Last Saturday Katy & I officially launched TOMB: The Online Map of Bioarchaeology. TOMB is an interactive gazetteer style website providing case studies and examples from mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology. The purpose of this site is to provide a place for students and the public to learn more about the amazing diversity of mortuary research that is occurring in the world, but also about variation in funerary methods. The project began by adding sites from around the world that are organized based on broad topics, such as type of disposal, type of research, period, location, researchers, etc.
Things have changed significantly since we began this project a year ago. We first proposed creating Ossuarykb, a mortuary archaeology database. However after several months of work, we realized that this wasn’t truly what we wanted to create, nor what we felt was most needed. Thus in late January we transitioned to the TOMB project.
Traditionally, in anthropology, new research is found mainly within static reports and journal articles. The ability to deconstruct this information, present it with limited technical jargon, and utilize user-friendly interactive maps allows us to present this research in a novel way that leads to better dissemination of this data, as well as better public awareness.
Increasingly the public is becoming interested in human remains in the past, however, there are few places that they can go to for a simplified education on the topic that hasn’t been created by popular media. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of physical anthropology/bioarchaeology bloggers, but the information provided from blogs is still piecemeal, searchability is dependent on the platform and each post is focused on a single specific topic or article. Additionally there is a lack of teaching material available regarding bioarchaeology that presents the topic in a fun and interactive way to introductory students, specifically those taking courses geared towards general education credits. Creating a space that fills this education void was the impetus for TOMB.
TOMB has been an ongoing and iterative process of creating a resource that is both functional and useful to the broader community with an interest in bioarchaeology. In its current state, it offers insight into the possibilities of what it could become, and through our own work, we hope to demonstrate its utility in the classroom and for public engagement.
Katy & I are both very glad that we were able to participate in the Digital Archaeology Institute. Here are our individual reflections:
Lisa: Personally my biggest takeaway from the institute is the wonderfully supportive community of digital scholars it has created and connected. I’d had a hand at developing a few digital projects before, especially in my time as a Cultural Heritage Informatics fellow here at Michigan State University. However the individuals that participated in the institute have worked together in such an amazing way, and created a support network that will undoubtedly be around for the foreseeable future. For me, as a current phd student, it was great to be able to work in a space filled with individuals at all different careers stages and levels of digital competency. We really came together as one big team.
I also got to experience first hand the frustration of digital service changes. After many, many hours of working on the first version of TOMB, the map broke. It was nothing I did, rather MapQuest stopped serving the maptiles that the code I was using required. When I reached out to the #msudai community, I got several helpful answers and tips. However, it was an even better exercise for me to take a step back, critically evaluate how I felt about the current project, and in the 11th hour, scrap the entire thing. That may sound crazy, but the product I was able to finish by launch date makes me happier than any prior version of the site. Participating in this institute was a positive experience for me, and I know it has provided me with skills I will continue to develop throughout my career.
Katy: I would strongly agree with Lisa, that the most beneficial part of the institute, and the one that has the lasting impact, is the network of scholars that has been created. Even though I couldn’t attend part two of the institute, I was able to follow from afar, and throughout the year had a group of people to discuss projects and brainstorm with. Having this type of network is important for digital work- by sharing what we do with each other, we improve the discipline as a whole.
I also had the opportunity with this project to work with data more than I traditionally do, and got to go through the experience of totally revamping a project mid-way through it. Previously, with my CHI projects, I had been the one doing the main map construction and programming, and someone else did the data. It was interesting to switch it up and create the data. I found that it is a challenge to create data to fit specific needs, when it was originally sourced for a different project. I think in the future, this will help me communicate better with those who are creating the data, and think critically about digital database construction. Lisa and I also changed up the project half-way through, which led to some major changes in the structure, data and interface. I’m much happier with the project as it ended up- but it was a challenge to change it up and restart.
So head on over and check out TOMB, or follow the project on twitter (@Online_Bioarch) for announcements on project/content updates.