2. Cognitive Artefacts

However, a rather more limited range of devices are of interest here. These may be characterised as 'cognitive artefacts': human-made physical objects that we employ as a means of assisting us in performing a cognitive task, and which are able to represent, store, retrieve, and manipulate information (e.g. Norman 1992; 1993). The digital 'cognitive artefacts' that archaeologists use – for example, digital cameras, total stations, laser scanners, proton magnetometers, X-ray fluorescence machines, and their ilk – all encapsulate in various ways a mixture of techniques, calculations, and interventions that they employ on our behalf to explore, reveal, capture, and characterise archaeological objects. These cognitive artefacts support us in performing tasks that otherwise at best we would have to conduct using more laborious and time-consuming methods (film photography or measured survey using tapes, for instance) or that we would not be able to undertake (we cannot physically see beneath the ground, or determine the chemical constituents of an object, for example). Furthermore, a characteristic of archaeology is the way that we adopt and apply tools and techniques developed in other domains (Schollar 1999, 8; Lull 1999, 381). Consequently, most if not all of the cognitive artefacts used in archaeology are designed outside their discipline of application, meaning we have little or no control over their development and manufacture, and hence their internal modes of operation have to be taken at face value.

As a result:

'Cognitive artifacts are … important to study, not only because they make us more powerful and versatile thinkers, but also because they shape and transform our cognitive system and cognitive practices' (Heersmink 2013, 466).

Hodder would seem to agree in relation to things in general:

'Humans have had increasingly to invest labour and new technologies to manage and sustain these things and have found themselves organized by them … Indeed it could further be argued that humans become regulated and disciplined in their interactions with things in all their complexities and falling-apart uncertainties.' (2012, 86).

These effects make it all the more important to investigate and understand the digital tools that we employ in our discovery, capture, and exploration of the past.


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