The Camera “at the Trowel’s Edge”: Personal Video Recording in Archaeological Research

Abstract

Video recording is increasingly becoming a favourable medium in archaeological research, particularly as an unconventional documentation tool that captures the elusive processes of ongoing interpretation in an audiovisual format. Our research forms part of the Personal Architectonics Through INteraction with Artefacts (PATINA) project, a project focused on the design of technologies for supporting research. Archaeological fieldwork is one of the research environments being studied by the project, and one of our primary concerns was to observe and record current research practices in the wild and to examine the influence of new technologies on those practices. This research brings together well-established and advanced observation techniques used in social sciences and computing fields such as human–computer interaction with archaeological research and presents the deployment of an off-the-shelf wearable camcorder as a recording interface in archaeological fieldwork. The article discusses the user evaluation methodology and the results, while addressing long-standing and timely theoretical discussions on the role of video recording in archaeological research.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Here, we use the term reflexive for methodologies that recognise that archaeological interpretations are historical and conditional and enable systematisation and documentation of processes of interpretation and knowledge creation, as it has been used in the Çatalhöyük Research Project (Hodder 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003). Other attempts at developing reflexive field methods took place in various other projects around the same time as Çatalhöyük started or shortly thereafter (e.g., Andrews et al., 2000; Bender et al. 2007; Lindhe et al. 2001; see also Berggren 2009). For an indicative but not complete bibliography on reflexive archaeology, see Potter 1991; Hodder 2003; Berggren 2014 and Londono 2014.

  2. 2.

    The Çatalhöyük Research Project has implemented video recording as one of the steps towards a reflexive method (Hodder 2000) since the beginning of the project. The film clips are available on the website of the project; however, at the moment, only films made between 2004 and 2008 are accessible. The number of videos made per season has varied, and the numbers are lower from study season years, when only limited excavation was taking place.

  3. 3.

    It should be noted here that Table 1 provides useful information for the reader concerning the evaluation process. Those information concern only participants who used the wearable cameras and Synote (see Evaluation Procedures) and not the entirety of colleagues who were involved in this study. Also, since we engaged in a qualitative analysis of the obtained data, and the overall number of participants is not large enough for statistically significant results, we opted out from writing them up in a quantitative manner.

  4. 4.

    The comprehensibility of such recorded conversations may depend on many variables such as the ambient noise, the volume, articulation of speech and the pronunciation of English. Here, from our experience, we provide an average estimation of what we can expect from the personal camera recorders.

  5. 5.

    It is important to note here that linguistic anthropologist Charles Goodwin has used video extensively at archaeological fieldwork and laboratories as an analytical observation tool in order to reveal the communicative affordances of “embodied action” (1994, 1999, 2000, 2003 & 2006).

  6. 6.

    The term situated is used here as per Suchman’s understanding of the term in Human Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Action (2007). In essence, situated actions are actions that presuppose a shared cultural and historical frame for meaning making and archaeological fieldwork is certainly a research space where such conditions apply.

  7. 7.

    It should be mentioned that video is of course not the sole medium to be used to capture uncertainty in the interpretation process. For example, on the recording sheets of Çatalhöyük, it is possible to record alternative interpretations with surety ratings of probability: high, medium and low.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the RCUK Digital Economy Programme through the PATINA project, grant EP/H042806/1. Firstly, we would like to thank all our colleagues who participated in this study and for providing their valuable feedback and insights. We owe our gratitude to Prof. Ian Hodder and the Çatalhöyük Research Project, particularly the West Mound and East Mound excavation teams, as well as to Prof. Simon Keay and The Portus Project for their collaboration and support. We would also like to thank Dr. Mike Wald, Yunjia Li and the MACFoB (Multimedia Annotation and Community Folksonomy Building) project, University of Southampton, for trusting us to conduct an evaluation of Synote and Hembo Pagi for his technical assistance. Finally, we are indebted to Prof. Ian Hodder, Dr. Sara Perry and our anonymous reviewers for providing their valuable comments on previous versions of this article.

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Correspondence to Angeliki Chrysanthi.

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Chrysanthi, A., Berggren, Å., Davies, R. et al. The Camera “at the Trowel’s Edge”: Personal Video Recording in Archaeological Research. J Archaeol Method Theory 23, 238–270 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-015-9239-x

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Keywords

  • Personal video recording (PVR)
  • User evaluation
  • Fieldwork documentation
  • Reflexive archaeology
  • Archaeological method