Squirrel365 and Archaeological Data

I am a settlement archaeologist who works with pottery from Elephantine Island (project of the German Archaeological Institute), and at Kom el-Hisn, where I direct excavations. Settlement excavations help us understand how the Egyptians lived – in part by enabling us to look at what they threw away. The routine activities of non-royal ancient Egyptians can be identified through their garbage; their relationships with the state to be identified in manufacture and distribution of goods and the recognition of whether they are common or uncommon.

The challenge of a settlement excavation is always the huge amount of data we create and identify. To turn to pottery (typically broken into sherds): at Kom el-Hisn in 2018, we excavated 2 metric tons of pottery in 3 weeks of excavation! To understand Egyptian activities and relationships all this material must be recorded. And it must then be analyzed.

Our ceramics data have traditionally been recorded in the field using paper forms – in part due to challenges in computing, in part a response to the absence of internet on many field sites. I have 6 binders of paper form; the data can be stored that way indefinitely (which is great) but cannot be analyzed. They must be digitized, including time consuming data entry.

Computing solutions and born-digital data have always sounded good but the coding requirements have made them harder for the archaeological community to use to its fullest potential. For ceramic analysis, I found we needed a software tool powerful enough to work with large amounts of data and enable visualization, but straightforward enough that its basics might be learned by the archaeologists. We will ultimately be the ones who need to maintain and expand it!

Squirrel365 has enabled us to record our data cleanly and analyze effectively, ultimately expanding the material that we can study and enriching our analysis of ancient Egyptian life.

InfoArch

Squirrel365’s excel-style format answers our need for something simple that can be taught to people without a computer science background. We used it to create InfoArch, a joint venture between my team and InfoSol of Phoenix, AZ. It began with a suggestion from Paul Grill that we could manage our data more efficiently; the database, visualizations, and design have been carried out by Tirzah Kozlowski. My team of archaeologists and students have worked on cleaning and reformatting the data as well as helping think through how archaeological interpretation could be aided by Squirrel’s visualizations.

Squirrel 365 and Archaeological Data Dashboard Image
The InfoArch database allows us to enter separate sherd records for each tag generated in the field, toggling in and out of scorecards to keep data presentation clear and allowing it to be viewed easily on an iPad.

We began with a focus on the database itself, knowing that the challenge with archaeological data analysis is the dirtiness of archaeological data. Thus, if we wanted excellent visualizations – always a goal of InfoArch – we needed to ensure that the database was clear, well set up, and that the data were accessible to my team for data entry AND editing.

Squirrel 365 and Archaeological Data Dashboard Image
The sum of all sherd material recorded from excavations of the Kom el-Hisn Provincialism Project. We can query the database by tag number, date (broad of specific), and/or deposit type. The charts then show us how the resultant corpus may be measured by ware, slip, shape, and blackening patterns.

In the last few months the database has been solidified and most of the data related issues worked out, allowing the archaeology team to start analysis of the findings. Tirzah has created visualizations that allow us to understand ancient Egyptian cooking patterns and differences in provincial life at different sites in the third millennium BC. In May 2023, we will be back in the field to test data input while on-site. Before then, though, we will have to jump a major hurdle: how do we use Squirrel365 in rural Egypt, where we will have little to no internet signal?

Learn more about the American Research Center in Egypt

About Leslie Warden

Leslie Anne Warden (PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 2010) is Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Roanoke College in Salem, VA. Dr. Warden's work focuses on social reconstruction of the Egyptian Old through Middle Kingdoms (ca. 2600-1650 BC), using archaeological ceramics as her primary dataset. Her work dissects how commodity production and distribution was related to Egyptian economic, ritual, and domestic life, providing evidence for local identities and regional continuity over time. She directs the excavations of the Kom el-Hisn Provincialism Project (KHPP) at the ancient Egyptians settlement of Kom el-Hisn in the western Nile delta; additionally, she is Head of Ceramics Group for the German Archaeological Institute's excavations at Elephantine (Project title: 'Realities of Life,' directed by Dr. Johanna Sigl), and the head ceramicist of the North Kharga Oasis Survey (directed by Dr. Salima Ikram, American University in Cairo). She is broadly interested in Egyptian ceramics, the relationship of the Egyptian provinces to the capital, and non-elite material culture.

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