In sum, we have seen here many interesting perspectives on electronic delivery of archeological information. It is clear that we will be using electronic forms of delivery more and more in the future; it is clear that we can do many new and exciting things in the process; it is clear that new paradigms must be developed. At the same time, it is equally clear that issues of cost remain to be determined in many areas, that we must resist the temptation to use the technology for its own sake, and that we must consider the skills required of users. Finally, we need to be more aware of the potential problems of providing data that have been manipulated by computers for us — but not in ways permitting and requiring our inspection and examination. In each of these areas the key to moving successfully forward may be found first in having real aims and goals, second in planning appropriate measurements of our results, and third in carrying out the measurements. Some of these issues, however, require more open discussion among interested scholars — particularly the issues surrounding the question of appropriate digital forms for archeological data. Perhaps these issues would be appropriate subjects for another SAA session.
Promoting electronic access to preservation information is a major focus of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training’s mission. This focus is embodied in Goal #3 of NCPTT’s Five-year Plan — “Increased and improved access to preservation and conservation information and user knowledge of electronic means to obtain information.”
Opportunities for providing electronic access to archaeological information have broadened dramatically in recent years. Electronic mechanisms enable quicker access to — and more illustrations in — the kinds of materials traditionally published on paper. In addition, the potential for publishing materials that generally have not been published at all, such as data sets and field records, is greatly expanded. This publication began as a symposium at the 64th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Chicago. The papers included discuss a variety of information types and access systems in order to assess the utility of various electronic means for the dissemination and utilization of data that are important to the archeological community.
Jointly sponsored by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, the Publications Committee of the Society for American Archaeology and the Archaeological Data Archive Project, the symposium was entitled “Delivering Archeological Information Electronically.” The session — co-chaired by Mary S. Carroll and Harrison Eiteljorg, II — included nine presentations and two discussants. One presentation from the session — Richard Leventhal’s — is not included in this volume. Eight presentations from the symposium are published here in the same order as presented at the meeting with one exception: The comments of the two discussants — Harrison Eiteljorg, II and Mark Aldenderfer — are published as the introductory and closing articles.
As archeology and society as a whole rely more and more on digital information, issues and implications arise — many of which are discussed in this volume.
- How do we ascribe authorship to complex
electronic works? And how do we encourage academia to view electronic works in the same light as print publications?
- Accustomed as we are to citing print publications, how do we cite electronic sources, especially constantly changing Web sites? Though mundane, the troublesome nature of this question became clear to me as I put this publication together!
- How do we best plan and design Web sites so that users can access information easily and efficiently?
- How can we use electronic media for purposes other than research or information dissemination — such as teaching and communication?
- What direction will paper journals take as electronic journals develop? Will they disappear altogether or will they co-exist with their digital counterparts?
- How do we preserve the digital information that we are creating? Along with the focus on electronic dissemination of information comes a responsibility to preserve digital data. Preservation of digital data is a complex and critical issue that involves both the permanence of the media on which the data are stored and the rapid changes to the technology used to access the information.
- How do we ensure that the digital data are not only preserved but also accessible, usable and understandable?
- How do we ensure access is provided to the appropriate audience? How do we protect data of a sensitive nature? When is it appropriate to open access to all and when should access be restricted?
- Is the technology used appropriate to the task at hand or is it a case of being swept along in the race to use state-of-the-art systems? Are we engaging in overkill?
The goal now is to continue the discussions and to include industry and the wider preservation community. These issues will not resolve themselves but require systematic, long-term attention so that archeological data — and any digital data — will not become lost remnants of the past.
Many thanks go to the participants of the session for their insights and enthusiasm, to the Publications Committee of SAA and the Archaeological Data Archive Project for agreeing to co-sponsor the symposium, and to my co-chair for his assistance in soliciting speakers and focusing the session.