Traditional sources, such as journals, syntheses, and word of mouth, remain the principal means whereby archaeologists obtain information. Monographs and journal articles, together with period, regional and/or subject syntheses, are consulted more frequently than works on theory, heritage, policy and museum catalogues, which a third of respondents said they had not used in the six months prior to the survey. Notably, a fifth of respondents had not consulted fieldwork published as grey literature. The most usual method of obtaining a publication is through the library of a society, university or other institution library, followed by subscription to journals, followed by purchase at publication price.
The survey reveals a firm, though not exclusive, preference for print as the primary medium for archaeological publication. Even by those who use them most, electronic media are at present considered to offer no panacea, perhaps not least because most of the fundamental issues concern how and to what extent archaeological material is actually worked upon, as opposed to the medium used for conveyance of the results. For the foreseeable future, therefore, print is unlikely to be supplanted.
With this said, and even given many respondents' limited experience of electronic publication, a substantial interest was expressed in the Internet. Among those who had consulted electronic publications, half felt that their search facilities were better than conventional print indexes, and that non-linear narrative was preferable to conventional narrative. A quarter felt that the incorporation of 3D modelling, video and sound would be useful.
The survey found that by 1998 archaeological under-use of electronic publication for mainstream work had become self-fulfilling. For example, hesitation in the establishment of electronic monograph series was one reason why this had yet to establish itself as an academically respectable or otherwise practicable genre. Circumstances have since changed. Historic Scotland is actively exploring the potential for an electronic monograph series for the publication of Scottish archaeological fieldwork (the Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports), and there have been declarations from others of intentions to do likewise. There is nevertheless a lingering supposition that electronic publication is simply print in another format, as distinct from a medium with its own strengths and opportunities (in which the survey detects clear interest) as well as weaknesses. Alongside the general commitment to print, therefore, we would encourage an extension of electronic publication, in circumstances where authors are keen to employ it or – more especially – where the work itself would benefit from this kind of handling.
While print remains favoured, it is clearly no longer the only or even main medium for dissemination. The point has been reached, indeed, at which 'publication' and 'dissemination' must be seen as different things. As a means of giving access to archives or disseminating material that would otherwise be relegated to grey literature, the advantages of the Internet are immense, and increasingly accepted. The survey took place against a background of more limited Internet access than exists today, but even so, half of all respondents considered that project archives should be available electronically.
The options on offer do not consist of a straight choice between either print or digital media. It is now possible to envisage 'layered' reports in which the strengths of different media are exploited. For instance, a monograph may be designed to be read in conjunction with downloadable on-demand files that contain specialist reports or site structure detail, further offering queryable databases as part of an accessible archive. This offers the prospect of a new kind of fieldwork report. Far from reinforcing the trend towards pragmatism that has been in progress since the 1970s, the electronic revolution offers archaeology the opportunity to reverse it: to produce the kind of fieldwork reports that members of the discipline actually want to write and read.
© Internet Archaeology
Last updated: Tue Oct 21 2003