Excavating Occaneechi Town: Archaeology of an Eighteenth-Century Indian Village in North Carolina
edited by R.P. Stephen Davis, Jr, P.C. Livingood, H. Trawick Ward, and V.P. Steponaitis
Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1998
CD-ROM with 8-page booklet
ISBN 0-8078-6503-6
$39.95 (Microsoft Windows® 3.1 or Windows 95® compatible)

reviewed by M.A. Eccleston


Excavating Occaneechi Town is a fully electronic publication of the excavation reports and post-excavation analysis of objects from a small colonial-period village of the Occaneechi tribe, on the banks of the Eno River in North Carolina, USA. The report contains plans and photographs of all contexts (nearly 1,000), searchable lists of all finds (some 100,000!), numerous photographs of important objects, and several video- clips.

The CD has several installation options, from 'compact' to education to the full- fledged professional versions (requiring about 25 MB of disk space). The Main Menu of the Professional Version contains ten clickable buttons that allow one easily to navigate the various sections of the report. The choices are: Getting Started, Introduction, Contents, Background, Excavations, Archaeology Primer, Artifacts, Food Remains, Interpretations, and Electronic Dig.

Getting Started gives the user a brief introduction of the format of the CD and then provides an Annotated Guide. This section gives a concise abstract of each section of the CD and introduces the user to the hyper-link capability of the multimedia presentation. Like the Worldwide Web, this allows the user to simply click on highlighted text for instant access to the various sections of the publication.

As the authors mention in Getting Started, this CD is designed with three different audiences in mind: '(1) Scholars who need a complete record of archaeological findings from the Fredricks Site (the name archaeologists use to refer to "Occaneechi Town"); (2) interested laypersons who wish to delve into the archaeology of the historic Occaneechi tribe; and (3) students who want to learn more about how archaeologists excavate'. With these varied audiences in mind, it is suggested that one should begin with the Archaeology Primer.

Archaeology Primer is probably of most use to the second and third groups mentioned above, as it gives a 25-part, illustrated, step-by-step guide to excavating a site. Every page of information is illustrated and includes five video-clips, photographs, and descriptions of all major features, and artefact types found at the site. This section would be excellent for teaching students ranging from primary-school age to undergraduates at university with no prior excavation experience. The video-clips used are particularly useful for demonstrating certain key aspects of the excavation process. If a picture tells a thousand words, these movies certainly convey several thousand.

When one progresses to the Excavations section of the report, a full site plan is presented to the user. This is fully interactive, allowing one to point and click on any feature in the plan for a more detailed description of the feature. When a feature or structure is selected a new menu appears with several options. Generally, one is presented with a plan and section drawing of the feature and several photographs showing different stages of excavation. There are also clickable buttons that allow one to read the archaeological description of the feature, as well as a list of artefacts from each context within that feature.

The 'Description' window of each feature names the author, and gives a general description of each context within that feature and an interpretation of its function. A list of artefacts from each context is also given, with hyper-links to the object data bases. This, I believe, is one of the best features of this publication. By simply clicking on the object that is of interest, a link is made directly into the data base and the particular object that you clicked on is highlighted. Once inside the data base, it is then possible to carry out any number of search options based on the data base fields. This enables one to search for all artefacts of this type and list the features in which they are found. This can allow a researcher to do some preliminary spatial distribution analysis of object types simply and quickly, without having to pore over the entire data base by hand, as one would have to do in a traditional paper publication.

This publication seems to fulfil its stated objectives very well. The detailed archaeological information and interpretation is easy to navigate and allows the serious researcher to access the specialist reports, as well as executing relatively complex searches of the data base. The non-specialist user is able to get a taste of archaeological publication and is able to access the information in a user-friendly and highly graphical manner. The educator is able to use the video-clips and images provided in a manner that certainly seems suitable as an introduction for younger children and a more serious attempt at an overview for the senior high school student or junior undergraduate. The Electronic Dig, while being fun, also gives students an appreciation of the constraints of running a project to a budget -- though I suspect that professional archaeologists will alleviate their frustrations by leaving this in its default setting, 'unlimited'.

I hope that all excavation directors consider publishing their sites in this way. Although it is unlikely to replace more traditional methods of publication for some time, there is a lot of sense in presenting a large amount of data in this format. Combined with the educational value of the Archaeological Primer and the Electronic Dig, this is certainly an innovative method of publication that should be seriously considered as the way forward in archaeological publication.

Copyright © M.A. Eccleston 1998


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