Mini journal logo  Home Issue Contents All Issues

Debating AI in Archaeology: applications, implications, and ethical considerations

Martina Tenzer, Giada Pistilli, Alex Brandsen and Alex Shenfield

Cite this as: Tenzer, M., Pistilli, G., Brandsen, A. and Shenfield, A. 2024 Debating AI in Archaeology: applications, implications, and ethical considerations, Internet Archaeology 67.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not a recent development. However, with increasing computational capabilities, AI has developed into Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning, technologies particularly good at detecting correlations and patterns, and categorising, predicting, or extracting information. Within archaeology, AI can process big data accumulated over decades of research and deposited in archives. By combining these capabilities, AI offers new insights and exciting opportunities to create knowledge from archaeological archives for contemporary and future research. However, the ethical implications and human costs are not yet fully understood. Therefore, we question whether AI in archaeology is a blessing or a curse.

  • Google Scholar
  • Keywords: artificial intelligence, AI, archaeology, heritage studies, ethics
  • Accepted: 15 February 2024. Published: 29 February 2024
  • Funding: The publication of this article was funded by the University of York Open Access Fund.
  • PDF download (main article text only)

Corresponding author: Martina TenzerORCID logo
University of York

Giada PistilliORCID logo
Sorbonne University

Alex BrandsenORCID logo
Leiden University

Alex ShenfieldORCID logo
Sheffield Hallam University

Full text

Anichini, F., Dershowitz, N., Dubbini, N., Gattiglia, G., Itkin, B. and Wolf, L. 2021 'The automatic recognition of ceramics from only one photo: The ArchAIDE app', Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 36, 102788.

Argyrou, A. and Agapiou, A. 2022 'A review of artificial intelligence and remote sensing for archaeological research', Remote Sensing 14(23), 6000.

Barredo Arrieta, A., Díaz-Rodríguez, N., Del Ser, J., Bennetot, A., Tabik, S., Barbado, A., Garcia, A., Gil-Lopez, S., Molina, D., Benjamins, R., Chatila., R. and Herrera, F. 2020 'Explainable artificial intelligence (XAI): concepts, taxonomies, opportunities and challenges toward responsible AI', Information Fusion 58, 82-115.

Bender, E.M., Gebru, T., McMillan-Major, A. and Shmitchell, S. 2021 'On the dangers of stochastic parrots: can language models be too big?' in Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency. FAccT '21. 1 March 2021, New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. 610-623.

Bevan, A. 2015 'The data deluge', Antiquity 89(348), 1473-1484.

Bickler, S. H. 2021 'Machine learning arrives in archaeology', Advances in Archaeological Practice 9(2), 186-191.

Brandsen, A. and Lippok, F. 2021 'A burning question - using an intelligent grey literature search engine to change our views on early medieval burial practices in the Netherlands', Journal of Archaeological Science 133, 105456.

Casilli, A. 2019 En Attendant les Robots: Enquête sur le Travail du Clic, Paris: Seuil.

Casini, L., Marchetti, N., Montanucci, A., Orrù, V. and Roccetti, M. 2023 'A human-AI collaboration workflow for archaeological sites detection', Scientific Reports 13(1), 8699.

Clavert, F. and Gensburger, S. 2023 'Is artificial intelligence the future of collective memory? Bridging AI scholarship and Memory Studies', Call for papers for the second volume of the Memory Studies Review (Brill publishing), 2024. [Last accessed: 2 November 2023]

Cobb, P. 2023 'Large Language Models and Generative AI, Oh My!: Archaeology in the Time of ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Beyond', Advances in Archaeological Practice 11, 363-369.

Cohen, A., Klassen, S. and Evans, D. 2020 'Ethics in Archaeological Lidar', Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology 3(1), 76-91.

Crawford, K. 2021 Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Davis, D. 2020 'Defining what we study: The contribution of machine automation in archaeological research', Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage 18, e00152.

Eagles, P. 2022 'Artificial intelligence for data enhancement, linking and exploration', Unpath'd Waters [website] [Last accessed 2 November 2023].

Fisher, M., Fradley, M., Flohr, P., Rouhani, B. and Simi, F. 2021 'Ethical considerations for remote sensing and open data in relation to the endangered archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa project', Archaeological Prospection 28(3), 279-292.

Gattiglia, G. 2022 'A postphenomenological perspective on digital and algorithmic archaeology', Archeologia e Calcolatori 33(2), 319-334.

Gutherz, G., Gordin, S., Sáenz, L., Levy, O. and Berant, J. 2023 'Translating Akkadian to English with neural machine translation', PNAS Nexus 2(5), pgad096.

Harari, Y.N. 2017 'The rise of the useless class', [website] [Last accessed: 17 May 2023].

Huggett, J. 2021 'Algorithmic agency and autonomy in archaeological practice', Open Archaeology 7, 417-434.

Ihde, D. 2009 Postphenomenology and Technoscience: The Peking University Lectures, SUNY series in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, New York, NY, USA: Suny Press. [Last accessed: 17 May 2023].

Johnson, R.L., Pistilli, G., Menédez-González, N., Denisse Dias Duran, L., Panai, E., Kalpokiene, J. and Bertulfo, D.J. 2022 'The ghost in the machine has an American accent: value conflict in GPT-3', arXiv.

Kansteiner, W. 2022 'Digital doping for historians: can history, memory, and historical theory be rendered artificially intelligent?', History and Theory 61(4), 119-133.

Köpf, A., Kilher, Y., von Rütte, D., Anagnostidis, S., Tam, Z.-R, Stevens, K., Barhoum, A., Duc, N.M., Stanley, O., Nagyfi, R., ES, S., Suri, S., Glushkov, D., Dantuluri, A., Maguire, A., Schuhmann, C., Nguyen, H. and Mattick, A. 2023 'OpenAssistant conversations -- Ddemocratizing large language model alignment', arXiv. [Last accessed: 10 May 2023].

Lundberg, S. and Lee, S.-I. 2017 'A unified approach to interpreting model predictions', arXiv.

Novaković, P. 2018 'Impact of the large-scale excavations in the Slovene preventive archaeology'.[Last accessed: 17 May 2023].

Pistilli, G. 2022 'What lies behind AGI: ethical concerns related to LLMs', Revue Ethique et Numérique, hal-03607808. [Last accessed: 17 May 2023].

Ponti, M. and Seredko, A. 2022 'Human-machine-learning integration and task allocation in citizen science', Humanities and Social Sciences Communications 9(1), 1-15.

Raji, I.D., Gebru, T., Mitchell, M., Buolamwini, J. and Lee, J. and Denton, E. 2020 'Saving Face: investigating the ethical concerns of facial recognition auditing' in Proceedings of the AAAI/ACM Conference on AI, Ethics, and Society. AIES '20. 7 February 2020, New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. 145-151.

Resler, A., Yeshurun, R., Natalio, F., and Giryes, R. 2021 'A deep-learning model for predictive archaeology and archaeological community detection', Humanities and Social Sciences Communications 8(1), 1-10.

Russell, S. and Norvig, P. 2016 Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, Global Edition, Boston: Pearson. [Last accessed: 17 May 2023].

Spennemann, D. H. 2023 'Generative artificial intelligence, human agency and the future of cultural heritage', SSRN Electronic Journal.

Tenzer, M. 2022 'Tweets in the Peak: Twitter analysis - the impact of Covid-19 on cultural landscapes', Internet Archaeology 59.

Tenzer, M. and Schofield, J. 2023 'Using Topic Modelling to reassess heritage values from a people-centred perspective - Applications from the north of England', Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

Turing, A.M. 1950 'I.-computing machinery and intelligence', Mind LIX(236), 433-460.

Véliz, C. 2021 Privacy is Power: Why and How You Should Take Back Control of Your Data, Corgi.

Verschoof-van der Vaart, W. B., Lambers, K., Kowalczyk, W. and Bourgeois, Q.P.J. 2020 'Combining deep learning and location-based ranking for large-scale archaeological prospection of LiDAR data from the Netherlands', ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information 9(5), 293.

World Archaeological Congress (WAC) 2024 Code of Ethics, World Archaeological Congress. [Last accessed: 26 February 2024].

Wilner, A. S. 2018 'Cybersecurity and its discontents: artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and digital misinformation', International Journal 73(2), 308-316.

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.

Terms and Conditions | Legal Statements | Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy | Citing Internet Archaeology

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.