It’s raining hard here today, so this is a perfect time to write in detail about my rationale for using iPads in the field this year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve wanted to digitally collect primary data from the moment I began volunteering in archaeology nearly 20 years ago. There are a number of reasons for this, including: 1) reducing the transcription (field notes), digital tracing (hand drawn maps), and database entry (catalogues and metric data) time which follows every field season, 2) minimizing errors that can result from transcription, and 3) reducing labour costs associated with digitally recreating handwritten data.
There are a number of archaeologists using tablet computers in “paperless archaeology” projects around the world (please see http://paperlessarchaeology.com/ for an excellent blog on the topic). Many of these projects use mobile database apps or custom web apps to submit data directly to a networked database. These are extremely useful applications that have great potential, especially in locations where internet access is constantly available.
My approach to the problem is somewhat different. I have decided to use fillable and savable PDF-based forms to collect the majority of my field data. My rationale for using savable PDF forms (rather than a direct to database system) is fivefold:
1) Many archaeologists use paper forms to collect their field data. Using PDF-based forms mimics their normal paper-based workflows.
2) The data in PDF forms can be instantly compiled into a database, using Adobe Acrobat.
3) PDF-forms are platform independent. They can be utilized with iOS, Android, or Windows-based devices.
4) The PDF forms incorporate graph paper that can be used to draw detailed plan maps. These maps can be directly exported to standard illustration software in a vector format.
5) Archaeological permitting agencies often require original paper versions of data for archival purposes. PDF forms can be printed without additional formatting, in a manner consistent with previously archived documents.
On the iPad, we will be using a powerful app called PDF Expert to fill out our forms. The app has a very robust drawing feature that we will use to plot unit maps on PDF graph paper (attached to each form). I’ll document our workflows for each of these aspects in later posts; if you are interested in trying the form, please download it below (right click and “save link as”).
Please note that to make the form “savable” you will have to use Adobe Acrobat. Simply rename the file, then “Extend Features in Adobe Reader” to create your own version of the form. If you have any questions or insights, please comment on the blog!