The role of the Internet in Irish archaeology

This is the the text of my contribution to Trowel Vol. XIV 2013. My thanks to the editors Bernard Gilhooly, Joseph Cully, Chris Coffey and Rowan Lacey.


Trowel Vol. XIV 2013

Trowel Vol. XIV 2013

One of the abiding memories of my early days studying in UCD in the 1980s was of spending time in the library thumbing through the old card catalogues looking up call numbers for references and then searching the stacks. Of course after a few months you knew the call numbers off by heart. Irish Archaeology was 936 so you could head straight to the stacks to find the book or journal you needed. Only there was usually only one copy available and if it was a current course topic it probably wasn’t there. The Library tried to get around this problem with the multi-copy section where a number of copies of the more important papers were available but for everything else you had to search the tables and library carts to find what you were looking for. If a book was miss-shelved, then it was lost for months. The other option was to photocopy everything you needed to read throughout the year. During my postgraduate research photocopying corpus studies became a tedious and time-consuming pastime.

As undergraduates we wrote our notes and essays by hand but when we became postgraduates we got computer access. I started my MA on the old UCD VAX system using the tortuous Waterloo Script word processing language, and by 1989 I had migrated to my own PC using WordPerfect. But my PC wasn’t networked, I had no access to email and the files couldn’t be read by any machine that didn’t have the same software. Today I still have the floppy discs with my MA files but I need a digital archaeologist to read them.

In the 1980s archaeological data was available only on paper. The sites and Monuments Record (SMR) was still being collated and the maps and manuals could only be accessed in libraries or in the SMR office itself. Unpublished excavation reports were only available from the excavators themselves or in the files of the National Museum and the National Monuments Service. Aerial photography mainly consisted of the oblique photos taken by St. Joseph, that were available in the National Museum, and high level photography taken for the Ordnance Survey that could be consulted in the Geological Survey and photographic reproductions ordered from the Ordnance Survey.

Today all that is changed. I hardly write any notes by hand anymore. I make my notes in a cloud-based notebook on my phone, tablet or PC. I often publish preliminary versions or summaries of papers or lectures as blogs. Digital versions of my draft papers are emailed to editors and all the editing and refereeing is done via the internet. I can search and access thousands of archaeological publications and excavation reports online and view historical Ordnance Survey maps and a wide variety of aerial photographic archives. I regularly have online discussions with my archaeological colleagues. All this change has been brought about by the internet.

The information web

To make this revolution in knowledge management and dissemination possible took not only the development of the internet and the access provided by Internet Service Providers. It also required the development of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee’s triad of URLs, HTML and HTTP, the development of web browsers like Mosaic and Netscape and new file formats like PDF, JPEG and the slightly older TIFF.

It was perhaps the PDF file format more than anything else that ushered in the era of internet archaeology. No other digital format has contributed as much to making archaeological reports and publications available to students, professionals and the general public. Once a report consisting of both text and graphics was converted to PDF it could be emailed, stored in an internet database and downloaded via a website or shared through a peer to peer system. Anyone who wanted to read a PDF file could download a free reader from Adobe that would work on any device irrespective of the hardware manufacturer or operating system. The combination of universality and free access had made PDF the de facto portable document standard by the late 1990s. PDFs meant that thousands of articles, papers, journals and books could be stored digitally and made available across the internet. But what’s more excavation and assessment reports would no longer remain in filings cabinets but could be disseminated. It was the new digital formats like PDF and TIFF that allowed the development of internet-based knowledge management sites such as JSTOR.

JSTOR was founded in 1995 to provide digitized back issues of academic journals. Today it has grown to include books and primary sources, and recent issues of journals. JSTORs Irish archaeology section includes: Proceedings of Royal Irish Academy, the Journal of the Royal Society of Archaeologists of Ireland, the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, and Archaeology Ireland. JSTOR was originally only available to participating institutions but in 2010 JSTOR was opened up to non-academic Irish archaeologists who were members of the IAI. This was accomplished through the good offices of the Nick Maxwell of Wordwell. While a number of other Irish archaeological journals have become available through the internet, such as Decies, some newer resources have also become available. The Eachtra Journal was established in 2009 by John Tierney to curate the work of that consultancy and contains excavation reports, articles, lectures, posters and other documents. To date 16 issues of the journal have been published online.

Wordwell was responsible for another important step in bringing Irish archaeology onto the internet. Wordwell had been publishing the Excavations Bulletin since the 1980s and over that time the size of the publication had increased from just a few hundred entries to over a thousand a year by 2001. In that year Wordwell secured funding from the National Monuments Service and the Heritage Council to make the excavation summaries available on the web at Since then the site has been both updated and backdated and now has summaries dating back to 1970. The ability to access and search excavation summaries from Abbeyknockmoy to Youghal has made one of the most important resources in Irish archaeology.

Another part of the mosaic had been established as early as the year 2000 when Dúchas, the old name for the Heritage Services, established a heritage data website (now taken down). This allowed consultants who managed their own GIS applications to download the data files of the Archaeological Survey of Ireland (ASI). In 2007 The National Monuments Service website went online and included a new GIS based map/search facility for the ASI records. This data set has been continually updated with summaries of monument descriptions and updated mapping, aerial photography, historic mapping and drawing capabilities and details of approximately 150,000 monuments. More recently the development of the National Roads Authority (NRA) excavations database has begun to transform access to full unpublished excavation and specialist reports related to the many excavations carried out on national road schemes over the last decade.

As information became available on the internet a major challenge was to make it searchable. Libraries had the decimal system of organizing information and catalogues but nothing similar existed for the web. The development of search engines would change this. WebCrawler and Yahoo became available in 1994 and Google in 1998. These search engines allowed websites to be searched using key words.

In the last decade the web has moved from providing pages of information and PDF and image files to making books available. In fact the ability to make books available electronically predates the web. Gutenberg was founded as far back as 1971 to make out of copyright eBooks available in digital format. But issues of copyright and digital rights held back the availability of in copyright books until the late 1990s when some of the first eBook readers were launched. Arguably it was the launch of the Amazon Kindle in 2007 that commenced the era of books in copyright being made available on the internet. While most books on Irish archaeology are still published only in print editions one can purchase some eBooks such as Jim Mallory’s Origin of the Irish and a range of internationally published books such as Richard Bradley’s The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland, and instantly download them for a fraction of the cost of the paper version.

In the 1980s examination of maps, especially historic ones, required a trip to a map library. In the early part of the last decade the Ordnance Survey Ireland began offering mapping data through its website. The importance for archaeologists was the inclusion of historical mapping, especially the 1st edition Ordnance Survey maps and aerial photography. Then in 2004 Google acquired EarthViewer 3D, which maps the Earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery and aerial photography, and made the basic version of the application freely usable over the web as Google Earth. The potential of Google Earth for archaeology was quickly grasped and it came into use not only as an off-the-peg method of presenting spatial data but was used to identify new archaeological sites.

Since 2004 Google has been providing Google Scholar as a freely accessible site that indexes the full text of scholarly papers across an array of publishing formats and disciplines. Released in beta in November 2004 Google Scholar includes many online journals of Europe and America’s largest scholarly publishers, plus scholarly books and other non-peer reviewed journals. Google Scholar now also provides data on paper and author citations that allow archaeologist and students to tell what authors and what papers are the most influential.

The social web

The first stage in the development of the internet was about providing information that people could easily access. The second stage, the social web, is about interaction and collaboration between the users of the internet through the use of social media sites like Facebook, and the generation of content by users in the form of blogs, images and videos. One of the earliest approaches to user-generated content was Wikipedia which was launched in 2001 as a collaboratively edited encyclopaedia. The site has grown to over 30 million articles and has a range of Irish archaeological articles that are often used by the media as source material for articles.

The most successful social media application for Irish archaeology is undoubtedly Facebook. Since its foundation in 2004 Facebook has attracted many millions of users. Ireland is the biggest user of Facebook in the English-speaking world ( and the ubiquity of its use has encouraged many archaeologists to become involved with pages and groups related to archaeology and heritage. In recent years a number of pages related to archaeology have developed. with over 23,000 followers has brought archaeology to tens of thousands of Facebook users. Other groups such as Archaeology Ireland Network, Early Medieval and Viking Research Group, and Togher: Irish Raised Bog Archaeology, to name a few, host discussions of archaeology. Other groups such as UCD Experimental Archaeology showcase ongoing experimental research and provide important insights into the development of the archaeological record. Facebook has also allowed the development of campaigns aimed at preserving archaeology and heritage such as Cherrymount Crannog Crisis which successfully campaigned for the full excavation of the Drumclay Crannog in Fermanagh.

Since 2008 a number of websites have developed that allow scholars to share their published research with their peers. Mendeley was launched in 2008 and is a desktop and web program for managing and sharing research papers, discovering research data and collaborating online., launched in 2008, is a social networking website for academics with 3 million registered users. The platform is used to share papers, monitor their impact, and follow the research in a particular field.

Another development in Irish archaeology has been blogging. Over the last few years Irish archaeologists have started to write about archaeology and heritage on the internet through the medium of their own blogs. Blogging is a less formal and more interactive way of publishing and discussing archaeological material and has the capability of reaching out beyond the confines of the archaeological community of practice to a wider public. One of the oldest, the Moore Group Blog, has been published since 2007 and has been a regular finalist in Irish Web Awards. Brian Dolan has been writing Seandalaiocht since 2009. I started writing Charles Mount’s Blog in 2011 to discuss my research and areas of interest and as a sounding board for ideas. I often publish early versions of papers intended for publication in order to get feedback as well as abstracts or summaries of published papers. Other notable blogs are Robert Chapple’s Blog Robert M Chapple, Archaeologist which features his own writing and contributions from a range of guest writers. Colm Moriarty’s Blog contains a wide range of stories about Irish archaeology and has a large following. Other blogs are Terry O’Hagan’s Vox Hiberionacum which specialises in Early Medieval Ireland and Chris Corlett’s Blog on a range of archaeological and historical topics.

Blogging has made archaeology increasingly accessible to the public and media and bloggers are often contacted by journalists to comment on archaeology. The trend of using social media for archaeologists to collaborate and reach out from the discipline to a wider audience using social media is exemplified by the project known as Day of Archaeology. Each year the project collates and publishes blog posts from archaeologist throughout the world to the document their work and their lives. The most recent day in July 2013 featured over 300 posts with a number of Irish archaeologists participating.


Over the last 20 years the internet has begun to transform how we do archaeology in ways that no one could have imagined. It has provided archaeologists with access to primary information. It has allowed them to connect and collaborate with one another. Most recently it has provided archaeologists with new ways to communicate and reach out beyond the confines of the profession to a wider public. But this is only the beginning, and as the internet reaches into every corner of world and every aspect of people’s lives, the greatest impact of the technology on archaeology is probably still to be seen and the future will undoubtedly hold even greater surprises.


Archaeology Ireland Network

Robert Chapple’s Blog

Cherrymount Crannog Crisis

Chris Corlett’s Blog

Day of Archaeology


Eachtra Journal

Early Medieval and Viking Research Group


Google Earth

Google Scholar


Ordnance Survey Ireland



Moore Group Blog

Colm Moriarty’s Blog

Charles Mount’s Blog

National Monuments Service

NRA Archaeology ttp://

Ordnance Survey Ireland,591271,743300,0,10


Togher: Irish Raised Bog Archaeology

UCD Experimental Archaeology

Vox Hiberionacum


Cite this post as:

Mount, C. 2014.

The role of the Internet in Irish archaeology. Charles Mount’s Blog, 23 January 2014.