The advances in archaeological field documentation have, among other things, been described as a prelude to a paradigm shift in a scientific revolution (Kristiansen 2014). This equally applies when we address the consequences of new data types and new methodologies in archaeology. New questions and concerns are inevitably raised; is archaeology at a threshold, at risk of abandoning the traditional interpretative and reflexive incentive, for the sake of a documentation that appears to correspond more closely to the observed 'truth'? From a technical point of view, how do we even handle and integrate digital representations of reality and interpretation, which differ profoundly from what traditional archaeological documentation is based on? Do new spatial recording technologies and methods potentially solve or further complicate existing issues, with parallel tracks of fragmented and detached spatial and textual documentation.
Despite having undergone a decade-long digital transformation, much of the archaeological documentation we see today is based on the same basic principles and, generally speaking, a direct migration of the traditional, analogue recording techniques to a digital equivalent. Arguably, new technologies are being applied to the existing methodologies with very little focus on re-defining what we actually want to do with our spatial data. Adaptation is rarely done in a particularly coherent way and data are often reduced to fit within the archaic framework of archaeological concepts. Furthermore, the adherence to the use of line drawing is potentially what is currently deferring an actual paradigm shift in the development of field- and documentation methodology.
Addressing these issues from the point of different methodological traditions and corresponding ideals of documentation, this article has demonstrated that 3D documentation techniques are indeed increasingly accepted and applied despite limitations to the technical frameworks such as GIS or CAD. Even more interesting is the potential of Structure from Motion and similar techniques for archaeological field recording. It may constitute a new methodological framework, bridging the gap between different field archaeological traditions; a middle ground of documentation principles, where single context planning and strict stratigraphical approaches meet the arbitrary pragmatic geometric sectioning of features.
Although different methodological approaches clearly relate to an ideal with consequences for our archaeological praxis, excavation and documentation methodologies are not necessarily restricted or determined by the available technology. Most importantly, modern archaeology tends to be sufficiently open-minded and in support of the continued experimentation that is required to manage new and different methods for data acquisition and spatial documentation and representation.
There is one thing the willingness to test out 3D documentation has shown us – that the propagating ideal of field recording is prepared for change, and not limited to what GIS and CAD allows us to do. We strive for something more, and the technological limits and boundaries of imagination are continually pushed in that direction.
Internet Archaeology is an open access journal based in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.
Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.