Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

CAA UK 2007 Day One

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Crikey, day one and we’ve already had something like 15 talks. So where to start, since it’s all been great? These conferences are good because you get a real range of speakers, so we had a run down of twenty years of the archaeological computing MSc at the university here, the archaeology of Greenham Common protests, tracking the routes of students between two pubs in Cardiff and what that can tell us about phenomenology, using network analysis to study the interaction between the cities of Minoa, using “fireshed” analysis and the location of bullets and cases at Litle Bighorn to analyse the movements of the individual combatants, and last but not least a gallop through the varying ways that the International Documentation and Research Committee of ICOM (CIDOC) are trying to document archaeological monuments and the events (eg excavations and surveys) that bring them to light. I’ve no doubt missed a few people and apologise for that, but it’s late.

To focus on just a couple of the talks: I’m interested in the network analysis idea because I’m hoping to use it on a project I’m working on looking at the location of prehistoric settlements (mainly identified by clearance cairns or piles of stones to the uninitiated, which is where they cleared land for cultivation) in the Lake District Uplands. As well as being able to analyse the location of the sites within the landscape, can we look at the interaction between them using networks? I haven’t looked at this side of things before so I know nothing about it but hope to try it out at least.

I also liked Joseph Reeves’ idea of mapping the routes between pubs as a way of examining ideas of phenomenology. Not being an archaeological theorist, I had to go and look phenomenology up on google, but in archaeological terms it refers to the relationship between a person and the material world. This tends to lead to all sorts of discussions about the way neolithic man interacted with his landscape, but seems to assume some kind of deep conscious decision about most actions. What the relatively lighthearted experiment of plotting the routes people took between two Cardiff pubs showed was that sometimes people got lost and sometimes they were just more familiar with some routes than others. By getting the participants to record what was important to them as they walked along Joseph showed that it wasn’t the big historical monuments people were interested in, but the daffodils in the park, spending time with their partner, and whether they should take the shortcut and get muddy shoes but hopefully get to the pub quicker. The long and the short of this is that we shouldn’t always assume people did something because of some deep ritual siginificance, but that maybe they just took the same path every day because that was what they were used to. I like that approach- you can’t beat a bit of theory debunking to lighten up your afternoon!

Enough anyhow, till tomorrow