Trowel Tales: The AIA Blog

Archaeologists on the Cutting Edge
June 25, 2010 | by Peter Herdrich, AIA CEO and Publisher of ARCHAEOLOGY magazine

Hello all. I’m Peter Herdrich and I’m the new CEO here at the AIA and the Publisher of Archaeology magazine. I’m coming to the end of the first week on the job and believe me, I am under an avalanche of information—about the AIA, Archaeology magazine, all kinds of exciting programs, and insights from my new colleagues. We have discussed editorial, advertising, fund-raising, education, site preservation, and outreach, all of which have subtleties that are tremendously complicated and important.

And as I sort through this, one of the (few) accomplishments of my first week was to sit with Archaeology’s Deputy Editor Eric Powell and Executive Editor Jarrett Lobell and talk about one of the most important issues facing the discipline, archaeology and technology. Technology will play a critical role in the future of archaeology, helping to enable scholarly advances, and our ability to deliver that information to the entire archaeological community. The importance of technology is evident in the coverage it has received in the magazine. In the last year, 10 articles have considered some aspect of technology and its effect on archaeology. That’s more coverage than Egypt, Greece, or Rome.

The current issue of the magazine examines two aspects of technology and how it is advancing archaeology. Arlen F. Chase, Diane Z. Chase, and John F. Weishampel, a team from the University of Central Florida, report on their groundbreaking work on the Maya site of Caracol in western Belize. They are using airborne laser-scanning technology, called LiDAR, to see through the jungle and map the 70-square-mile city. (See Lasers in the Jungle.) Imagine trying to do that on the ground, armed with just a machete and fortitude. It’s a brilliant example of technology pushing the boundaries of archaeology. Plus, it’s really cool.

In the same issue, Senior Editor Zach Zorich reports on how paleogeneticists have decoded the genome of the Neanderthal. Another technological masterstroke, and another step forward in the effort to uncover the secrets of the past.

Both these stories underline one of the connections that grabs my imagination: cutting-edge technology helping to reveal ancient secrets. It’s a great contrast and one that holds tremendous promise for archaeologists on the cutting edge.

But technology isn’t just for professional archaeologists. Next time I write, I’ll tell you about how technology and the media will make it more convenient for us to get these inspiring stories to you, the worldwide community of archaeology enthusiasts.


Mr Herdrich, Congratulations on your new post. Archaeology magazine has served as a bastion against oft sloppy, vulgarized “science” of television carried out by laymen/television personalities in less than ideal conditions. In the current information age—you do not need me to tell you—good science is hard to come by. To have you at the helm of Archaeology magazine with an eye on the technological forefront of Archaeology is worthy of accolades. I myself have used several, at the time, new methods, and have included in my field work implementation of techniques and tools by geophysics, and other scientific disciplines. Even including, what may appear to be, dissimilar scientists in my talks and teams when necessary.

And now for my gripe: Archaeology magazine cannot simply speak, so to say, of the technological advances, but must, also, embrace the technology to inform fellow scientific brethren, the intelligentsia, and the hoi polloi who are sick of shows like “Mythbusters” passing as science, and are waiting for good science. People have the means to access it; Archaeology magazine simply must deliver it—as it always had—just in a new way.

And since I am building castles in the sky, I would also like to see, one day, an Archaeology Channel. However, while that is probably out of the immediate reach of your fine publication and the AIA, I would suggest a more dynamic interaction with Archaeology magazine's website than the current “latest news” link with mere text. I understand manpower, budget, and other aspects of reality are things, as an archaeologist-on-a-soapbox, I do not have to consider as I promulgate my “demands” to you, but I thought I would put in my two-cents. As this should, in no way diminish the ideas and progress Archaeology magazine has already made—it is a fine publication.

Michael D. Wady, PhD Archaeologist

Great post! A fantastic summary/overview.
Thanks for the work! Keep going!

Hello Peter - as an ex-colleague and fellow AIA member, I am excited and happy that you are doing something you love. The AIA is lucky to have you and I wish you great success.

Thank you to both my friend Anthony Sage and to Dr. Michael D. Wady for your kind words of welcome, and please take the tardiness of this response as an indication of just how busy things can get around the AIA. With the launch of our new AIA website, we are committed to offering more video of all things archaeological. It's clear that video can offer us an opportunity to bring a new dimension to the site, and if you click on the YouTube link to the right on this page, you will find some of the material we have already posted. Someday an Archaeology channel? Here's hoping . Peter

Thank you so much for this post! I'm writing a research paper about what I want to be after high school for my english class. I chose archaeology. I really wanted show how much technology was being used today, and this post was really helpful.

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