Formalisation and Reuse of Methodological Knowledge on Archaeology across European Organisations

Cesar Gonzalez-Perez, Patricia Martín-Rodilla, Elena Epure


Archaeological projects vary greatly in size, complexity, object of study, timescale and other aspects. Finding the most suitable methodology for a project is often difficult, and an inadequate choice can ruin many months’ worth of fieldwork, bias data interpretation, and slow down or impede cross-project comparison of results. An archaeological methodology should be as adjusted as possible to the project needs, take into consideration techniques and approaches successfully applied in the past, and clearly expressed for better understanding and sharing among the involved agents. These goals are usually pursued informally through the application of tacit knowledge that exists within archaeology organisations, leading to situations where: 1) it is difficult to convey what is expected to be done, especially to new team members or external collaborators; 2) methodological knowledge is underutilised and rarely reused, especially across organisations; and 3) the improvement of methodologies over time is difficult since no explicit knowledge about them exists.
As we have previously proposed [Gonzalez-Perez and Hug 2012, “Crafting Archaeological Methodologies”], situational method engineering (SME) can be used to mitigate these problems. SME does not conceive a methodology as a monolithic black box, but as an assembly of pre-existing components that are selected from a repository and composed together. Each component encapsulates a proven, reusable and self-contained “atom” of knowledge that can be reused, recombined in different situations, and improved over time. In the context of the FP7 ARIADNE project, we have applied an SME approach by which the informal methodological knowledge of seven European archaeological organisations (including university departments, research centres and museums) was formalised as discrete components, stored into a database, and linked to other components. Natural language processing techniques have been used to assist in the information extraction and formalisation process.
The resulting repository has allowed us to obtain variations of established methodologies to cater for different project situations; combine different methodologies for collaborations and other hybrid scenarios; and carry out a comparative analysis of commonalities and differences between the archaeological practices of the selected organisations.