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Wikipedia and the End of Archeology 256

Andy Updegrove writes "Far too much attention has been paid to whether or not the Wikipedia is accurate enough. The greater significance of the Wikipedia today, and even more for those in the future, is its reality as the most detailed, comprehensive, concise, culturally-sensitive record of how humanity understands itself at any precise moment in time. Moreover, with its multiple language versions, it also demonstrates how different cultures understand the same facts, historical events and trends at the same time. Today, archaeologists are doing digs to understand how people lived only 150 years ago, making guesses based on the random bits and pieces of peoples' lives that they find. In the future, that won't be necessary, as archaeologists are replaced by anthropologists that mine this treasure-trove for data."
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Wikipedia and the End of Archeology

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  • "That belongs in a museum!" *cracks bullwhip, grabbing hat before stone door collapses*
  • I'm sure that's what the curators of the Library of Alexandria [] thought, too. Problem is, the library didn't last forever -- nor is the link in my first sentence probably likely to work 150 years from now.
    • I'm assuming that the Wikipedia guys have a slightly better backup system in place.
      • Sure, but technology is fragile.

        e.g. you're depending on :

        HTTP server
        IP network
        Physical network
        National Grid
        • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday November 02, 2006 @06:37PM (#16696205)
          Interesting point, and I appreciate the work you put into it, but I disagree. All those physical layers don't matter much with digital information, because changing formats is so easy - as easy as burning a DVD []. The achilles' heel of the library of Alexandria was that there was only one copy.
          • That's fair enough as far as it goes, but digital information has its own foibles. I can completely see archaeology students one hundred years from now huddled around their consoles trying to reconstruct the contents of an old box of 5.25 disks pulled out of an attic. Then they would have to figure out how to view them seeing as even the name of the program that ran them would have been lost by then. In a lot of ways, the information that future generations will be most interested in seeing (personal let
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by s20451 ( 410424 )
            The achilles heel of modern storage is thermodynamics. We can read text chiseled in stone over thousands of years, because stone is very stable. In modern ultradense storage devices, even the natural thermodynamic properties of the material will cause degradation over time.

            It would requre a comparatively short disruption of human society, on the order of years to decades, to lose the technology to read contemporary DVDs; in the time it may take to recover that technology, even if it is also on the order o
  • But, you may ask next, is the Wikipedia accurate enough? After all, there is an ongoing controversy over whether its accuracy is the equal of a traditional encyclopedia.

    And we all know that the encyclopedia is 100% spot on. No matter how much all translations and versions contradict each other. Like the bible.

    Maybe I'm being too crass. Maybe they're right. Maybe thousands of years from now, people will think that Steve Colbert was the son of God. Who knows.

    Either way, I think Wikipediology is a

  • Don't we already do enough computer archeology trying to figure out other people's code?
    • I believe that particular exercise falls into the realm of math and linguistics. Unless its in Fortran.
      • Not at all. It's psychology - trying to climb into somebody you've never met's head to figure out what they were thinking.
  • Obviously, the ability track changes over time in wiki - entrys would be helpfull. Comparing entrys from even 10 years back with today's would be helpfull. (terrorist for example might radically change from 2000 to 2002).

    But we are talking about archeology, which generally deals with ANCIENT things. In a mere 100 years, (minute amount of time for an archeologist), I don't expect any wiki to still be around. By then they should be out-dated and replaced with some newer, better version that might very we

  • .. when they find the the discussion section of half the female celebrity entries on the site involve in depth discussions about boob size. Is this really the kind of legacy to leave?
    • Hey, even that would mean something to Archaelogists. They would conclude that there was a shortage of attractive young women compared to bright young men in the era we are talking of. They might deduce that this shortage was due to the ready availability of junk food, or some other factor.

      In the future, it might be different - cosmetic changes of body composition and apparent age might be trivial rather than elaborate, dangerous rituals as practiced today.
  • Oh, not about the singularity [], but about the future of Software Archeologists []. I always loved the descriptions of Pham Nuwen working with software thousands of years old and having to treat it like an archaeological dig.
  • Today, archaeologists are doing digs to understand how people lived only 150 years ago, making guesses based on the random bits and pieces of peoples' lives that they find In the future, that won't be necessary, as archaeologists are replaced by anthropologists that mine this treasure trove for data.

    Or, maybe, 150 years from now, the present content of wikipedia won't be still online, and archeologists will be digging old hardrives out of current landfills and reconstructing bits of the content for those a

  • How exactly does Wikipedia reflect the state of modern human life? Most humans don't have computers. Most humans don't have Internet access. Many humans don't even have basic sanitation. A better place to look for the real human story is our landfills and cemeteries, as archaeologists currently do when they find an ancient site...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Either in a landfill or in data stores, the archaeologists are going to have to dig thru an awful lot of spam.
    • I agree with this. The majority of people don't have the ability, for one reason or another, to contribute. Wikipedia is a one-sided view because it is built by people who have both the interest, the time and the ability to contribute to it. If, in the future, one is interested in how the Internet grew and the thinking behind its users, yes, Wikipedia may be useful. For the knowledge of how the majority of the human population lived their lives, Wikipedia simply has no relevance.

      If anything, it will be a ju

    • How exactly does Wikipedia reflect the state of modern human life?
      For God's sake, you only have to type into your browser to find out. I can't believe how lazy some people on Slashdot are.
  • I've always thought similar things about time capsules.

    There's simply no point in burying time capsules anymore. Reason being, our digitised textual and photographic records of any major time capsule's burial will probably survive just as well as the contents of the capsule itself, if not better. We won't need to dig the things up because we'll already know what's in there, who put it there, and why. It's all on record. So why bother?

    • Is that the point of time-capsules, to preserve information? I always thought it was more of a prompting for self-analysis, that the items were carefully chosen to pass onto the future, and then placed beyond casual meddling from those who would rethink their contribution to the record.

      It seems to me you could have a high-tech time capsule but storing a bunch of photos, music, and letters on a hard drive, encrypted. You'd need some method of creating a time-lock, so the data can't be altered or retrieved

  • There are many Wikipedians who love to delete things that they consider non-notable []. It is not a universal repository of all knowledge.
  • Um the Mongol, Roman, Aztec empires are all gone. How long will our civilisation last after oil becomes scarce?

    And someone's predicting the end of archeology? What makes anyone think we'll be able to power the machines required to serve the web pages. Our entire civilisation (including agriculture) is based on abundant energy.

  • "...Today, archaeologists are doing digs to understand how people lived only 150 years ago, making guesses based on the random bits and pieces of peoples' lives that they find In the future, that won't be necessary, as archaeologists are replaced by anthropologists that mine this treasure trove for data."

    Incredibly valuable resource? Yes. Excellent cross-cultrual-reference (a la Rosetta Stone)? Yes. Outstanding resource to create a partial context on other facts? Definitely. fundamentally new and u
  • I've been explaining to people how Wikipedia is not inaccurate, as any controversial topic shows a history of changes, often replete with links that can serve as additional help in understanding the topic and how it's seen in different cultures, among people belonging to different fractions and so on - but apparently asking an encyclopedia user to read the content that is not a single version of the article "published" at the moment it's read is a big, big problem.
  • The submitter is a little -too- optimistic when it comes to historic analysis.

    The decades of television and film that are quite simply gone/i> because no one, not even the mega-corps that made some of the stuff wanted to keep them around is an excellent example. What television/movies are still around may not be accesible because the storage media may not be playable for whatever reason.

    The wikipedia has the same problems. Maybe not right this minute, but very soon.

    Establishing facts 100 years from now
  • Too much attention paid to a silly little thing like accuracy? Give me a fucking break. If Wikipedia wants to be taken seriously as a true encyclopedia, then accuracy is paramount. No, of course it is not going to be perfect, but the cavalier attitude taken towards accuracy by many is nauseating. All of this other stuff about it being a reflection of "how humanity understands itself" has interest, but that doesn't negate or even make less important the accuracy issue.

    I know a lot of people want to get r
  • Given the constant state of modification, you'd need to take "Snapshots" of Wikipedia and archive them. Say every 2 years or something like that, assuming it continues to be a good resource for many years to come.

    And then you'd need to constantly upgrade the archives to the latest media as time progresses, so that you can easily do your research 'digging.'

    I agree, though, while many folks don't have access to computers, it's still good insight as to what the "neutral point of view" of a given society is.
    • by Teancum ( 67324 )
      What is interesting about the Wikipedia (aka MediaWiki software) database is that a complete history of every article and every edit is maintained. Some going back to the project founding itself, and (at the moment) even every deleted page, spam, offensive content, and as of about July of this year, every image that was uploaded and subsequently deleted.

      Of course getting that full db dump for just en.wikipedia is getting close to a Terabyte now, but it is at least in theory possible. The only reason you w
    • by AxelBoldt ( 1490 )
      I can't imagine what it was like to grow up not knowing what's on the other side of the ocean. Not knowing what the sun really is.
      Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up not knowing how the brain really works? What consciousness really is? What constitutes dark matter? Whether the universe is spatially infinite or not?
  • Wikipedia's importance is its convenience to people living today as a quick overview of just about any topic under the sun.

    Sure, Wikipedia may be useful as a cultural artifact 150 years hence... but by that time the early 21st century will be just a blip on the historical landscape. Only a few thousand academics and hobbyists will care about how we thought of ourselves in 2006, just as only a small number of people today really care or know much about the world 0f the 1860s.

    In short, Wikipedia's prese

  • What does the guy writing for the "standards blog" know about archaeology? I'd like to hear from real archaeologists about they think whether Wikipedia will be enough to kill their profession.
  • Far too much attention has been paid to whether or not the prices on Antique Roadshow [] are accurate enough. The greater significance of the Antique Roadshow [] today, and even more for those in the future, is its reality as the most detailed, comprehensive, concise, culturally-sensitive record of old human junk.... Today, archaeologists are doing digs to understand how people lived only 150 years ago, making guesses based on the random bits and pieces of peoples' lives that they find. In the future, that won'

  • Name one current data storage medium capable of storing the amount of data required to really give an idea of what's currently going on that will last hundreds/thousands of years. Essentially our version of the ubiquitous stone carving.

    I can't think of one. A dvd would be hard pressed to last fifty years given the average build quality, and hard drives just plain don't last that long.

    Data will no doubt propagate through history, being changed, updated 'interpreted' and generally messed around with until it
  • by doom ( 14564 )
    If archeologists 1000 years hence are not taking core samples of our landfills, I'll eat my styrofoam seven-eleven cup.

  • Anthropology is the study of humanity.

    Archaeology is the sub branch of anthropology which studies the physical remains of human societies.

    Wikipaedia does not allow us to examine physical remains.

    You are probably referring to cultural or linguistic anthropology. I do not know how useful Wikipaedia will be in that regard as it represents the group opinion of only a very small fraction of humanity, almost completely english speaking, white, western, educated, well-off, christians. An old lady in muslim Ethio
  • written by a partner in a law firm, undoubtedly to increase their google page rank. there are only apples and oranges here. nothing to truly compare, unless of course we're talking about better devices to reconstruct dead magnetic media. only then could it be called archaelogy.
  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Thursday November 02, 2006 @06:11PM (#16695765) Homepage Journal
    if i lived in 106, if i wanted to record something, i would write it down on paper. it would therefore persist for decades, perhaps centuries. if i lived in 3000 bc, i'd write it on a stone tablet. then it would persist almost forever.

    but what if it is 1966 and i put it on a computer? well, by 2006, the technology, expertise, file format, and actual reading machines wuld be completely gone. in other words, records from computers from 1966 are less accessible to us than records from 1766 or even 3000 bc

    if it were 1706 and i wanted records from 1666, how hard would it be for me to locate and read them? now i'm going to give you a computer tape from 1966. good luck

    or howabout it is 2046, and i give you a CD burned from 1996: what's the state of the dyes on that CD in that year? exactly. now compare that to parchment from 1776. sure, it's somewhat decayed, but you can still make out what is written, with your own eyes, no other technology needed

    so yes, archeology IS going away. but not for lack of anything getting lost, but for the fact that things are getting completely lost, in a way they never did before: the media is becoming inscrutable to modern eyes, very fast
    • I don't know. It can work both ways. Whatever you may think of George Lucas, he did do some good working/funding of preserving old film reels. Films were (still are?) being lost forever because they were only on one original reel. But one would think, thanks to perfect digital copies and distributed storage (Internet), that shouldn't happen again.
    • And this is a major argument against DRM. If we lock something up, how will future generations read it? More to the point, what happens when this becomes transparent and everything is encrypted? What happens to future generations

      Of course, there's always printouts...
    • if i lived in 3000 bc, i'd write it on a stone tablet. then it would persist almost forever.

      Well, just to nit-pick, you'd write it on a clay tablet, and then it wouldn't even last as long as the paper -- unless roaming barbarians happened to burn your city to the ground with you in it, thereby purely by chance baking the clay.

      so yes, archeology IS going away.

      Oh no it isn't -- archaeology isn't going anywhere anytime in the next few millennia. Consider that even at a major site like Troy, only about 1% of

    • No... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Curmudgeonlyoldbloke ( 850482 ) on Thursday November 02, 2006 @08:02PM (#16697325)
      But the era of "consciously" recording something is (nearly) dead. A few years ago you might find something out and "store" that bit of information so that it was available next time you needed it (say - a recipe for Christmas Pudding). Storage was expensive in terms of time or effort, so it didn't happen to everything. These days storage is not only cheap, it's often automatic. If I want to know what I was working on a year last Thursday it's easy to find out - I think that I last saw a paper diary about 10 years ago, so a year last Thursday is as accessible last week in terms of what was written down at the time.

      In thirty years time, we won't be struggling to find out what a particular band sounded like in 2010 by trying to restore rotting CDs or breaking some long-forgotten DRM system - there'll be a thousand and one personal records of every performance still flying around as "live" data, taken using people's mobile phones (or whatever has replaced mobile phones in 2010).

      The way that we know what a lot of (British) TV programs in the 1960s and even later isn't because they were "officially preserved" at the time - unofficial audience recordings and tapes "rescued" from bins have had a huge role to play (see [] for a few examples). The future's just like that, only more so.

    • Actually, I would disagree. There are many text files that I saw floating around Bulletin Board Systems back in 1990-1994 that are still just as accessible through the Internet. You mention something written on stone or parchment lasting forever, but I think you are simply looking at the stone or parchments that HAVE lasted forever. You are unaware of all the stone and parchment writing that have been destroyed throughout the years. I would say it is easier now to keep information forever, whereas repro
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by benicillin ( 990784 )
      thats a great point and I used to agree 100% but then I realized theres a catch - in the past what you recorded would last for a long period of time, but you could record far less of it than you can now. Now you can record a lot more, and it may SEEM as if it's hard to read the tape from the 70's because the technology is all but obselete - but here comes the catch. We've created new technology that can record exponentially more information, and I can guarantee somewhere within that mass of information you
  • The most valuable asset of Wikipedia for future archaeologists will indeed be the meta discussion. There is so much lost from the past when all we see is the final outcome of something. This goes hand in hand with the saying that history is written by whoever wins the war. I think the current articles on our situation with Iraq and "the war on terror" are perfect examples of this.

    I think communication and information are some of the most dangerous weapons humanity has at its disposal right now, and some

  • Right... sure.

    I hope the Wikipedia guys don't break their arms patting themselves on the back. Why in the world would they think any sort of meaningful remnants of Wikipedia will survive intact 150 years from now? If anything, Wikipedia's constant change (particularly on the fringe topics) means it is useless as some sort of "set in stone" archive of any time period.
  • That supposes that

    a) The data will be preserved. There is no particular reason why it should.
    b) The data will be understood. There are many languages of the past that we cannot understand. The same will probably will be true in the future.
    c) They will have an interest. For us our particular time is interesting, but are we also interested in, say, the political views in the Kassite dinasty in Mesopotamia?. And that period took four centuries, surely many interesting things happened. The quantity of data to a
  • the assertion is more true of the whole Internet/online content, not just wikipedia.

    In that sense, will be the information archaeologists scavenging ground

  • Just to add to all the other posts above. There's no way that archeologists would ever give up digging. For one, what people write is often far from truthful, complete, accurate, or precise. There are archeologists out there that dig through *current* (let alone 150 year old)landfills and garbage to get accurate data, because of this fact. For example, there's a group that did a study of how much beer the people in a certain community drank regularly: first they asked them to put on paper how much beer they
  • The article seems rather naive to me, in several ways.

    Updegrove writes:

    If such is the case, certainly there must be some better way to preserve the reality of modern existence, thereby avoiding the future need to use trowels and screens, laboratory analysis and intuition to recreate what has so recently been real?

    (Emphasis added.)

    Mr. Updegrove then goes on to suggest that Wikipedia (or a similar project) is the best way to accomplish this goal. He seems to be confusing "reality" and "a written record"

  • Does Wiki show us "how humanity understands itself at any precise moment in time"?

    Or does it show us how wealthy people with plenty of time on their hands understand humanity at any precise moment in time? Not to suggest that most forms of archeology have come any closer to providing a "humanity's eye view," just that Wiki's editors are far from a representative sample of humanity.

  • digital data will survive longer than paper?

    In 5 years the media (any digital media) is usually not common enough anymore. In 10 years there is no device that can read the media that the digital information was written to. How long will we still have IDE for harddrives?
  • Time permitting, I've been reading John Lukacs' A New Republic, and one of the points he brings up in the book is the change in the nature of being an historian. In more moderns times, as more and more information is recorded (e. g. a minute-by-minute record of what a particular US president does during a four-year term), the difficulty is not finding the information in and of itself, but sifting through all the information to find the things that are actually meaningful.

    While Wikipedia may provide a good
  • This only partially true - because any archeologist/sociologist worth his salt will quickly realize that Wikipedia reflects only a small subset of the population at large, and via its editorial policies its coverage of various topics is decidely warped. (POV is vital in analyzing literary sources - and Wikipedia's NPOV bias removes traditional POV bias and substitutes a new form.)
  • by shoemakc ( 448730 ) on Friday November 03, 2006 @12:47AM (#16699635) Homepage
    History has shown us that technology evolves through several stages:

    Idea --> Refinement --> Maturity.

    This holds true for everything from software to toasters. A new idea breeds a (generally poor) initial implimentation, which becomes refined with time and as each refinement brings less and less of an improvement, it reaches maturity.

    Paper didn't reach it's level of maturity overnight, clearly it took centuries if not millenia of experimentation over what types of paper worked best, how to make it, inks, size, thickness....developing written languages to :::use::: on it.... It's very easy to look back and see paper as more polished because all of the "rough" years have been lost to history.

    Now consider the digital age. It's true, data from the 60's is probably harder to recover then form the 1800's. However one has to keep something in mind: the digital age is quite new and is still going through that polishing stage. Evidence of that polishing is around...realiablity has improved drasticly, and the move has been towards open data storage formats that don't become a mystery the momment a single company goes bankrupt.

    And as a previous poster mentioned, consider for a momment how the capacity for infinite reproduction changes things...more eggs, more baskets.


The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court