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5.2 Authors and readers

It is in the nature of data to be complex and challenging to present. We should not avoid complex and potentially exclusive terms or issues, but instead take them on with good information design (Denning 2004). It is the responsibility of the authors to ensure that the content and design provide to the reader as transparent a flow of data and interpretation as possible. Through good examples of information design and other concerted efforts to foster these skills, a larger community of able designers can be cultivated (Denning 2004). Data presentation of all varieties should serve to facilitate understanding. That, however, is not the same as saying that data should always be simple or easy to interpret. While the content producer has a responsibility to design well, the reader has a responsibility to invest time in the product.

The communication of complex information can only come about through good practice by both author and reader. The author needs to be confident that the reader will understand, and the reader confident that the data are well presented. A breakdown in communication causes nothing but harm, for reader and author alike. After all, the data set represents the huge effort spent in collecting and processing, and is essential to the arguments and interpretation. Stumbling at the final hurdle of data presentation is the worst possible disservice to the archaeology itself.

Collected data and the interpretations based upon them are inevitably subjective. It is possible, however, that an integrated approach to the presentation of data, such as this one, is able to strip away more layers of subjectivity than a publication tied to the page. There is no doubt that when you, the reader, took our guided tours you were subjected to our interpretation of our data in words, graphics and pictures. Our commentary directed you towards particular views and presentations of the data that we decided upon in advance. And yet you were frequently given the opportunity to view field records that present our least subjective level of data. The authorial agenda is at least weakened with the flexibility that this kind of report allows.

We hope that this non-linear approach allowed you to create an array of different understandings of our data, to experience them as a network of possibilities rather than a preordained path (Hodder 1999, 184). Even the starting point was up to you. The independent exploration through our data was even freer, and gave you the opportunity to build your own maps. Even here, however, though the agenda appeared to be more subtle, it had not been removed by any stretch of the imagination. You were still limited to the selection of layers, calculations and presentations that we chose to include.

It has never been our intention simply to display the data and allow the reader to do the interpretation. Data do not speak for themselves; this would be an outright rejection of the author's responsibility. Our interpretations are based on five years of fieldwork and research, which form the basis of our 'author-ity'. That is why the integration of the interactive maps and commentary in our data and interpretation section is so central to this article. As authors, however, we have the additional responsibility of encouraging new interpretations, rather than trying to suppress any alternative readings.


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Last updated: Thur July 5 2007