Human Subjects Review and Digital Archaeology

On Wednesday I’m spending part of the class time giving a lecture on media licensing (heavy on the Creative Commons) and Human Subjects Review/IRB/ethics issues within digital media and archaeology. While the former has been a regular feature of the class, the latter will be a new feature. The University of California, Berkeley is a tier one research institution and integrating methodological procedures into lectures is an important aspect of our teaching mission. While archaeology generally avoids many of the issues raised by Human Subjects Boards (one of the few times it’s actually helpful to have dead informants), our projects do effect living humans and digital documentation of archaeological research sometimes features descendant communities or stakeholders who are potentially at risk.

The history of Human Subjects Review stems from revelations during the Nuremburg Trials of the medical experimentation performed by Nazi doctors during World War II. This biomedical research code was expanded several times during the 1960s, finally leading to firmer legislation in the 1970s, this time fueled not by war crimes in foreign lands, but our own government’s 30-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study, during which rural black men diagnosed with syphilis went untreated even after effective treatments became available.  The Belmont Report, created in 1979, outlined these three general principles for biomedical and behavioral research:

Beneficence: To maximize benefits for science, humanity, and research participants and to avoid or minimize risk or harm.

Respect: To protect the autonomy and privacy rights of participants

Justice: To ensure the fair distribution among persons and groups of the costs and benefits of research.

So what implications does this have for archaeological research?  Jeffrey Bendremer and Kenneth Richman discuss their research with Native American communities and note that while archaeology “does not satisfy the Common Rule definition of human subject” (Human subject means a living individual about whom an investigator conducting research obtains either data or identifiable private information), applying the codes employed by the Human Subjects Review or forming other independent research advisory counsels would be beneficial to ethical archaeological research. While I am not convinced that such counsels are necessary, archaeology has taken on an increasingly ethnographic bent, and for those of us who are interested in digital documentation, representation, and public outreach, an explicit ethics statement can be very useful in conducting our research.

For example, at Catalhoyuk in 2008 I shot a very short film about one of the kitchen staff (whom we rarely see outside of the context of the dig house) coming up to the tell to see one of the major finds of that season, a bench with intact bull buchrania in a burned building. Then she jumped in the trench that I was working in and started digging with us. I grabbed my video camera and captured some footage, which I later turned into a short film that we showed on community day. She was very happy with the film and I made her a DVD that she could show at home. This was a perfect example for my dissertation of digital documentation being performed in the trench, by excavators, and I asked her permission to put it online so that I could show it to larger audiences. She said no. Her reason? She didn’t want her husband to see her acting in a way that he might feel as inappropriate.

As Bendremer and Richman cite in their paper, the AAA professional code of conduct states: “Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety, dignity, or privacy of the people with whom they work, conduct research, or perform other professional activities.” The World Archaeological Congress is more specific in their application of ethics to the visual medium, stating in the Tamaki Makau-rau Accord that the display of human remains and sacred objects is “recognized as a sensitive issue” and that “display means the presentation in any media or form of human remains and sacred objects, whether on a single occasion or on an ongoing basis, including conference presentations or publications.”

So how do we surmount these ethical concerns and get on with our research? Helpfully, the Tamaki Makau-rau expands:

1)    Permission should be obtained from the affected community or communities.

2)    Should permission be refused that decision is final and should be respected.

3)    Should permission be granted, any conditions to which that permission is subject should be complied with in full.

4)    All display should be culturally appropriate.

5)    Permission can be withdrawn or amended at any stage and such decisions should be respected.

6)    Regular consultation with the affected community should ensure that the display remains culturally appropriate.

The upswing to all of this is that the long arm of Human Subjects Review is getting longer, and if we are actually interested in incorporating live people into our research, we should take these points into consideration. I’ve made a boiler-plate media permissions release for use on site, and we are in the process of getting it translated into Arabic for the coming field season.

Here is the boilerplate_media_release, I would appreciate feedback, if you have some to offer!

Second Day: ViA 2009

(Written earlier, obviously!)

I just got back from a nice, long walk down to Bargate, the old Norman point of entry to Southampton. I walked through the giant fortified arch, and on down the street to the Holy Rood Church, an early 14th century church that was bombed out during WWII. Nothing was open, but it was a lovely fall evening, and I enjoyed my wander around the city. It was my reward for presenting first thing earlier that day!

I gave my paper, which ended up being a bit more case-studyish than about DIY and Edupunk. I was up pretty late the night before putting a few last touches on it, so I was a bit bleary-eyed, but I think I did okay. A lot of people told me they enjoyed the thing. I need to knock it into some kind of shape for the Dhiban directors to check out.

Roger Brown presented his photography of the remarkable Hulton Abbey Skeletal Digitisation Project, which prompted some great discussions of ethics and visuality, especially in regard to human remains. I’m deeply jealous of his ability to light the skeletal remains so the camera picks up some really interesting details. I need a proper light rig with a diffuser and a nice macro lens. Brown also contributed some photos for the Archaeologists | Photographers project, so I’m looking forward to an ongoing collaboration.

Mike Middleton’s paper on the effects of digital technology on visualisation covered a brief history of the process of visualisation and it was illustrated with some lovely drawings, but these pesky illustrators seem to have very little hosted online for me to link to. Anyway, he described his job as “making dots into shapes,” that is, converting recorded archaeological data to a polygon that defines the site shape. He had a pretty brilliant series of slides that showed how slippery that process can be.

The final paper of the morning session was given by Justine Wintjes on her research on remediated Rock Art images from Africa. She gave an incredible presentation that integrated illustrations and digital photographs to provide a palimpsest that enhanced both media, and situated the rock art within a greater environmental context. Her treatment of the original source material and the various versions created by researchers over the years was deeply inspirational–in a perfect world, she’d be coming to UC Berkeley for a postdoc.

After the break, Kate Giles welcomed us back with her model of the Guild Chapel at Stratford-upon-Avon. It was good to see that someone else found 3D models so good to think with, and I must admit that the depictions of the stained glass on the floor was pretty stunning. It also reminded me that I’d really like a class on structural engineering and vernacular architecture. I wonder if there is such a thing?

Vasko Démou brought together art and archaeology through an explicitly political lens in his demonstration of his Renegade Pieces project, an ethnographic study that he will carry out next summer at the Acropolis. He’s juxtaposing accepted knowledge regarding the Acropolis with the standard construction of place by visitors to the site. I think it would be an interesting project to carry it out not only at the Acropolis, but also at different places around Athens–smokey bars, markets, etc. Regardless, I really admire his creativity in his approach to archaeology.

Plans like this make me happy.

One of the more engaging and entertaining presentations was given by Matthew Johnson, who spoke regarding hachured plans. He was building on Trevor Pearson’s paper from 2008 and the reactions that some folks from the States had to all those squiggles indicating slope. I appreciated his discussion connecting visuality to the haptic experience of walking over the English landscape. On the plane home I saw a BBC presentation about a technology that was linked to your shoes–if you set it to “snow” then it felt and sounded like you were walking over snow. It would be fabulous to be able to reenact a hachure plan with a pair of shoes that gave you that kind of feedback as you moved in certain directions over the landscape.

Finally, Andrew Cochrane presented a sampling of his work with Ian Russell, culminating in his curation of an exhibition comparing figurines from the Balkans and Japan. I’ve been a fan of these lads for a while now, and it was great to have a presentation and a chat with Andrew. I was pretty jealous of their experiment at York with handmade clay figurines–I want one! I like that he and Ian can be so challenging and theoretical while remaining engaging and accessible.

Altogether, the workshop was a success. I left feeling inspired and excited about visual/digital research again and I was happy to engage with my colleagues in this ongoing conversation. I think I talked a bit too much, and probably shouldn’t have had the “Gandalf” or the “Legolas” drinks at The Hobbit in Southampton on the last night, but in all, it was a success.

First Day: The ViA 2009

I have been in Southampton, UK for the last 24-odd hours on a whirlwind journey to the Visualisation in Archaeology Conference and it’s better than ever this year! There are fewer presentations and lots of discussion time, a model that is really productive at these small workshop/conferences.  I still have a bit of work to do on my powerpoint (I had to change some things to better address issues that came up in the discussions today), but I wanted to jot down a few impressions while they are still fresh.

Marble head of statue found at Portus

There were six presentations today, split into two morning and afternoon sessions. Matthew Johnson was the chair of the first session, “Toward A Virtual Archaeology?” and the presentations were surprisingly diverse. Graeme Earl and Gareth Beale presented their research at Portus, which has apparently been in the news a lot recently. They have a lot of high-tech gadgetry–you can see a sample here, on their flickr stream.

Reconstruction of Wayland's Smithy Barrow by Jennie Anderson

Jennie Anderson presented a much smaller project, both literally and figuratively–an interactive version of Wayland’s Smithy Long Barrow accessible by cell phone. Long-time readers of this blog will know why I’m so delighted that someone has taken this project and really run with it. Jennie also graduated from Swindon’s Archaeological Illustration MA program and shoots with a for real bow and arrow! I was happy to meet her and sad that she had to leave early.

Jesse W. Stephens ridiculously gorgeous photography
Jesse W. Stephen's ridiculously gorgeous photography

I shouldn’t really say too much about Jesse Stephen’s presentation, as we worked together on Kalaupapa and have the stories to prove it! It was great to see him again though and though he didn’t present any of his photography, we heard about his close encounter with Hawaiian public television.

We had a nice lunch and everyone chatted about the various papers and their impressions so far of the conference. People seemed really engaged and happy to be there–so far so good! The second session was titled “The Role of Pedagogy and Enskilling in Visual Practice,” chaired by Stephanie Moser.

Tim Webmoor’s paper, Archaeology’s Media Economy: means of visualization or visual fetishism was excellent, as usual. I was sad that I wasn’t able to chat with him before he left. I wish him well at Oxford–he seems to be thriving.

Digital Saints, by Chrysanthos Voutounos
Digital Saints, by Chrysanthos Voutounos

Chrysanthos Voutounos‘ paper on Byzantine art and presentation in museums was a little hard to follow.  He was describing some really interesting bits about the construction of icons and showed the spatial relationships between the standardized facial features of representations of Byzantine-era Jesus Christ. As he was describing it, I looked around the room and noticed that most of the illustrators present at the conference (there are quite a few!) were drawing the Jesus face, almost reflexively. I loved it.

Rob Reads drawing of a bone comb.
Rob Read's drawing of a bone comb.

Finally, Rob Read and Graham Smith gave their remarkable paper, “Training the undervalued and unacknowledged: Specialist training provision for archaeological illustrators in the UK.” It was a statement on the profession of archaeological illustration and just what we have been losing over the years as the number of illustrators dwindles. They showed some really beautiful reconstructions and made great points about the relationship between the site artist and the archaeologist. Really fascinating commentary from craftspeople who tend to get overlooked in their importance as active interpreters of the archaeology.

I should get back to that powerpoint, but I hope to update again tomorrow about the second day of the conference. I hope my paper goes well!

Tara – From the Past to the Future

Last year at the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin we witnessed a debate over Tara and a large highway project that may destroy the site. Archaeologists (or Seandálaíochta!) in Ireland are trying to save the famous site, and there are 40 papers being presented about Tara; check it out here:

Conference Live Web Stream

The symposium will be streamed live via the web and facilities are available to overseas listeners to ask question via the symposium email address As the programme is compact, only a small proportion of questions will be relayed to the symposium auditorium.

Watch the stream here:


You can email in questions to the speakers here:

Or send us your question as a Tweet! You can follow the proceedings live on our Twitter Feed:

We will read select questions live over the stream!


Full programme and further information available here:

Archaeology and E-Scholarship

Dodging between rainstorms and trying to finish up my Visualisation in Archaeology paper, I managed to make it to the “Taking Control of Your Own Publications” E-Scholarship presentation at the department. Sadly, as usual, it was poorly attended–I really wanted to also check out a talk in Near Eastern studies, but at a place like UC Berkeley you can easily get overwhelmed by the number of interesting events and talks going on. Still, I thought a few more students would be at the talk.

Anyway, it was important that I go, as I was griping in my freshly written paper about the lack of quality institutional support for Open Access scholarship, and this was put into my lap. As you may or may not know, it is International Open Access week and E-Scholarship managed to launch a redesign of their webpage and announce their intention to head a new direction, from being a repository to a publishing and research-oriented set of tools for scholars at the University of California campuses. It makes a lot of sense, as universities in the United States are funded by the taxpayers, who foot the bill for faculty wages and research costs, and then have to pay for the same research again when universities have to buy access to the major journals, and then the average taxpayer STILL doesn’t have access to the research–they’d have to pay for it a THIRD time at an exorbitant rate to buy it for themselves from the journal.

Open Access advocates at this point are nodding their heads weakly. It’s been a long and tiresome fight, and there’s still no guarantee that these big, institutional archives are actually the answer. I asked a couple of pretty simple questions:

Q: So once you are no longer affiliated with the University of California system (as I will presumably get my PhD in a couple of years), do you still get to publish with E-Scholarship?

A: No, with some qualifications, such as in the instance of journal publishing, wherein the journal that you found with E-Scholarship will still be supported after you graduate.

Q: What about non-traditional publications?

A: They are working on integrating data sets, but aren’t quite there yet.

I wanted to ask what the back-up plan would be, and how far away their data storage was from the Hayward fault, but I didn’t want to harass the nice presenter.

While I am really happy to have this kind of support for my research and publications, I guess I just see it as one more tool to add to the Edupunk kit. It might even become the most important tool, but I still can’t emphasize the importance of spreading your research out over a number of platforms, both for wider public dissemination as as a fail-safe measure.

E-Scholarship still does not meet some of the specific needs for wholesale archaeology publishing in that there is not a place for integrated GIS data, images, and the connection to museum collections that we need. I am hoping that when (if?) other large institutional archives come online they will be able to integrate their data. Sadly, when I tried to upload some of my work, I repeatedly got an error message–frustrating as their system requires a decent amount of data entry leading up to that point.

Reimagining Reconstructed Mudbrick Architecture

(a stolen photo essay)

Picture 1

Sometimes I don’t think we’re creative enough with our reconstructions of the exteriors of the houses at Catalhoyuk.

Oakland’s Key Routes


Some advice: never try to move while you’re in the middle of one of the busiest semesters ever!

I recently decamped from Berkeley to Oakland, a move of about four miles in physical distance, and about a million miles in social distance. Needless to say, I have been happy with Uptown, my new neighborhood right next to downtown Oakland. So, like the nerd I am, I decided to find out a bit more about it.

Without getting too specific, I moved to Grand Avenue, a street that runs east from highway 580 along the north side of Lake Merritt and then turns north toward Berkeley. It’s a major thoroughfare and I expected it to be fairly old, as the path it takes is irregular and the name is, well, Grand. Not so much!

The earliest Sanborn fire insurance maps of the area date from 1889 and Grand isn’t listed. Instead it appears to have been carved out of smaller streets, among them “Charter” and “Jones”. Grand first appears in the 1952 Sanborn maps, as I’ve included above, but I’ve found references to the street from 1930 in local photographs and there’s a reference to it in the San Francisco chronicle in 1903. Anyway, from the 1952 Sanborn it looks like they changed 21st street to become 22nd street and the old 22nd street became Grand. There’s also a curious set of lines down the middle of the street–a Key Route?


Apparently there was a system of electric streetcars in the East Bay before the Great American streetcar scandal, wherein thousands of streetcars were taken off the streets of America through a series of illegal actions by major US companies who bought the systems and replaced the streetcars with buses.

Sadly, these streetcars were junked or sold to other countries and the tracks were largely replaced by medians. At least I can buy a Key Route t-shirt…sigh.

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