Ethics, Archaeology, and Open Access

By: Eric Kansa

The issue of open access to scholarly works recently gained renewed attention following the tragic suicide of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist charged with felony computer and intellectual property crimes involving the mass download of articles from JSTOR. ASOR uses JSTOR as a repository for the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) and Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA)*.

Eric Kansa, a member of ASOR and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) wrote the following opinion piece regarding the implications of Swartz’s death for scholarly communications in archaeology. The following reposts Eric’s discussion and a response from Fred Limp, President of the SAA. Both were originally posted here: and here:

Eric directs Open Context, an open data publication service for archaeology. He originally discussed open access issues in NEA (2007) with his colleagues Sarah Whitcher Kansa and Jason Schultz. He also co-edited (with Sarah Whitcher Kansa and Ethan Watrall) Archaeology 2.0, an open access book about new modes of scholarly communication published with the Cotsen Institute Press (UCLA). His most recent contributions exploring open access in archaeology are published in a special of World Archaeology (2012) edited by Mark Lake, and in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies (in press). Continue reading

Team Discovers Lost Color on the Arch of Titus’ Menorah

Procession on the Arch of Titus. Image courtesy of Dr. Steven Fine.

From June 5 to 7, 2012 an international team of scholars led by the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies in partnership with the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma undertook a pilot study of the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, the ancient civic center of Rome, Italy. The focus of attention was the Menorah panel and the relief showing the deification of Titus at the apex of the arch. Continue reading

ASOR Benefits Boston University Students

Inda Omerefendic working on a mailing project in the ASOR office.

Hi!  My name is Inda Omerefendic and I’m a sophomore in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences studying environmental science and marine biology. I work at ASOR through the work study program at Boston University. Although archaeology isn’t part of my major, I’ve taken a couple classes and have high respect for the field.  Within the first few weeks of my “Great Discoveries in Archaeology” class, I was already recognizing ancient cities and excavations I saw daily on the covers of newsletters and journals at ASOR.  Seeing articles about the ancient city of Ur gave me more background on the research compared to the few slides we received in class.

It has been a privilege working at ASOR for many reasons.  I get to work on a wide range of tasks from shipping journals, researching venues for the annual meeting, working with the Avectra database, to working in the ASOR archives. In the archives, I scanned historic documents and newspaper articles about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I have been at ASOR for 5 months now and I already know the ins and outs of any kind of mailing.  I help distribute ASOR publications and research material to many other universities.  I have sent books to be reviewed and I have sent journals to scholars all around the world.  Whether it is a newsletter to Connecticut or a thirty pound box of books to Jerusalem, I can confidently handle it and make sure it arrives to its destination. 

Mail management and working with the archives have given me insight on the responsibility and care that goes into handling research material and the importance of communication with people and clients.  I have gained skills in Excel and database management, such as updating client information and creating spreadsheets of claims that need to go out, that will be beneficial when moving onto a career after college.  Most importantly of all, working at ASOR has allowed me to freely ask questions, share an opinion, and accomplish something every day that I work there, and all this is due to the wonderful environment maintained within the ASOR office.

I’m grateful to have work experience through ASOR; ASOR has made it easy to find a balance between focusing on work and going to classes due to the flexible hours.  I have made many friends at ASOR and their support and kindness has made my first job a wonderful experience.  Not to mention, the best waffle I’ve had in a long time was during a waffle lunch party during the first snow of winter at the ASOR office surrounded by new friends.

NSF Points to Open Context for Publishing Project Data

The National Science Foundation’s Archaeology Program links to Open Context ( as an option for grant seekers to archive and disseminate archaeological research data. See here for an example. The NSF also links to Digital Antiquity’s tDAR ( project, a related effort with greater emphasis on North American archaeology.

Earlier this year, the NSF announced new data sharing requirements for grantees. Grant-seekers now need to supply a plan for providing wide access and long-term preservation of data and documents created as part of NSF-funded research.

This new requirement has the potential for improving transparency in research and also opens the door to new research directions that integrate results from multiple projects. It also demonstrates how data sharing is becoming an expected outcome of the research process. This is something that many other fields have been practicing for a few years now, but archaeology and other “small-team sciences” are a few steps behind (largely because the small-scale, localized nature of archaeological data production makes it hard to come up with common solutions for sharing and archiving these data).

The downside of this development is that grant seekers have additional work in creating a data access and management plan. Many grant seekers will probably lack expertise and technical support in making data accessible.

At the upcoming ASOR meeting in Atlanta, the creators of Open Context are offering a workshop called “Publishing Archaeological Data from the Field to the Web.” This workshop will address the new NSF requirements and discuss how to prepare datasets for dissemination and archiving. It will also discuss related data sharing initiatives relevant to Near Eastern archaeology.

All ASOR meeting attendees are welcome to attend this workshop, which will take place on Thursday November 18 at 2pm.

For more information, contact Sarah Witcher Kansa.

Secrets of The Bible’s Buried Secrets

Contributed by Tristan Barako, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Providence Pictures

When The Bible’s Buried Secrets premiered on PBS this past November, it was NOVA’s most watched show in the past five years, attesting to the enduring interest that biblical archaeology holds for the general public. The two-hour special was produced by Providence Pictures, where I now work as senior researcher and writer. The president/producer/director of Providence Pictures, Gary Glassman, took the unusual step of hiring me—someone with absolutely no prior experience in film production—on the strength of my background in archaeology and biblical studies. He and NOVA wanted to make sure that the film was as accurate as possible. To that end we enlisted the support of more than 30 ASOR members, who generously gave of their knowledge and granted us complete film access to their excavations and artifacts. Through their participation and the collective effort of all our staff and crew, we’ve shown that a documentary about biblical archaeology can be both a popular and scholarly success.

To give the readers of this blog some sense of the filmmaking process, here are a few behind-the-scenes peeks of the challenges we faced while making The Bible’s Buried Secrets. Most of what follows relates to my uncredited cameo appearances. In the interest of full disclosure, it must be said that Michael Homan, the moderator of the ASOR blog, also appears in the film. It was originally a more substantial role—his big line went something like “Ron, you better come down here; we just found something that’s going to make your day!” —but that part of the scene, unfortunately, ended up on the cutting room floor.

A reenactment of the discovery of the Tel Zayit abecedary.

Idol smasher: The climax of the destruction of Hazor was a close-up, slow motion shot of a statue of a seated male being decapitated. We had originally planned to shoot this scene in Israel, so we had our Art Director there, Gal Oren, make three replicas of the statue, but we ran out of time so we had to do it in the U.S. instead. The location we ended up using was Gary’s garage in Providence, where we clamped the statue (made of plaster, not the original basalt) to a low table and positioned a Duraflame stick in front of the camera. Then we smoked up the garage and I put on a robe, dirtied up my arm and hand, and grabbed the mallet. I was a bit nervous because I wanted to make sure that the head came off cleanly, similar to how the original was found at Hazor. To stay in the frame I had to approach the statue at an odd angle, but this did not get in the way of a near perfect strike: the head flew off and crashed against the back wall. Good thing, because I shattered the next two replicas.

Smashing idols in Gary’s garage.

German scholar: This was my most challenging role given the amount of time on camera and the task at hand—channeling Julius Wellhausen. To prepare for it we bought a nineteenth-century German Bible and rented a three-piece suit from a costume company in California (surprisingly we couldn’t find anything on the east coast). I also let my beard grow out a little. Finally, I found a section in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia that contained clear J and E passages. Despite all these preparations we overlooked something, as pointed out to me by a friend who is a German historian: the wedding band was on my left hand, whereas Germans typically wear it on the right. There goes the Emmy for best research.

Playing Julius Wellhausen

Gila’s assistant: In this scene, a recreation of the discovery of the Tel Dan Stela, I played only a supporting role: the guy holding the stadia rod for Gila Cook who found this famous inscription in 1993. We followed her recollection of events throughout, which included loading her up like a pack mule, while I ambled off the tell empty-handed. I felt especially insensitive because she was battling laryngitis that day and we made her go up and down the hill with all that equipment a few times on multiple takes, but she was a real trooper and the scene turned out beautifully.

Loading up Gila

Dead Israelite: We used Nazareth Village for many recreations including the scene where one of the Jerusalem priests rescues scrolls from a building set aflame by the Babylonians. Again I donned a robe and got smudged up, but this time all I had to do was lay sprawled out in the background. I’m really not visible because of all the smoke. Our Director of Photography, Nick Gardner, inhaled so much of it that he woke up that night with a splitting headache.

Tristan as a dead Israelite

YHWH: In one of the many scribal scenes, we wanted an extreme close-up of someone writing the personal name of the Israelite god, YHWH. Most of our recreation actors were modern-day sopherim, whom we casted for their ability to write Torah scrolls. The problem was, though, they refused to write the divine name. I volunteered to do it, but I write left-handed and all our scribes were righties. So we pressed into service our thoroughly secular, dread-locked soundman, Amir Liani, who did a great job considering that it was his first time writing in paleo-Hebrew.

YWHW in Paleo-Hebrew

For more information about Providence Pictures and The Bible’s Buried Secrets, including additional behind-the-scenes features, visit: and

Creating a Digital Archaeology Community around the Mediterranean

Contributed by Thomas E. Levy, Stephen Savage and Chaitan Baru

Over the past five years, there has been a synergy of archaeological research that focuses on the application of information and digital technologies for advancing research and public outreach. One of the centers of this confluence of archaeology and computer science is researchers working in the Mediterrean lands. As part of an effort to foster a community of shared archaeological research - that takes advantage of the ever growing mass of digital data including settlement patterns, artifact collections, photographs and other materials, the MedArchNet (Mediterranean Archaeology Network) was established last year as an effort to create a cyberinfrastructure for archaeology around the Mediterranean basin. MedArchNet will be a series of interconnected digital archaeology atlases for different parts of the region delivered on a Google Earth plaform. The first ‘node’ is the DAAHL - Digital Archaeology Atlas of the Holy Land ( which already has thousands of sites from Israel, Jordan and Palestine available. MedArchNet - DAAHL is an ASOR sponsored project and we are excited by our partnership with Oystein LaBianca, the new chair of ASOR’s Committee on Archaeological Policy. Working together with CAP and the excavation directors, we hope to bring the more than 60 ASOR affiliated excavation projects into DAAHL to help promote collaborative research and getting these projects known to the general public in the United States and around the world. A few days before the November 2008 ASOR meetings in Boston, around 30 archaeologists from Jordan, Israel, Norway, the UK, Italy, and the USA gathered in San Diego for 3 intensive days to launch the MedArchNet project. Below is an article by Tiffany Fox about the meeting and its goals.

First International MedArchNet Workshop Paves the Way for Online Archaeological Community

San Diego, CA, Dec. 10, 2008 — Together with their counterparts abroad, archaeologists and computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego are one step closer to creating a seamless, highly detailed online network that links temporally diverse archaeological sites around the Mediterranean region.

Representatives from 14 international universities and several non-governmental agencies held a recent workshop at the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) to discuss the future of the Mediterranean Archaeology Network (MedArchNet). When complete, MedArchNet will serve as the most up-to-date source of data for Mediterranean archaeological sites dating from remote prehistory to the early 20th century. 

The workshop brought together key researchers who control the archaeology settlement pattern datasets for Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — the areas (along with Southern Lebanon and Syria) that comprise MedArchNet’s first node, the Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land (DAAHL). Funding for the workshop was provided by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN),  Equinox Publishing Ltd  (London), the Cotsen Intitute of Archaeology at UCLA and the UCSD Judaic Studies Program. 

CISA3 Associate Director Tom Levy, co-principal investigator on the project, says the most exciting aspect of MedArchNet is the prospect of creating 'portal science' for the archaeology community working in the southern Levant.

CISA3 Associate Director Tom Levy, co-principal investigator on the project, says the most exciting aspect of MedArchNet is the prospect of creating 'portal science' for the archaeology community working in the southern Levant.

Professor Tom Levy, associate director of Calit2′s Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3) and co-principal investigator on the project, says the most exciting aspect of MedArchNet is the prospect of creating “portal science” for the archaeology community working in the southern Levant.

“For us, this refers to establishing an online community of archaeological researchers who can share large datasets by being members of the cyberinfrastructure,” he remarks. “For researchers working in the Mediterranean lands which have seen so much turmoil throughout history, ‘portal science’ allows us to transcend borders, work closely together, and examine large datasets such as ancient settlement information (including the whole range of artifact assemblages from pottery to coins) that would be impossible using traditional methods. What was most valuable about the workshop was that for the first time we were able to bring an international group of some of the best archaeologists working in Israel, Jordan and Palestine in one room — and for two solid days — who have all expressed willingness to in-put and share data in DAAHL.”

Collaborating with Levy as PIs on the project are Arizona State University Affiliated Professor Stephen Savage, who is director of the Geo-Archaeological Information Applications (GAIA) Lab, and Chaitan Baru, division director of science research and development for UCSD’s San Diego Supercomputer Center. Savage says the team plans to fashion DAAHL (which already contains 17,000 archaeological sites) as a “database without borders” that could eventually be expanded to include archaeological sites in Egypt and beyond.

“DAAHL will function as an entrepot into the larger datasets available to researchers,” he elaborates, “but in a way that will facilitate cross-border research and cooperation.  Since the current international borders in the Middle East were drawn in the 1920s following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, it follows that the archaeological periods in the DAAHL are best studied from a regional perspective that is not restricted to resources located in only one modern nation state. The DAAHL is designed to do just that.”

Representatives from 14 international universities and several non-governmental agencies held a recent workshop at UCSD's Calit2 to discuss the future of MedArchNet.

Representatives from 14 international universities and several non-governmental agencies held a recent workshop at UCSD's Calit2 to discuss the future of MedArchNet.

Once DAAHL and MedArchNet are fully established, they will represent robust tools for “mining” stories and narratives of archaeological research in the Mediterranean lands. Data (including high-resolution 3-D and multispectral images of artifacts) will be stored in a secure central facility, accessed and displayed over the Internet by way of a Google Maps/Google Earth interface, and visualized via emerging technologies such as museum-quality HIPerSpace tiled display walls. MedArchNet will also provide both OpenContent data and drill-down capabilities to access archived digital photographs and other digital collections that might require more limited access.

Professor Aren Maeir of the Institute of Archaeology at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University says that as the project progresses, he will “try to gently cajole, push and even drag more Israeli archaeologists to join the program.” 

MedArchNet is an excellent combination of cutting edge  — or even ‘bleeding edge’ — technology and archaeology, in which true inter-regional cooperation can be manifested,” he enthuses. “It will make archaeological knowledge, on may levels, accessable and understandable in a truly digital medium, and will provide an excellent resource for teaching.”

In addition to school teachers, the network will be made available to everyone from  travel agents to public policy makers and state-of-the-art researchers, and could eventually serve as a model for similar cyberinfrastructures in other cultural areas of interest, such as anthropology. 

“In terms of world cultural heritage, I think the MedArchNet cyberinfrastructure will provide an important model for other regions in the world,” Levy says. “Once we have it up and running, scholars, researchers, government administrators and the public will see how powerful a tool it is not only for archaeological research, but for all realms of material culture from all periods of time and all places where people are interested in world cultural heritage. For example, we are very interested in partnering with the National Folklore Support Centre for India in Chennai. They have thousands of interviews and videos dealing with traditional culture in India. The same cyberinfrastructure that we are building for MedArchNet could be adapted to the needs of our colleagues in India.”

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Arizona State University Professor Stephen Savage, a so-PI on the project, says MedArchNet will serve as a beacon to scholarly cooperation and contact and will contribute greatly to the political stability of the region and the world at large.

“In the meantime, MedArchNet will be of tremendous benefit to archaeologists in the Middle East, especially now that the project has secured crucial funding from WUN and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the umbrella organization for North American archaeologists working in the Middle East.

Explains Levy: “Now that ASOR has sponsored MedArchNet/DAAHL, we are working closely with Oystein LaBianca, the new chair of ASOR’s Committee on Archaeological Policy (CAP), to invite the directors of the more than 60 North American archaeological research projects to join, participate and contribute data.  This is especially important because ASOR CAP affiliated projects undergo a peer-review process to insure that their research designs, data collection methods, and publication plans are of the highest academic standard.  By bringing ASOR affiliated projects to MedArchNet/DAAHL, we will have an unusually robust database for archaeology in the eastern Mediterranean.

While Levy acknowledges that “the only way to maintain excellence in the research is to have experts involved,” he also notes that facilitating such a large collaboration poses inherent challenges. Several of those challenges were discussed during the workshop, with some participants expressing concern about the sheer number of archaeological sites involved, and others pointing out that not all archaeological sites are currently marked on Google Earth. Still others called into question the possibility of establishing effective editorial quality control, while some warned that the “the politics of map-making” and the difficulty of interpreting data on different scales would complicate the effort. Also posing some controversy was a discussion about the establishment of a common working language — not an easy feat among researchers who span a multitude of nationalities.

“MedArchNet will work like a kind of ‘switchboard’ for directing people to different kinds of archaeological data and projects throughout a given region,” Levy points out. “Because so many scholars and institutions have spent their life-times and tremendous resources on carrying out archaeological research in a given area, one of the biggest challenges is to develop protocols and assurances to maintain the ‘brand’ those individuals and institutions in relation to their research and output.  Insuring ‘brand recognition’ and copyright for all those contributing to MedArchNet/DAAHL is an issue we are working on now.”

The next step for Levy and his team will be to collect small DAAHL-related datasets from the scholars who attended the workshop, which include representatives from the University of Bergen, Israel’s Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan Universities, the University of Sheffield and Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology organization. The workshop participants will also be asked to contribute a short research paper about their work in relation to MedArchNet for publication in a book to be published by Equinox.

“This will add a great deal to our existing database and demonstrate how approximately 30 researchers can work together,” Levy says. “The book will serve as another ‘gateway’ to MedArchNet.  At the same time, we are applying for funds from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and other sources to build this cyberinfrastructure project.  I’m pleased to say that the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) has already pledged a significant sum to help us build the first digital atlas node outside of the southern Levant — one for the Aegean region.  So we will be extremely busy over the next year.” 

The Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land (DAAHL), which already contains data for 17,000 archaeological sites, will be the first node in MedArchNet.

The Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land (DAAHL), which already contains data for 17,000 archaeological sites, will be the first node in MedArchNet.

Aside from the immediate benefits to the archaeological community, Savage says he expects that MedArchNet will also promote peace and understanding in the region.

“As the project expands beyond the initial Holy land Node, we envision these benefits spreading around the Mediterranean, which is still the scene of ethnic and religious conflict,” he remarks.  “Because of its emphasis on building archaeological datasets without borders,  MedArchNet and DAAHL will serve as a beacon to scholarly cooperation and contact. By doing so, we can contribute greatly to the stability of the region, and hence, to the world at large.”

Related Links
Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land
Worldwide Universities Network
American Schools of Oriental Research
Global Moments in the Levant
Institute of Aegean Prehistory
Equinox Publishing

Media Contacts Tiffany Fox,   (858) 246-0353   ,