Sunday, 16 March 2014

Agathe - It is easy when you know how

This week left me almost speechless in admiration. I attended themed open lectures and a workshop on Digital documentation in archaeology at the Uppsala University and saw something truly original. The first to present was Bruce Hartzler from The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), who presented the digital documentation system he has developed for The School using iPads and Apple apps. Nevertheless, his system is unique, since he does all the essential coding himself and can create what he sees fit and his colleagues need. Basically, he has a system, where he combines hand-drawn plans, scanned as base maps for the system, vectorised basic forms representing contexts and colour-coding representing chronology. Then using web graphics style area and point links he has linked pages from field notebooks and iPad held notes to these plans. He can also show the simple vectorised plans in section and the movement I saw was something I have not seen in any other system. As said, the coding is his.

ASCSA web site

Why he is not a more widely known is probably down to the fact that he came to The Americal School as a classics student and has only attended one international Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) Conference, namely the one in Herakleion in 2002. His classical background and lack of deeper knowledge of wider archaeology became apparent when he himself was totally ignorant who Ian Hodder and Michael Shanks are during our discussion when I asked him about him potentially collaborating with other America-based researchers with different reflexive web applications. His solution does create the kind of reflexive multi-author recording the theorists have been talking about and their teams have been trying to create, but he came to it through practice. He needed to make records of old Agora notebooks that splendidly cross-index finds and structures. Sadly, this singing and dancing iMap version is not running on the Agora excavations web site, but the Agathe database is still a very good record of one of the most important excavations in the Mediterranean at

Naturally, Bruce’s system has some apparent drawbacks. It works extremely well for Agora and other American excavations in Greece and potentially most of the classical excavations. However, it requires all to be done on Macs and iPads and quite sizable continuous infrastructural financing. It is also totally reliant on him, since he has not trained anybody to help him or be able to continue his work. He has been at the Agora since the 1990s so he knows the work practices and material he is dealing with, but he also knows his computing. He has been programming since he was a teenager. I hope they are making notes on him and videoing his programming and working styles at the ACCSA... The most creative archaeological computing person I have met this far.

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