Pioneers

1960s

During the 1960s, the spread of computers in universities marked a period of great enthusiasm for the solutions offered by the new electronic machines. The fall of the wall of scepticism so long nourished by the academia with regard to the diffusion of computers in the Humanities allowed to overcome the isolation that had characterized the accomplishments of the early explorers. The debate was still opposing “advocates” and “opponents” on the use of machines, but the conflict did not last long and was soon resolved in favour of the former.

In archaeology, the 1960s were marked by the first conferences on the use of computers, which culminated in the “Colloque international sur l’emploi des calculateurs en archéologie: problèmes sémiologique et mathématiques”, convened in Marseille in 1969 by Jean-Claude Gardin. As for systematic data dissemination, the first publishing tool was the «Newsletter of Computer Archaeology», edited since 1965 by Robert G. Chenhall under the initiative of the Department of Anthropology of Arizona State University. The early syntheses on computer applications in archaeology were also produced, like the one by George L. Cowgill published in 1967 in the second issue of the Journal «Computers and the Humanities».

The number of scholars involved in the use of computers multiplied, soon following two different paths. As stated in the presentation brochure of the Marseille Symposium, subjects could be subdivided according to two headings: 1) Symbolic problems raised by the descriptive analysis of archaeological material”, and 2) Mathematical problems involved in the building of symbolic systems, for taxonomic purposes in particular. In summary, automatic documentation systems, on the one hand, and quantitative methods, on the other.

Indeed, the quantitative trend gained ground and the hypothetico-deductive approach permeated theoretical developments, like those promoted by the New Archaeologists. Computer programming languages (e.g. FORTRAN and ALGOL-60), and soon after statistical software systems (e.g. SPSS, Statistical Package for the Social Sciences), allowed scientists to move from elementary statistics to multidimensional data analysis. At the same time, the progress made in Information Retrieval Systems brought about the spread of data banks designed to formalise the description and record of archaeological data. These large collections of factual data met the information needs of a large number of researchers, marking the time in which computer applications began to embrace Classical Archaeology and the problems raised by Cultural Resource Management

 Clarke Cowgill Doran Ginouvès Hodson