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Shaping Archaeological Archives

Summary of the two-day virtual conference hosted by the Centre of Urban Network Evolutions. By Nikoline Sauer, PhD

A sheet from the Ingholt Archive, PS 904, showing a relief with three standing figures (© Palmyra Portrait Project, Ingholt Archive at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and Rubina Raja).

On 10 and 11 February 2022, the international conference “Shaping Archaeological Archives: Best Practices for the Dissemination of Knowledge from Digital Resources” took place virtually. Originally, the conference was planned as an in-person event, but due to some COVID restrictions still in place, the event was switched to a virtual format. The conference was hosted under the auspices of the project Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives, funded by the ALIPH foundation, headed by Centre Director Professor Rubina Raja and in which Amy Miranda is the lead post doctoral fellow.

The project Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives, initiated in 2020, developed from the Palmyra Portrait Project (2012-2020), also led by Rubina Raja, and strives to make Harald Ingholt’s materials on Palmyra accessible so to facilitate the preservation of Syria’s cultural heritage. The Palmyra Portrait Project is responsible for the digitization of the Ingholt Archive, housed at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which has recently been published online as open data (Bobou, Miranda, and Raja 2021). The Archive Archaeology project will also publish the Ingholt Archive as in-print and e-book (Bobou, Miranda, Raja, and Yon forthcoming). The project has also published Ingholt’s excavation diaries and made them available as open data (Raja, Steding, and Yon 2021; Raja and Steding 2021).

The two-day conference aimed to understand how scholars use and share archival material in archaeology, particularly through digital archives. Over the last century, archaeology has undergone an immense development in its practices for the handling and management of data. The significant amounts of data generated by archaeological fieldwork, academic research on museum collections or object provenance form vast archives of physical material. Yet, past and present crises have alerted researchers to the fact that resources are often fragile and, in many cases, not accessible to all. The conference explored if digitisation offered solutions for preserving and sharing archaeological information.  

Rubina Raja and Amy Miranda opened the conference laying out the lines of enquiry of the conference and giving background to how the project Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives, from which the conference grew, was originally conceived. Rubina Raja highlighted the ways in which data that often is neglected, can hold immense potential for groundbreaking new insights into past archaeological practices, discoveries and local histories. Zena Kamash (Royal Holloway, University of London) opened the first session of the conference with a paper that investigated the access of digital archives by looking in detail at a selection of digital archiving projects covering the Middle East. She underlined an important distinction between the ‘availability’ and ’accessibility’ of digital archives. Jen Baird (University of London) then presented an attempt to make a counter-archive to materials in the Yale Digital Dura-Europos Archive (YDEA) by writing the workers who have been excluded from archaeological histories back into the narrative. The next speaker, Anne Chen (Yale University), likewise used this archive as an outset. Here, it was used to outline ways to democratise and facilitate the use of archives with the YDEA’s work in the Wikidata environment. The final paper of this first session was given by Amy Miranda and Rubina Raja, who jointly presented the paper “Making Archives Accessible: The Ingholt Archive as a Case Study in Approaching Digital Colonialism”, which used the Ingholt Archive as a case study to open a discussion of how archaeologists can tackle digital colonialism. The second session of the conference explored best practices in archives and excavations. John Pouncett Shapland (University of Oxford) and Andrew Shapland (University of Oxford) introduced the Sir Arthur Evans Archive located in the Ashmolean Museum and a project of creating an interactive model of the Palace of Knossos with ArcGIS. The second paper by Ioulia Tzonou (American School of Classical Studies at Athens) presented the digitalisation process of Corinth’s Archaeological Archive and the problems and questions it has generated.

The second day began with the paper “Finding the Potential in Problems: The Digitalisation of Archives” by Rhiannon Garth-Jones (UrbNet, Aarhus University). The paper considered the problems of digitalisation through the lens of the Sāmarrā archive. Anne Haslund Hansen (National Museum of Denmark) then presented a paper on the digitisation of the archival material of the Collection of Classical and Near Eastern Antiquities on the National Museum of Denmark, which explored the various modes of describing and documenting artefacts in order to facilitate new research. The first paper of the fourth session was a joint presentation by Rubina Raja and Julia Steding (UIrbNet, Aarhus University). They touched upon the research potential of Harald Ingholt’s excavation diaries regarding excavation techniques, small finds, and unpublished archaeological material. The following paper, presented by Pearce Paul Creasman and Ryder Kouba (American Center of Research, Jordan), introduced the American Center of Research’s archival digitisation of more than 100,000 images from across the Middle East and discussed the implications of making such a resource freely and widely available. The two papers of the conference’s last session were intertwined. Christos Tsirogiannis (Aarhus University) presented a review of the discoveries, from 1995 onwards, of the digitised archives of illicit antiquities and concluded with the various impacts of these archives on academia and society. Vinnie Nørskov and Marie Hélène van de Ven (Museum of Antiquities, Aarhus University) picked up on the importance of digitalising archives of illicit antiquities by giving a paper on the current digitisation of archives relevant to South Italian archaeology and their research potential. 

Each paper was followed by questions and comments, leading to numerous fruitful discussions about the challenges and possibilities of digital archiving, culminating in an end discussion and concluding remarks as the final item of the programme.  The conference proceedings are to be published by Brepols in the series “Archive Archaeology” founded by Rubina Raja in 2020.  

For the conference programme and book of abstracts, see https://projects.au.dk/archivearcheology/events/2021/shaping-archaeological-archives-best-practices-for-the-dissemination-of-knowledge-from-digital-resources/

For the project Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives, see https://projects.au.dk/archivearcheology

For the Palmyra Portrait Project, see https://projects.au.dk/palmyraportrait/

For the book series “Archive Archaeology” (Turnhout: Brepols), see https://projects.au.dk/archivearcheology/show/artikel/archive-archaeology/


  • Bobou, O., Miranda, A. C. & Raja, R. (2021). “The Ingholt Archive. Data from the Project ‘Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives’”, Journal of Open Archaeology Data, 9: 6, 1-10. DOI: doi.org/10.5334/joad.78.
  • Bobou, O., Miranda, A., Raja, R., and Yon, J.-B. (Forthcoming). The Ingholt Archive: The Palmyrene Material, Archive Archaeology 2, 4 vols. Turnhout.
  • Raja, R. & Steding, J. (2021). ”Harald Ingholt’s Excavation Diaries from his Fieldwork in Palmyra – an Open Data Online Ressource”, Journal of Open Archaeology Data 9, 8. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/joad.84.
  • Raja, R., Steding, J. & Yon, J.-B. (eds.) (2021). Excavating Palmyra. Harald Ingholt’s Excavation Diaries: A Transcript, Translation, and Commentary, Studies in Palmyrene Archaeology and History 4, 2 vols. Turnhout.