Project Meeting

TETRARCHs celebrates 1.5 years!

Written by Sara Perry

Some of the TETRARCHs team on a tour of the astounding palace in Vilnius. Photo by Dr Povilas Blaževičius.

At the end of March 2024, Transforming Data Reuse in Archaeology turned 1.5 years old. Last month some of our project team assembled for a mid-term meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, hosted by our incredible colleagues at Vilnius University. Here we reviewed our activities to date, discussed our research results, experimented with storytelling, and began to plan for our summer fieldwork (in Slovenia, Sweden, Italy and Greece) and for the final year-and-a-half of our research programme.

Some of the TETRARCHs team replicates a storytelling experiment using photos from different archaeological sites. Photo by Sara.

I believe we’ve achieved a lot, and I feel particularly proud that, between October 2022 and March 2024, we:

We’ve worked across many communities, including via:

  • Interviews with business owners and industry in Lithuania and surrounding areas (e.g., journalists, tour guides, tourism managers, jewellers, architects, filmmakers) to understand how they use and search for archaeological data.
  • Experiments with archaeological specialists, creative students / practitioners based in a variety of contexts, and school children to understand how new forms of storytelling with archaeological photos may be pursued by each group.
  • An international workshop with Omeka S users to understand the suitability of the platform for sharing and storytelling with archaeological data.
  • An international workshop with representatives of European memory institutions to understand how they have previously constructed stories from archaeological data, and their overarching ‘workflows’ for storytelling.
  • Workshops and fieldwork with specialists in LiDAR and 3D data, and volunteers at local museums and sites to understand reuse needs and requirements.
  • An international workshop with data managers and data mappers associated with CoreTrustSeal accredited digital repositories holding archaeological data in Europe to understand their preliminary responses to TETRARCHs’ data model and overall research proposition. 
  • Fieldwork with creative residents, including in UAE, to support TETRARCHs in redesigning approaches to data collection and retention, and with reuse of data.
  • An international survey of specialists about how they search for archaeological data in order to reuse it.

TETRARCHs is premised on the fact that archaeological data are not widely accessible for meaningful reuse, and European society at large is losing out as a result. At the most basic level, we seek to change the ways data are recorded, stored and retrieved to amplify societal impacts. This includes, 

  • Expanding interest in and use of archaeological data outside of archaeology, into creative and communications industries, urban development, tourism, and beyond. The number of archaeological stories available to inspire people and places is infinite, yet the public is exposed to a tiny fraction – most of which do not represent the breadth of the human experience.
  • Making archaeological data accessible for small businesses and creative practitioners for development of new products and expertise, contributing to cultural and economic development. These data can be used to inform everything from landscape architecture to interior design to cooking, theatre or sport – leading to novel contributions to business and industry. Right now, unless one has privileged access to the datasets, little of this potential for commercial innovation is realisable. 
  • Increased inclusion of communities in decision making around how archaeology is done and how it could be done differently in the future. The workflows for archaeology in Europe generally exclude the people most affected – i.e., those that live or work on or around the sites. Such exclusion relates in part to how the science of archaeology is conducted – and TETRARCHs’ storytelling-based method seeks to use commonly known and understood storytelling techniques to create new, more accessible and inclusive workflows.
  • Building the emotions, sensations, atmospheres and affect that sit at the core of all information into archaeological information infrastructures. Archaeological data tends to be stripped of all affect to conform to existing standards, leaving the data devoid of meaning and rife for manipulation into stories that bear no relationship to their context. More conscious and conscientious engagement with emotion can significantly influence how archaeological information is presented and interpreted in various fields, from education to media, enhancing empathetic communication and engagement. 
  • Creating more opportunity for archaeological data to meaningfully inform local, regional, national and international policy related to local planning, historic environment management, and cultural development. More access to more affectively-engaged and community-centred archaeological data allows for more opportunity to translate archaeological research directly into policy relevant to people and place. 

For me (Sara), TETRARCHs is a very special project, bringing together specialists across the entire archaeological spectrum – field, post excavation, lab, archives, communications, engagement, management, academic, practice-based, etc. – in a warm and welcoming space. It is the first time I’ve been able to work with so many different experts and feel safe to experiment productively with concepts like storytelling which might otherwise be perceived as threatening or unstable. It’s very liberating not to feel anxious or ostracised in trying to do archaeology differently, and I’m grateful to my colleagues and collaborators for making this possible.

Touring VALDOVŲ RŪMŲ MUZIEJUS with some of the TETRARCHs team. Selfie by Sara.

The project is also special because of how it has been funded – by the CHANSE initiative – in a way that has minimised administrative work, maximised opportunities to meet other projects granted through the same scheme, and foregrounded knowledge exchange and impact on society. I feel fortunate to be able to experience leadership in this context, which is substantially different to other grants I’ve held. 

Finally, in reflecting on this blog post with my co-lead Holly Wright, it feels important to conclude by noting how critical our early career researchers have been to the success of TETRARCHs to date. Paola, Aida and Lise, who are variously in postdoctoral and PhD posts on the project, have profoundly shaped our research design, our emerging publications and other outputs, our networks and partnerships, and the culture of our project overall. It’s been inspiring for Holly and myself, and we hope that it testifies to the space the team has created for collaborators to express themselves on their own terms. We’re also over the moon about the work emerging from the efforts of our creative residents and hope to say more in future posts. 

Please stay tuned for our activities over the coming months, e-mail us to join our mailing list, and join us on Zoom for our seminar series which will resume in September 2024. Thank you so much for following along!