Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage

by Genovefa Kefalidou, Mercourios Georgiadis, Bryn Alexander Coles and Suchith Anand

1. Introduction

This article aims to present interdisciplinary synergies to approach the past through cutting-edge technologies focusing on recording experiences while navigating ancient pathways. The project presented here focuses on the Peak Sanctuary at Leska (1,800-1,500 BC) on Mermigkari Mountain on the island of Kythera, in Greece. The discovery of this Peak Sanctuary has emphasised the importance of landscape and experience in the belief-systems of that period as the archaeological find of this location suggest. As Georgiadis mentions, the current findings suggest that the Sanctuary offered a place for conducting more than one type of rituals further proposing a variety in the nature of the activities performed at the Peak Sanctuary. The Peak Sanctuary is located at the summit of Leska c.500 m, with a commanding view over the landscape as can be seen in Figure 1:

Figure 1: The Peak Sanctuary.

Leska offers an enriched understanding of peak sanctuaries on both Kythera and other places in the broader area of Greece (Georgiadis).

The limited access to the sanctuary allows us to trace the paths followed by worshippers and with the aid of technological advancements it is possible to have a better picture and understanding of these routes. Utilising technology for experiential data capture within a cultural site or path provides a great opportunity for understanding the place, the time, the historical elements involved and indeed understand peoples’ own emotions and senses while experiencing culture.

Technology has been repeatedly adopted into the cultural arena either in the form of virtual environments that reconstruct the physical environment of a cultural or archaeological site or for the virtual representation of cultural artefacts in an attempt to increase and accommodate audience’s access to them when the latter are either maintained or kept in private collections. Other technological interventions in the field of culture include the incorporation of Augmented Reality (AR) by ‘marrying’ digital information with the real and physical environment or the development of 3D games to enhance the learning experience and embeddedness into cultural experiences.

In the research we present here, we use Smart Phones (SPs) to capture peoples’ experiences while traveling to Leska, through photos taking, digital notes, video and voice records and pathways mapping. This provides a unique usage of SPs in an archaeological context providing a distinct advantage over the traditional media used in archaeology. The adoption of SPs for data gathering offers a distributed yet focused framework of data collection that can ultimately be processed in secure databases for further analyses. We aim to synthesise the information in a unified display visualisation that can potentially be located in museums, expeditions and galleries or broadcasted on the Internet in the form of a blog service, offering an integrated synthesis of different information in a centralised, innovative and pleasant form. In that way, we wanted to offer a mosaic of not only information but of personal experiences that have been recorded on-the-go, accounting for the physical topology of the cultural area, as well as the individuals’ personal expertise and inclination at that time.

Re-experiencing ancient paths provides a phenomenological empirical idea of the emotions, feelings, landmarks and landscape views that prehistoric worshippers experienced. This brings the present visitor of this site closer to the paths followed by the ancient worshippers, and to some of their emotions and experiences. Re-experiencing the ancient paths can also provide an invaluable source of understanding of the travellers’ behaviour while travelling to a specific destination. The collected data informed us about the socio-cultural behaviour of ancient people, and also informed our current modern routing approaches when navigating on foot.

Mobile broadband networks, location-based technologies and cloud computing offer the potential to develop powerful, flexible and low cost information and services networks for this use-case. These networks can be deployed to deliver a wide range of services to tourists and to receive back voice, text and image-based data for review and analysis. This will facilitate information, rich interaction, iteration and the electronic delivery of high-quality information services. The presented research aims to emphasise local language interfaces, icon and voice-based input rather that keyboard input. We also aim to investigate the integration of other forms of knowledge into a freely available spatial database which is user friendly for both application and interpretation.

This study will hopefully lead to further projects using routing and digital re-experience in past contexts. Issues like logistics, specific historical events (i.e. battles), strategic planning, routing optimisation and understanding local topography should be accounted for proposing a new experiential framework for understanding cultural environment.

2. Brief Related Literature

Archaeology is not just about excavations and examination of material artefacts. Indeed, it involves extended data collection, verification, maintenance and interpretation periods of other disciplines as well. However, as time has passed and technological developments have advanced, archaeology has been utilising new technological methods for conducting research adopting modern technologies such as 3-D representations and visualisations, Virtual Environments and Augmented Reality in an attempt to enrich the archaeological processes in new, engaging and informative ways. Nevertheless, there are different approaches in conducting research in archaeology, some of which are focussing on experiences (e.g. experiential archaeology), some on experimental set ups (e.g. experimental archaeology) and some on contextual data (e.g. interpretive archaeology).

2.1. Experiential Archaeology

‘Being in the world’ is important in the interpretation of the spatial relationships between monuments, spaces between monuments and the routes that connect them (Tilley). With the advancements of modern technology and the crowdsourcing options available, it is possible to bring the ancient past and ancient paths into life while providing new ways of immersiveness (Ch’ng). Experiential archaeology offers a way to perform tasks in a realistic manner as they have been performed in the past. In effect, it is about ‘re-constructing’ the past in a natural way through being in the physical environment where the cultural and/or archaeological site lies (Jeffery). Though experiential archaeology has been confused with experimental archaeology (i.e. the action of re-constructing fragments and settings of ancient history in order to acquire a deeper understanding of the needs manifested in the ancient times) (Jeffery; Reynolds), this is a different concept.

2.2. Interpretive Archaeology

Interpretive archaeology on the other hand, is about contextualising the archaeological data by approaching and analysing it through an interpretive repertoire and processing (Hodder). Interpretation and understanding becomes part of a creative process allowing for a more open, expansive and reflexive awareness into the cultural data. Indeed, interpretive archaeology promotes a deeper and more inclusive interpretation and understanding of cultural artefacts that are not necessarily solely tight to the actual material artefacts but instead provide allowances for a social practice of sense-making – a sense-making that is multi-vocal and which allows different interpretations of the same piece of data.

2.3. Psychogeography

On the other hand, Psychogeography is about immersing into the environment while one ‘participates’ into it with their emotions, feelings and queries (Debord). Through psychogeography, participants’ (i.e. the pedestrians’) behaviour is being influenced by the topology and the physical characteristics of the urban environment they are navigating in, taking them to unpredictable paths while they form and acquire new awareness of the field (McDonough).

2.4. Crowdsourcing

Traditional archaeologists’ data collection as per se usually involves extensive photo-taking, drawings and detailed notes, all of which contribute to the creation of a mosaic of archived data for the interpretation and evaluation of the materials found and the setting. Crowdsourcing as per se involves the acquisition of information from online communities or communities overall (e.g. the open public); they do not comply necessarily with official or professional profiles. Therefore, crowdsourcing in a cultural setting involves the active participation of any member of the public in performing a collective or individual task allowing for a varying and heterogeneous knowledge and experience. Furthermore, crowdsourcing can involve sharing of information and/or collaboration among the public and operators promoting creativity and innovation (Oomen & Aroyo).

3. Technology in Archaeology

Recent developments of technology have opened up new paths for conducting research and provide exciting media for enriching peoples’ experiences with their environment and with data itself. Virtual Environments (VEs), Augmented Reality (AR), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Enhanced Computer Gaming and Smart Phones (SMs) have been some modern technological approaches that have been incorporated in the archaeological field for either re-constructing cultural sites or mapping and geo-tagging ancient artefacts or augmenting reality of artefacts using Smart Phones (Wheatley & Gillings; Vlahakis et al.). Furthermore, the Computer Game industry has provided ways to enhance visitors’ experiences of viewing artefacts based on ‘playful’ visualisations, especially in museum and galleries settings (Ch’ng).

Research has been done into how to provide contextual information and experiences for museum visitors so that they view and examine the museum artefacts in a connected mode with the actual physical archaeological site that they were found at. The connection of the physical archaeological environment with the associated museum artefact have been attempted to be realised through a combination of AR and collated data as in Zöllner and colleagues’ case (Zöllner, Keil, Wust & Pletinckx; Vlahakis et al.), through the use of mobile phones such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) acting as guides or not (Ancona, Conte, Quercini & Casamassima; Raptis, Tselios & Avouris; Vlahakis et al.; Kenteris, Gavalas & Economou), through 3D reconstruction models and visualisations (Brusco, Ballan & Cortelazzo; Mudge, Voutaz, Schroer & Lum; Xu, Akama & Tanaka) and through VEs (Zuk, Carpendale & Glanzman; Gearey & Chapman; Hirayu, Ojika & Kijima; Latousek; Moore & Curry).

Visitors of cultural sites appear to be positive towards the use of technology in order to enhance their experiences of culture and archaeology despite the fact that -as currently stands- there has been a limited use of technological interventions in cultural sites (Owen, Buhalis & Pleantickx). Despite the ever increasing wealth of technological interventions in the cultural arena and independently on whether they are audience-focussed (e.g. to enhance audiences’ experience) or operators-focussed (e.g. supporting cultural resources management and maintenance), there has been no dedicated attempt to marry experiential data gathering on-the-go (e.g. crowdsourcing) with simple and widespread technology (e.g. Smart Phones) in a way that could be communicated to the general public via well known media (e.g. blog services). Even when there have been attempts, these had a strong resources management focus (instead of focussing, for example, on audiences’ and visitors’ experiences with the aim to increase understanding and learning of the cultural site with others and for others or with the aim to explore new ways for collecting cultural data) (Cao, Srirama, Chatti & Klamma). However, it has been well acknowledged that ICT in general has an established role in the management and manipulation of archives of cultural heritage data (Locatelli et al.) suggesting that the use of technology in whatever form it is can potentially have an accepted yet fundamental role in providing new experiences and learning outcomes within the cultural arena.

Regarding the usual practices in the archaeological research, a common theme is the extensive use of photographs (nowadays, digitised too), videos, drawing and notes (Hodder; Locatelli et al.). The vast majority (if not all) of the archaeological activities necessitate the processing and analyses of disparate data that can be of different form and sizes. Consequently, this invites the question of whether current widespread technology (i.e. Smart Phones and mobile diaries) could potentially act as simple yet effective tools for archaeology professionals and non professionals to be able to record data while on-the-go yet have it collocated on a simple device for further analysis or sharing. This could not only transform the way that people experience the cultural site but also provide another set of methodological tools in the service of cultural research.

4. Motivation

The motivation behind this research was foremost to provide re-experiencing ancient pathways with an aim to investigate the routes followed to reach top sanctuaries by ancient people. We wanted to explore opportunities to offer another level of experiential archaeology and a toolset that would enhance and further the understanding of history and the experience of a cultural site. Furthermore, through the adoption of technology that supports a variety of different data accumulation, we wanted to gather collective experiences and different viewpoints with an aim to enhance cultural learning (i.e. learn by experience and while on-the-go.

The current project has potentially very significant social and economic impact, locally and for the island. Kythera’s economy is based on the touristic industry and the results of this project are closely associated with this economic aspect. They can promote a better understanding of the cultural aspects for the tourists that want to experience the local traditions and beliefs. In that context they can add archaeology, cultural geography and experiencing as another aspect in the touristic promotion of the island to its visitors. This interactive experience will appeal especially to the trekking tourism that has developed over the last few years. The information of this site and the paths proposed is an additional experience that could attract visitors to re-experience the visiting of a prehistoric sanctuary on the mountaintop. Visitors would be rewarded through gaining knowledge and experience, and through the view provided by this site. An additional touristic/trekking attraction could bring more visitors in the picturesque nearby village of Mylopotamos, stimulating further the local touristic industry. We believe that this project can be adapted to other cultural and historic sites such as UK Heritage sites, therefore providing a greater economic impact.

However, equally important is the social impact of this project to the local communities around this site. Apart from the economic benefits through tourism, the local communities will realize more their cultural heritage and its significance in the local landscape, experiences and everyday life.

From a research-focused perspective, we aim through this project to inform the current research in four main fields: Archaeology, Digital Economy, Human Factors and Geospatial Sciences. Information will be obtained about how ancient people used to travel and choose paths to reach their sacred destination. This will provide invaluable details about how transportation culture used to be in the ancient world. Through this information we will be able to draw inferences and comparisons with our modern transportation and landscape culture, which will have a significant effect not only on how we –as modern- people perceive socially and culturally, transportation, routing and landscapes but also how we actively travel and quantitatively form paths towards a common goal/destination. This information will inform our current geospatial systems as well as our computational routing algorithms with an aim to improve their performance. For example, if we find that the landscape was used to determine the pathways that people chose when travelling on foot in ancient times, then we can suggest further directions for routing research. If those pathways were efficient, then we could provide a focus on routing aspects that are more apparent when someone travels on foot rather than using a transportation medium. This project could help in heritage management with an impact for the local and the international audience.

Furthermore, the use of mobile diary applications on Smart Phones accommodates opportunities for reflection, data recording on-the-go and potential sharing options with others. All these further enable opportunities for enhancing creative experiences not only from archaeological but also from methodological perspective. Indeed, the opportunity to adopt a mobile diary approach in gathering experiences and potentially data under a cultural setting provides an invaluable testbed towards the exploration of a means of technology that is usually utilised in other circumstances.

5. The Study

5.1. Participants

This study recruited five participants – two female and three male. Three of the participants had a background in archaeology, while two were psychologists. The mean age of participants was 33. All participants travelled to the Kreek Island of Kythera, and the sanctuary site of Leska for the study.

5.2. Materials

Participants were all provided with an HTC Nexus One smartphone running Android version 2.1 ‘Gingerbread’. The Android smartphone came preloaded with a mobile diary application, developed within the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, the University of Nottingham. The mobile diary application utilises the smartphone’s own camera and voice recorder in order to allow users to take photographs, audio commentaries or videos of items of interest. The mobile diary application also allows users to make text-based notes through the application’s own text managing system. The mobile diary application also allows users to append text or voice comments to any notes, photographs or video recordings taken. The mobile diary application use can be seen in Figure 2:

Figure 2: Three screens from the SerenA Mobile Diary Application.

Showing: Diary entry selection menu (left), text message diary entry (middle), voice message diary entry (right).

5.3. Procedure

Participants were given a day with which to familiarise themselves with the use of the Android smarthphone, and the mobile diary application. During the study, participants were instructed to use the mobile diary application to record any thoughts, feelings or observations they wished to make, whether these related to the sanctuary site, their experiences or the archaeological heritage being explored. These diary entries should be made only when the participant wanted to make a diary entry. Therefore, there were no standardised times for making entries, and all participants were able to make a different type (audio, pictorial, video or text), quantity (one, two or many more) and quality (short or long) of entry, as they felt was appropriate. Participants carried the smartphones with them as they explored the sanctuary site of Leska.

All participants journeyed to the Greek island of Kythera, to visit the sanctuary site of Leska Peak. The study was conducted over a three-day period. On each of the three days, participants travelled to the sanctuary site of Leska Peak, following a different route. The routes chosen were those previously identified by archaeologists as being the most likely to have been used by ancient worshippers when Leska Peak was an active sanctuary (1,800-1,500 BC). As such, these routes were believed to hold archaeological significance, and thus to provide sufficient opportunities for participants to wish to capture their experiences via the mobile diary application.

Participants used the smartphone mobile diary application to recorded their observations, thoughts, and findings as they travelled to the sanctuary site of Leska Peak, as they explored the sanctuary site and also as they left the sanctuary. Observations were all recorded on participants’ mobile phones through the mobile diary application. Observations were also stored on the smartphone device for the duration of the study. Observations were recorded over a period of five days.

5.4. Analysis

As might be expected, individuals from different disciplinary backgrounds recorded different kinds of observations during their journeying to and from Leska Peak. These different observations lead to different insights. Table 1, below, shows the types of observations made by each of the participants.

Figure 3: Table showing the type and number of diary entries by each participant.

Unsurprisingly, the table indicates that the mobile diaries were used differently by archaeologists and non-archaeologists. Caution however should be exercised when interpreting these findings, due to the small sample size.

From the table, it can be seen that archaeologists in this pilot study are less likely to utilise the text-based note taking facility offered by the mobile diary application (making an average of 1.3 text entries each, compared to the non-archaeologists 23 text entries each). Surprisingly, archaeologists are also less likely to take photographic records of their observations – preferring instead to take audio recordings, in which they can narrate their findings and observations. Despite these differences, all participants did use the mobile diary application to make a large number of observations. Even participant 5, who made the lowest number of diary entries (four), made a relatively high number of audio observations (18) within these diary entries.

The kind of mobile diary entry made by each participant (text, audio or photograph) was not the only difference evident in the data. The types of diary entries made were also seen to vary in terms of the content highlighted within the entry. Predictably, archaeologists were more able to produce ‘expert commentary’, while non-archaeologists were more likely to discuss aspects of their current experience of retracing the paths taken by ancient worshippers. This notion of expert commentary is illustrated in the following extract from participants’ audio entries. Extract 1 is taken from participant 04 (an archaeologist) commenting on the presence of butterflies on the route to Leska Peak. The presence of butterflies is then linked to the acts of worship which are believed to have taken place at Leska Peak, through a mobilisation of specialist knowledge relating the presence of butterflies with the ancient religion.

Extract 1: Participant 4, day 4, entry 24 (audio).

“Butterflies in er Minoan religion are significant. Er, they are depicted (.) commonly. And most depictions relate to the soul of the person or to the presence of divinity.”

Extract 2 by contrast comes from participant 1, again on day 4. Participant 1 is not an archaeologist, and while they also comment on the wildlife present on the mountain pathway, this participant is not able to connect the wildlife with the historical significance of the site.

Extract 2: Participant 1, day 4, entry 40 (text and picture)

mantis. not part of the pathways project [sic]

Figure 4: Extract 2.

Extract 3 shows that the mobile diary application was used to record archaeological findings too, as participant 2 uses the smartphones camera functionality in order to capture an image of some pottery they identified while following the ancient pathway. This diary entry was presented as a single photograph, without accompanying text or audio entries to further elaborate on its presumed meaning or significance.

Figure 5: Extract 3.

We can see from these extracts then that participants in the study not only seem to show a preference for different types of diary entry, depending upon their field of expertise. This difference is more apparent when participants are making observations on the same broad topic (for example, wildlife in the form of the butterflies and the praying mantis). This then could be taken as being indicative of a shared interest in what seems to be noteworthy, but not a shared understanding of why the fauna are noteworthy.

6. Discussion

As noted above, findings from this small-scale pilot study should be interpreted with caution, due to the small sample size. Nevertheless, differences could be seen in the form of diary entries made (whether text based, picture or audio commentary), as well as in the content of those mobile diary entries (how closely the entries related to archaeological concerns).

This different knowledge concerning archaeological sites can potentially enhance the experience of visiting sites of cultural and historical significance in a number of ways. At the very least, information regarding what diaries entries are made, and where they are made could be used to enhance tourism by providing information concerning what individuals find interesting and note-worthy, and what information they are missing when making their observations and commentaries.

Furthermore, the insights and observations in the mobile diary entries made by subject specialists can provide deeper meaning and information for non-specialists. This may enhance their experience of the historical and cultural attraction, and allow those individuals to re-experience the past in ways not currently facilitated by traditional museum and heritage displays.

Finally, this mobile diary approach may allow a mixing of specialist and non-specialist knowledge through the use of data sharing between applications. This could be managed through a dedicated web-space, or perhaps in-app. This mixing of lay and expert knowledge may provide access to other forms of (non-archaeological) expertise (for example, meteorologists or geologists), while also serving to signpost what lay-people find interesting about the site and would like to know more about.

This study has shown mobile diary applications to hold great potential as both a research tool for archaeological field research, and as a means of enhancing tourist experiences of the sites of cultural and historical significance.

Furthermore, mobile diary applications support contextual metadata and the joining of different streams of data into a single storage location. As such, notes taken can provide insights into gaps in knowledge and experience from both lay and professional perspectives.

7. Conclusions and Further Steps

In this article we presented the preliminary findings of our study of how crowdsourcing cultural heritage could potentially open up new ways for experiencing, interpreting and analyse cultural environments and data through the incorporation of personal records and observations from visitors’ perspective while navigating through ancient pathways. We have argued that this can enrich not only the experiential momentum of visiting and navigating through a cultural site but also can enhance the learning of new co-shared and combined information regarding cultural monuments. Furthermore, we suggested that the use of Smart Phones and mobile diary applications can act as simple yet effective data collection tools for cultural professionals as they provide a collocated ‘hub’ of disparate data gathering.

Further steps for our project include working towards a unified visualisation of all the data gathered allowing for further interpretation of the experiences reported. Another step is to refine the backend (e.g. the database) of the experiences collected so that we can explore new ways of maintaining and disseminating the wealth of experiences to a wider audience. Finally, we would like to expand this testbed case study to other cultural sites and settings.

8. Acknowledgements

This work has been supported by funding acquired under the “Bridging the Gaps: Next Generation Feasibility Awards – Robert’s Money” scheme from The University of Nottingham. We would also like to thank Horizon Digital Economy Research and the Human Factors Research Group, both at The University of Nottingham for all the support they provided throughout this project. Finally, many thanks are due to Dr. Anthi Dipla and Dr. Nikolaos Dimakis for the support and participation in this project.

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