So “10 things to”-lists are pretty popular these days, so we give it a try. If you are interested in studying Archaeoinformatics, you can do a couple of things to get into the subject and start learning how to do archaeology today.
1. Get familiar with the subjects and technologies
Archaeoinfomatics encompasses a couple of things: 3D documentation, 3D modelling, Spatial Analysis, Statistics, Data Management, Public Outreach and much more. If you are interested in the technological side of Archaeology, you should know what’s out there, what people are doing. This does not necessarily mean, that you need to be interested in every single aspect of Archaeoinformatics, everybody has a favourite (see point 3), but you should know what a Regression Analysis is or how to build a simple model in 3D.
2. Find some online courses to learn
Online courses or tutorials are a good start into any subject. Platforms like Coursera or Khan Academy offer various courses that can help you dive deeper into a subject. So you could take a course in Geographic Information Systems or Statistics with R. If you are more into the 3D subject like me, maybe a course in Blender would be interesting to you? Maybe you give it all a try to better figure out what comes next.
3. Pick your speciality
Nobody can do all. In real life, you have to specialise. In order to do that, you kind of need to know what interests you. This is sometimes hard to figure out. For some it comes naturally, and some need thinking. My tip for you is, to do whatever makes the most fun. Imagine that you will do this more or less the rest of your life. Can you imagine calculating statistics or to build 3D models for that? Figure it out as soon as possible, so you can proceed in your journey to become a Archaeoinformatic..ist (?)…
4. Find some more online courses
Once you picked your speciality, you need to go deeper and find more specialised courses or tutorials in order to learn a certain software or method in depth. For example, it took me about five years to truly become a good 3D modeller and especially with my preferred software. It needs a lot of practice and different problems to solve to really understand the mechanics behind a software and even find some tricks that otherwise would not be obvious to you.
5. Get your hands dirty and start a project
By now, you should already have a project in mind. Something within the project you are working in or the MA thesis you are thinking about. I learned the most in my life through practical problems, that I needed to solve. So maybe now it is the time to set your goals and get into it. For a presentation during my studies for example, I reconstructed the interior of two rooms of a palace in Syria, in order to show the placements of certain wall paintings. Something that was never done in 3D. Although this is not my best work (I still was a student), I put it up onto my homepage and a couple month ago got a request by the Louvre in Paris that wanted to use these renderings in a publication that is coming up. Win!
6. Learn to code
Something you really need at some point is a basic understanding of coding. Whether you are working with R or even Cinema4D, a knowledge of basic principles in coding is very helpful. As a start, I always point to HTML, which is no programming language as such, but helps to ease you into it. When you can build your first HTML pages, you probably can add some PHP, which is a proper programming language. After that Python is really helpful and if you fancy coding, even C++ can be a good coding language.
7. Don’t loose the love for archaeology
While diving into Archaeoinfomatics, you run the risk to lose your connection to Archaeology. Don’t do that. Even if you decided to live a life in front of the computer and therefore become an “armchair archaeologist”, stay in touch with the newest developments and research. In order to become a good Archaeoinformaticist (I am not sure if we call ourselves that?), you need to know and understand the problems of traditional archaeological projects. The advantage of our field of study is, that we can talk to each other.
8. Start the MA programme to get into the subject even deeper
Online courses are great but consider studying Archaeoinformatics properly. If you want to get a job in the field, you probably need the papers for that. A MA in Archaeoinformatics or Computational Archaeology is just that. You can come to us in Cologne, or choose a programme near where you live. Visit the homepage of the university in question and try to figure out how to apply. Assistants are usually very helpful with the whole process (I know, because I am one…).
9. Visit a conference dealing with your subject
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet fellow scientists and get the most recent research in the area of your choice. For our field, the CAA (Computer Applications & Quantitative Methods in Archaeology) is the place to be. Once a year, the conference is meeting somewhere else. Different countries even have their own chapters of the CAA and meet also regularly. On top of that, there are always smaller conferences that deal with a special area of the subject. Last year, we did the “Communicating the Past in the Digital Age” symposium, a two-day meeting with scholars from around the world.
10. Consider writing a PhD to expand the knowledge in Archaeoinformatics
The last step is adding to the knowledge base. By writing a PhD, you conquer a field, that has not been conquered before. With your research and ideas, you can contribute valuable methods, technologies or information, that help other scholars to do their research and to bring archaeology to the next level. Maybe someday, a young student even comes across your dissertation and gets motivated to join you in the field of Archaeoinformatics. If so, send her or him to this page, there is a 10-step plan…