SAA 2016 recap

Last week I went to Orlando for the Society for American Archaeology conference. Even though I interned for SAA Government Affairs in Washington DC during grad school, this was actually the first SAA conference I’ve attended (normally I’ve gone to the Society of Historical Archaeology when I’ve had major conference funding). I was on the fence about this one because it was in Orlando at Disney ($$$$) and I wasn’t actually giving a regular paper, but in the end it was incredibly worth it. I met so many fantastic people, concocted projects, and absorbed ideas. I may not have gotten much sleep, but I left incredibly energized.

Most of the paper sessions I attended focused on technology or climate change. Below are some high points, from my specific perspective. The notes I’ve taken here may not even reflect the primary conclusions of individual papers; these are just the ideas that rang out the loudest in my mind with relevance to my research.

Patricia Rubertone: Archaeological Histories of Urban Indians and Why They Matter

Patricia Rubertone showed some really fascinating maps of Indian communities in urban Providence, using some interesting historical research methods to identify and plot Indian households. Her maps tied clusters of communities to urban fresh water sources and demonstrated long term continuity to specific places, regardless of status as renter or homeowner. This is tying into some ideas I’ve had for mapping Virginia Indian communities beyond the 17th century.

Session: Heritage Tools for Tracking Climate Change

Marcy Rockman and Marissa Morgan/The NPS Cultural Resources Climate Change Impacts Table

Soundbyte: Climate change impacts are so much more than sea level rise and storm surge.

This group has done some fantastic planning work at a remarkable level of detail that I definitely want to make sure comes back to Virginia. I’m link hunting now, but will definitely be in touch with the authors to get more links.

NPS Climate Change Response Program

Adaptation for Cultural Resources

Bookmarking this one for my work with preservation of historic cemeteries: Oxford Rock Breakdown Laboratory/OxRBL

George Hambrecht, Ennis Barbery, Elizabeth van Dolah, and Kevin Gibbons/ International Efforts to Engage with Climate Based Threats to Cultural Heritage

This one was a link fest, for sure. I was thrilled to meet George Hambrecht, who has come on to the University of Maryland faculty since I finished my Masters there in 2008.

Climate for Culture

[From their website] >In the face of global climate change, the project CLIMATE FOR CULTURE is investigating the potential impact of climate change on Europe’s cultural heritage assets – particularly on historic buildings and their interiors.

Noah’s Ark Project [Unfortunately, the project link isn’t currently functioning., but more information is available here]

This project examines the impact of climate change on built heritage and cultural landscapes in Europe, with the aim of predicting this impact over the next 100 years.

ReFoMo/Reduced Footprints of Monumental Structures, Landscapes & Buildings


This is a really cool program to crowdsource site observations in response to erosion. I’ve been following this for a while and was so excited to meet Tom Dawson and Joanna Hambly. Tom Dawson was the discussant for this session and he did a great job of tying everything together and explaining his own project.

As I mentioned, I had been researching the SCAPE project in prior months; primarily focusing on their mobile app. One of the challenges we are running up against preventing us from adapting this data collection app in Virginia is that our site locations are considered sensitive information, so we’d need to figure out a way to selectively release locations to app users. Tom mentioned in his discussion that many people from the US expressed similar feelings. The app is great, but the hitch is in the location release. Questions from the audience spurred a really fascinating exchange about the complexities of restricting site data and the pros and cons of release. This hit on some of the points I made in my SHA Approaches to Openness paper, but I’m fleshing this out in my mind. More writing soon on the subject.

Digital Data Interest Group (business meeting and lightning talks)

This was a really wonderful meeting from top to bottom. See the link above for a full program and even more awesome project links to follow. I did a lightning talk on my MSUDAI repository. So fun! I published the written version of my lightning talk as my monthly MSUDAI blog post.

I really enjoyed Matt Harris’ talk on R and reproducibility in archaeological data. This kind of thinking has such important ramifications for archaeology. I can’t tell you the number of CRM reports I read with opaque predictive models and analysis that may not hold up to methodological scrutiny. But that’s another post.

Symposium: What Do We Mean by Digital Curation?

This was a long session and I was running on empty, but I found every paper relevant and interesting. Here are the highlights from where I stand.

W. Fredrick Limp/ Digital Curation, Data and Replication Of Results—The Foundation for the Future of Archaeology

Limp emphasized that data is not the same thing as information and the importance of the distinction. He discussed the promise of technologies that produce high resolution data, which allows for future interpretation.

Julian Richards and Franco Niccolucci/ Current Developments in Cyber-Infrastructure in European Archaeology

This was the first time I’d heard Julian Richards from ADS speak. Since networks in Europe have had some more time to coalesce due, in part, to centralized archaeology programs, policy, legislation, etc. it’s fascinating to see where things have come over the past 20 years.

Holly Wright/ ARIADNE: Building a European Data Infrastructure for Archaeology



Brings together different infrastructures from across Europe to connect datasets. This was exceptionally interesting to me, as I’m a member of the National Council of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO) Technology and Survey Strategies Committee (whew; long one) and I see major parallels between these datasets and US state datasets.

Michael Ashley, Ruth Tringham, Meg Conkey and Cinzia Perlingieri/ Differential Access for the Ethical Stewardship of Cultural and Digital Heritage through


In addition to being a very cool open source CMS geared toward indigenous groups, mukurtu allows digital assets to be classified with Traditional Knowledge Labels in order to provide additional information about sensitivity and provide differential access to visitors and group members.

[From the website:] >Mukurtu CMS makes it possible for you to share your digital cultural heritage using a set of innovative traditional knowledge (TK) labels. The TK labels recognize that large amounts of Indigenous materials are in the public domain, but may be missing information, or may in fact be misused. Traditional knowledge labels ask all new users of this special material to respect Indigenous protocols and to gather, create, and share responsibly and respectfully.

As I have been working on my digital repository project and thinking of broadening it to meet the needs of the larger Virginia archaeology digital archive, I have been thinking a lot about information sensitivity and the Virginia Indian community. I am very interested in integrating this concept into our repository to ensure that we’re respecting the information we have and the communities to which it belongs.

Eric Kansa and Sarah Whitcher Kansa/ Toward Slow Data in Archaeology

Open Context

Eric hammered home the fact that data curation is not just an inconvenient cost. Having information in connected, usable, accessible form should be a goal of archaeology projects, not just a side effect. “Good data is not a residue.” That is my quote of the day, for sure.

Adam Rabinowitz, Ryan Shaw, Patrick Golden, Sarah Buchanan and Eric Kansa/ “Periods, Organized (PeriodO)”: A Linked Data Period Gazetteer and Approach to the Modeling of Scholarly Assertions


I was acquainted with PeriodO through the DINAA workshop I attended in Knoxville in 2014, but hearing an overview from Adam Rabinowitz really filled in some technical gaps I had about general Linked Open Data concepts. For a nerdy laugh, thank Virginia for these beauties (they’ve been transformed into actual date-based ranges that I’ll send in!).

R-chaeology Meetup

This event wins the award for most creative venue, for sure. Mood lit palmtrees, picnic tables, a rolling suitcase full of refreshments, and an introduction to using R. I can’t wait to bash away on my own dataset when I’ve got some time.

And then there’s the human connections. I can’t stress enough how many rad people I met in Orlando. Some of these folks are people I’ve been following or talking to on Twitter for a while and some were new. But I definitely left Florida with some new friends. Until Vancouver…

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