Where in the hell am I?

September 17, 2013

Thinking about #freearchaeology and #crowdsourcing #archaeology part 1

During those times when I’m not tweeting about my new kitties or Thin Lizzy, I’ve been sharing some ideas and musings about issues in archaeology. One of these is the ongoing debate/controversy over what is being called #freearchaeology, involving the use of interns and volunteers in lieu of paying people. There are many good blog posts about this, click this one for a start or do a search using your favorite search engine. Another issue has also popped up recently, about using crowdsourcing platforms to fund archaeological research (in particular, but not exclusively, PhD research) and scientific projects and research in general. These are obviously related, as both involve trying to deal with the drastic reductions in public and private funding of science and research.

One point I’ve made regarding Free Archaeology is that when you use volunteers, you are reliant on their level of interest in what you are doing. Volunteers like to dig in the “honey holes”, they may not care much for surveying through thick brush, digging negative shovel tests, or labeling debitage. And, if they’re not being paid, there’s no reason for them to agree to do so, and you can’t (or shouldn’t) force them.

In a similar vein, today I suggested that trying to crowdfund archaeological research favors the “sexy” projects, and that the pressure to do “Popular” archaeology would be very high. Note: I was involved in a research project that was partly funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, but was canceled for other reasons. I feel the need to make that completely clear, and I will address this at some time in the future.

Let’s say a crowdfunding platform had a choice between 2 projects in Italy: one is studying artifacts from a wealthy Roman villa, the other is studying the lithic assemblage from a Mesolithic site (I’m making these up and I have no idea if there are Mesolithic sites in Italy). Which is more likely to pique the public’s interest, and get them to kick in some money? Now (and this is a controversial question that reflects my own biases), which one is more likely to yield unique new insights into the past of Italy? As I said on Twitter, think about the kind of articles and projects featured in National Geographic or Archaeology Magazine, versus an archaeological journal.

Just some things to ponder. I’ll have another post in the next day or so that uses my thesis research experience to explore some of these ideas.

(finally, Ruby wanted to add this: /;;;; )



  1. Really interesting, thanks​!​

    I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across about crowds and citizen science.​ ​In particular I feel you may find these two emerging pieces of research very relevant:

    – The Theory of Crowd Capital

    – The Contours of Crowd Capability

    Powerful stuff!

    Comment by hqy — September 18, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

  2. […] couple of days ago, I outlined a couple of issues that are at the root of my problems with Free Archaeology and Crowdsourcing Archaeology. In both […]

    Pingback by Thinking about #freearchaeology and #crowdsourcing #archaeology part 2: an example? | Where in the hell am I? — September 19, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  3. This is going to sound strange, but I feel like I should know you…I mean like really. I probably don’t. I agree with you. About crowd sourcing and free archaeology. I currently work for a County Park Authority in the mid-Atlantic. The dynamic between the work & staff, student or volunteer is interesting. The interpretation for public, the funding of projects, the focus of interest is all part of interesting dynamics. Ok so before I write my own blog post here, I just want to say so much of what you are saying sounds familiar. I went to the University of Texas at Austin graduated in archaeology and traveled across the United States doing CRM. I worked at a kids outdoor science camp in Oregon for a while and did the atlatl thing, but also did the same thing on an archaeology site used for teaching kids outside of Austin back in college. Ah, the atlatl. I have participated in Day of Archaeology a few times now. Do I know you? Either way, I miss and love Austin so say hello to it for me. It is a good place to be.

    Comment by Zabzaya (Elizabeth) — September 20, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    • Hi, I don’t recall knowing an archaeologist named Elizabeth in Austin. I was at UT grad school 2002-2004, technically in Latin American Studies but all my classes were archaeology. After that SWCA until this April. I bet we know some of the same people, at least! Small world.
      What site outside of Austin? Is that something still happening?
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Comment by John — September 21, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      • Seems like we missed each other. I never worked for SWCA and by 2002 was basically east coast. I do not recall the site and am having trouble finding any information on it. I only did it a couple times and was like a doe in headlights at the time, 1999. It was small (at the time, but I also interned at Gault and that was smallish at the time). It was a floodplain right off a river west of Austin (uh, helpful? :). The site had units open but no one digging and used sandboxes for the kids.

        Comment by Zabzaya (Elizabeth) — September 22, 2013 @ 10:52 am

  4. PS really enjoy reading what you have to say, am following you now.

    Comment by Zabzaya (Elizabeth) — September 20, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

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