Electronic Publication in Archaeology

Electronic publication has started to make inroads into traditional paper publication; it can provide a user with valuable interactivity as well as search capabilities. This paper examines a particular application of these capabilities within archaeology.

The principal options available for electronic publication are CD-ROMs and the Internet: CD-ROMs can be used to publish large quantities of data relating to a particular project or group of projects. The falling costs of CD-Writers make it possible for organisations to publish in this format themselves if they so wish. The great benefit of CD-ROMs is the substantial amount of data they can hold (consider how long it would take - and how much it would cost - to download a 650Mb file across a dial-up connection). However, the data contained on a CD-ROM is static (once released, it cannot be altered or updated) and possibly non-portable. Furthermore, this type of resource is only useful once you are aware of its existence and have physically obtained it.

By contrast, the Internet offers a distributed publication environment in which in principle it should be possible to track down obscure information easily. There are two possible approaches to publishing on the Internet: submission to an on-line journal (or other repository) or separate publication on an individual website. It may be difficult to track down a paper published by the second of these two routes.

On-line journals such as Internet Archaeology are subject to the same peer-review procedures that apply to a conventional, printed, academic journal. They are an ideal medium for the publication of important, innovative work, but perhaps not appropriate for the majority of (often mundane) site reports. Organisations might choose to publish their site reports themselves.

Obviously, a central organisation could volunteer to publish site reports, and impose a standard format for doing so (The Archaeology Data Service holds indexing information for a substantial number of excavation reports from statutory bodies).

However, as many archaeological organisations develop websites, it is interesting to consider how these could be used for the publication of reports. At present, websites are seen primarily as a medium for (a) advertising services and products and (b) providing information for the general public. There appears to be some interest in publishing report summaries but, as yet, no great enthusiasm for publishing full reports. (It would be interesting to determine why this is the case.)

Obviously, publishing an exhaustive compilation of information on a website may be seen as an enormous undertaking. In principle, however, as most reports are prepared electronically, it should not require much extra work to mark them up as HTML documents (especially if authors had this in mind before starting work on a report). Some applications are capable of automatically generating HTML output (unfortunately, the quality of this is variable). On a practical front, these concerns can probably be addressed.

Some other questions arise: would purely electronic reports be acceptable to clients? What about client confidentiality when working in the developer-funded sphere?

This paper does not attempt to answer these questions, but instead deals with the serious practical issues of 'resource discovery', from the perspective of research.


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Last updated: Mon Sept 6 1999