8.4 Using compactants

Examining the underlying code and algorithms, understanding the functions, interfaces, and assumptions underlying the software, and probing the structuring principles and creative processes behind the artefact leads inexorably to the fourth component in understanding the digital cognitive artefact: its subsequent context of use. Again, this lends itself to an ethnographic approach, examining how the digital artefact is used, constraints associated with its application, results achieved, and so on.

As before, this is not a common feature of archaeological work, although it is the case that the introduction of new techniques does encourage the presentation of workflows that go some way to beginning to address this. For example, De Reu et al. (2013) describe a method for three-dimensional recording of archaeological features using digital photogrammetry, while Roosevelt et al. (2015) describe the complete digital workflow of a digital site recording system incorporating 3D spatial recording of spatial contexts. Generally, however, such studies tend to be cast in terms of improving efficiency, streamlining procedures, simplifying processes and increasing consistency – hence superficially rational and essentially utopian in outlook. Although Roosevelt et al., for example, argue that the results are positive because it leaves more time for archaeological engagement with the physical material (2015, 342), the suspicion remains that such ideals may be notional rather than actual, especially in a commercial environment. The drawback of a workflow approach is that, by definition, it outlines a working procedure, one that is successful according to the criteria applied and one in which negative aspects – if mentioned – are challenges that have been overcome. Similarly, the pages of the annual Computer Applications in Archaeology conference proceedings are filled with accounts of applications and case studies of their use, but examples of failure are rare, not least because the incentives for authors and publishers to report successes are naturally greater. Adopting an ethnographic approach that employs Heersmink's cognitive dimensions could go a considerable way in coming to a more nuanced understanding of the context of use of a compactant.


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