s written French perfectly, and they understand my written English perfectly, then why can’t we work together?

That question was never answered, but it got me to thinking about machine translation, and context-specific vocabularies. I once really wanted to read an article written in Russian, but could not find any one to translate it for me. Are there any machine translation services – a la Babel Fish or Google Translate – that can handle archaeological texts? I can read Italian reasonably well, so I tested Babel Fish and Google Translate with the following text from the ‘Portale di Archeologia Medievale‘ s computer laboratory:

“Gli archeologi devono sapere gestire in proprio i processi di catastazione, gestione e processamento dei dati. Per la mole enorme di record che producono il calcolatore è ormai uno strumento insostituibile.”

My quick-and-nasty translation would read something like this: “Archaeologists need to know how to manage and process their information. Given the enormous amounts of records that they produce, the computer has become an indispensable piece of kit”.

Here is what  Babel Fish suggested:

“The archeologi they must know to manage in just the processes of catastazione, management and processamento of the data. For the enormous size of record that they produce the calculating is by now one irreplaceable instrument.”

And here is what Google Translate suggested:

“Archaeologists need to know to manage their own processes catastazione, management and processing of data. The enormous amount of records that produce the computer has become an indispensable tool. “

So Google Translate seems to be the better translation…. but is it the best? What else is out there? It would be interesting to know which services archaeologists find most useful for reading works outside their own palette of languages. I wonder also if there are any machine translation projects going on for reading things like cuneiform etc?

What does Civilization Stand For? Modding Contest from Firaxis!

One last post before the holidays (thanks Jan for bringing this to my attention!), and one which might be of interest to any academic/educational modders out there; nb it’s only for US residents, so my ‘Year of the Four Emperors‘ won’t be in the mix:

What Does Your Civilization Stand For?
Official Rules
Entry Form

The holidays are upon us and we’re certain many of you are wondering what to do while sitting in the comfort of your homes, staying as far away from the nasty weather and shopping crowds as possible. Sure, you could spend time with family, play with the kids, or figure out how to turn on your shiny new iPod. But, we have a better idea. Why not show the world what you can do to customize the greatest strategy game ever made?

And to give you an even bigger incentive Dell has sent us some brand new XPS machines (four desktops and a laptop to be more specific) and we will give them to the winners of this contest. What we are looking for is simple: we want to see your best work, in any of the following four categories:

  • Best In-Game Asset (art, including units, buildings and/or wonders)
  • Best World-Builder Scenario (just a single .wbs file)
  • Best Map Script (just a single .py file)
  • Best Educational Mod (only educators and schools can submit entries for this one)

The creator of the winning entry in each category will receive a Dell XPS desktop computer to show off to your friends. In addition, the best over-all mod from the submissions above will receive the grand prize of a Dell XPS laptop. Can you say Happy Holidays?

Here are some things to remember. The prizes are awarded to individuals only, so if your mod is a team effort, the prizes will only be awarded to the designated team leader. You can use existing mods that you’ve already created, or you can create something from scratch using Civ IV or any of its expansions. Finally, please do not submit mods that are not yours. This not only makes our job harder, but also makes children cry.

The contest begins December 23, 2007, and will run through February 18, 2008, so crack your knuckles and crank out something fabulous. As an aside, this contest is U.S. only, and our lawyers have drafted up a lovely set of rules for you to follow, so be sure to check them out before starting. If you have any further questions, send them in, we’re all ears!


By the way, The Ancient Mediterranean Mod version 2.01 FINAL has been released for the ‘vanilla’ version of Civilization IV. I know what I’m going to be doing over the holiday!

“Burial Passage” – Remixing Catalhoyuk

I’ve finally resolved my graphics issues, and can now float about in Second Life without fear of crashing my poor old computer. I teleported over to Okapi Island to see what I’d missed during the Remixing Catalhoyuk day.  One of the first things I came across was Sebastian Heath’s entry for the remixing contest, ‘Burial Passage’. He writes:

“‘Burial Passage’ intends to immerse users in images related to the excavation of the multiple burials below the NW platform of building 3. You can walk through it in either direction. I sort of like going uphill. The images at the two entrances are bookends. The central image showing excavation mediates between the two surrounding images.” <more>

It’s an interesting approach – as you move through the passage that he has created, you pass through images of the successive layers of the excavation, hung like curtains. It’s strangely tactile… and if you type in the chat box, ‘/1 start excavation’, the panels automatically re-arrange themselves in sequence. So bravo to Sebastian for creating one of the first demonstrations of the potential of SL for archaeological publication!

And of course to the Berkeley Catalhoyuk folks, for providing the data in such a way that remixing it is even possible!


The pic is me – Canadensis Yellowjacket – after having clicked on ‘Burial Passage’, in search of more information. This demonstrates one of the nice things about SL, the ability to pull ‘outside’ information – like the blog posting – into Second Life.

“Making Dead History Come Alive Through Mobile Game Play”

In an earlier post, I mused on the possibilities for enhancing the experience at an archaeological site by mashing-up the physical and the virtual, and in a subsquent post I presented a lesson plan for doing that in a group setting. A related post concerns the use of Mediascapes to play games at the Tower of London. Seems I’m not the only one thinking along these lines – a paper presented at the Computer/Human Interaction Conference 2007 by researchers at the University of Bari explicitly details an augmented-reality game at a Roman site in Italy (full paper):

“Abstract: This work in progress presents a design approach to digitally enhancing an existing paper-based game to support young students learning history at an archaeological site, by making use of recent advantages provided by mobile technology. It requires minimal investments and changes to the existing site exhibition because it runs on the visitors’ own cellular phones. It is expected that game-play will trigger a desire to learn more about ancient history and to make archaeological visits more effective and exciting. “

Interestingly, they propose to use memory-cards with cellphones, rather than to try and transmit and download information on the fly. Their game (‘Gais’ day in Egnathia'; Egnathia is a Roman city in Apulia) started life as a paper-based game played on the site. With the addition of the cellphones and the memory cards, the designers of the game hope to be able to collect data on the actual game-play data which will assist them in improving the learning experience.

Blogging Archaeology

William Caraher has been writing about the history of blogging, especially in the archaeological world (it is also posted here). It’s a fascinating discussion, and it brought to my attention a number of blogs – and student blogs written whilst on-site at excavations – that I hadn’t encountered before. It was nice, too, to see Electric Archaeology get a mention amongst all this fantastic work – thanks!

Many people write blogs with the hope of making a bit of coin from them too somehow. I wonder if academic blogs are considered in awarding tenure? I reach more people writing this blog than a lot of my more *academic* writing. My thesis isn’t climbing the ranks of Amazon, that’s for sure!

From the original post:

“…These specialized blogs will not be of interest to everyone, but they have tapped into the rich potential of digital media to communicate, inspire, and promote collaborative scholarship. Shawn Graham’s innovative Electric Archaeologist shows how a whole range of digital media can assist an archaeologist in research and teaching. Sebastian Heath’s blog Mediterranean Ceramics explores the intersection of the study of Mediterranean ceramics and the resources available on the internet. Tom Elliot, the director of the Pleiades Project which brings together geographic and historical information for ancient places across the Mediterranean, makes occasional posts at his horothesia blog. His main interest is developing innovative and open methods to disseminate archaeological and historical data. Scott Moore’s Ancient History Ramblings has developed a serious focus on archaeology in the virtual world of Second Life. Charles Watkinson, the director of publications at the American School of Classical Studies maintains an occasional blog on “communication in the humanities and social sciences.” Digging Digitially provides some great info on digital archaeology as the “Semi-offical” news source for the SAA’s Digital Data Interest Group. The Okapi Project’s blog from the University of California at Berkeley includes regular reports on their innovative efforts to disseminate academic research through digital media – including their work with the Çatalhöyük excavations….”

Archaeology Island in Second Life

Scott Moore is detailing his archaeological projects in Second Life over on his blog. Yesterday, he and his colleagues made a presentation to his university trustees about what they are doing, which include a virtual Parthenon, Mayan temple, and a shipwreck. Sounds fantastic, and I can’t wait to come visit! Robert Welch University is also planning a small presence in Second Life, which will be more to bring our distance students together than to do any large-scale simulation, although I’m planning a tetris-style immersive game to help with the Latin teaching.

Scott's Parthenon

Scott’s Parthenon

Establishing Virtual Learning Worlds (for Archaeology too!)

A blog worth examining, if you are interested in the educational aspect of immersive learning in online worlds, is the aptly named ‘Virtual Learning Worlds‘ Blog. There’s a white paper there by Barton Pursel and Keith Bailey that I’m about to read, abstract below:


Video games in today’s society have moved from a cult phenomenon to a mainstream leisure activity. One reason for this is the emergence of online gaming, where people interact, socialize, and learn in online environments. While online game populations rapidly increase, the attrition in online courses remains to be an issue. Based on the needs of today’s students, along with the level of interactivity and other traits of online game worlds, educators need to look into incorporating elements of online gaming into online learning environments, creating Virtual Learning Worlds (VLW).

And since it seems an appropriate moment to introduce, below follows the draft of an essay that I’m writing (sorry that there are no click-throughs in the text):

Why should archaeologists care about online worlds?

PDQ Submission

Something to think about:

  • Archaeology is “the science that studies human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, features, biofacts, and landscapes”[i]
  • Students learn to become archaeologists through a combination of lectures and hands-on training;
  • To excavate something is to destroy it.

This last consideration guides how we teach archaeology to undergraduates (and I confine my comments for the most part to the undergraduate experience). We are loath to allow students to really get their hands on real archaeology because it is a limited resource and there isn’t the time, money, or resource to allow our students to make mistakes. There is of course more to archaeology than simply field work, but even in those cases, there is a reluctance to allow students to actually work with the materials, to make mistakes. We compensate for that by adding ever more lecture hours to a student’s course load. In some institutions, it is entirely possible to graduate with a degree in archaeology without ever having spent more than two weeks doing field work. Yet, by some estimations, the typical student only ever takes in about 10% of a lecture – a 5000 word lecture distills in the student’s notes to a mere 500 words (Oblinger and Maruyama 1996; Johnstone and Su 1994). This kind of teaching/learning has been disparaged as “One tape recorder talking to another” (Foreman et al. 2004: 53)

So: we have a subject, about the human past, especially its material culture, that we teach not by letting our students work with that material, but by giving lectures, of which only a tiny fraction may actually sink in. This despite the broader changes in educational practice that have been taking place over the last decade or so, from what might be called ‘teacher-centric’ to ‘learner-centric’ approaches. Broadly, a learner-centred approach recognises that students learn in different styles. Some may learn perfectly well by listening to a lecture; others might find that the discipline of writing a paper makes for a better learning experience, while others again find that they need to actually be working with the material culture in question, to achieve a successful learning outcome. A learner-centred approach does not aim to transfer knowledge from the teacher to the student, but to give the student the appropriate tools to create knowledge themselves (Barr and Tagg 1995). In a Roman history class, this might translate to, instead of lecturing about the political scheming of the late Republic, to showing students how to actively criticise the source materials and construct their own interpretations of that period’s political turmoil.

There is another significant problem that now faces us, as educators of the next generation of archaeologists. Essentially, our students think in fundamentally different pathways than previous generations. Any student under 25 years of age today can be considered a ‘digital native’, one who has grown up surrounded by, and bombarded by, computers, video games, and digital media. We their teachers on the other hand are ‘digital immigrants’, who grew up in a different land, surrounded by books (Prensky 2001a). A book requires sustained patience and attention; an argument can be built slowly on the assumption that the reader has the ability to maintain the thread. If we want to create good archaeologists, we need to recognise that how we have taught in the past might not be good enough any more simply because our students learn differently than we did (Prensky 2001b).

In recognising that our students are ‘digital natives’ there is an enormous opportunity for us as educators to deal with one of the perennial difficulties of teaching archaeology: to excavate, and/or to handle inexpertly, is to destroy our subject matter. Our digital natives that we hope to turn into archaeologists are at home in online, multi-user simulations, virtual worlds like Second Life, The Croquet Project, Multiverse Project, There, Ancient Spaces. Therein lays our opportunity. Online worlds for us ‘digital immigrants’ are for immersing our students in the material. I mean that literally. These worlds can be used to simulate ancient architecture, material culture, and/or the methodologies of field archaeology. We can use these worlds to provide immersive and engaging learning experiences that will prepare the students to be professional when they do encounter the real-world materials. The user or visitor to these worlds is embodied in an avatar, which can be fully customised to reflect the user’s persona. More importantly, being embodied in the world makes for a richer learning experience. Players of these games never say, ‘My character made it all the way to level 33!’ They say, ‘I made it to level 33’. These are rich 3D worlds, and they provide an extremely strong sensation of ‘being there’ in a way that ‘flat’ modes of educational delivery cannot match (cf Castronova 2005).

Educators using these worlds for teaching are using them to create simulations of places (replicating real-world geography, literary places, interior places like the structure of DNA, and extra-terrestrial geography as on Mars), for prototyping (urban designers and architects are early adopters here), for understanding disease (one simulation drops the user –medical students- into the world of a schizophrenic, Yellowlees and Burrage 2005) . Artists are using the media to explore new forms of expression. Users tend to identify with their avatar to a high degree; one humanities professor has used this phenomenon to explore human-animal relationships by having her students adopt animal avatars and then see what happens to them as they wander through the world (Jeremy Kemp, Second Life Educators List April 2006).

Part of the educational value of online worlds is that they are very game-like, and games are excellent vehicles for creating rich learning experiences.

“Games are… the most ancient and time-honored vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We don’t see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don’t see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, ‘Can games have educational value?’ becomes absurd… Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning” (Crawford 1982).

In the field, an archaeologist continuously has to be re-thinking her approach to the problem at hand. New laws, new stakeholders, a changing environment or changing finances continually re-make the ‘rules of the game’. An approach that was working one day may suddenly be inappropriate because the time-line for the road scheme has been accelerated. Archaeologists have to be adaptable, they have to reformulate their knowledge to adapt to circumstance: they have to be able to problematize their knowledge. This is something that games are very good at teaching. Students are often afraid to fail because a new exercise, a new problem, carries penalties for failure. Games encourage failure and learning from failure as part of a cyclical process of hypothesis (“what happens if…?”) testing (“…I’ll try this…”) and revision (“…well, that didn’t work, so…”). This cognitive disequilibrium is the process where the learners readjust their expectations in light of new information (resolution). Feedback in a game world is often immediate, allowing the cycle to begin again. “Games thrive as teaching tools when they create a continuous cycle of cognitive disequilibrium and resolution…while also allowing the player to be successful” (Van Eck 2006:20).

Online worlds and the way games are played in them are also good models for project management, a skill that archaeologists need but are seldom formally trained in. In online games, ad-hoc teams come together for very specific purposes, with different players assuming the mantle of leadership depending on their skill sets, for the duration of the episode. Management schools in the US are beginning to see in this a model for distributed decision making and for allowing leadership to emerge to suit the task, a very different model than traditional hierarchical models (Reeves and Malone 2007:31)

Online multi-user archaeological simulations do exist. The University of North Dakota has created a simulation of the village of Like-a-fishhook; this simulation is currently entirely text-based. In perhaps the most popular online world for educational simulations, Second Life, there are currently no explicitly archaeological simulations; but that is not to say that there are no simulations with archaeological content (Graham 2007). Of all the online worlds currently in existence, Second Life is probably the easiest one to visit and to build in, for every user has the ability to create using simple building tools, based on ‘primitives’ or simple geometric shapes. Perhaps the best example of a use that could have archaeological implications is Vassar College’s recreation of the Sistine Chapel (Taylor 2007). As it happens, users can fly in Second Life, and so a visitor to the Chapel can float up to the ceiling to study the paintings nose-to-Adam’s-nose, a point of view not really possible since Michelangelo tore down his scaffolding. There is a ‘mining’ game in Second Life that sends players into a simulated 1849 California after gold (Nugget Gulch 2007); the mechanics of this game could be adopted to develop a simulated excavation. The Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (Caraher, Moore, and Pettegrew 2007) uses Second Life as a place to organise the logistics of their excavations, while the ‘Remixing Çatalhöyük’ project (Wei 2007) uses it to understand the architectural layout of that city. And finally, I have argued elsewhere that online virtual worlds exist as the latest in a long line of virtual worlds that have been created by humans, from the Hanging Gardens to Disneyland, and so ought to be considered subjects of archaeological study in their own right (Graham 2007b, 2007c).

The point, then, of online worlds is that they provide us with the opportunity to transform our teaching and learning to better serve our students and ultimately our profession.

Ancient Spaces

BARR, R. B. and J. Tagg, “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,” Change, vol. 27, no. 6 (November/December 1995): 12–25. online at

CARAHER, W., R.S. Moore, and D. Pettegrew. 2007. “The Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project Internet Edition – Multimedia”

CASTRONOVA, E. 2005. Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

CRAWFORD, C. 1982. The Art of Computer Game Design. Electronic Version 1997, Washington State University Vancouver. [February 26, 2007]

FOREMAN, J., James Paul Gee, J.C. Herz, Randy Hinrichs, Mark Prensky, Ben Sawyer. 2004. ‘Game-Based Learning: How to Delight and Instruct in the 21st Century’ EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 39, no. 5 (September/October 2004): 50–66.

GRAHAM, S. 2007. ‘Electric Archaeology: Digital Media for Learning and Research’

GRAHAM, S. 2007b. ‘Of Second Lives and Past Lives: Archaeological Thoughts on the Metaverse’

GRAHAM, S. 2007c. ‘Archaeological Clutter and Dumpster Diving’

JOHNSTONE, A. H. and W. Y. Su. 1994. ‘Lectures: A Learning Experience?’ Education in Chemistry, vol. 31, no. 3: 75–79.

KEMP, J. transcript of Wednesday April 12 ‘Teacher’s Lounge, Jen Doolittle’s The Human Animal’

Nugget Gulch

OBLINGER, D., and Mark K. Maruyama.1996. ‘Distributed Learning’, CAUSE Professional Paper Series, #14

PRENSKY, M. 2001a ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon. 9.5 October 2001. online at – Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Part1.pdf

PRENSKY, M. 2001b ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?’ On the Horizon 9.6 December 2001. online at – Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Part2.pdf

REEVES, B. and T. Malone. 2007. Leadership in Games and at Work: Implications for the Enterprise of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games.

Second Life. 2003-7 Linden Research.

TAYLOR, S. ‘Sistine Chapel’ SLURL:

The Croquet Project. 2001-7

The Multiverse Project. 2004-7

There. 1998-2007 Makena Technologies

VAN ECK, R. ‘Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless’. EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 41, no. 2 (March/April 2006): 16–30.

WEI, Daniel 2007. ‘Constructing Knowledge & Virtual Places’.

YELLOWLEES, P. and K. Burrage. 2005 ‘Virtual Hallucinations’. SLURL:

[i] Wikipedia definition, as it stood on November 14th 2007. Since online worlds depend so much on user-created content, it seemed only fitting to begin with a definition posted on one of the most famous sites of user-created content.

Writing Archaeology and Writing Fiction

The title of this post comes from an article written by David Wilkinson, of Oxford Archaeology, published in the Autumn 2007 edition of ‘The Archaeologist’ (the journal of the Institute of Field Archaeologists). Wilkinson is not only a top-flight archaeologist, he is also an accomplished writer of fiction. In his article, he contrasts the writing of fiction with the writing of archaeology. His first example, the description of a clay, is instructive:

Slabs like the squared off clots
Of a blue cream. Sunk
for centuries under grass [Seamus Heany, Door into the Dark 1969]

Until I found Bann clay. Like wet daylight
or viscous satin under the felt and frieze
Of humus layers. The true diatomite

Discovered in a little sucky hole,
Grey-blue, dull-shining, scentless, touchable –
Like the earth’s old ointment box, sticky and cool. [Seamus Heany, To a Dutch Potter in Ireland, 1996]

And now, the archaeological version:

‘Very compact, Blue-ish grey to white, 10YR/8/1, pliable, clay 90% silt 10%, 35-17 cm, probably natural.’

In his paper, Wilkinson discusses how such bloodless, pseudo-objective writing is slowly being replaced by ‘true’ archaeological voices again, and he cites the recent paper by John Barratt concerning Framework Archaeology‘s excavations for Terminal 5 (‘Academic aim and approach, in Framework Archaeology’, Landscape Evolution in the Middle Thames Valley, Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavations Volum 1, Perry Oaks, Framework Archaeology Monograph No.1 pp15-17. 2006.) But he asks, ‘what of characters in archaeological writing?’ Wilkinson’s paper is really making a plea for archaeologists to remember that they themselves are characters in the story of the site or landscape that they are studying, and that they should put themselves into it:

“We all sit in portacavins, in offices, in vans, in pubs or round fires, and we tell stories… we have a great time and drink too much and what do we do the next morning? We get up and go to our offices and we rite, ‘In Phase 1 ditch 761 was recut (794) along part of its length.’ Surely, we can do better”.

A similar argument was made in the SAA Archaeological Record last May, by Cornelius Holtorf , in an article called ‘Learning from Las Vegas: Archaeology in the Experience Economy”. Holtorf argued:

“Learning from Las Vegas means learning to embrace and build upon the amazing fact that archaeologists can connect so well with some of the most widespread fantasies, dreams, and desires that people have today.[…] I am suggesting that the greatest value of archaeology in society lies in providing people with what they most desire from archaeology: great stories both about the past and about archaeological research.”

Archaeology – the doing of archaeology! – is a fantastic experience. You learn so much more about the past when you are at the coal-face itself, when you stand in 35 degree C heat, with the dust on your face so thick you almost choke, debating with the site supervisor the meaning of a complicated series of walls, or sitting at the bar afterwards with a cool beer, still debating the situation, laughing, chatting. Reading ‘Three shards of Vernice-Nera ware found in-situ below 342 indicate…’ sucks the fun out of archaeology. It certainly has no romance which puts the practice of archaeology – as published to the public – far down the list of priorities in this modern Experience Economy. The serious face of archaeology we present to the public is so lifeless : how can we expect government and the public to be excited about our work if we ourselves give every indication of not being excited either?

I’m not arguing that we turn every site monograph into a graphic novel (though that’s an interesting idea, and has been done for teaching archaeology). But with the internet being the way it is these days: couldn’t a project website contain blogs and twitters (‘tweets’, actually) from the people working on it? Can’t we make the stories of the excavation at least as important as the story of the site? The Remixing Çatalhöyük project is a fantastic step in that direction. I hope to see more like it soon. Maybe we should be talking also with the folks at the Centre for Digital Storytelling

Who’s On Second – podcasts about nonprofits and educators in Second Life

Does what it says on the tin – check it out


Of particular relevance to archaeologists (at least those of us concerned with space):
Episode Nineteen – Building in Space – Chad Oberg
March 27, 2007 | 37 Mb| 36 Min.
A design consultant and intern architect discusses the effects of space, both virtual and real

  Show Notes

Also of interest to art historians:

Episode Ten – Dancing With the Graces
January 23, 2007 | 22 Mb| 21 Min.
Catherine and Alan Petersen discuss bringing art history and curation into Second Life

  Show Notes