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ISAW Papers 7.23 (2014)

Publishing Archaeological Linked Open Data: From Steampunk to Sustainability

Andrew Reinhard

Publishers of archaeology largely continue to follow the “Steampunk model” of publication: we use 21st-century technology to produce 18th-century books and journals both in print and digital editions. These digital editions look and behave like traditional publications with their fixed layout, columnar text, and actual page-flipping. Like traditional printed archaeological monographs, there is no linking to external resources, images are most frequently black-and-white (and always two-dimensional), and the communication of information is one-way, the reader trusting an author without having access to the underlying data for fact-checking or to foster alternate interpretations of that data.

For the American School of Classical Studies’ (ASCSA) publications, we continue to grow with our digital editions while re-assuring our more traditional readers that we are not scuttling print. We publish digital issues ahead of print with our quarterly journal Hesperia. As of June 2013, our distributor, the David Brown Book Company/Oxbow Books/Casemate Publishing, now allows customers to buy print+digital bundles to satisfy our readership who wants their content that way. We continue to educate our authors, and encourage them to submit stable URIs to multimedia and data sets cited/linked within their manuscripts, and we are seeing an increase in that material upon final submission of their work. We have been able to repurpose content through various export features in Adobe InDesign for use on the Web and for other platforms.

More recently, the ASCSA has been trending toward Open Access and its dissemination of content. Hesperia is now largely Open Access outside of JSTOR's 3-year moving wall with over 1,500 articles now freely available for download and sharing via the ASCSA's website. The Publications Committee of the ASCSA will vote on a policy change in January 2014 to make digital editions of monographs available for free download three years after publication. I have been giving PDFs away for free to anyone upon request, however, ahead of this vote. I successfully negotiated with JSTOR to receive all metadata and files at the page-level for all of our hosted content (Agora “Blue Books”, Corinth “Red Books”, Hesperia Supplements, and Hesperia issues), and have provided this data to the Athenian Agora so that the staff there can enable linking from scanned excavation notebooks and other places to the exact spot on a precise page that published an inventoried item. I created a Zotero account and now actively publish citation data for all new ASCSA publications, and also uploaded legacy citation data for our backlist of monographs and articles published from 1932-2010 (

I also created my first app for the Agora Site Guide on the Inkling Habitat platform for iOS devices (Android will come later in 2013) to create a non-linear reading experience that can be used both online and without Internet that integrates links to Open Access content including articles as well as data and additional images and archaeological context. I have also been discussing with Google and its NianticLabs the possibility of integrating ASCSA content (data and images) into its free Field Trip app for Android and iOS, utilizing native GPS functionality to inform users of nearby monuments while in Athens, Corinth, and elsewhere.

Four-Dimensional Archaeology: Publishing Openly Online

It would seem obvious that text is text, and is by its nature two-dimensional. The writer writes what the reader reads. Writing an article or a monograph is a one-way form of communication. However, if one extracts this text from its two-dimensional setting and places it online, that text has the native ability to become something more. The content gains context. One can embed links reaching out to Open Access data repositories for people- and place-data. Making this publication available online also facilitates linking in the opposite direction, making the author’s content discoverable by anyone in the world, provided the text is given a stable URI. Widgets are now available that enable readers to roll over a placename and retrieve a pop-up window with a map and data along with a clickable link. In time, I hope to see a similar widget crawl through bibliographies and citations in notes, allowing readers to reference cited material as they proceed through the book or article. How often have readers wished to check a reference or look up a place, but have instead put it off, not wanting to trek to the library or even run a Google search? Embedding these links and reading tools are a service to readers and are becoming increasingly easy to implement from an author’s/publisher’s perspective.

This “multi-dimensional” text takes what is good about the printed word, and adds practical improvements that help deliver more robust content more quickly to the reader:

Note-taking on the printed page is limited to the space in the margins or between the lines. Note-taking on a digital document allows for notes of massive length that can then be emailed/shared outside of that document. If you lose your book, you lose your notes. Digital editions allow you to save a “clean” copy as well as an annotated copy, and if you email/share your comments, losing your annotated copy is only an inconvenience, not a disaster.

What if we could go one step further, making the author’s primary text “four-dimensional.” In physics, three dimensions incorporate length, width, and depth. Add time to a three-dimensional thing, and it now has a fourth-dimension. All objects exist in space-time, and as the arrow of time moves us forward year by year, those three-dimensional objects change. While this observation will be more readily applied to imaging artifacts, we can apply the four-dimensional concept to an author’s text.

A published monograph is like a finished temple. It’s as good as the makers can produce at the time. As time moves along, things happen to the building. It can receive additions. It can be shored up. It might be demolished, lending its parts as spolia to other structures in future times. As archaeologists, we can also reduce the structure to its individual parts, seeing how the whole was completed, and also understanding how that building changed over time, from realized vision to revered monument, or derelict footprint.

It is a misconception that a published monograph or article is the “final publication” of archaeological material. Upon publication, that text (and its related content of photos, maps, tables, etc.) becomes the starting point for rigorous discussion and dialogue. In the past, some journals have published rebuttals to earlier articles in later issues, a kind of time-delayed chess match. By integrating online publication with mature social networking/commentary technology, those discussions can be opened to a global audience. Should a counter-argument be made successfully, it is also possible for the author to make a change to the main text, or to add new bibliography, and to update notes over time, keeping current with future scholarship. The content of the published piece must change over time, and opening that content up to scrutiny can help to either preserve and promote excellent scholarship, or to mend, repair, or demolish research.

Seeing text as four-dimensional also allows the readers to uncover the foundations of an archaeological publication. In the instances of preliminary excavation reports or “final” reports of a class of objects from a site, I would strongly urge authors to provide their readers with links to complete data sets. This data can be checked, and can be used as a reference by readers. Should errors be discovered in the math and logic of tables, these can be corrected right away. And should there be a difference of opinion between author and reader, the data can be consulted, and a dialogue started. With traditional publication, the reader is presented with the author’s interpretation of the data, and that interpretation might or might not be reliable and might include biases, either conscious or unconscious. Opening up the data, and opening up the dialogue can help an author’s argument become more objective.

Next Steps

Putting theory into practice requires time, care, and attention, and it is my hope to apply the theory as stated above into living and breathing archaeological publications produced by the ASCAS. To that end, I have finally found an author who will submit for peer review a born-digital, online-only “monograph” on pottery that will incorporate a data set, interactive maps and tables, linked data, and 3D reconstructions of pots. This publication is driving discussion in various committees as the ASCSA decides how peer review of online-only material will be conducted, how it will be published, and how it will be archived/preserved. I suspect this publication will be the first of many, creating a shareable template that can help standardize publications of this type without being to constricting, allowing for the messiness of archaeology.

I need to encourage the Athenian Agora, Corinth, or another affiliated ASCSA excavation to provide me with 3D printing specs to accompany traditional 2D plates and/or images for a testbed project. How much better and more useful would it be to allow readers to print out 3D copies of pots, bones, etc., featured in monographs and articles? Think of the study collections that could be created.

On a personal level, I do hope to partner up with Bill Caraher, Kostis Kourelis, and others to create a new kind of online publication that publishes archaeological work as-it-happens while at the same time writing about trends in archaeology, something that goes beyond a traditional blog.

I need to begin (finally!) to link from Hesperia articles and monographs to the data of others (including Pleiades), something I've promised but have yet to deliver.

I need to fundraise so that I can get the $1.3M required to endow Hesperia to make it completely Open Access for all time, following the new “Diamond” level of Open Access as described by Christian Fuchs and Marisol Sandoval in their September 2013 article published in tripleC.


As an archaeological publisher with feet set in print and digital publications, I have to continually evaluate my readership and their needs. Education of what's possible with publication remains a top priority for both my authors and my readers. What we do with linked data is quite valuable as we forge these links and create environments (real, virtual, and social) receptive to this kind of linking, but we must keep the general reader in mind, the scholar or enthusiast who has little knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes who should be able to find and use online data and its underlying relationships without a second thought of how it all came to be. We build for ease of discoverability and for ease of use, and that is very difficult to achieve. But we're getting there.

Archaeology is messy, and it deals with three-dimensional artifacts in four-dimensional space-time. Its publications should reflect that. At our current level of technology, it is possible to create archaeological publications in an open, online environment that incorporates text, 2- and 3-D imagery, interactive 2- and 3-D maps, interactive data sets, and omni-directional links to content and context managed by others. Our new publications must incorporate all of these elements to create a record and interpretation of what we have discovered, leaving that data and interpretation open to criticism, dialogue, and growth over time. Universities, archaeological field schools, and publishers need to make a concerted effort to educate archaeologists to the potential provided by new media and existing technology as it can serve to document work done. The editor’s role should be to apply standards and style, to fact-check, to clean up inconsistencies, to verify and standardize notes and bibliography, at which point it can be published, handed over to the crowd for the necessary, but until now missing step of post-publication peer review.

There are two major issues that all publishers of archaeology (and of scholarship generally) must address now: 1) how to publish archaeology online, moving away from a traditional, two-dimensional, print-informed model, toward a multi-dimensional, interactive one that accepts that archaeological data is messy and continues to grow and change over time, and 2) how to publish archaeology in an open fashion that makes content easily discoverable and immediately accessible, promoting linking from external sources while linking itself to other open online resources.

Author’s Note

This article articulates my thoughts on archaeological publication originally expressed in the two LAWDI (un)conferences in 2012 and 2013. Although I have been the Director of Publications for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) since 2010, the views expressed here are my own. Some elements presented here require policy changes on the part of the ASCSA; this entails voting by its Publications and Executive Committees, and I continue to work with both to ensure a healthy, sustainable, and open future for our journal and books. Policy changes for the past three years in this regard have been both encouraging and progressive.

Works Cited

Fuchs, C. and M. Sandoval (2013). The Diamond Model of Open Access Publishing: Why Policy Makers, Scholars, Universities, Libraries, Labour Unions and the Publishing World Need to Take Non-Commercial, Non-Profit Open Access Serious. tripleC 13(2), 428-443. <>