A Paperless Future? Digital Methods in CRM

02/05/2019 4:00 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

This post is authored by Kye Miller, Senior Project Director at PaleoWest Archaeology.

At the dawn of my career as an archaeologist, like most of us, I learned to draft site sketch maps with a compass and pacing, all forms and logs were kept on paper, and transects were determined from a compass bearing. Fast forward to 2019 and I haven’t used paper in the field or office for over seven years. We are now training newly graduated “green” field technicians exclusively with digital methods: GPS units, iDevice data management and mapping, photogrammetry, and so on. The newer generations of cultural resource managers will likely never know the pleasure of carrying a handheld compass, lined and graph paper and pencil, and paper topographic maps. These tools, and much more, are rapidly being replaced with digital devices and applications.

Digital methods, such as the PaleoWay system employed by PaleoWest Archaeology and systems developed by our partner Codifi Paperless Solutions, allow archaeologists to significantly reduce workloads (primarily data entry and digitization), errors, and ultimately the cost for conducting cultural resource projects, while increasing efficiency, accuracy, and quality of data collection. In the summer of 2014, PaleoWest Archaeology conducted the first large-scale all-digital data recovery project on a Colonial-Pioneer period ballcourt village along the Santa Cruz River, north of Tucson, Arizona. The project developers required a tight schedule and employing all-digital methods allowed us to collect quality data faster than ever before to meet a nearly impossible deadline, resulting in the identification and excavation of an adobe ballcourt, over one hundred pithouses, and hundreds of burials and extramural features.

I’ve observed mixed reactions to digital methods in CRM. Some more seasoned CRM practitioners are hesitant to utilize the new technology, often seemingly originating from a general lack of knowledge of digital technology coupled with a lifetime of traditional record keeping. The younger generation is more amenable to, and excited about, the transition to digital methods and, with their reliance on digital devices in their daily lives, typically requires fewer hours of training. Most tend to envision a bright future that improves the way we document and manage invaluable cultural resources.

From data collection to interpretation, reporting, research, and curation, digital methods are revolutionizing the ways in which we study, analyze, protect, and remember the past. As technology continues to be increasingly incorporated into our personal lives, the cultural resource industry will (in my opinion) inevitably go “all-in” with digital methods. The benefits are too great, and a fantastic bunch of talented archaeologists and developers are out there that have the motivation, vision, and capabilities to guide us into a completely paperless future.


  • 02/07/2019 10:48 AM | Forge ahead..learn from our own field
    This sounds excellent, but with one caveat: persistence. What archaeologist has not felt the relief from going through a long neglected job folder only to find that table, that field map, that set of photographs, that set of notes that filled in the information gap you faced? How many paper reports, let alone digital data, are essentially extinct in the published wild, whose last Refugia is on a friends dusty office shelf? What are the odds of these digital data persisting in a recoverable form for say, thirty years? Fifty? Setting the undeniable benefits on one side, the very real problem of didgital decay absolutely needs to be addressed at every level, in my opinion, or we are doing a huge disservice to the next generations. We should know this above all people. Something to discuss.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 02/11/2019 2:22 PM | Ted Roberts
    Glancing out over the landscape of the cultural resource management industry (within the larger environmental consulting industry... and the still larger A/E/C industry), I can't help but agree with nearly everything conveyed in this post. I am a bit dumbfounded that this essay is written in 2019, however. While the observations herein would be considered cutting edge in, say, 2013, the message seems to me outdated today. Technologies are moving so fast (especially those easily leveraged for data collection/rendering in CRM) that new solutions are transforming how we "do" archaeology daily. Aren't we well past the "digital v paper" argument/discussion and now firmly in the "digital solution v different digital solution" era? Aren't all firms and isn't every practitioner working (to a high degree) digitally these days?
    The vast array of digital solutions available to cultural/heritage resources managers today is astounding- and these technologies are quickly rendering our first- and second-generation digital solutions obsolete. These platforms are becoming more user-friendly, less expensive, and increasingly open-source, thereby eliminating much of the research and development heartburn encountered by the early adopters in our industry.
    As an industry, we have demonstrated our reluctance for the early adoption of emerging technologies. But, because we do not work in a bubble, a paperless future is inevitable. It likely will not be us CRM/HRM practitioners developing the platforms and solutions going forward. Rather, it will be us adapting and adopting these innovations (at various rates of speed based on a variety of factors) that will create differentiation in the market. It behooves all of us to embrace the change and dive right in- each contributing to the digital revolution in heritage management in our own way. Industry-wide contributions to this exciting era benefit us all. Ultimately, like the author asserts, these digital methods make us better consultants, scientists, and resource managers.
    Link  •  Reply
    • 02/19/2019 10:24 AM | Tanner Haynes
      I agree with much of you are saying but I believe the existence of the other comment from the 7th, proves that many are not entirely convinced by the digital switch. While I personally am in full favor of the digitization of data collection, I have seen many who still use pen and paper to this day.
      Link  •  Reply

Login for easier commenting:



ACRA Headquarters
2101 L Street NW, Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20037

Local: 202-367-9094
FAX: 866-875-6492
Email: Headquarters


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software