3 Ways Smartphones Transformed Archaeology Fieldwork

When I started doing archaeology fieldwork, smartphones were not a thing. Over time, we started using them more in our work and this post shares 3 ways smartphones transformed archaeology fieldwork. In this post, you will find the YouTube video discussing this topic and a full transcript of the video.

YouTube Video

3 Ways Smartphones Transformed Archaeology Fieldwork

YouTube Video Transcript

Here you will find the complete transcript of the video in the previous section. There are time stamps for every minute if you want to navigate to a certain part.


00:00:00] When I started doing archaeology, smartphones were not a thing. during my last fieldwork stint, I saw firsthand how smartphones have changed the way we do field work. In this video, I’m gonna share three ways smartphones have completely transformed archaeological fieldwork, so let’s get into it.

Data Capture

Probably the most groundbreaking way in which smartphones have changed archaeological field work is in how we capture data. now there are a ton of examples about this, and I’m gonna focus on two for this portion.

Way 1

Now the first example has more to do with how individual archaeologists are using smartphones in the field.

So many of us take photos almost exclusively on our phone.

When I started doing archaeological fieldwork, I had a dedicated point in shoot camera that I would bring into the field.

Fast forward to now, I take most of my pictures almost exclusively on my phone. It’s because it’s easy, portable, and I usually will always have my phone on me.

I’ve noticed that I take a lot more pictures of our day-to-day work because it’s as easy as pulling out my smartphone and taking a picture. For example, I have a lot more team photos of showing the day-to-day of what [00:01:00] we’re doing, whether it’s doing field work, visiting friends, visiting sites, which are all really important when you’re doing archaeological field work. I also have a lot more reference shots of what we were doing in a day, especially when it comes to onsite field work. And this is super useful when you’re trying to remember maybe weeks, months, or years later, what you were doing on a particular day.

Smart phones have also helped ease communication between team members, especially if they’re not with you in a given moment. I remember this past time that one of my team members asked me about certain storage boxes, and I had no idea what he was talking about, so I just flipped out my phone, recorded a video of our storage shed, and asked him which box he was talking about, and then I got a quick answer a couple hours later.

Now, if we had done this back and forth through email, it would’ve taken a lot longer.

 Now we still need the skills and expertise of trained photographers, and at times we do need better cameras.

So I have a mirrorless camera that I use for certain occasions for publication-worthy shots.

 Nonetheless, smartphones have offered away [00:02:00] for more team members to contribute to the record of the project and keep the project going in different ways.

Way 2

The second example when it comes to data capture is the technologies themselves that are equipped in smartphones. Increasingly smartphones are working with other technologies that we use to capture data. In particular geographic information systems, also known as gis, has seen so much increased capability in just the last few years when it comes to smartphone technologies we can use in the field.

Now I can do a whole other video about gis, but the important thing here to remember is that locations are really fundamental to any type of gis or mapping analysis.

Precisely mapping things has helped archaeologists improve their methodologies and record-keeping over the past years. For example, field archaeologists excavating a site can record the locations of where they’re excavating and then turn that into a 3D model of all the layers they’ve excavated at a particular site or [00:03:00] even within a trench.

 Survey archaeologists can precisely record the locations of things they find on the surface. This could be a really interesting artifact. It could be a wall of a potential site. It could be the whole site itself, or it could be a tomb next to the site.

Now, back in the day, we needed a haul heavy GPS units and accessories all over the world, and it caused a lot of problems at customs most of the time.

Now to be completely honest, that still happens quite a bit, but smartphones have been able to reduce some of that load.

During this past field season, we tested out using a smartphone to record the data we were capturing on survey.

Overall, the system worked pretty well and there were some significant advantages. For example, a smartphone is typically smaller and lighter than most of the GPS units we would normally use. And also the interface is something that feels familiar. Now, of course, there are some disadvantages like battery life and the overall fragility of smartphones in comparison to a more rugged GPS unit. But overall, we found it to be a success [00:04:00] and will likely implement this method for future surveys.

Keeping in Touch

The second way that smartphones have transformed archaeological fieldwork is keeping in touch with loved ones.

Now, this might seem a bit of an odd one to include, but archaeologists are humans too, and we have relationships with people we’d like to keep up with when we’re in the field.

During my first excavation, I was in a lovely little village in Hungary and the only way that I could keep in touch with my family was to buy a phone card, walk to a phone booth, and then call up my family. And I did this about once a week for six weeks.

Now when I started dating my now husband, we wanted to talk a bit more often.

 I burned through so much Skype credit, so I could actually see him a bit when I was talking to him on my laptop because I was off doing field work for months at a time.

Now I’ll be completely honest, I was quite a late adopter when I came to smartphones in general and using smartphones in the field. However, when I saw the wireless connectivity increase in places where I worked and data plans becoming much more affordable, [00:05:00] I jumped on the bandwagon.

I was no longer bound to my computer and it was far easier to get in touch with my family and for my family to get in touch with me. Whether it was coordinating a time to talk earlier or later in a day, or just seeing daily life and pictures of what was going on when I wasn’t at home. Those pictures, especially after I had a kid, were super vital to my sanity when I was in the field.

Now, going off the grid sometimes is necessary in certain fieldwork situations. There are certain sites that I work at where there is no cell phone reception, but for me, knowing that I can reach my family or they can reach me within a reasonable amount of time, keeps me sane in the field and also makes being an archaeologist who does field work much more sustainable.

Sharing What We Do

So the third way in which smartphones have transformed archaeological fieldwork is sharing what we do. Smartphones, give us instant access to a number of social media platforms, which enables us to share what we’re doing as we’re doing it. There’s tons of project-specific Twitters, [00:06:00] Instagrams, and other social media accounts that share archaeological field work as it’s unfolding.

There’s also individual archaeologists who frequently share what they’re up to when they’re in the field.

Now I know some projects and people are a bit hesitant to share in this live action way, and I can totally empathize with that.

We always wanna be respectful of the culture and laws of the different countries and places we work in. For example, in Oman, most of the women I know don’t like to have photographs taken of their faces.

However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy social media. In fact, a lot of the friends that I have that are women are avid social media users and find creative ways to share without showing their faces.

 Also, every archaeological project has a different take on what they feel comfortable sharing.

On our project, we don’t share major findings unless they’ve been published or processed. It’s not about being secretive. In fact, it’s about doing due diligence.

If we found something groundbreaking, we want to record it and analyze it and interpret it in a way that does justice to whatever we’re studying, [00:07:00] and that takes time.

Now the shiny new stuff that we find actually only makes up a small portion of our work, which is great because there’s so many other things we can share while we’re in the field.

Sharing what we do through our smartphones and via social media apps has transformed our engagement.

Personally, through sharing my day-to-day through Instagram stories, it’s helped me stay connected with team members who might not be in the field, loved ones and family members, local community members, other archaeologists as well, and people who I’ve never met.

All these people were curious about archaeology, but didn’t have the chance to be in the field with me, but through sharing, they could see what I was up to. Smartphones and social media has helped archaeologists like me who might not have had training in videography or media to share what I’m doing as I’m doing it.

Now those dedicated documentaries and TV specials and those people who are so great at presenting archaeological information, those are all needed. But smartphones have enabled people like [00:08:00] me and other archaeologists who might not have had that training to be able to share our stories as well.


Now if you’re curious what archaeological field work looks like, I have a whole video here dedicated to a day by day breakdown of my two week archaeological field work trip to Oman. So there are definitely other ways in which smartphones have transformed archaeology. And if you’re interested in seeing some of that content, just let me know in the comments below. So that’s all for today’s video, and I’ll see you in the next one. Thanks so much and bye.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my channel and other videos.

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.



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