digiTAG2: Archaeological Storytelling and the ‘Digital Turn’

October 4, 2016

Source:  Dr. Sara Perry’s blog. By Sara Perry and James Taylor.


There is a perception of a divide between archaeological communities dedicated to different topics, and there definitely is quite a bit of miscommunication of research between theoretical and digital archaeology communities. This often leads to archaeologists taking an extreme and unconstructive stance towards the work done in other communities. In my opinion this is a total waste of energy that should be spent on more in-depth critical engagement with digital and theoretical archaeology. But there are very few initiatives that provide a platform for members of different communities to discuss their work in a constructive and friendly way; there is a need for such platforms that help us achieve better, richer ways of doing archaeology.


This is exactly the kind of necessary opportunity provided by digiTAG! One of the most popular sessions at CAA last year was not about networks (surprise surprise) but ‘digiTAG’: a cool new initiative stimulating cross-feritilization between communities predominantly concerned with digital (CAA) and theoretical (TAG) topics. A second session is now announced, to be held at TAG in Southampton on 19-21 December 2016. I strongly recommend attending or presenting at this session.

The following post on Dr. Sara Perry’s blog provides more information about the event. The session focuses on storytelling and the digital turn, which I find great topics for building bridges! Although I think the digital has been turning for a very long time in archaeology and has been ubiquitous in archaeological research for about the last two decades in some form or other. That said, I think there is a massive need for more original creative uses of digital methods that don’t just allow us to do what we did before faster and applied to more data, but that allow us to do entirely new things that push our knowledge of the past further. There is a lack of this in digital archaeology, and I don’t mind turning more in that direction.

I’m so pleased to announce that Dr James Taylor and myself will be hosting a follow-up to our successful first digiTAG (digital Theoretical Archaeology Group) event held in Oslo in the springtime. Sponsored by both TAG and the CAA (Computing Applications in Archaeology), digiTAG II will feature at the TAG UK conference in Southampton, 19-21 December, 2016.

Our aim through the digiTAG series is to deepen our critical engagements w digital media and digital methods in archaeology and heritage. digiTAG II seeks to focus our thinking specifically on digital tools as they are enrolled in creating stories about the past. To this end, we are looking for contributors to talk about, experiment with, involve or otherwise immerse us in their archaeological/heritage storytelling work.

Such storytelling work may entail innovating with:

  • lab or excavation reports
  • recording sheets
  • maps, plans, section views, sketches, illustrations, and other forms of on-site visual recording
  • collections and databases
  • data stories or data ethnographies
  • digital data capture (survey, photogrammetry, laser scanning, remote sensing, etc.)
  • artefact or museums catalogues
  • digital media forms (VR, AR, videogames, webpages, apps, etc.)
  • books or manuscripts
  • articles, zines, comics, news reports, art pieces
  • audioguides, podcasts, music or sound installations
  • maps, trails, panels, labels, guidebooks, brochures, and other forms of interpretation & interpretative infrastructure
  • touch maps, handling materials/collections, tactile writing systems, 3d prints, models & more!

We welcome both traditional conference papers, as well as more experimental forms of (analogue or digital) argumentation, narrativising and delivery of your digiTAG II presentation. Please submit your abstracts (up to 250 words) tojames.s.taylor@york.ac.uk by 15 November.

We hope to hear from you & don’t hesitate to contact us with questions. The full CFP is copied below:

TAG and the CAA present…

digiTAG 2: Archaeological Storytelling and the ‘Digital Turn’

Session organisers:

Dr. James Taylor (University of York) – primary correspondant.


Dr. Sara Perry (University of York)



In April of 2016 the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) teamed up with the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) conference to run a successful Digital TAG (digiTAG) session in Oslo, Norway. This session sought to question, challenge, appraise and reconceive the epistemological and research-oriented implications of the digital turn in archaeology, including its larger social, political and economic consequences.

That event, building on a long history of engagement with digital processes and digital media at both the TAG and CAA conferences, brought together 15 practitioners from around the world working in all domains of archaeology–from the lab to the field, from the museum to the classroom. Here they situated their (and others’) use of digital technologies within wider theoretical contexts, and with critical self-awareness, thereby opening up a space for rigorous evaluations of impact and reflections on overall disciplinary change. digiTAG 2 now aims to build upon the success of the first digiTAG, extending critical conversation about the discipline’s digital engagements at a finer-grained level in concert with a diverse audience of theoretical archaeologists.

However, digiTAG 2 seeks to narrow our discussion, in specific, on the concept of digital storytelling and the ramifications of the digital turn on larger interpretations of the past. Given the frequency and intensity with which digital media are now enrolled to structure, articulate, visualise and circulate information for the production of archaeological narratives, we invite participants to present papers that critically consider the impact of the digital turn upon archaeological interpretation and archaeology’s many stories.

Whether you direct your digital engagements at professional, academic or non-specialist audiences – whether you deploy digital tools for data collection, data analysis, synthesis, and dissemination or beyond – we ask, how are your stories affected? Does the digital enable new and different narratives? Does it extend or narrow audience engagement? When does it harm or hinder, complicate or obfuscate? And when – and for whom – does it create richer, more meaningful storytelling about the past?

To explore these questions, we encourage both traditional conference papers, as well as more experimental forms of (analogue or digital) argumentation, narrativising and delivery of your talk. Ultimately, digiTAG 2 aims to delve into the critical implications of archaeologists’ use of digital technologies on processes of knowledge creation.

Submit titles & abstracts (up to 250 words) to james.s.taylor@york.ac.uk by 15 November 2016.

Sessions at TAG 2013: visualisation, anthropology and connectivity

August 30, 2013

logoThis year’s Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting is coming up, and my friends are organising a cool set of sessions there. Sara Perry, Cat Cooper and Gareth Beale are hosting a session called “Seeing, Thinking, Doing: Visualisation as Knowledge Creation”. Their key message is that visualisations are not neutral: they can lie, hide information, or enhance communication of a message. Whatever they do, a critical evaluation of the use of visualisations in archaeology is necessary. I would love to see some infovis and network visualisation studies there! You can read the full abstract below, or visit their blog.

Fiona Coward, Rosie Read and colleagues will chair a session ‘Archaeology and Anthropology: Squabbling siblings, star-crossed lovers or bitter enemies?’. It will discuss the differences between the two disciplines in the past, present and future. See the abstract below.

Two other sessions that got my interest are those by Ben Jervis and colleagues: ‘ANT(ics) and the Thingliness of Things: Actor-Network Theory and other Relational Approaches in Prehistoric and Historical Archaeology’ and ‘It’s All Material Culture, Ain’t It! Connectivity and Interdisciplinarity in Material Culture Studies’.

For more info on TAG 2013 Bournemouth visit their website.

Seeing, Thinking, Doing: Visualisation as Knowledge Creation
Organizers: Gareth Beale (Gareth.Beale@soton.ac.uk), Catriona Cooper (catriona.cooper@soton.ac.uk) & Sara Perry (sara.perry@york.ac.uk)

Decades of enquiry have born witness to the importance of visualisation as a critical methodology in archaeological research. Visual practices are intimately connected to different ways of thinking, shaping not only how we interpret the archaeological record for diverse audiences, but how we actually see and conceive of that record in the first instance (before investigative work has even begun). A growing body of volumes, workshops and symposia* testify to the centrality of visualisation in processes of deduction, narrative construction, theory-building and data collection – all those activities which lie at the heart of the discipline itself. But these testimonials generally still lay scattered and detached, with researchers and visual practitioners often talking at cross-purposes or working in isolation from one another on issues that are fundamentally linked.
Following the success of Seeing, Thinking, Doing at TAG Chicago in May 2013 (http://seeingthinkingdoing.wordpress.com), we seek here to delve further into such issues, concentrating on those bigger intellectual tensions that continue to reveal themselves in discussions of the visual in archaeology. We welcome short papers attending in depth to any of the following five themes:
(1) Realism and uncertainty
(2) Ocularcentrism
(3) Craftspersons and visualisation as craft
(4) Historical forms of, and past trends in, visualisation in archaeology
(5) Innovative approaches to representing the archaeological record
The session will be linked across two continents with a discussant in Canada as well as the main presentations in Bournemouth. We are happy to include speakers willing to participate remotely, via Google Hangout, and we encourage all contributors to add their perspectives to our group blog prior to – and following – the session: http://seeingthinkingdoing.wordpress.com. The papers will be accompanied by a roundtable discussion, where we will analyse the five themes—and related intellectual trends in visualisation—at an overarching level.
*E.g., Molyneaux 1997; Smiles and Moser 2005; Bonde and Houston 2011; “Seeing the Past,” Archaeology Center, Stanford University, Stanford, USA, February 4–6, 2005; “Past Presented: A Symposium on the History of Archaeological Illustration,” Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, October 9–10, 2009; “Visualisation in Archaeology,” University of Southampton, Southampton, UK, April 18–19, 2011.
Bonde, S. & Houston, S. (eds.) 2011. Re-presenting the Past: Archaeology through Image and Text. Oxford: Joukowsky Institute Publications/Oxbow.
Molyneaux, B.L. (ed.) 1997. The Cultural Life of Images: Visual Representation in Archaeology. London: Routledge.
Smiles, S. & Moser, S. (eds.) 2005. Envisioning the Past: Archaeology and the Image. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

‘Archaeology and Anthropology: Squabbling siblings, star-crossed lovers or bitter enemies?’
The relationship between the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology (social/cultural and biological) goes back a long way, but the nature of that relationship has varied hugely over that time. The papers in this session seek to investigate how archaeology and anthropology relate to one another today, academically and professionally, and to debate whether the disciplines should work to come together in future, or contemplate a permanent separation. Does archaeology offer anything to anthropologists, or anthropology to archaeologists? In what areas might closer collaboration be useful? Or have the two disciplines drifted so far apart that no rapprochement is possible or desirable? This session will aim to address these questions from as broad a perspective as possible, including for example papers considering the historical development and/or future trends of the disciplines, the academic or professional relationship between them, case studies demonstrating how the disciplines might benefit (or indeed not benefit) from closer links, or why they should forge their own, more independent identities etc.
All relevant details about the conference can be found here: https://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/tag2013/welcome/. We would like to invite anyone interested in presenting a paper in our session to submit their proposal by September 8th to Fiona Coward: fcoward@bournemouth.ac.uk; Rosie Read: rread@bournemouth.ac.uk or to myself: sschwand@gmail.com.

‘Thinking beyond the tool’ published

February 16, 2012

At last year’s TAG I was part of a session titled ‘Thinking beyond the tool’, chaired by Costas Papadopoulos, Angeliki Chrysanthi and Patricia Murrieta Flores. The proceedings are now in press and the volume will be available with Archaeopress as part of the British Archaeological Reports series in March. Costas, Angeliki and Paty did a great job editing this volume consisting of many fascinating papers, big congratulations to them! You can read my own contribution ‘Facebooking the past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology’ on my bibliography page

Here is what Paty has to say about the volume on her blog:

The idea of putting together this book was inspired by the session ‘Thinking beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretive Process’, which was held at the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference in Bristol (17-19 December 2010). The book postulates that archaeological computing has become an integral part of the interpretive process for inquiring and disseminating the past and includes:

12 theoretically informed chapters on a variety of computational methodologies used in archaeology and heritage
an introduction by the editors (Costas Papadopoulos, Angeliki Chrysanthi and myself)
a commentary by Jeremy Huggett
The book will be out by the end of March and those of you coming to the CAA2012 keep an eye for it at the Archaeopress stand! Many thanks to all those – both authors and reviewers- who have contributed to this!

TAG presentation online

December 27, 2011

I really enjoyed all papers in the session Anna Collar, Fiona Coward and I chaired at TAG 2011 in Birmingham. We had a great variety of research topics, theories and methods, all sharing a common interest or even passion (be it positive or negative) for networks. I was delighted we had such a great discussion during the session and I would like to thank all contributors once again!

I just uploaded the slides of my own presentation. You can find a link to download them on my bibliography page. Alternatively, have a look at my Academia or Scribd pages.

Schedule TAG session

November 22, 2011

It looks like networks and complexity will be well represented at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference this year in Birmingham! Fiona Coward, Anna Collar and myself are organising a session that bears the same name as our symposium ‘The connected past: people, networks and complexity in archaeology and history’. We received some great submissions that range from conceptual to highly methodological approaches to networks and complexity. Below you will find a preliminary list of the contributors and their abstracts.
We are very much looking forward to the event and we are very confident it will be the best session at TAG 😉

Also, check out the page on this blog dedicated to TAG 2011

Tom Brughmans

Archaeological Computing Research Group, University of Southampton
Networks of networks: a critical review of formal network methods in archaeology
This paper will argue that archaeological network researchers are not well networked themselves, resulting in a limited and sometimes uncritical adoption of formal network methods within the archaeological discipline. This seems to have followed largely from a general unawareness of the historicity of network-based approaches which span at least eight decennia of multi-disciplinary research. Many network analytical techniques that would only find a broader use in the last 15 years were in fact introduced in the archaeological discipline as early as the 1970s. The unawareness of alternative approaches is most prominent in recent archaeological applications of formal network methods, which show a tendency of adopting techniques and models that were fashionable at the time of publication rather than exploring other archaeological and non-archaeological approaches. I will illustrate that knowledge of the diversity of archaeological and non-archaeological network methods is crucial to their critical application and modification within archaeological research contexts.
Through this review I will aim to expose the as yet insufficiently explored potential of formal network-based models and techniques, to raise some issues surrounding an uncritical adoption of such techniques and to provide suggestions for dealing with these issues. In order to move towards richer archaeological applications of formal network methods archaeological network analysts should become better networked both within and outside their discipline.

Kimberley van den Berg

VU University Amsterdam
Good to Think With: exploring the potential of networks as a concept metaphor or intellectual tool
Network approaches are becoming increasingly popular among archaeologists and historians. They provide a broad range of models and methods that inspire scholars in both disciplines to original analyses of various past networks and present datasets. As these approaches gain in reputation, however, more and more questions arise regarding their possibilities and limitations. Particularly unclear is whether network models and methods are applicable to all archaeological or historical datasets and, more importantly, whether such datasets are sufficiently representative to allow for meaningful results. One means of getting beyond these issues involving our data is to deploy networks as a concept metaphor or intellectual tool.
This paper seeks to explore the potential of such an approach for a very specific case study. During the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition, the eastern Mediterranean was a world in crisis, in which around 1200 B.C. the Aegean palaces were destroyed. Recent research shows that the impact of these destructions greatly varied between regions; several sites continued to be inhabited and were still actively engaged in overseas contacts. Current interpretations fail to satisfactorily explain these continued connections. Much can be gained from rethinking our interpretative frameworks and I hold that networks are particularly “good to think with”.

Doug Rocks-Macqueen

University of Edinburgh
Complex Networks and the Individual- How agent based network models can aid our understanding of past perceptions
Agent based modelling programs allow for the construction of large scale complex networks through the interactions of decisions of hundreds to hundreds of thousand individual components. This presentation will “flip” this traditional network tool to examine the individual components using their larger network. It will demonstrate that through the use of networks archaeologists can gather great detail about individuals and how they perceive the world. This methodology could serve as a useful bridge between quantitative methodologies of most network analysis and the more qualitative investigations of other archaeologists.

Amy J. Maitland Gardner

UCL, London
The Maya Royal Court: A model for rules of engagement
The concept of ‘the royal court’ as a particular social, political and cultural organisation based on a ‘network of interdependencies’ rather than as the power of an absolute monarch can be used to describe the configuration of Maya polities in the Late Classic Period (c. 600-900AD). However, how these networks were structured, maintained and developed both internally within the court and among courts and royal families across the Maya region still requires investigation. Starting from Elias’ assertion that the court is continually reproduced through a system of etiquette ([1933] 1983), I investigate what kinds of codes of behaviour existed in Late Classic Maya society through a study of body posture, gesture and proxemics in figural art. In this paper, I will discuss the theoretical frameworks of the royal court and the dynamics of human interaction which includes comparative studies of bodily communication in ancient court societies and theories drawn from sociological and ethological literature concerning the nature of human engagement. I will also discuss the analytical framework employed to consider patterns and combinations of gestures and postures in multi-figural scenes on ceramic vessels and stone monuments from across the Maya region. This approach allows for gesture to be understood as a relational phenomenon and as such the ‘networks of interdependencies’ composing ancient Maya royal courts and the network of inter-court relationships may be fruitfully explored.

Agata Czeszewska

Adam Mickiewicz University, Institute of Prehistory
Wall paintings from Çatalhöyük as an example of creating social networks between the past and the present
Çatalhöyük is one of the most fascinating sites of the Neolithic world. The site was discovered in late 50s, in central Anatolia. Since then more than 70 wall paintings have been discovered within the Neolithic houses. Wall paintings found at Çatalhöyük are one of the first examples of human art which appeared in domestic areas. They are connected with special events important for Neolithic society like death, birth, hunting. Therefore, they were constantly appearing and disappearing in the houses. In addition wall paintings are a tool of creating the links between past and present, between ancestors and descendants, between death and life. According to Ian Hodder and his conception of entanglement (see: Hodder, I. 2006. The Leopard’s Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Çatalhoyuk, ) I wish to consider wall paintings within this frame. People and objects, also wall paintings are entangle into complex relationships. Every single act of preparing and covering the wall with painting was accompanied by complicated arrangements of tools, paints, brushes, events, rituals and people. Wall paintings play an active role in social interaction and connecting people, instead of being just passive and esthetic piece of art. Wall paintings were a part of dynamically created structures – houses. And so wall paintings determined internal rhythm of the house and society.
What’s more wall paintings have an enormous influence on contemporary recipients. The relationships between past and present, are very strongly undermined in modern references. Nowadays people use past motifs and constructs in creating their own reality. They are also entangled into past ad so they interact with the past. The aim of this paper is to analyse these relationships and interactions on both past and contemporaneous level. I wish to consider emotional and social involvement into creating the wall paintings from Çatalhöyük.

Amara Thornton

UCL Institute of Archaeology
Archaeological Relations: The ‘Heritage’ Network in British Mandate Palestine and Transjordan
Departments of Antiquities in Palestine and Transjordan were created during the early days of the British Mandates. These official branches of the administration encapsulated the importance of archaeology to the governing bodies of these newly delineated countries. In tracing the relationship of these departments to the Palestine and Transjordan Governments, the connections between archaeologists, government officials and architects illuminates archaeology’s place in the interwar period Mandates, and its contribution to political and economic agendas in these semi-colonial settings. As networks underpin all aspects of society, exploring the links between people, places and organisations reveals the complexities of imperial history, and exposes the position of the “intellectual aristocracy” in that history.
This paper will discuss how key relationship types can be used to reconstruct the framework for archaeological work, taking the British Mandates in Palestine and Transjordan as the case study. It offers a practical methodology for analysing archival material by focusing on the wider archaeological network, which both incorporates and stretches beyond the scholarly community, as a means to understand the development, management and promotion of archaeology in the past.

Heather Giddens

Cardiff University
Neolithic meshworks: paths of becoming in the LBK
The early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) communities of central Europe (5600-4900 cal BC) certainly represent a ‘connected’ world. Distribution maps of raw materials such as Spondylus shell and imported flint suggest that exchange networks may have extended over vast areas of the continent. At the same time, materiality similarities between scattered settlements imply an extensive social network based on durable kinship bonds. Traditionally, these connections have been viewed along structural lines, assuming an almost logistical system of trading connections. However, alternative models are available.
This session uses Ingold’s concept of being-in-the world and the meshwork to reinterpret spatial patterns seen within the archaeological record. Here, places are not seen as containers of action, but rather as points of entanglement as people move through time and space. Focusing on two localised areas of LBK settlement in the Lower Rhine Basin (the middle Merzbach and upper Schlangengraben valleys of the Aldenhoven Plateau), I will consider the meshwork of entwined paths that defines the social environment of this area. In doing so, consideration with be given to three different scales of ‘place’: the longhouse, the settlement and the settlement cell. Through this re-interpretation, I hope to highlight how Ingold’s meshworks can provide fresh insights on the complex social world of the LBK.

Erik van Rossenberg

Leiden University
Getting your networks right: how to deal with typochronological fuzziness in historical trajectories
Traditional chronologies tend to be an unquestioned starting-point for archaeological case studies in network analysis. The reification of spatio-temporal entities leaves the problem of typochronological fuzziness unresolved. In this paper I will present a case study that adopts network analysis to explore the historical validity of typochronological sequences. I will show that such a degree of regional differentiation (i.e. gaps in networks) can be discerned in the distribution of Middle Bronze Age vessel types in Central Italy that an equally high degree of typochronological fuzziness should be taken into account. The resulting ‘time-transgressive’ scenarios (i.e. chronological overlap of periods, phases and subphases) challenge traditional typochronologies, shed a new light on traditional accounts of network changes and should therefore be regarded as a cautionary tale for archaeological case studies in network analysis. On a more positive note: network analysis can become a principal tool to resolve long-standing issues in typochronologies, to decide which places should be situated in which networks, as a starting-point for a network perspective on historical trajectories.

Facebooking the past (draft)

February 2, 2011

I recently finished a first draft of the paper I presented at TAG in Bristol last December. It discusses the assumptions and issues surrounding the use of Social Network Analysis for Archaeology. I like to believe that the paper is very readable. It starts with a short fiction about Cicero who used Facebook and Twitter from his iPhone 4 to become consul of Rome … in 63BC. This story becomes relevant in the latter part of the paper, however, where I stress the importance of realising that when we think through a networks perspective we assume that networks must have existed in the past.

I would love any kind of feedback on this working paper! You can download it from the bibliography page (first one in the list).


Facebook currently has over 500 million active users, only six years after its launch in 2004. The social networking website’s viral spread and its direct influence on the everyday lives of its users troubles some and intrigues others. It derives its strength in popularity and influence through its ability to provide a digital medium for social relationships.

This paper is not about Facebook at all. Rather, through this analogy the strength of relationships between people becomes apparent most dramatically. Undoubtedly social relationships were as crucial to stimulating human actions in the past as they are in the present. In fact, much of what we do as archaeologists aims at understanding such relationships. But how are they reflected in the material record? And do social network analysis techniques aimed at understanding such relationships help archaeologists understand past social relationships?

This paper explores the assumptions and issues involved in applying a social network perspective in archaeology. It argues that the nature of archaeological data makes its application in archaeology fundamentally different from that in social and behavioural sciences. As a first step to solving the identified issues it will suggest an integrated approach using ego-networks, popular whole-network models, multiple networks and affiliation networks, in an analytical process that goes from method to phenomena and back again.

Presentation TAG 2010 Bristol

October 6, 2010

I just submitted an abstract for TAG 2010 in Bristol, for the session ‘Thinking beyond the tool: archaeological computing and the interpretative process’. Hope it gets accepted. Feel free to comment on the abstract!

‘Facebooking the Past: current approaches in archaeological network analysis’

Short abstract:
This paper will explore how current computational techniques in understanding present-day social relationships can be applied to examine the many types of relationships archaeologists are interested in on the one hand, and those they are confronted with in their data on the other.

Long abstract:
Facebook currently has over 500 million active users, only six years after its launch in 2004. The social networking website’s viral spread and its direct influence on the everyday lives of its users troubles some and intrigues others. It derives its strength in popularity and influence through its ability to provide a digital medium for social relationships. The key to understanding the strength of Facebook lies in the evolving system of relationships as well as the particular social interactions between individuals it is made up of.

This paper is not about Facebook at all. Rather, through this analogy the strength of relationships between people becomes apparent most dramatically. Undoubtedly social relationships were as crucial to stimulating human actions in the past as they are in the present. In fact, much of what we do as archaeologists aims at understanding such relationships. But how are they reflected in the material record? Do networks of Roman pottery distributions, for example, reveal the past social processes underlying them? How can we model and analyse them using modern tools? And is it possible and relevant to reveal past social relationships using computers at all?

This paper will explore how current computational techniques in understanding present-day social relationships can be applied to examine the many types of relationships archaeologists are interested in on the one hand, and those they are confronted with in their data on the other. It will focus on the way these existing tools direct archaeological efforts in exploring past social relationships.