I have seen the future (but it was limited to archaeology)
Warning this post is archaeology heavy!
A few classes ago, we had a very interesting discussion about site recording. As we moved from the theoretical to the professional practices used today we discussed electronic site recording. The system that was mentioned by name was Penmap (http://www.penmap.com/content.asp/cat/2/id/3/archaeology.html). This system integrates directly with total stations and GPS units, acts as an on-site CAD and GIS facility and it displays data as it is collected (so mistakes can be corrected on site, not months later when the report is being written). In other words, it does everything except for threaten those people who keep looting your sites (well it might, but binary death threats just don’t have the same impact).
We were provided with two case studies by Ziebert, Holder, and Dare (2002). The first site they worked on was the Royal Docks in London and it took two weeks with everything being recorded electronically using penmap or an equivalent (3000 finds, 30X45m site). After all was said and done they saved 36-37 person days and 6000 pounds sterling (which in perspective was 50% of the total cost of excavation). The second site was Bishopsgate and 45 person days and 7000 pounds sterling were saved. From these sites, they also calculated that the optimum ratio of surveyors to archaeologists is 1:6-10. However no other extensive cost benefit analysis have been undertaken (but think positively in two sites if you could save 81-2 person days and 13 thousands dollars).
So that’s one interesting technology, well here is one interesting man, Mike Rains. Professor Rains (no he is not MY professor nor is he at Glasgow, although my proff is awesome too) seems to be a pioneer for electronic archaeology as he is working on/created “Integrated Archaeology Database Systems” (IADB), and Virtual Research Environment for Archaeology (VERA- http://vera.rdg.ac.uk/), and no, I did not misspell those acronyms.
Now many professional “arch. vets” may read my post bubbling with optimism and envision me as a wet-nosed pup oblivious to the corporate boot sure to crush my dreams. While I am indeed wet-nosed, as I currently have a cold, I know that technology is not perfect and moving to near-paper free recording has many risks and often scares the “bejesus” out of those who are not “computer-savvy”. I also know that it takes time and money to train people but lets keep this post up beat and look at computers “the wave of the future”. If systems such as Penmap can incorporate wireless technology to back up information, using a program similar to the off site ‘iDisk’ feature on .Mac (DotMac- http://www.apple.com/dotmac/) on a fixed schedule, say every half an hour, then the risk is greatly reduced.
As I mentioned in class, as flash technology (transmitting information via light, used in such common devices as thumb drives or USB data sticks) continues to improve flash hard drives will soon be cheap and mass produced. What is so important about that you may say, well imagine a computer with no moving parts and think of the additional abuse that it can take.
Well now, you have some of my knowledge, and you did not even need to copy my class notes.
Here is another useful nugget I found in my Internet travels. A big list of useful archaeology programs, many are free ware or Scottish, a.k.a. cheap (lame joke I know but when in Rome…make fun of the Romans).