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Karsten Lambers appointed as Professor of Digital and Computational Archaeology

In January, Dr Karsten Lambers was appointed as Professor of Digital and Computational Archaeology at Leiden University's Faculty of Archaeology. With his extensive background in both archaeological research and computational sciences, the installation of Professor Lambers further strengthens this discipline at our Faculty.

Introducing computational archaeology

‘Digital archaeology is a well-known concept. It is about dealing with digital data and using and developing digital tools in order to conduct archaeological research,’ Professor Lambers notes. ‘Yet if you look at the term digital in itself, this basically covers all archaeological research. Everyone has gone digital with data and tools. Which is a great success story of course.’ Here comes the computational part of Lambers’ professorship. ‘We are also engaged in computational archaeology, which means the use of concepts from computer science and the development of new computational methods and tools for archaeological research and enquiry. This requires people active at the interface of both domains.’

Burial mounds (blue) and Celtic fields (green) automatically detected in LiDAR data from the Veluwe, NL (source: Verschoof-van der Vaart et al. 2020, fig. 6d)

Investigating complex systems

‘There are a number of examples where the use of computational methods investigates aspects of the past that we were not able to before,’ Professor Lambers reflects. ‘One of these is simulation modelling. We can investigate complex systems, like human society, if we know how certain elements (individuals or groups of individuals) behave and interact with their environment. This often leads to the discovery of unexpected, emergent phenomena.’

Another example is the subfield of machine learning. ‘This can be used on a number of large datasets, for example the detection and mapping of archaeological traces in remote sensing data. There has been great progress in finding new and unknown archaeological remains, even in well-known areas.’ The results can lead to new insights into settlement patterns and better informed heritage management policies.

User interface of Agnes 3.0, the intelligent search engine for texts about Dutch archaeology developed in the framework of the EXALT project

Building upon a legacy

‘Most of what is coming will be built on things that we have been doing,’ Lambers underscores, celebrating the legacy of pioneers like Hans Kamermans and Milco Wansleeben. ‘Kamermans, Wansleeben and other colleagues have been very active in formulating the national heritage policies that led to the introduction of predictive modeling. It made a big impact on how we do archaeology in the Netherlands. We hope to continue this tradition. At the moment we are working on the EXALT project, which develops a semantic search engine that for the first time gives easy access to a huge amount of unpublished excavation reports.’

As we embark on this exciting journey with Professor Karsten Lambers, we will keep an eye out for groundbreaking advancements in digital and computational archaeology that may have a lasting impact on the nature of archaeological enquiry.

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