Saturday 13 April 2024

Using Google Can Damage the Archaeological Heritage

    "This belongs in a museum"? (Wikipedia)        


This comes as no surprise, researchers have shown that Google Search really has got worse ( Jason Koebler, 'Google Search Really Has Gotten Worse, Researchers Find' Jan 16, 2024). "Researchers, from Leipzig University, Bauhaus-University Weimar, and the Center for Scalable Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, set out to answer the question "Is Google Getting Worse?" by studying search results [...]". I think archaeologists could have answered this question with examples quite a while ago. If a curious member of the public wanted to explore an archaeological topic in detail, they'd do better to get some wisely chosen books on it. If instead they trustingly turn to the Internet for their information and use a search engine then they'll be fed a misleading vision of that archaeology. The picture they would get would be a rather specific one. Instead of unlimited amounts of reliable open access archaeological information, a single mouse-click away, supplied by academia or the museum world, they will primarily be faced with having to peruse page after page of adverts offering examples of artefacts related to that topic for sale and texts about their private collection. This is a reflection of the increasing use of the internet primarily as a commercial tool of modern capitalist trade, a process that has intensified from 2015 onwards.

For example, I've just finished writing about the dolphin coins of Olbia (a Greek colony in what is now Ukraine) of the 6th to 4th centuries BC. Olbia and its environs are fascinating sites with much to tell... and these 'dolphins' are fascinating objects for what they could (if not looted) contribute to that story. Yet, if you do a Google search pn them, you'll get none of that. At the time of writing, scrolling down the search results indicated that the top forty hits were dealers’ sites offering examples of these coins of uncertain legitimacy of origin for sale at the time. Below this, the 6290 search results for different permutations of “Olbia dolphin coins” were strongly dominated by marketing materials for antiquities for sale.

That's it none of that socio-archaeological mumbo-jumbo about exchange networks, the rise of a monetary econonomy [you know, ours] and its co-existence (or not) with a natural one, where all that metal came from and why, how the workshops that made them were organised. Oh no. "Here's a special offer, a real authentic piece of Ancient Greece, we'll even throw in a plastic box to keep it in with a printed card full of cutesy crap information we pulled off wikipedia" (most of the sellers, copying from each other, get the dates of production seriously wrong - they've never heard of stratigraphy).

So, Google-archeology is all about "digging up old things to buy and sell [never mind the paperwork]".This is the origin of the bonkers view taking over that ripping up sites with metal detectors and spades is somehow "good" for the heritage and archaeology as a whole because ... "digging up old things, innit?". That's the "shooting-all-the-British-Ospreys-and-stuffing-them-so-we-can-look-at-them-and-study-them-in-museums-and-private-collections" argument, innit? Would work too with the Red-knobbed Coot. Archaeologists and tekkies who hold these views should try and persuade the birdies. Why not? It'll "save them from being killed by the pesticides, and windfarms".
Julie Muncy @juliemuncy23 · Jan 17
it is unnerving to consider the possibility that there was, in human history, a brief window where all public knowledge was easily accessible for anyone with a computer, and that this window has now closed.


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