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10.1. The Thin End of the Digital Wedge

This critique is directly related to the notion that interpretation necessarily begins at the trowel's edge. Although as stated above the explicit notion of 'information at the trowel's edge' on the tablet does have the huge benefit of facilitating a wider holistic interpretation in the field, it can equally be argued that by eliminating the physicality of graphical recording we actually hammer a digital wedge into the interpretive process at an early stage. Since the implementation of tablet recording at Çatalhöyük it has been possible to note a distinct detachment from the physicality of the site during the recording process. Potentially, the archaeologist has no physical interaction with the archaeological remains during the recording process. There is a tendency, even for very experienced archaeologists, to plan from the edge of the trench, or worse still, when encountering technical issues associated with the temperature on site, or logistical bottlenecks for the tablets themselves, or the photographic kit required to generate a digital record of a deposit, to delay the primary recording until they are off-site in the laboratory. This disjuncture lays the foundation for a very dangerous precedent for recording stratigraphy after it has been partially (or fully) excavated, something that goes against the very ethos of a strong single context approach to recording. Furthermore, if one accepts the notion that interpretation begins at the trowel's edge, then this type of delay in the recording disrupts or delays the interpretative process. In effect it hammers a 'digital wedge' into the recursive cycle of interpretation.

So how, as a project, do we mitigate this, especially when dealing with a range of excavators with variable abilities, experience, and, in the case of students, potentially limited practice (even with the traditional techniques of 'analogue' graphical recording which underpin our digital approach)? The technical problems and logistics can be alleviated (possibly eliminated) by selecting the correct equipment (i.e. that which is robust enough to withstand whatever climate it is needed for) and promoting a culture that takes care of it (at Çatalhöyük this manifests in simple measures such as asking excavators not leave tablets in direct sunlight, and bringing them down during breaks to cool-off and recharge in the laboratory). As for the potential physical disengagement during recording – this appears to be simply a bad habit (perhaps a legacy of our societal computing habits, whereby many of us are used to tuning into our computers for extended periods, perhaps with headphones, whilst trying to block out the world around us so that we can concentrate upon the task at hand). Whatever the reason, we have tried to address the issue head on, by reinforcing good practice explicitly within the workflows themselves. Excavators are encouraged to sit by, or stand above, the unit as they are generating their digital plan, to enter the metadata on site, and to check the accuracy then and there. Planning outside the trench is prohibited without good reason.

To a large extent this is enough for us at Çatalhöyük, although there may be other solutions. The 'digital wedge' in the interpretation process is potentially both a wider and a recurrent issue as archaeology sees an increasing trend towards digital primary recording; it is therefore something we need to be vigilant of as a discipline. However we choose to deal with it, it is something we need to recognise and tackle explicitly at a disciplinary level; if we do so, it is clearly an issue that we can surmount.


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