Biblical Archaeology Review 23:4, July/August 1997

First Person: The End of the Paper Trail

Final reports must go electronic

By Hershel Shanks

This piece should be filed under “Never Satisfied.” For some time I have been clamoring for final reports, the official and complete account of an archaeological excavation. The failure to publish final reports is a major stain on the archaeological record.a So, now a number of final reports are being published. And, wouldn’t you know it, I’m still not happy.

The reason I’m not satisfied is that the recently published final reports are to a great extent unusable. No one can read them, let alone use them. This is not because they are shoddy, incompetent or incomplete. On the contrary, they are scientific, detailed and complete. But that’s the problem. They often consist mainly of meticulous catalogues with minute descriptions of hundreds of artifacts or details about these artifacts. The human mind is simply incapable of absorbing this much detail.

Yet all this detail is important—not for anyone to read but for another excavator or analyst to use, perhaps 10 to 20 years hence. But the details cannot be manipulated in this form—on the printed page. In short, the day of the complete published report on the printed page is over! It is as obsolete as the quill pen. The only question is how soon the profession will realize that the details, the catalogues and the immense charts must be in electronic form, so they can be manipulated by other researchers to produce meaningful patterns and new hypotheses and explanations.

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