[Internet Archaeology]

Internet Archaeology Archive: NCPTT Notes of 1999

Internet Archaeology

Mike Heyworth, Julian Richards, Alan Vince & Judith Winters

In recent years traditional print publication has become increasingly limiting for archaeology. The limitations include: small and expensive print runs; high distribution costs; declining library subscriptions; and a tiny readership. As a consequence greater selection is required and full publication is rarely possible. Some publishers adopted microfiche as a method of distributing supporting information and specialists reports, but this has proved consistently unpopular and has its own limitations.

Archaeological fieldwork generates huge quantities of data and with developments in information technology much of this data is now captured in a digital format. Why not distribute the data electronically to overcome the limitations of print technology? Archaeological reports are well-suited to multimedia publication which allows access to colour images and large data-sets, as well as permitting several possible journeys through the hypertext.

This motivation led a consortium of archaeological organizations, including the Council for British Archaeology, the British Academy and several UK university archaeology departments (Durham, Glasgow, Oxford, Southampton and York), to propose an electronic journal for archaeology (Heyworth et al 1996). A successful bid was made to the UKs Electronic Libraries (eLib) programme of the Joint Information Systems Committee (a higher education community funded initiative) and the journal office, based at the University of York, was established in August 1995. Funding from the eLib programme runs for six years on a tapering basis. This has initially allowed access to the journal to be free to all users, but subscription charges will have to be introduced in the near future to ensure a continuing revenue steam.

The journal (ISSN 1363-5387) aims to become one of the world's foremost archaeological journals of record. It presents the results of archaeological research in a readable manner, and at the same time allows readers to explore the data upon which the conclusions of the research are based. It covers all elements of world archaeology, is fully refereed and has no print equivalent, so that the full functionality of the electronic environment can be utilized.

Five issues of the journal have now been published at http://intarch.ac.uk. The varied contents include contributions on selected artefact groups and environmental data, as well as discussions of particular developments in archaeological methodology. As well as text and colour graphics, the contributions include searchable databases, virtual reality models and interactive maps.

Academic issues

One of the aims of Internet Archaeology is to contribute to the process of culture change required before electronic publication is accepted amongst the academic community. There are a number of serious worries which affect the acceptance of an on-line journal.

The first of these is quality. Mainly because of the uncontrolled way in which usage of the Internet has developed there is a genuine concern that much of the information available is garbage, and furthermore, that it is impossible to locate and distinguish resources of value. Such problems are essentially no different from concerns that sales of the works of von Dniken and others outstrip more reputable works, except that it is difficult to identify scholarly imprints from an Internet address.

Internet Archaeology has tried to follow traditional academic publishing models by adopting peer refereeing of all articles, both for content and for web-based realization. It has also adopted a traditional Harvard-style referencing system, modified with the substitution of URL for publisher and place of publication, in order to provide a familiar feel for journals cannot be of as high quality as publications that one has to pay for.

A second and related concern is that of security. The nature of much material disseminated via the World Wide Web is transitory and ephemeral. Links may disappear from one week to the next, underlining the fragility of digital data. Authors will be understandably reluctant to offer substantial research articles for sole publication in the journal if it cannot guarantee that they will still be accessible in 10 or even 100 years. Electronic publications need to be archived so that their content is protected from change whether by accident or design by anyone, including the author. Internet Archaeology has adopted the editorial policy that it will not change the content of a paper once published (even if errors are identified), although further editions are possible through the use of version control. It has also sought to limit external Internet links to the bibliography sections of papers and exclude them from the main body of a paper to avoid links to sites which subsequently disappear. Finally, it has also sought to ensure the long-term preservation of back issues by depositing them with the Archaeology Data Service (see http://ads.ahds.ac.uk).

The third concern is that of academic respectability and tenure. Promotion in higher education is dependent upon publication and there have been worries that electronic publication would not count. It is highly significant, therefore, that many universities in the USA, including Rutgers and Rice, now consider electronic publication to be an appropriate means of scholarly communication and will evaluate it on the same basis as paper publication for purposes of appointment and promotion. Similarly, in the UK, the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise was the first in which electronic publications were given the same weighting as their paper equivalents.

First impressions

Internet Archaeology Issue One was published on the web in September 1996 and subsequent issues each cover a six month period. Papers are published as and when the refereeing process and any consequent revisions are complete and an issue is 'closed' at the end of the six month period.

Throughout the journal's existence, access to the papers' contents has been controlled by the use of a registration system which was used to record information about the journal's users. By the end of January 1999 over 13,000 individuals had registered. This information augments that which is recorded automatically by the web server software every time a page is requested from the server. Combining the two data-sets, we have the potential to characterize the audience for Internet Archaeology and answer some questions about the way the journal is used. A detailed analysis of the usage of the first issue was carried out in 1997 and is published in Issue Three of the journal (Vince 1997). Further evaluation work is now underway to gauge reactions to the journal from both users and contributors to guide the future development of the journal.

References

Heyworth, M, S Ross & J Richards 1996. Internet archaeology: an international electronic journal for archaeology, in H. Kamermans & K. Fennema (ed.), Interfacing the past: computer applications and quantitative methods in archaeology CAA95: 517-23. Leiden: University of Leiden. Analecta Praehistorica Leidensia 28.

Vince, A 1997. Publishing archaeology on the Web: who reads this stuff anyway?, Internet Archaeology 3, http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue3/vince_index.html

Drs Heyworth & Richards are co-directors of the Internet Archaeology journal. Dr Vince is the Managing Editor and Ms Winters is the Assistant Editor.


Contact details

Dr Mike Heyworth
Deputy Director
Council for British Archaeology
Bowes Morrell House
111 Walmgate
York YO1 9WA
United Kingdom
tel +(44) 1904 671417
fax +(44) 1904 671384
email m.heyworth@dial.pipex.com


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