Andrew Reinhard | Digital Archaeology: Documenting the Anthropocene

Berghahn Books has launched its new series of titles, Digital Archaeology: Documenting the Anthropocene, with Dr. Shawn Graham’s book, An Enchantment of Digital Archaeology: Raising the Dead with Agent Based Models, Archaeogaming, and Artificial Intelligence. Archaeologists primarily focus on material evidence of human activity and increasingly rely on digital technology to assist in that research. The concept of “digital archaeology” covers digital tools and methods employed by archaeologists. But “digital archaeology” also means the archaeology of digital things and environments, everything from modern technofossils and e-waste to evidence of human occupation inside open world video games. In Graham’s case, his book explores the creation and use of digital tools in both natural and synthetic environments as both a primer and a cautionary tale set in ancient Rome.

In 2016, the Anthropocene Working Group, an international, multidisciplinary cadre of scientists, agreed that the Anthropocene marked a new epoch distinct from the Holocene beginning in 1950 with the Great Acceleration and humanity’s collective effect on Earth. The so-called Digital Age and Information Age are subsumed within the Anthropocene, leaving behind physical detritus that will ultimately create a new geological layer consisting of remains of the technosphere, the human-modified environment. Where there are manufactured landscapes, the digital archaeologist will occupy them.

The digital archaeology covered in this series will include research into technofossils and the technosphere, technology-driven hyperobjects, digital media and archaeological communication, evidence of machine-created culture, the crossover between digital and actual economies, and the growing field of digital archaeological ethics underpinning this new work. Now that we are 70 years into the Anthropocene, what does an archaeology of digital things look like as archaeologists forge a new discipline to document the technology and infrastructure the Great Acceleration creates and leaves behind, the bulk of which intersects with digital things and processes? What can archaeologists learn from that? How do we decide what digital things to keep, and what to discard? Must we conduct archaeology at the wellhead of technological innovation in order to keep pace, or should archaeologists wait a beat to see what digital materials are meaningful, and what gives them meaning? How does the creation of digital things and environments continue to affect the natural world and the living things within it? The volumes in this new series seek to provide some answers to these questions.