“We are witnessing the transformation to a society where instantly available, reliable and credible information will be as indispensable as electricity, water and transportation.” – Dr. James H. Billington, The Librarian of Congress before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Branch, March 20, 2007.

“Never has access to information that is authentic, reliable and complete been more important, and never has the capacity of libraries and other heritage institutions to guarantee that access been in greater jeopardy.” 2002 National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program Report

Our world has transformed since the theme, ‘Archaeology in the Digital Age’ was held at WAC-5 in 2003. Google organizes our information (9 million hits for ‘archaeology’), Flickr captures our vision (over 40,000), and social networking keeps us in touch with friends around the world virtually. The Internet allows for global sharing never before possible, and digital capture techniques put the power of Hollywood-style visualizations in the reach of archaeologists internationally. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and the tremendous advances of digital technology have led to substantial, potentially severe challenges for the stewardship of the archaeological record.

How archaeology is responding to the challenges of the digital age, and how the digital revolution is impacting our discipline is the focus of this theme. Digital technology and the creation of ‘born digital’ content are indispensable aspects of cultural heritage efforts today. From low-tech documentation – Microsoft Office, html websites, video, PDF, digital photography – to cutting edge technologies – laser/lidar scanning, GIS, 3D modeling, distributed databases, semantic ontologies and faceted browsing – there is a spectrum of opportunities, dependencies and challenges to that did not exist even 30 years ago.

We are at a unique point in history, where cultural heritage professionals must work to care for the physical past while assuring that there will be a digital record for the future. Peter Brantley, Executive Director of the Digital Library Foundation, thinks, “the problem of digital preservation is not one for future librarians, but for future archaeologists.” If one imagines that the well-intentioned efforts of researchers and scholars in the modern era could be unreadable only fifty years from now, there is tremendous responsibility on individual cultural heritage professionals to insure a future for their digital work.

The most critical factor for digital heritage sustainability is to “plan for its re-use.” (ADS web 2007). Fortunately, recent phenomena in intellectual property law such as Creative Commons and GPL, are making it easier than ever to share content while protecting the rights of contributors. But the challenge of assuring sensible privacy, such as locations of archaeological sites or individual identities in the world of instant messaging by mobile phone to Google Earth or Facebook is considerable, even when well intentioned.

We see this theme as a dialogue on the present and future of archaeology in the 21st century. The sessions, papers, forums and workshops will explore the wealth of opinions and expertise on this vast topic, ranging from nuts-and-bolts practical information on geographical information systems to producing non-linear narratives and multi-vocal visualizations of the past. We wish to deliberate the challenges for ethics and ‘authenticity’ – ‘who owns the past’ and who owns the ‘virtual heritage’ we create? We hope to develop strategies for education, both online and in the classroom that can be used from K-Grey as well as for educating ourselves on the promises and pitfalls of digital technology.

We welcome contributions that extend the discussion to embody multi-national perspectives and creative as well as sensible approaches to digital technologies.

> See sessions