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Digital Archaeology

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I was staring at a blank screen when my colleague David came into my office. I semi-jokingly asked him for a blog topic.

All the computer I grew up using, some rights reserved, by flickr user aeioux
All the computers I grew up using, some rights reserved, by flickr user aeioux

“I have one for you,” he replied. “Content Archaeology. Discuss.” And with that he left my office.

People know that I trained as an archaeologist and did fieldwork in multiple locations.  I still think of myself as a social scientist. This phrase resonates with me, and is a concept that I have discussed with others, more often under the rubric of “digital archaeology.”  There is also the practice of using digital tools in archaeology, but that’s for another post.

In researching this, I did a bit of content archaeology myself. In the writing this morphed into a bit of a “Before You Were Born” post as well. This is a VERY truncated list of what one might consider digital archaeology.

There is some holy grail content that the greater community would love to be found so digital archaeology and preservation actions could be taken, such as the full set of Apollo moon landing 11 tapes or the lost Dr. Who episodes.

How do you define “Content Archaeology” or Digital Archaeology”? What lost content would you like to see recovered?

Comments (5)

  1. Digital Archaeology is the practice of excavating and documenting digital media that has been overlooked, neglected or lost. Like all archeological projects it plugs gaps in the historical record. It’s also a lot of fun!

  2. The recovery of defunct digital data and reconstruction into contextual documents and images is, to my mind, like the discovery and translation of ancient written languages like Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sumerian cuneiform, Minoan A and B, the Mayan written language, and the successful decipherment (if it ever happens) of the Phaistos Disk. These are all examples where dead languages (except the Phaistos script) have been recovered after long years of research.

    Fortunately, bits and bytes are still the foundation of computer programming, and the emulation of dead computer programming is a lot easier than those of dead written human languages.

  3. I am Archivist in a Science institution which started computerisation in about 1959. I have made the decision to keep all installation disks and manuals etc and have some of the hardware as well. The disks come in all sizes. It is interesting to see the evolution (for want of a better word) of software over the years. I have received mountains of floppys with data and reports from scientists, as well as installation disks and manuals fortunately. Interesting stuff. Never thought of it as archeology before, even though I have taken part in several excavations over the years.

  4. I was actually cited in this article (Digital Archaeology-uncovering a website). I think for me, Digital Archeology is finding and making available information that has been lost, neglected or needed to be restored.

    Besides finding old websites and things buried in server folders, I’ve found video files and exhibition related digital material in boxes laying around my office that I’ve made available. Like Tiena Jordan, I have kept a lot of old hardware, disks and manuals as well.

    I’m curious as to where we draw the line at digital archaeology though. Does something need to be in digital form originally to be considered? Like if we digitize old archival films is that digital archaeology or is that something else?

    I love this topic! It’s the closest thing I can get to being Indiana Jones without and Archaeology degree.

  5. GREAT!

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