Alan Vince

Cite this as: A. Vince 1998 'Issue 5, Editorial', Internet Archaeology 5.

The publication of Michael Walker and Jose Gibert's paper on their important work at two palaeolithic cave sites in southern Spain and the hominid fossils found there (Walker and Gibert at al. 1998) in December 1998 brings to a close the fifth issue of Internet Archaeology. As usual, we have a varied crop of papers, ranging in date from the Lower Palaeolithic to the 18th century AD and geographically from southern Spain to northern England (Newcastle), together with reviews of two wide-ranging CDs, with very different target audiences.

The first CD is the digital publication of a set of papers presented at an academic conference (reviewed by David Wheatley, Wheatley 1998) whilst the second is an introduction to numismatics published by the British Museum and designed for the general reader (reviewed by Philip de Jersey, de Jersey 1998). Can I ask all producers of digital publications who would like their work to be reviewed in the journal to contact our reviews editor, Gary Lock, or Judith Winters at the editorial office.

1. The WWW as a speedy means of publication

In previous editorials I have stressed the value of the World Wide Web for the incorporation of new media into publications and blurring the boundaries between publication, data and archive. In this issue, however, we have a paper which is quite traditional in presentation, uses few graphics, all within the capabilities and budgets of print journals, and whose sole concession to the Web is the hyperlinking of the text. However, the paper, by ten researchers based in the north of England (mainly the Universities of Newcastle and Bradford) is an important innovation for us, in that it demonstrates a previously under-emphasised strength of Web publication, its speed (Gernaey et al 1998).

The paper was presented to Internet Archaeology in November and went through our standard rigorous process of peer-review, copy editing and Web preparation and was published in the following month.

Here, then, is an important discovery - that it is possible to identify the presence of tuberculosis in burials dating to the 18th and early 19th centuries - published formally and world-wide within a period of eight weeks and, according to our access statistics within the month read by over 230 people.

As the authors point out, their discovery has the potential to give us a non-cultural index of "poverty" as well as opening up the possibility of studying the apparently cyclical prevalence of the disease. Since detection of the MTB DNA requires stringent sampling procedures, described in the paper, it is important that those involved in the excavation of human remains and the study of ancient populations are aware of these procedures so that they can plan accordingly.

2. West Heslerton

Regular readers will not be surprised to find another two installments of the West Heslerton story in this issue. In previous issues we have published methodological papers on the refinement of the site's geophysical survey (Lyall and Powlesland 1996) and the use of multi-spectral imagery in the wider landscape survey of which the West Heslerton excavations are a part (Powlesland et al. 1996). In this issue we have a third methodological paper, on the use of web technology and CD-ROMs as a part of the post-excavation archiving and analysis process (Powlesland, Clemence and Lyall 1998). This paper is also the first we have published on a theme which will form the core of our next issue (see below).

Now we are proud to publish the Project Design for the post-excavation and publication of the West Heslerton excavations, hopefully to be followed over the next few issues by research papers generated by this project (Powlesland 1998). In addition to presenting an agenda for the ongoing research and publication project this paper also provides the first detailed summary of the results of the excavation, together with plans and colour photos.

The structure of the assessment follows guidelines laid down by English Heritage, who have funded the excavation, the post-excavation research and the final publications. Internet Archaeology is very pleased to announce that English Heritage provided a grant towards the publication of the assessment document. The structure and terminology used are fully explained in English Heritage's own publication, the Management of Archaeological Projects (2nd Edn, English Heritage 1991) now also available online.

The publication strategy of the West Heslerton excavations is laid out in the assessment report in section 9. Traditional print publication plays an important part in this strategy but the report emphasises the advantages of digital distribution, both of data and specialist reports.

3. Calmap - an innovative use of java

An innovation for Internet Archaeology this issue is the use of java. Java has always promised to transform Web publication and yet most of the applets one encounters are either trivial in the extreme or don't actually work.

In their work on Early Mesolithic Scotland: interactive maps Rob Sands, Magnar Dalland and Patrick Ashmore have produced something which is not only technically innovative but is actually archaeologically valuable, bringing together all radiocarbon dates for the Scottish Mesolithic period and displaying them on a map with accompanying sliding timeline. Exactly the same approach could profitably now be taken with other similar datasets.

Much of the value of this work comes from the care with which the data has been assembled and checked. Wherever possible, the circumstances of excavation and sampling are described and each site is linked the the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments in Scotland's online database, CANMORE. We are extremely grateful to RCAHMS for allowing us to link to this extremely useful resource.

For those readers whose browsers cannot cope with the version of Java used in Calmap, the authors have also provided an HTML version of the gazetteer (though unfortunately you will not be able to view the interactive distribution map).

4. Publishing Archaeology on the Web

Calmap is part of a publication by Magnar Dalland and Caroline Wickham-Jones of a small mesolithic site in eastern Scotland, at Fife Ness (Wickham-Jones and Dalland 1998) and both this and Calmap were funded by Historic Scotland. One of the conditions of grant for electronic publication using Historic Scotland's funds is that it should be possible to download a version of the paper from a single mouse click. Consequently, the excavation report is now awailable for downloading either as a zipped Rich Text Format file (rtf) or a Portable Document Format file (pdf). If either of these options is useful to you please let us know so that we can include the option in future papers.

Another feature in the paper is the way in which the finds catalogue (an assemblage of flints and hammerstones in this case) is available as an interactive database both within the body of the paper and for separate query (Wickham-Jones and Dalland 1998, Database of flints). Thus, it is possible to view the data as guided by the authors but also to explore the possibility of other, unrecognised patterns.

This then raises the whole issue of how the Internet, and specifically the World Wide Web could or should be used in archaeological research. At present, it seems, we are moving on from a situation in which the Web was used mainly by computer-aware archaeologists, the advance guard of the Information Revolution, to a time when it is used as yet another tool by mainstream professionals, and increasingly also by people studying archaeology as a hobby. A number of projects have now tried to use the Internet and the Web either for dissemination of results or for maintaining contact between project team members. However, the uptake is by no means as quick or enthusiastic as might have been predicted. The experiences of these projects, and in particular the unforseen setbacks, could be valuable for anyone who is just about to start similar projects. Accordingly, Issue Six of Internet Archaeology will be devoted to a single theme, Publication in the Digital Age. We have commissioned a small number of papers but are still keen to hear from potential authors. For this theme, it doesn't matter if the whole project ended in disaster your experience could be useful as a warning to others. If, on the other hand, you have just published your site on the Web and have solved all the problems involved no doubt the whole world would like to hear about it. In either case, please read the call for papers then contact Judith Winters email at the editorial office.


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Wed Jan 13 1999