DOHA: The Doha Online Historical Atlas

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I’m very happy to announce that DOHA: Doha Online Historical Atlas has been launched, just in time for CHNT: Cultural Heritage and New Technologies. DOHA brings together several years of research including archaeological excavations, historic documentation, and a whole lot of fancy GIS-based georeferencing work.

We are also looking for contributions from people living in Doha. We don’t have a seamless citizen science solution quite yet (involving tedious server complications, etc), but for now we are taking georeferenced media here:

It is difficult to visualize research that is spread out over an entire metropolis, so I am quite pleased that it has all come together. We also have a quick video showing how to use it:

It is in beta, so we would love any feedback on it:

Survey and Scopophilia, Part 2

After I posted about the survey that we’re conducting at Fuwairit, my UC Berkeley cohort member and friend James Flexner reminded me of some of the writing he’s done regarding analog and digital planning and survey. He’s also leading a session at the upcoming Society for American Archaeology meeting titled Archaeological Cartographies on 1 April that looks really interesting–I will probably try to attend, as the Blogging Archaeology session isn’t until the day after.

Anyway, in his article, Where is Reflexive Map-Making in Archaeological Research? Towards a Place-Based Approach, James provides an overview of the literature on reflexive map-making in archaeology and talks a bit about his plane-table and alidade approach in mapping during his fieldwork in Kalawao, Molok’i, Hawaii. I had the pleasure of helping James excavate and draw in Hawaii (we wrote an article together about utilized glass–okay, he mostly wrote it, after I looked at his glass artifacts and made a comic about it), and he taught me how to use the alidade to draw–we planned the first Mormon church in Hawaii together.

I agree with him that the plane table map was an interesting, evocative tool to learn to use in drawing the visible architecture. James argues that drawing the buildings, “stone by stone, tree by tree, artefact by artefact” helped him visualize the site in a way that was more sensual, and perhaps more consistent with the vision of past inhabitants of the site. What he does not elaborate upon is the unequal relationship between the person at the plane table and the person holding the measuring staff and of the reversal of this relationship while using an EDM. (and this is probably where I lose all but the most dedicated of survey nerds)

While you are using a alidade and plane table there ¬†is more immediate communication between the two people conducting the survey. There is a ¬†person holding the staff and a person at the table and the person at the table directs the staff-holder, and the plans finish with the person at the table going to inspect the architecture to fill in the gaps on the plan by representing the individual features of the buildings in more detail. This power relationship is reversed while using the EDM, as the person with the staff is in essence inscribing the landscape invisibly, drawing a plan that first appears as a point cloud and then emerges as outlines of buildings and features during data processing, while the person at the EDM is mostly looking through the scope and pushing buttons. Ideally the plan is then printed out and inspected in a discussion during a site walk over by the survey participants, in a way that is similar to lifting the plane table from the tripod and drawing in the individual elements at close range. Also, while it is important for one person to finish segments of land individually, the person behind the EDM can change places with the staff-holder and continue work, generally without too much disruption in “drawing” style. (There is some give in this latter point, in that some people “draw” more jaggedly than others who take more points and provide smoother contours.)

I don’t think that the desired reflexivity is necessarily reflected in the tools, or in contrasting the “cold eye” of the total station with a more humanistic plane table approach, but in the discussion of the people planning the site and the consciously interpretive act of remediating a landscape. Representing sites may require more or less technology, and there are many times that I’ve been on site with an EDM where a dumpy level would do just fine, and probably even be better.

I enjoy drawing, and I would have enjoyed planning Fuwairit with a plane table and an alidade. But I find the invisible inscription of landscape fascinating, and using an EDM as a mental pencil works well for my reflexive experience of place. Regardless, James’ article is worth a read & it is good to know how to use different tools–even ones that are now kept in the departmental museum.

Tactile Maps and Imaginary Geographies

Inuit Carved Wooden Maps

A story on NPR about Braille city maps for the blind instantly reminded me of some artifacts I had read about during one of my literature surveys for my oral exams (Place as Recently Imagined by Archaeologists, to be exact).

Peter Whitridge wrote a brilliant article titled Landscapes, Houses, Bodies, Things: “Place” and the Archaeology of Inuit Imaginaries that queried the binary set up between space and place wherein space is portrayed as empty, scientific, geometrical, and place is embodied, historical, culturally-constructed. To do this, he demonstrated Inuit placemaking in songs, myths, legends, even tongue-twisters where Unalakleet place names are strung together–mnemonics of places along travel routes. Personhood encorporates place, and every personal name corresponds with a place name; both people and places are signified as important by the very fact of being given specific names.

The Inuit made songs, but they also made maps. These were often sketched in snow or sand, but some of them were sketched on paper with pencil for European explorers, and were intelligible to these Westerners. These are interesting in comparable abstractions of space (thus directly addressing Whitridge’s question about the space/place binary) but I am more interested in the 3D wood carvings of the East Greenland coastline, with the details of inlets and islands in sculptural relief. These could be employed by at night in conjunction with the stars, feeling your way along the coastline, navigating at an intimate scale.

I wonder if tactile maps could be extrapolated to other domains–what would a tactile BART map feel like? What about an archaeological map? Would the relief become sharper under our fingertips as we came closer to concentrations of artifacts, living spaces? Would it become hot as we came closer to the hearth, cool as we traveled to a periphery? I’ll have to try it sometime–the reaction of a field director as I handed her a carved stick after survey might be worth it.


Here’s a slightly better picture–my pdf-scrape to jpg job above didn’t turn out very well:

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