Bill Caraher who blogs at The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World posted a comment to my New Math post. Since the gist of the New Math post was a quote by Richard Rothaus, not me, I wasn’t really prepared to answer his comment immediately. But I thought that his comment on cost of tech vs. labor deserved its own post. So I am elevating it to an article and have commented on it below.

John,

That comment caused me to think a good bit as well! I keep trying to think of ways to factor in the true cost of digital archaeology.  For example, while I agree that converting paper to digital is a hassle, it is nevertheless a hassle that can be accomplished back in the US by inexpensive labor (e.g. graduate students, spouses, faculty free time). Digital data capture in the field (and you know that I am a huge fan of a digital archaeological workflow) may take additional time in the field (Richard even admits to this).  Time in country is expensive.

Moreover, technology is (compared to paper) expensive.

Person hours, from the perspective of an academic archaeology (and Richard has “gone pro”) are cheap.

So the equation is more complex (as you know).

I’m pretty excited to read your blog and learn how you came up with such clever processes!

Bill

Bill,

Thanks for the comment.

I find that expense, as it relates to digital vs. paper is directly related to the process, not the goal.

I have seen many examples of time wasted in the field by moving the exact same notes from one paper media to another. From, say, an informal field notebook to a ‘clean’ representation of the same data on a form, and finally entered into a database and even printed out for a more permanent ‘bound’ notebook. That is an extreme example, but this happens with every bit of each process: photo tagging, data entry, matrix building, final report writing. And the larger the team the greater number of people hours spent redoing the same work.

I have also seen a progression over the years. At Troy everything was written down and selected bits were entered into the computer (films scanned, drawings scanned, notebooks and field forms scanned, finds quantified and entered) and all the Troy grad students did during the academic year was to catch up on this work. My experience in Albania, on survey was different and governed by an “everything digital before we leave the site” principle. But there were still some data entry and data check projects done by students after the field season. Now I am on the brink of having a project with complete “born digital” data and now our students get to spend their winter helping with the research and analytical tasks instead of remedial data entry and scanning.

I don’t really embrace the “technology is expensive” argument. Some tech is expensive some is not. Some tech is expensive and doesn’t contribute much. Some is cheap and can change everything about the way you work.

So I hope to expand on this complex equation in the course of this blog.

John

 

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