July 14, 2020
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Construction has destroyed more than 80 percent of the Honduran archaeological sites previously excavated by Kenyon anthropology students and faculty — but the records from those sites will live on at Digital Kenyon.
Three decades of Kenyon research tracked human activity from 1200 B.C. to A.D. 1532 and resulted in about 250,000 field notes, site maps, photographs and other records from 941 sites. Anthropology students and faculty analyzed more than one million artifacts excavated from 180 settlements.
The Anthropology Department has been digitizing paper records and 35 mm photos from that research for the past decade, but those digital files remained largely inaccessible on secure Kenyon computer servers. A $3,500 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through the Ohio Five Digital Scholarship project, started the work of placing the Honduran records onto the open access research hub Digital Kenyon in the “Four Valleys Archive.”
Last summer Conor Dugan ’15 worked 30 hours a week to put 2,045 files into the database of Honduran field records. Those records cover four archaeological sites and can be searched according to types of data.
“This is the largest digitization project that I know of going on on campus right now,” Digital Initiatives Librarian Jenna Nolt said. “Scanning files is one thing, but describing them accurately for a search function and then putting them into a structure on Digital Kenyon is another.”
“Anybody wanting to study those [archaeological] sites in the field, they’re going to have to have access to our records,” said Edward Schortman, the J. Kenneth Smail Professor of Anthropology. “Typically a researcher would come to Kenyon for two or three months to study our records, but that’s not very efficient. With Digital Kenyon, for the first time we could see where all of this data could go.” A third of the Honduran field records and photographs still need to be digitized, Schortman added.
Ellen Bell ’91, associate professor of anthropology at California State University Stanislaus in Turlock, California, helped with Kenyon’s archaeological work between 1990 and 2007. She now assigns her students to use the data in the Four Valleys Archive for their own research projects.
“Forty percent of [CSUS’s] student body identifies as Hispanic and nearly 50 percent of our student body are first generation college students,” Bell said. “Many of my students can’t leave work or family obligations long enough to undertake archaeological fieldwork abroad, so the opportunity to use the Four Valleys project data is invaluable.”
Schortman also hopes to publicize the database to Honduran schools so young Hondurans can learn about their history.
“As they consider their own cultural identity through time, we hope this archive will be of help and interest to them,” Schortman said. “We don’t want these pre-Hispanic people that we discovered to be forgotten. This is an effort to bring them back into the discussion.”
Nolt is helping the department standardize its method of digitizing files and write grants to continue the transfer of data to Digital Kenyon. Nolt said this transfer is part of a trend in higher education to include raw data with an academic research paper when it is published. “That’s a great way to create global collaborations,” she said.