Recap: Digital Archaeology Bern 2023

Last week I travelled to Switzerland to participate in Digital Archaeology Bern (2023). The conference was themed “advancing open research into the next decade” and served as a way to take stock of developments since the 2012 World Archaeology Special Issue on Open Archaeology and Ben Marwick’s influential 2017 paper Computational Reproducibility in Archaeological Research, which came out 10 and 5 years ago, respectively. I think that the conference was a remarkable success, and all 50-60 participants were actively engaged in critical discussions on what it means to do open archaeology. You can find my slides and presentation notes on GitHub (

Although there were some elements of this, the conference was not just superficial open-boosting. Most, if not, all participants highlighted challenges and unanticipated implications of being open that they have recently experienced. Looking back, a few themes stood out:

  • Thinking about value proposition that openness entails, which necessarily involves accounting for specific use cases and imagined future stakeholders.
  • Thinking about the needs and values of all stakeholders involved in doing archaeology, including local and Indigenous communities, land-owners, archivists, government agencies, and related parties, and what openness means for them.
  • Thinking about how we might reconcile our values as archaeologists with the values demanded and afforded by the infrastructures and communities with whom we must work.

I got to meet so many interesting people. I already knew many of them from social media, virtually-hosted talks, or brief in-person interactions at the CAA back in 2018, and it was really great to put a face to each person’s name. Most serious work in digital archaeology, especially productive work developing open data infrastructures, is being done in Europe, and I was very grateful to have this opportunity to connect with that crowd (especially since I’m currently entering the post-PhD academic job market). I think my paper was well-received and valued, and it opened the door to many interesting discussions during the breaks between sessions and elsewhere.

I was also able to tack on a couple days at the start to work with Joe Roe on an article we’ve been writing for the better part of 3 years, about collaborative aspects of open source software development among archaeologists. We presented a paper at the 2021 CAA conference on the composition of open-archaeo, the list of open source software and resources made by and for archaeology that I maintain, and we’re trying to expand on it a little bit more with some network analysis type stuff. So this time together really gave us an opportunity to discuss what we really want out of the paper, to actually talk through the results, and generally helped motivate us to get this done. We still have some work cut out for us, but that probably warrants its own blog post.

Anyway, here are some cool pictures from the trip!

Abstract submitted for DAB23 (Bern, Switzerland)

Today I submitted an abstract to present at the DAB23 colloquium hosted by the Bern Computational and Digital Archaeology lab. The conference is about “advancing open research into the next decade” and my paper is titled Documenting the collaborative commitments that support data sharing within archaeological project collectives. Here is the abstract:

Archaeological research is inherently collaborative, in that it involves many people coming together to examine a material assemblage of mutual interest by implementing a variety of tools and methods in tandem. Independent projects establish organizational structures and information systems to help coordinate labour and pool information derived thereof into a communal data stream, which can then be applied towards the production and publication of analytical findings. Albeit not necessarily egalitarian, and with different expectations set for people assigned different roles, archaeological projects thus constitute a form of commons, whereby participants contribute to and obtain value from a collective endeavour. Adopting open research practices, including sharing data beyond a project’s original scope, involves altering the collaborative commitments that bind work together. This paper, drawn from my doctoral dissertation, examines how archaeologists are presently navigating this juncture between established professional norms and expectations on the one hand, and the potential benefits and limitations afforded by open research on the other.

I applied an abductive qualitative data analysis approach based on recorded observations, interviews, and documents collected from three cases, including two independent archaeological projects and one regional data sharing consortium with limited scope and targeted research objectives. My analysis documents a few underappreciated aspects of archaeological projects’ sociotechnical arrangements that open data infrastructures should account for more thoroughly:

  1. boundaries, whether they restrict membership within a collective, delimit a project’s scope, or limit the time frame under which a project operates, have practical positive value, and are not just arbitrary impediments;
  2. systems designed to direct the flow of information do so via the coordination of labour, and the strategic arrangement of human and object agency, as well as resistances against such managerial control, are rarely accounted for in data documentation; and
  3. information systems and the institutional structures that support them tend to reinforce and reify existing power structures and divisions of labour, including implicit rules that govern ownership and control over research materials and that designate who may benefit from their use.

By framing data sharing, whether it occurs between close colleagues or as mediated by open data platforms among strangers, as comprising a series of collaborative commitments, my work highlights the broader social contexts within which we develop open archaeological research infrastructures. As we move forward, we should be aware of and account for how the data governance models embedded within open research infrastructures either complement or challenge existing social dynamics.