University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Tablet computer as a documentation tool for excavating an archaeological site: practical employment in the field and future possibilities
Eva Butina

Last modified: 2011-12-15


In the last decade a flexible system of documenting archaeological excavation has been developed in Slovenia thru practical employment in the field (even in remote or inaccessible areas) that allows for an accurate and fast gathering of archaeological field data with a bare minimum: a research team of at least two people, a total station, a digital photo camera and a laptop computer with CAD software and a module specifically designed for fast and automatized processing and managing of gathered data. The system of documentation is so well established and practically tested in the field that allows relatively easy workflow even for a team with almost no prior experience working with total station or CAD computer software. The system is electrically independent since all of the mentioned instruments operate on batteries. But to work comfortably, we need a color printer on site in order to provide the team with up to date information of the situation at the site usually by printing 2D plans of daily situations and of the photogrammetric photographs of details or sections of the site. The printouts are necessary since constantly checking the situation on the computer during excavation is not practical (the computer preferably being located in a location secure from the elements).

The invention of the newest generation of tablets and smartphones has given the field archaeologists so much more than just rendering printers on site redundant. We had an opportunity to test a tablet computer on a site which is still being excavated. Using a tablet computer enabled us to view high resolution photographs or CAD drawings of plans and sections of the site which is excellent since the gadget works really fast and turns photographs with the help of a range of free applications for graphic design into very informative sketches which can be than easily sent via wi-fi to other members of the team or to the computer on site. Rather than buying the more expensive 3G tablet, we connected the device to a smart mobile phone which enables wireless internet access for sending gathered data for processing and storage as part of research documentation (even to a remote location such as an office 100 km away), receiving already processed data and an exchange of information between team members on different sites. For example: if someone on a remote site is having trouble operating a total station or processing data, we can send the team a sketch with instructions or even a short video to help them out in mere minutes. The use of a single tablet on the site enabled us to reduce the human resources and the amount of time needed for documenting the site by using digital form of the documentation forms which removed the process of inputting (some of) the paper documentation into the computer.