The project that is emerging as a result of my CHI Fellowship is one related to my dissertation research in northern Albania. The tumuli (burial mounds) of northern Albania appeared suddenly on the Shkodër plain around the start of the Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BC). As a result of the ongoing Projekti Arkeologjikë i Shkodrës (PASH), which is co-directed by Drs. Michael Galaty (Millsaps College) and Lorenc Bejko (University of Tirana), we have been able to locate, identify, and map most tumuli throughout the region. However, time is of the essence, particularly since tumuli are mined for soil and are being damaged and destroyed at a very high rate. My project, Tumulus, in its immediate form, will serve as a digital repository through which information collected for each tumulus will be made available to a wider audience.
Like the plethora of “culture types” commonly used to describe the prehistoric peoples of the Balkans, there are comparatively similar numbers of on-going archaeological projects throughout the region at any given time. Moreover, the results generated from archaeological projects are often published in obscure journals and in languages that are generally inaccessible by the global archaeological community. Although my CHI project will focus on northern Albanian tumuli as a case study, it is hoped that this project will serve as an example and perhaps repository for other similar Balkan initiatives that seek to archive, store, remember, display, and keep track of the rich data sets collected by archaeologists in the wider region. To this end, in the future I can solicit tumulus map data from other archaeologists working in other Balkan countries, which can be added to Tumulus.
These northern Albanian tumuli, when considered within the larger spatial scale of the Balkans, have the potential to help archaeologists better understand the impacts that social interaction and population movement had on their sudden appearance during the Bronze Age. Did the concept of tumulus burial spread as a result of migration, indigenous adoption, or both? Until data generated from other similar contexts are made available, this is something that will be difficult to assess. As mentioned above, my project will feed into a larger initiative that will compile data relating to tumuli throughout the Balkans, thereby filling in the wider spatial and temporal gaps that continue to plague the region.
My project will target several audiences: 1) the inhabitants of Shkodër; 2) archaeologists and Albanians alike interested in the archaeology of Albania; 3) and those interested in cultural heritage management and the preservation of these prehistoric features. As a survey team leader, I speak with almost every single landowner, farmer, and villager that I see. I tell them exactly who we are, where we are from, what we are doing, and, most importantly, why we are doing it. Since my work in Shkodër began in 2010, my goal has been to meet everyone in the community and to share with them our project goals. As a result, we are now known throughout the region and people have generally taken a liking towards us. My project will provide local inhabitants the opportunity to view the data that PASH has collected thus far, allowing for further conversations in future fieldseasons.
Since the PASH project is still accruing survey and excavation data, scholarly publications have not yet occurred. In the meantime, however, these data are perhaps best served in a public sphere – rather than simply living in FileMaker most of the year. If the survey data from the Shkodër tumuli are made available via my proposed project, then scholars working on similar projects and/or working in the region will be better able to compare their data with ours. Moreover, by creating a public space for the cultural heritage aspect of the PASH project, Albanians, cultural heritage scholars, and archaeologists can refer to these rapidly deteriorating tumuli as an example of – and case study for – the importance of preserving the past.
The tools with which I will build my project include MapBox (http://mapbox.com/) and TileMill (http://mapbox.com/tilemill/). Through these programs, I will create an interactive, clickable, linkable, and informative map that will be fed into a digital repository and will be housed on the Michigan State University’s Matrix server. This project will store and display data in such a way that they will be searchable and retrievable by other people. Ultimately, I would like the data to have an xml or rdf representation so that it can be amenable to revisualizations of my project. Because my data will be linkable and searchable, different kinds of data will be fed into different kinds of databases. For example, data from classical period artifacts found within the PASH survey study region will be linked into Pleiades (http://pleiades.stoa.org/home). By feeding data into Pleiades, for example, other scholars interested in the region, time period, and/or similar kinds of material culture will be able to learn about the kinds of things being documented in northern Albania. Lastly, I will incorporate an informational pamphlet – which was created by PASH students with support from the Albanian government and recently distributed to farmers – into my project.
Since there are at least two PASH fieldseasons remaining, more data will be collected. The project that I build will need to be done on a platform that allows for change and the addition of more data. In addition, new data will be added to the existing MapBox and TileMill project that I will build. My proposed project, as of now, will be managed and maintained by me, yet viewable and searchable by all.
Although my project is focused on a relatively small spatial and temporal area of interest, it can ultimately be a part of a larger pan-Balkan and/or pan-Adriatic initiative that seeks to document, store, and display standardized data that comes from other archaeological projects throughout the region. By contributing to this larger goal, I and other archaeologists can have access to and begin to compare different kinds of datasets that are typically collected and stored (then forgotten) in FileMaker. By comparing and contrasting different datasets generated from other projects in the Balkan region, it is hoped that the dizzying number and array of Balkan “culture types” can begin to make sense when understood through real-time on-the-ground data that are easily accessible by all.
Most importantly, the local inhabitants of the Shkodër region have the right to access PASH-generated information and data. If we are going to help reduce and mitigate the destruction of local tumuli, then we need to invest in increased public awareness, both at the local and regional scale. I am also aware that projects such as mine might attract looters, but I believe public education of landowners is the best remedy for this problem.
Sounds like a great project. Exactly the sort of thing that we’d like to see using and hooking up to Pleiades. Please let us know how we can help with your project.
Tom Elliott, Ph.D.
Pleiades Co-Managing Editor
Associate Director for Digital Programs and Senior Research Scholar
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU)
Thank you very much for your words of encouragement – I am really enjoying this project and am very excited to be working on it! I am very much looking forward to discussing some of these ideas with you and your colleagues in the near future.