Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Internet Archaeology

Alan Vince, the managing editor of Internet Archaeology, describes an electronic journal that will apply the multimedia aspects of the Web to the field of archaeological research.

Internet Archaeology is an electronic journal run by a consortium which includes the British Academy, the Council for British Archaeology and the Universities of York, Durham, Oxford, Glasgow and Southampton. The project is managed by a steering committee chaired by Prof B W Cunliffe, Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford. The project has two staff, myself (Managing Editor) and Sandra Garside-Neville (Assistant Editor). The choice of archaeology - the study of the past - as a subject for an electronic journal is based on the wide variety of media now being used by archaeologists in their research. These include digital plans and maps, computer databases, scientific analyses of artefacts, remote sensing data and the very varied techniques and sub-disciplines of environmental archaeology.

The journal is one of eLib's Electronic Journals projects and one of the few such projects not to have either an established sister print journal or at least a print version built into the project design. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it frees us from the need to follow a linear route in our papers but on the other hand makes it more difficult to find papers of sufficient quality for our purposes without detailed negotiation with other print publishers since, naturally enough, most archaeologists with quality work they wish to see published have already made arrangements with print publishers.

The journal's first issue will be formally launched in August 1996 and is likely to have about seven or eight substantial papers. These papers have been chosen to fit the following criteria:

i) They must have an international importance. We believe that one of the real benefits of internet publication comes from the ability to publish one minute in England and see the results the next in Australia (and vice versa).

ii) They must be subjected to peer-review. We want to establish Internet Archaeology as a presigious publication outlet for archaeologists. This means that papers published with us must have the same status as those published in an international print journal which in turn means that we must have a strict refereeing policy. We will be using access control to allow papers to be published on the web but readable initially only by their referees.

iii) They must be able to demonstrate advantages of web over print publication. It is our contention that web publication should take advantage of the new medium rather than be a straight translation of print to web. We have therefore chosen our first papers to illustrate these advantages. For example, the first paper (already on the Web, at http://intarch.york.ac.uk/journal/issue1/amphoras/index.html) uses clickable maps as an index to the sources of Roman amphoras found in Britain and allows the reader to click on a timeline to retrieve links to amphora types available at a certain date. Other papers will include archaeobotanical data from the British Isles, the archaeological evidence for clay pipe manufacture in the British Isles, the peopling the Americas project (the spread of palaeoindian settlement through north and south America following the last Ice Age) and papers using VRML and applying a new statistical routine to archaeological data (Kernel Density Estimates).

The papers must cover as wide a chronological and thematic range as possible. We want to ensure that Internet Archaeology gets a reputation for catering for the entireity of the discipline, especially since it is obviously easiest to get our first papers through personal contacts.

Our papers make heavy use of cgi scripts, mainly written in perl5. These enable us to give the user considerable control over what information is presented. A module under development at present is a map server/GIS which allows users to query distribution maps to see the evidence upon which they are based. There are now numerous GIS systems linked to the World Wide Web but we are trying to produce one which is applicable over the whole world, ie. it must be able to use latitude/longitude coordinates and must allow the projection used to be varied to suit the particular area being mapped.

The journal has already received considerable interest within the archaeological world. In general, is seen as a good example of how new technology can benefit the profession, which has had an almost continuous publication crisis for the past twenty years as a result of the vast amount of data produced by archaeological fieldwork and the increasing demands for access to this data from archaeological specialists. On the other hand, there is a fear that the technology will disenfranchise those without access to the Internet and perhaps hasten the downfall of print journals which are already facing declining subscriptions and rising costs.

Most archaeological publications at present fall between stools. Archaeological professionals want access to raw data, the logic behind particular interpretations and an indication as to what data exist in archive. Other academics using archaeological publications usually want the conclusions and synthesis and get exasperated at the mass of detail that has to be trawled through to get to the bones of the work. The results of these conflicting aims are that they include too much detail for the general reader, are too expensive for the casual reader to buy but are felt to be essential by other archaeologists. It would be nice to think that by joint publication with Internet Archaeology, archaeological book publication could get a new lease of life. At least three of our forthcoming papers will be published in parallel, giving readers a chance to compare the respective merits of the two media.

For futher details either visit the Internet Archaeology Web Pages or contact the editorial staff at:
Internet Archaeology,
Department of Archaeology,
University of York,
The King's Manor,
York YO1 2EP

Tel: 01904 433955
Fax: 01904 433902
Email: editor@intarch.york.ac.uk