eScience Opens New Doors for Archaeology

Archaeology is one of the humanist disciplines that makes the most use of eScience or, as it is known in the field of humanities: Digital humanities.

This discipline has always featured a high level of interdisciplinary methods and collaborated broadly with experts from numerous fields on the collection of data and documentation, as well as the analysis and interpretation of same. However, the huge development that has taken place in recent years in digital technology and digitally based research methods has resulted in the creation of more and more methods of scientific analysis that now make it possible to work with data in a much more complex manner. The capacity to process data in new ways naturally opens up completely new knowledge about the past.

In this film, Mads Kähler Holst, Professor with special assignments at Aarhus University, takes us on a journey back in time to the excavation of the large sacrificial altar with fallen warriors at Alken Enge. Taking this as his starting point, the professor explains how an archaeological dig takes place in the digital age, when a large team of excavators has to work together to collect and subsequently analyse data.

Two of the new digital technologies most commonly used today are:

  1. 3D image documentation
    Advantage: A series of pictures are taken which are then used to create highly detailed 3D documentation. This makes it possible to build up a live image during the excavation itself, enabling the dig participants to take qualified decisions about the next step. Moreover, the documentation can be used subsequently to see in fine detail precisely what the archaeologists saw during the dig, and then to continue working on the finds.
  2. Creation of a GIS (Geographical Information System) of all the data collected.
    Advantage: Fifty people, all with different functions, need to coordinate their analyses and work on the finds. This can be done through the creation of a Geographical Information System (GIS) and web databases, where all finds are registered and traced as they progress from excavation to conservation—and then on to laboratories, magazines and exhibitions. GIS makes it possible to analyse the distribution of the finds, and thus helps tell the story of the warriors in Alken, how many there were, and what became of them.

Future challenges

Much more data are collected today than previously. The volume of data collected presents a challenge because:

  • Its scope is increasing, demanding more space for storage.
  • It is technically challenging to transfer large volumes of data over geographical distances. In this context, archaeologists face a special challenge because their work—i.e. the actual excavation—is often carried out in remote areas, where they do not have access to high capacity networks when transferring data.
  • Archaeologists have great expectations to the use of supercomputing for data processing, because it opens the door to new analyses of the large volumes of data they work with, and generates a much faster production of data, leading to expansion of the use of the digital technologies.
  • The new types of data open up completely new opportunities with regard to the digital communication of archaeological data material.

The film includes graphics and visualizations prepared by

  • Mark Film Aps.—clip from The Battle.
  • The film is the work of Iben Julie Schmidt from Scientifica film.