Friday, May 15, 2020

Archaeology of Digital Environments: Tools, Methods, and Approaches

Archaeology of Digital Environments: Tools, Methods, and Approaches
Reinhard, Andrew Douglas (2019) Archaeology of Digital Environments: Tools, Methods, and Approaches. PhD thesis, University of York.
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Digital archaeologists use digital tools for conducting archaeological work, but their potential also lies in applying archaeological thinking and methods to understanding digital built environments (i.e., software) as contemporary examples of human settlement, use, and abandonment. This thesis argues for digital spaces as archaeological artifacts, sites, and landscapes that can be investigated in both traditional and non-traditional ways. At the core of my research is the fundamental argument that human-occupied digital spaces can be studied archaeologically with existing and modified theory, tools, and methods to reveal that human occupation and use of synthetic worlds is similar to how people behave in the natural world. Working digitally adds new avenues of investigation into human behavior in relation to the things people make, modify, and inhabit. In order to investigate this argument, the thesis focuses on three video game case studies, each using different kinds of archaeology specifically chosen to help understand the software environments being researched: 1) epigraphy, stylometry, and text analysis for the code-artifact of Colossal Cave Adventure; 2) photogrammetry, 3D printing, GIS mapping, phenomenology, and landscape archaeology within the designed, digital heritage virtual reality game-site of Skyrim VR; 3) actual survey and excavation of 30 heritage sites for a community of displaced human players in the synthetic landscape of No Man’s Sky. My conclusions include a blended approach to conducting future archaeological fieldwork in digital built environments, one that modifies traditional approaches to archaeological sites and material in a post/transhuman landscape. As humanity continues trending towards constant digital engagement, archaeologists need to be prepared to study how digital places are settled, used, and abandoned. This thesis takes a step in that direction using the vernacular of games as a starting point.

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