Who will survey the surveyors? A talk with the team behind Fieldwalker.org, an open-access web-based forum and database of past and ongoing survey projects

By Arnau Garcia-Molsosa, Associate Editor for Remote Sensing and Prospections

During months of being partially or wholly banned from labs and fieldwork, a common feeling among researchers has been the idea, perhaps self-deceptive, that we might use this “free time” to write up ideas and finish off more reflexive – even “meta” – work. It was a nice surprise then when I discovered that some colleagues involved in pedestrian survey were actually quite successful doing something in that direction. 

The result is Fieldwalker.org, which at the moment have two instruments: Firstly, an open-access web-based forum for short essays on archaeology survey. Secondly, a project gallery with a catalogue of survey projects. The last is currently linked to the “Survey of Mediterranean Survey” (SoMS), a collaborative initiative built by the contribution of researchers working around the Mediterranean. The SoMS is coordinated by Alex Knodell, Tom Leppard, H├ęctor Orengo and Toby Wilkinson. Toby and Anja Slawisch curate and edit the essays. 

Asked about what pushed them to launch the initiative the authors explain that “While there is a huge amount of survey work being undertaken across the Mediterranean (and indeed across the world), there remains still rather low levels of data re-use and direct comparisons between different landscapes. In part this is an ontological problem – different researchers and different research traditions focus on different things and use different language to describe similar methods – but partly this is a data accessibility issue. With over 100 years of archaeological survey, and at least 60 years of regional landscape projects published, it is also important to start to think about the level of sampling intensity at the macro-scale: are there regions of the Mediterranean which have not received the same intensity of research as others? (Spoiler alert: yes! Some countries have received an extraordinarily higher intensity of survey work than others). And how much has this influenced our more general archaeological narratives of the past?”.

The database contains already information about 170 projects (the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean remain best represented), and the form is still open for new contributions. As for immediate future plans, the authors mention that “a follow-up questionnaire is planned, addressed to projects which apply intensive field walking techniques, to quantify survey intensity in a simple and comparative manner. This should provide some useful indices for the intensity of work on a pan-Mediterranean scale”. On another hand they have plans for make the project data more accessible for the researchers that wanted to mine into it for new insights. A paper coordinated by the team behind the Fieldwalker.org is currently under review and will provide a first insight on this new dataset.

The initiative is open and survey archaeologists can contribute to it by proposing essays or submitting new projects to the database via the questionnaire: https://www.fieldwalker.org/projects/survey/ (Currently in English, Spanish and French). Asked about the asked about the data treatment, the authors point that “All submitted projects are added to the map and each have their own web page with relevant links. We hope that this will not only improve the ability of other researchers to make comparative studies of different landscapes, but also to raise the profile of individual projects by making them and their project outputs more findable”.

Interested researchers can contact the website editors by email at editors@fieldwalker.org