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MZ Introduction / General


Giorgio Buccellati – November 2005, October 2023

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It is more than paying tribute to convention when we say that an archaeological project is essentially cooperative – all the more so at Mozan, where such collaboration rests on explicit theoretical presuppositions. Here I wish to briefly explain what these presuppositions are, and to define the tasks that characterize the individual involvement of each staff member.

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Significance of teamwork

Team work is an essential dimension of archaeological field work anywhere. On the human level, this is one of the aspects that makes the excavation experience unique, because there is a very close, direct and continuous interaction among all members working and living together, in close quarters and with an intense sense of partecipation in the project.

The resulting human and professional dynamics shapes in some unique ways all aspects of work and life in the field – the strategy decisions that propel the course and conduct of the excavation in its most physical aspects; the intellectual confrontation with the stratigraphy of one’s own narrow lcoalized perspective and how it relates to the larger picture emerging from the ground all around you; the concentration required in absorbing the input from a variety of different typological analyses that cause constant realignment in patterns of thought; and of course the human dimension of dealing with the personalities, congenial or otherwise, who are behind the variegated expressions of professional conviction and temperamental biases.

In Mozan all of this is heightened by the fact that all work done is expected to be immediately “public”, and hence fully shared. There are no private notebooks, and everyone bears a direct responsibility for every observation made, and for its pertinent record. There can be tension, but there is mostly a sense of communal accomplishment, that generates pride in contributing to the emerging whole and confidence in relying on others to do the same.

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The posture of the author

There seems to be an ingrained, if somewhat undefinable, negative attitude towards digital “authoring,” on the psychological level. I will mention here a few of the factors that appear to be operative in generating this attitude – and I am talking obviously not of electronic versions of linear “papers” (whether these are originally on paper or published from scratch as electronic files):

  1. It is seldom, if ever, that one finds the first person used by the author, except in autobiographical web pages.
  2. There is a strong underlying suspicion that the medium will have no permanence.
  3. There is an equally strong underlying suspicion that there will be no readers, but only users.
  4. It is also felt that those readers who are most important for one’s academic career, the ones on advancement committees, will share the lack of interested critical judgment that is felt to be innate to the readership at large.

To some extent, these negative feelings are borne out of what I perceive to be the lack of properly digital thought and corresponding digital narrative. A goal of the Urkesh Global Record is to address precisely this issue, not only in proposing the theoretical concept, but especially in developing a concrete implementation of at least one type of properly digital scholarly medium. This is in the belief that to change the posture of the readers we must first change the posture of the author (see also my observations abut an author’s intent).

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Three levels of authorship

There are three distinct levels of authorship, relating to the different types of narrative and to the way the whole process is carried out (see also the entry on authorship in the Urkesh website). The levels are as follows:

  1. the documentary level, where primary observations are authored
    • primary observations feed directly and automatically into the primary narrative
    • they are reviewed for accuracy and consistency
  2. the publiction level, where the secondary narrative is created
    • reflections on primary observations
    • coordination of documentary sections
  3. the system level, where the design is conceived and implemented operationally
    • system design (the Grammar)
    • elaboration of the data (the programs)

We will review each of these in detail.

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1. Documentary level: the primary narrative

The primary record is found on the right hand side and on the lower left hand side of the browser page. It is built up automatically on a daily basis, and it yields a properly digital narrative, that is used and hence reviewed by the unit staff on a regular basis.

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Primary observations

The personal identification with the minutest of observations derives from a fundamental principle underlying our whole intellectual effort. Thus the attribution of authorship to every atom of the data set is not a nicety (recognizing everybody’s work), nor is it a pedantic redundancy (inflating the record with useless details). It serves rather the conviction that the best measure of objectivity is in allowing a calibration of the observers’ skills. In this manner, the dated attribution of authorship that accompanies each of the tens of thousand of individual records serves a philosophical purpose, one might say. It is a modest but specific contribution to a concrete epistemology of the archaeological record. Each atom of the system is, truly, written in the first person. And yet it is, at the same time, public from the very first moment it enters the record.

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Implementation of strategy

The main intellectual responsibility of the unit directors is the implementation of the strategy, which is discussed in meetings at various levels and ultimately defined and regularly reviewed by the overall directors. Thus, besides their supervision of the unit staff members and their specific observations, unit directors have a direct impact on the articulation of the record in its basal state, and thus on the quality of its ultimate publication.

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Review of primary observations

As the record builds up on a daily basis, it must be inspected and reviewed carefully. Observations may be missing that can still be retrieved in the field, corrections may be introduced (as additional elements in the record), furtehr clarifications may be added. If this review takes place at some temporal remove from the initial observation, when the data are no longer accessible, then comments are added to identify a problem and propose solutions.

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2. Publication level: the secondary narrative

The secondary narrative is created as discursive text, with no automated features. It is accessed in the top two portions of the left-hand side vertical bar (in red), and the top portion of the right-hand side vertical bar (in black).

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Reflections on primary observations

At a second stage, we find the author(s) of a unit book as a whole. This is the person, or the persons, who make the observations cohere into a meaningful whole, by insuring that the data are all properly entered and processed, and by producing the synthetic and discursive section that is triggered by the keywords in the vertical bar on the left hand side of the display page. In principle, the Unit Director should serve as the main individual in this editorial process. We hope, in the future, to have adequate models in previously published units, and sufficient time in the field after the excavation proper, to ensure that such higher level authorship be indeed tied to the person who has just finished supervising the excavations in the unit, i.e. the Unit Director or Number One. At this stage, this is often no longer possible for units that have been excavated years ago and that still need to be harmonized and published within the framework of the Urkesh Global Record.

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Publication coordination

Just as important is the role of the overall excavation director, because of the intimate involvement required with every stategic decision and with the practical carrying out of the same. Just as there are no private notebooks, so we do not conceive of any excavation unit as the private bailiwick of any single individual. Every unit’s excavation is conducted collegially, and the role of the directors, alongside the assistant directors, is to be fully involved in the full range of such strategic decisions. Anyone of the overall excavation directorial team can provide this overarching intellectual coordination and be therefore an essential co-author of any future unit publication.

As we begin the publication phase of the Urkesh Global Record, the novelty that it entails, for which no models exist, requires even greater attention. I see therefore my own personal role as being one of deeper involvement than it might be for other directors at some point in the future. I have been developing the intellectual framework for this type of browser edition in the measure in which my own theoretical understanding of its presuppositions evolved. This process was also in step with the actual implementation, in practice, of the system. The major part of my role in the publication process is therefore to propose the basic model, and to implement it. This means assembling the pieces in a coherent editorial whole, explaining the functioning of the system, writing the bulk of the discursive syntheses – in other words, designing the prototype of this new type of digital publication.

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3. System level: overall design and programs

The system designs the underlying scaffolding of the whole system, in three major ways: the overall frame, the Grammar and the Programs.

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The frame

The organization of the Browser Edition is not a minor endeavor. The complexity of the interconnections, the many levels at which the data are invoked (from the single constituents of each unit to the highest nodes of the website), the sheer quantity of the information presented with a view to maintain an intuitive interface – all of this called for considerable effort.

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The Grammar

The automated portion of the Urkesh Global Record, which accomodates by far the largest body of data, works only because of the rigor with which the underlying Grammar has been articulated and applied to the data. The conceptual underpinning of the entire enterprise depends on this, and, in turn, the effort that went into applying the grammar to the data contributed to verifying and developing the inherent theoretical insights.

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The programs

Development of the programs went hand in hand with the formulation of the grammar and with the correlative coding of the data. It is of course because of the some 30 programs written ad hoc for the Urkesh Global Record that automation is posible. This interaction was a cause for expending considerably more time on the overall project, but it proved to be indispensable in achieving the multiple goals I had set for myself.

Further details can be found in the dedicated topical book on “Programs” (written by Bernardo Forni).

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Main, contributing and base authors

All three levels of authorship are indispensable for a full implementation of the system.

The main authors are named individually on the home page of each digital book. They bear the ultimate responsibility for the overall product.

Contributing authors may also be so mentioned: they provide substantial portions of the narratives, or else thdy are specifically responsible for large sections of the analysis.

The base authors, too many to be individually credited on the home page, are the ones responsible for each of the myriad observations that are incorporated in the record. In addition to having each observation marked with their initials, they are also listed individually in each digital book sectino on Staff and Authorship.

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Main authors: home page

In terms of actual work on any single digital book, the excavation director and the unit director should in principle be regularly listed as the main authors. In terms of the overall conceptual structure that organizes the data and makes the whole enterprise possible, the person(s) in charge of the system design and the programs should also in principle be listed with the main authors.

In practice, two significant variable enter into play. The first pertains especially to the older units, excavated in the past,in which case it often happens that the unit director is no longer available to undertake the final editorial work. If so, the unit director is retained as main author only when either the record had already developed to a point where it had acquired a significant coherence of its own, or where he or she remains available for consultation.

The second point pertains to the system design and the programs. Once the system progresses beyond its formative stages, and the first several digital books are published, it is expected that the system will be sufficiently well defined to serve as a general presupposition for the publication, so that explicit authorship responsibility and recognition will no longer be necessary.

The credits on the home page of individual unit books aim to identify the highest levels of involvement and responsibility. Conditions vary greatly from one book to the other, but in principle the major roles are as follows.

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● Publication

The main author is the person who

  • has coordinated the entire body of data into a unified whole, assuring its overall coherence;
  • has produced a critical overall assessment of the book in all its component parts; and
  • has written some or most of the overall discursive sections that relate to the synthetic view on the left hand side portion of the digital book.

General supervision is at times required when the main editor comes from outside the project, meaning that he or she has not taken part in the excavation process. This person shares in the responsibility of guaranteeing the overall coherence of the finished digital book.

Typically, a ceramics editor plays a much greater role than other typological specialists, not only in the field, but also in the production of the final digital book: not only is the sheer amount of data on a very different scale than other typological classes; ceramic analysis also permeates the entire process of excavation and interpretation.

For an example see the home page of A6.

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● Excavations

Only the unit director(s) are listed on the home page.

For an example see the home page of A6.

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All authors

Two separate pages within the synthetic portion of a unit book gives the names of all individuals who have contributed to the realization of the book.

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● Publication

In the INTRODUCTION section to gthe digital book as a whole, a page on authorship describes psecifically the roles of all main and contributing authors

For an example, see the relevant page for A16.

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● Excavations

In the SYNTHETIC VIEW section, a page dedicated the staff gives the names and tasks of all individuals involved. For an example see the staff page for unit J1.

Note that:

  • Every page in the synthetic portion of any website carries the name of the author, see for example Lorenzo Crescioli in the overview page for J2 .

  • In even greater detail, every record in the analytical portion of any website also carries the name of the author, see for example James Walker in the first record of A15, feature 198.

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For each individual listed anywhere in the websites there is a link to a full profile, which gives the full detail of the individual mentioned.

In a full page, the name is spelled in full, as with Lorenzo Crescioli in the page from J1 just mentioned.

In a record, only the initials are given, as with jW for James Walker in the page from A15 just mentioned.


It should be mentioned in particular that each profile page carries a full list of all the records fro ehich that particular individual is responsible, see for example in James Walker profile the entries for OH2.

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