7. Using the Internet for Archaeology

The findings from the ninth survey undertaken for my doctoral research, titled 'Using the Internet for Archaeology', are especially interesting to consider alongside issues of information literacy and an understanding of information-seeking behaviour in archaeology, as well as the many issues of digital inequalities. The full results from this survey are available online. This survey was especially targeted at members of the public active in the UK voluntary archaeology sector, through posting links on the Britarch Forum, inclusion in British Archaeology magazine, and by directly emailing an invitation (with the survey's URL) to community archaeology groups. Professional archaeologists and organisations were also invited to take part and also responded through the call for participation made through my own blog and Twitter account and on various archaeology-related Facebook pages. One in five responses came from professional archaeologists (21.9%), members of local, regional history or archaeology groups or societies (16.35%), postgraduate archaeology students (14.76%), 'other' (10.95%), volunteers (10.16%), undergraduate archaeology students (8.25%), those 'interested in the subject but not active' (8.25%), those working in academia above postgraduate level (5.71%), and museum professionals (3.65%). The age range was weighted towards the 25-54 year old group, as 310 respondents (53.72%) fell into this category, although 69 responses (16.04%) were from the 55-74 age range. The most significant findings relevant to this article are found in the responses to questions about the use of archaeological websites, which archaeological websites are visited, and the use (or not) of social media platforms to access information about archaeological topics. The majority of people who responded to the survey declared that they access archaeological websites on a daily or weekly basis — 44% and 26% respectively. The types of websites that the participants reported visiting regularly range from large archaeological organisations such as the Archaeological Data Service, RCAHMS Canmore, the Council for British Archaeology, Heritage Gateway and Current Archaeology, to smaller organisations like Past Horizons, the BAJR website and discussion forum, the Day of Archaeology, as well as blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter.

Of those responding, 64% had used some form of social networking platform such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to find out more about archaeology, although 14% had not. The most popular platform used for archaeological information was Facebook, followed by Twitter. Other forms of social media were mentioned as useful places to find archaeological information, but these were not as popular as Facebook or Twitter. These platforms include (in descending order of popularity in the survey) YouTube for information on excavations, demonstrations of experimental archaeology or interviews; platforms such as blogs, including Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress, valued for their space for comments and discussion;, which was found to be a useful platform to read academic papers without accessing pay-walled journals or needing an affiliation to an academic library; and LinkedIn for work-related social networking. Email lists, Google+, Instagram, online forums, Pinterest, and were also mentioned by a handful of respondents.

Responses indicated that the survey participants had a reasonable awareness of the need for an information-literate approach to archaeological information shared through social media: the respondents comments included an acknowledgement that Facebook page moderators need to be vigilant regarding the quality of content posted; that the quality of archaeological information varies depending on the Facebook page moderation, source material and interpretation, and is prone to spam. The participants were sometimes confused about the source of information found on Facebook pages, and felt the ability to discriminate was a fundamental requirement to judge the worth of the archaeological content; it was noted that archaeological content found on YouTube was of varied quality and offered little participatory interaction between content-producers and the audience; information shared via social media platforms is only as good as the quality of the author and the sources; survey participants noted that they built relationships with reliable archaeological sources on Twitter, and checked links before accepting the veracity of the information provided. Participation in discussions on archaeology forums or social media platforms appears to depend on the users' perception of having confidence, valid knowledge, qualifications and disciplinary authority to comment on archaeological content; survey respondents expressed a fear of "making a fool of themselves" in participating in discussion — anonymous participation was seen as a beneficial method of encouraging more dialogue. The responses also noted the appearance of "trolls" and vitriolic comments, which was found to be offensive and prevented participation by some participants. Responses suggest that users do not have a lot of time to spend on commenting on social media platforms, and there is the perception that commenting on archaeological information can be a waste of time: "There is literally no point in commenting or joining in. Nothing ever changes…" (anonymous survey responses).

From these results, age does not seem related to digital literacy, as all responses indicated a level of consideration of sources and authoritative affiliation when searching for information, especially on social media platforms. Educated people made the responses to the survey — the minimum level of educational qualification attained is GCSE — 105 of the participants have first-degree level education, while 56 are studying for, or possess, a PhD. The academic literature has noted that education and technical familiarity has positive effects on the ability to use the Internet efficiently (Hargittai 2004; Hargittai and Hinnant 2008; Case 2012). Data from the Using the Internet for Archaeology survey show that the audience makes the ultimate judgement about the value of these media and the information shared on these platforms. Building a relationship with the users of these sites ascribes authority and authenticity to the archaeological information and the interactions between the professional archaeologist and members of the public.


Internet Archaeology is an open access journal. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

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