Data Sharing Approaches to Reconstructing Ancient Technology

Professor: Kylie Quave

Department: University Writing Program and Anthropology

Title: Data sharing approaches to reconstructing ancient technology

Description: The objective of the Cuzco Archaeological Ceramics Project is to
understand how the Inca state (ca. 1300-1530s CE) impacted local economies in
the heartland of the Inca empire (Cuzco, Peru). This project is a
collaboration between Peruvian and North American researchers and
specialists. Our focus is on ceramic sherds, which have been excavated in
pre-Inca (1000-1400s CE) and Inca archaeological sites in the region of
Cuzco. By studying changes in ceramic style and technology over several
centuries before and during Inca imperialism, we reconstruct how local
peoples interacted with the empire and responded to it, as well as how the
Incas used craft economies (specifically ceramics) to change labor landscapes
and alter daily lifeways.

In Phase 1, my colleagues and I identified excavated sites from which to
sample that would provide a broad cross-section of the Inca heartland in
these periods. Ceramic sherds were drawn (to compare forms and uses of
ceramic vessels) and photographed. We recorded attributes of artistic style
by photographing the sherds themselves, and recorded technological attributes
by taking digital microscope photos of the paste (the interior material) of
each sherd.  These drawings have been partially re-drawn in digital format
and all images have been organized and curated in a private database.

In Phase 2, we will migrate all the drawings, images, and associated metadata
to a public repository such as Harvard Dataverse where other researchers and
lay persons may have access to our database. From that public database, we
will create a survey in which users (both experts in ceramics and others)
will sort images and drawings to create categories of ceramics. We will seek
IRB approval before deploying this survey and will use the results of the
sorting exercise to demonstrate interobserver error among researchers and

In Phase 3, for which we are currently applying for funding, we will use
archaeometric methods (geochemical provenance studies and image-based
granulometry) to differentiate technological traditions among pre-Inca and
Inca ceramics. This final phase will take at least three years and will also
include annual workshops with researchers from Cusco, in which we will
continue to share data, create protocols for future data sharing, and build
consensus about how best to continue studying Inca imperialism through
ceramic sherds.

Duties: The research assistant will be responsible for research related to
digital data management (Phases 1 and 2), data sharing (Phase 2), and some
bibliographic research (preparation for Phase 3). Using Adobe Illustrator,
the RA will complete digital drawings of ceramics rim shapes and maintain the
organization of the files. The RA will also use Harvard Dataverse or a
comparable repository to design and build a database of project files that
may be publicly shared, with metadata attached to all files. Once the
database is composed, the RA will design and construct an online survey that
includes images, using an open source platform such as Google Surveys.
Finally, the RA will conduct library-based research on granulometry and the
use of JMicrovision for analyzing ceramic technologies. They will annotate
the bibliographic citations.

The preference is for a candidate with knowledge of coding and JSON who can use
the Dataverse API:
The RA should also be able to conduct library-based research.

I am seeking one RA for 7+ hours per week, two RAs for 4-6 hours per week, or three RAs for 1-3 hours per week.

Time commitment: 4-6 hours per week (average)

Credit hour option*: 2

Number of openings: 2

Submit Cover Letter/Resume to:

*If credit is sought, all registration deadlines and requirements must be
met.  Students selected to be research assistants should contact Brianna
Crayton ( whether they intend to pursue credit or not.

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