University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Paperless Recording at the Sangro Valley Project
Christopher F Motz, Sam Crowe Carrier

Last modified: 2011-12-15


This paper presents the results of the Sangro Valley Project’s (SVP) deployment of a paperless recording system in a mixed environment of excavation and survey. It also discusses some advances made in archaeological photography. Finally, it presents preliminary results from ongoing experiments with automatically generating Harris Matrices from a FileMaker Pro database and with using iPads and iPhones as GPS units for survey.

Over its first sixteen years the SVP employed various formats to record, store, manage, and analyze its data. The opening of a new site in 2011 provided an opportunity to reconceive the project’s data systems. The University of Cincinnati’s Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia pioneered the use of Apple’s iPad in 2010 for paperless recording of basic excavation data. Building upon their success, the SVP developed and implemented its integrated paperless recording system in FileMaker on both laptop computers and iPads. The paperless system pushes digitization of data into the field—replacing traditional recording on paper forms, followed by subsequent transcription into computer systems, with direct data entry into the database format.

Data about each context, small find, environmental sample, and level were captured in the field using the FileMaker Go app on iPads. Later, specialists in the labs entered more detailed information about small finds, pottery, tile, and other items into the server-based FileMaker Pro database. Each of the two survey teams used iPads to record data as well. 

Another area of workflow improvement was in site photography. Previously, documentation photos of the site taken during excavation were captured with digital cameras, with the images subsequently uploaded, labeled, captioned, and stored on a server. As the season progressed the field supervisors tended to defer these processes, leading to errors. To remedy this, the project employed the Eye-Fi Connect X2, an SD camera memory card with built-in WiFi and associated software. This technology enables direct communication between the cameras and iPads, allowing photographs to be immediately labeled and captioned in the field, and enabling a significant improvement in accuracy.

The new technology quickly proved to have many advantages over traditional recording methods—much quicker exchange of information between the field personnel and specialists; immediate labeling and captioning of photos taken in the field; a significant decrease in human error through automation; improved consistency of terminology by using a structured vocabulary of options; increased efficiency by eliminating the need to scan and digitize paper records; an increase in the accessibility of information to all staff members; and improved back up.

The paperless system proved to be a resounding success. It was used for excavation, two survey projects, and recording by specialists. While there were some growing pains, the benefits far outweighed the costs. For any large archaeological project, data organization is critical. The flexibility of both the hardware and software allowed the SVP to finally integrate several types of research into a single, cohesive database. This approach has enormous potential to revolutionize the way archaeological data is collected, managed, analyzed, and disseminated.


recording; iPad; paperless; photography; database