The range of digital provision which may be expected within a medium-sized archaeological organisation may be demonstrated by the situation at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit (BUFAU) where the authors of this article work. Over the last five years there has, in line with most other units, been an increased emphasis on IT within the unit’s activities, and an enhanced rate of digital data creation. Consequently, BUFAU has evolved a significant commitment to digital technology for commercial contracts, educational courses and for research projects. Although situated within a university, the unit is largely responsible for its own IT provision, maintaining several servers and clusters of computers. The centring of the unit’s digital activities around Web-based technologies is also clear. At an early stage in this development ARGE was established at the unit by Martijn van Leusen before ARGE's move to Groningen. More recently the unit has established its own NT Web server to use active server technologies as the base for its own Web services and intranet.

The integration of the archaeological activities of the unit within these distributed services is best demonstrated by a number of the projects carried out at the unit. The Wroxeter Hinterland Project, which received the Queen's Anniversary Award in 1996 for its use of technology, has enabled the unit to engage in Web-based virtual reality development. More recently, a collaboration by unit staff with Dr Ron Yorston (forthcoming) has resulted in the generation of suites of Web-based visualisation tools for the Stonehenge area written as java applets. In both these cases the publication of much of the data can only be as a digital resource.

Educationally one of the most significant recent developments at BUFAU has been the establishment of a Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics course, which has at its centre a strategic digital data sharing agreement between the University of Birmingham and the sites and monuments records in Shropshire and the city of Birmingham. In part this arrangement anticipates the establishment of the West Midlands Metropolitan network (MidMan). MidMan is one of a group of regional high-speed networks which will link higher education bodies and associated organisations (including in some cases local government), within major high-speed networks. These networks will in future provide important regional frameworks for enhanced co-operation and integrated research initiatives based on distributed data networks.

In some ways the latter development emphasises the fundamental change we are witnessing in the move from archaeological publication to data dissemination. The principal characteristic of this change is in the active rather than passive nature of data exchange. In the most limited sense one might suggest that we are witnessing the creation of interactive data mines; sources ready, willing, and able to provide data on request. In fact this is the most limited of views. The dissemination (or publication) of data is actually a formative event. In the case of the Geomatics course described above, the publication and dissemination of SMR data in digital form actually creates an academic space where students can participate with data. Here we can see that the very boundaries of the role of publication are being not eroded but expanded exponentially – such publications do not assist educational acts, they become educational arenas. The provision of interactive data will begin to allow the formation of new relationships between archaeologists, archaeological organisations and the practice of archaeology. The publications of the future will of themselves engender the next generation of publication and most will, inevitably, physically form part of these new works.


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Last updated: Tue March 9 1999