iPads in Cyprus: Practical Matters in Fieldwork

(Cross-Posted at History on the Bridge

On Tuesday, I discussed our use of an archaeological iPad app in fieldwork in Cyprus. Today I will discuss our use of iPads in the field more generally.

First, Glare. The major problem we encountered was the incredible glare from the sun. If we had thought ahead, we could have remedied this from the start by purchasing an anti-glare screen shield. But alas, we did not, and we could only view screens with the brightness cranked all the way up. Even that required squinting in the intense Mediterranean sun.

My solution initially with my own iPad was to sit in one of the rental cars and take notes in the shade, but that was not practical for the students recording notes next to their trenches. Lesson learned on this one.

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Dust. This was not the problem we thought it might be. We brought along protective jackets to keep the dust out of the iPads designed for field use. We encouraged students to keep iPads in their jackets at most times, and if possible, all times. Some students simply entered the data through these covers.

June 2, 2012 009

Others took the covers off when they were using them.


Battery. Given the intensity of the sun and the need to crank up brightness to see the screens, we expected battery life would be a problem especially on those days when we were in the field from 7 AM to 6 PM. Not once, however, did we totally exhaust an iPad battery. Setting the Auto-Lock to 5 minutes helped keep the iPad batteries charged and lasting longer.

Camera. We sometimes used the iPads for taking photographs. We instructed students to take photos of the bottom of every Stratigraphic Unit upon completion, but some trenches did this more consistently than others. These photos would act as a backup to the digital photos we took with point-and-shoot cameras. For one trench, the iPad’s camera unfortunately failed to function at all.

June 2, 2012 023June 2, 2012 026

The camera was not linked to the PKapp, but Sam Fee tells me that it may be possible for future version of the app to do so. That would be valuable, especially if the resolution of the iPad camera improves. The quality of the photos (5 megapixels) was not nearly as good as the point-and-shoot hand-held cameras we were using to record photographs.

Compare the two following contexts. The first photo in each comparison was shot with the iPad, the second with a 10 megapixel camera.


Photo Jun 01, 2 08 28 AM

5306_p4 (bottom)

And SU 5309

Photo Jun 04, 4 46 00 AM


The 10 megapixel provides enough extra detail to make it a significant improvement on the iPad. We could not use the iPad camera for serious fieldwork at its current resolution.

On the other hand, the iPad camera was great for capturing and modifying photos of people in action, and was especially useful for sharing via social media sites like Facebook



Photo Jun 01, 9 45 09 AM


Recording. In Tuesday’s post, we discussed the use of PKapp for recording stratigraphic contexts. As the area director, I also kept an “Area Notebook” to describe my impressions of the “big picture” across the site. This notebook acted as a running log of the simultaneous work of all four trenches. In the past, we recorded these general notes in an old school field notebook. My problem was always writing legibly in such small notebooks — I have such terrible handwriting.


This year I recorded comparable notes using the iPad. Besides glare, my main problem with using the iPad for recording was simply getting used to the keyboard. Initially, I used a table with an external keyboard, but this required establishing a bluetooth connection every time I wanted to use it, and the setup was no good for roaming from trench to trench.


Eventually I got used to the internal screen keyboard, and I could use it with one hand, or could type with both hands by the end of our season.

June 1, 2012 212

At the beginning of the season, I used the simple Notes app that comes with the iPad, which I would email to myself and append to a master notebook file in MS Word (on my laptop). By the end of the season, though, I realized how much potential there was for using more sophisticated apps. How I would have liked to use an app like Dragon Dictation for turning voice into text, but this required an internet connection, and our iPads were not 3G capable.

By the last week, I was experimenting with Evernote and wish I had used this from the beginning since it allowed me to make audio recordings and include photos inside each log. The next time I teach this course, in fact, I will have students take their personal iPads into the field and use an app like Evernote to record a running notebook on what they are finding. These will complement the master field notebook for each trench.

In the end, our experience with iPads in the field was very positive. We used the devices in a sophisticated way to collect data via an app designed for the project (PKapp). And we used the devices in very simple ways to record notes and take photos. What strikes me about the use of the iPad in archaeological fieldwork is its potential. Given this explosion of apps, I can only imagine that mobile technology will be one of the main ways that archaeologists complete their work.

In my final post tomorrow, I will conclude the use of iPads in the Cyprus class.


iPads in Cyprus: Using PKapp

(Cross-Posted at History on the Bridge)

As Dr. Fee has now completed his series of posts on the technical aspects of designing and implementing “PKapp,” I want to discuss here how we actually used PKapp in the field. I will follow with a couple of other posts on our use of the iPads more generally.

Messiah College gave us 13 total iPads for use with our course. Nine were assigned to students, who used them for a range of purposes, some of which I’ve already discussed (here and here). Four of the iPads were assigned to trench supervisors responsible for our four different “excavation units”.  These were iPads strictly used for the field, and they contained a minimal set of apps: Find iPhone in case the device went missing; Dropbox for transferring files, photos, etc..; a PDF reader; “Files” and “FileApp Pro” for storing PDFs and documents related to our work on Cyprus (see below), and most importantly, “PKapp” the PKAP app designed by Sam Fee and labeled according to the Excavation Unit number (in the case below “EU 15”). We initially considered using all 13 iPads in the field, but this seemed too involved, and students generally did not bring their own iPad into the field. 

 Photo Jun 12, 10 04 21 AM

In archaeological fieldwork, most especially excavation, recording is among the most important responsibilities of the fieldworker. As excavation destroys the contexts that it removes, the finds (artifacts) and the notes are the only material for reconstructing the occupations being investigated. The goal always is to record detail sufficient for understanding finds in their natural and cultural contexts (strata).

You can understand, then, both our excitement and hesitation about using these iPads in the field. On the one hand, iPads could offer new ways to improve our note-taking through, for example, devices like the camera and video, and apps for recording audio and visual notes. On the other hand, we were terrified at the many ways we might lose our information and electronic data. We did not want to leave Cyprus with nothing to show for our work. Our solution was to treat the PKAP 2012 season as an experimental year for using iPads in the field. Initially, in our modified excavation manual, we put it as follows:

We will record the excavation process according to the basic unit of the stratum (SU) and describe as we excavate. We will collect data in two ways in 2012: 1) A volunteer will fill out a standardized SU form for each new SU (see below) and 2) the trench supervisor will collect the same data via an iPad designated for the SU. The iPad will contain the master version of the data, the paper copy the backup. It is important for the supervisor to bring both SU forms and the trench iPad into the field each day, and the supervisor should charge the iPad each night.

After some discussion with co-director, Bill Caraher, however, we changed the language of this section so that the paper version would be the master and the iPad the backup. The trench supervisor or his proxy would record the master set of notes in paper version, while the students would record the backup using the PKapp on the iPad. In the end, for reasons we will discuss below, we were very glad we did it this way.

In Excavation Unit 15 (below), trench supervisor Aaron Barth keeps the master paper notebook in the red clipboard while David Crout records with the iPad.

June 1, 2012 199

In Excavation Unit 14, trench supervisor and field director Brandon Olson advises students Megan Piette and Jimmie Nelson on how to fill out forms. Megan uses the iPad while Jimmie records the same information with the paper.

June 2, 2012 013

In both cases, our paper forms and iPad PKapp recorded nearly identical information on each “Stratigraphic Unit,” the basic spatial for recording stratigraphic contexts.

Our paper form for recording contexts consists of two pages. The first page asks the recorder to write information about the context including name and identifiers (date, supervisor, recorder), location (area, excavation unit, elevation, stratigraphic relationships, UTM coordinates), soil descriptors (soil type, clast size, munsell color), associated data (features and photographs), method, and relative quantity of finds (by bag).

PKAP Stratigraphic Unit Form 2012_1

The second page simply contains identifying fields (in case the page becomes separated from the first) and blank lines for description and interpretation. The recorder can use as many of these description pages as necessary to record the context.

PKAP Stratigraphic Unit Form 2012_2


As Sam Fee has described it, the PKapp on the iPad was designed to duplicate the same information collected on paper form. So, in the image below, one can see some parallels with the image of the paper form above.

Photo Jun 12, 10 09 04 AM

Like any other app requiring text, selecting inside any field brought up the keyboard for keying the data.

EU 17.5

You will notice in the description field above “See hard copy.” In this instance, this SU description marks a complete duplicate of the hard copy—and the trench supervisor (Crowley) recorded it in this way because in this small trench, he was responsible for both the digital and paper form. Generally, though, we did not attempt to duplicate the “Description” field because we felt that this field allowed us to record two distinct interpretations of each stratigraphic unit. And each interpretation could inform the other.

June 2, 2012 010

A major advantage of the digital version is that it forced the recorder to enter data in standardized ways and did not allow (as the paper version did) for inconsistency in entering certain fields. For example, the fields related to soils required the user choose one of several options from a list rather than try to remember what the options were.  This ensured a more normalized data set.


EU 17.32

Clicking the “Load SU Data” allowed the user to revisit data from previous SUs. This was extremely useful in comparing SUs in the field. However, the continual improvement of the PKapp during the field season meant that a couple of new versions were issued after fieldwork was already underway. Each new version required wiping the iPad of its previous data (after backing up the data). We were not, consequently, able to pull up SUs of previous versions. Note that the data for EU 14 below starts with SU 5107, but it does not contain 5101-5106 (we did have these in paper form). Perhaps a future version of PKapp could reimport data back into the PKapp.

Photo Jun 12, 10 14 14 AM


We encouraged trench supervisors to back up their iPad frequently whenever a connection was available. Our simple wireless iPads required a wireless connection at the hotel, and data was backed up less frequently than we would have liked. In one case, I could not get a good wireless connection to backup the data. Having iPads with 3G would have allowed us to do this from the field at the end of each day.

Backing up data was a two-step process. Touch the “Export these data” button, which converts all the data into CSV format. Then touch the “Email the data” button.

Photo Jun 12, 10 14 40 AM

…which resulted in this confirmation screen.

Photo Jun 12, 10 14 45 AM

Only in one case did this process result in data loss, but the details of this loss are too cloudy to be sure that the app was to blame.

We also lost data once or twice at a different stage of the data recording process, when a student forgot to hit the “Record the Data” button while collecting data on the SU. That was unfortunate but not unexpected. All the same, we were glad that our iPad was the backup in this first season using them and that we had the paper version to go along with them.

Besides the PKapp, we also used the iPads in the field for several other purposes. We used the devices to take photographs, to circulate files (via Dropbox), and to load files. It was extremely useful, for example, to have the SU Form Guide for filling out the SU forms at the touch of a button. Same with the instructions for describing features and soils. In the past, we have had to drag out the entire paper version of the field manual, which is a hassle to look through on an afternoon when the coastal winds are powerful.

Photo Jun 12, 10 06 55 AM


Photo Jun 12, 10 06 39 AM


In the end, collecting data via the PKapp was easy and worked remarkably well. We have some hiccups to work out in regard to data preservation, but our use this season did not result in major losses.

In Thursday’s post, I’ll continue this series with a discussion of the practical dimensions of using iPads in the field.

iPads in Cyprus, Part 2: Paperless Tours

(Crossposted at History on the Bridge)

One of our first orientation activities for students was a self-guided tour of Larnaka, the city where we are living for a month this summer. A city of about 70,000, its coastal orientation is oriented to tourist circuits and vacationers: long promenade along a line of palm trees and sandy beach line with overpriced hotels and restaurants.

Over the years, we’ve sent students on a photo scavenger hunt on their first full day on the island. We typically give students a paper map of Larnaka. Students walk around and collect photos of places both historically significant and practically useful (e.g., the post office). Students become familiar immediately with the coastal area of the city, see parts of the older city, learn practical information, and get some photos of the city.

Here’s a snippet of the exercise:


Exercise_Larnaka Tour_cropped


Now, requiring that students use iPads for this small group exercise, on the one hand, does not really improve on the paper forms. Carrying around a 2 pound device is more burdensome than paper. But the iPads enhanced the experience with the potential for photographs and the maps.

If we had devices with 3G, we could have used the Map app consistently, but our wi-fi devices restricted internet access to the lobby of the hotel. Still, students did find a way around the problem of no connection: load the map of Larnaka at the appropriate resolution in the hotel lobby (when Wifi was available) and track location by the blue dot. There was, of course, no way of resizing the map during the tour without internet access. Walking around with an iPad makes one conspicuous, but it is much less so than opening up a huge tourist map to pinpoint one’s location. 

Students took photographs with their own cameras, but could easily have taken them with the iPads. When we toured other sites on the island, in fact, I noticed students using the iPads for this purpose. In both the case of Tim at the Kolossi castle and Kaylee at the church of Ayios Ioannis Lambadistis (below), the iPads were a nice substitute for dead camera batteries.



We also used iPads in self-directed exercises in the museums. I transferred paper versions of the exercises into Dropbox. Students added the documents to “favorites” (so that they could access it without wifi), and then copied and answered the questions in the Notes app.


Below, students in the back courtyard of the Larnaka District Archaeological Museum.



Besides the map and photograph potential, the iPad improved the experience in one other way. When we ran guided historical tours of the city of Larnaka / Kition and the ancient site of Kourion, we made reference to a number of plans and maps of the sites to show how the topography had changed. We could have passed around paper maps and plans as we have done in the past, but there were multiple documents to keep track of. It was actually easier to transfer multiple PDFs of maps and plans and have students look at them through the Files app. This feature does have the potential to enhance our tours and presumably student learning. I could imagine, for example, a self-guided tour of Larnaka through a set of questions (as above) and these digital plans and maps.

Map of 19th century Larnaka in Nikolaou’s The Historical Topography of Kition

Larnaka_19th Century Traveler's Maps_1

The downside to using iPads on tours was carrying around the 2 pounds in the heat of the day, the glare from the sun, and students being frequently distracted from the iPads by Cypriot lizards!


May 17 014


I think using these devices for tours has great potential for enhancing knowledge of the history of sites, especially if we can adopt apps and structure exercises that make use of the best features of the iPads.

iPads in Cyprus

(Crossposted at History on the Bridge)

This year several faculty of the Department of History at Messiah College were awarded Innovative Technology and Learning Grants from the Information Technology Services department to experiment with the use of iPads for the purpose of student learning and faculty-student research. My colleague Dr. Jim LaGrand used iPads in his public history class (HIST 393) to communicate findings in public history. Another history colleague, Dr. Joseph Huffman, used iPads in Latin 201 to read e-texts, with the goal of determining how the devices influenced learning a foreign language (you can read about the results of his experiment here).

The main condition for getting the grant was that the project had to explore the effectiveness of these devices “for increased engagement of students in the learning process.” Another condition was that we communicate our results with the rest of the community of educators at Messiah College. Since I will be on sabbatical next year, I intend this series of posts to fulfill my assessment of the devices’ effectiveness. Some of my colleagues from PKAP may also offer some perspectives on the use of these devices in the field including Dr. Samuel Fee at Washington & Jefferson College, who will comment on the design of the app for fieldwork.

My interest in using iPads centered on my History 319 course (“History and Archaeology of Cyprus”), which involves faculty and students working for 3-4 weeks on the island of Cyprus and participating in archaeological fieldwork through the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP). I applied for the grant after successfully using an iPad in place of a laptop to collect notes during the 2011 PKAP study season (as in these photos below). The iPads were about a third the weight of my laptop, gave me instant information via 3G in remote locations, and worked well as a notetaking device (EverNote).

Below: an iPad set up for artifact analysis at the Larnaka District Archaeological Museum. I had 3G on this device, which greatly facilitated my research on specific artifacts.


I was initially uncomfortable with the iPad’s internal keyboard, and purchased a bluetooth keyboard for this reason.


I also thought iPads would work very well in our excavations at Vigla where the dust-carrying winds would quickly destroy a laptop. iPads are useful for excavation because of their long battery life and their touch screen is impermeable to the dust created by an archaeological dig. One can read about the multiple archaeological uses of the iPads at Paperless Archaeology and Archaeology and the i-Pad.

I intended to use the iPads in Cyprus to the following ends:

  1. E-readers for the assigned texts for the course and digital texts
  2. iMovie for storytelling
  3. Blogging with the WordPress app for a course blog
  4. Using the iPads for collecting data in the field (the PKAP app, or the Pkapp)
  5. Taking notes in the field

And so, during the week of final exams at Messiah College, Neil Weaver, our campus’s technology innovator, distributed iPads to the ten students. Every student received an iPad for the duration of the trip, and ITS threw in four additional iPads for use by the trench directors in our excavation units.


Although only a couple of the students had used iPads before, their comfort with smart phones made it a smooth transition to using these devices.


I encouraged all the students to set up the Find My iPad feature in the event that the device was lost and recommended passcodes and the like. We all downloaded iMovie for narrating stories, the free Files app for easily accessing various digital texts, and Dropbox for sharing information. Students were free to download other apps, games, etc.. for their use in travel.  I only asked that they not let the devices distract them from learning about Cyprus, and that they put them away on field trips, etc…

None of the devices have 3G capability, but the wireless internet at our hotel in Larnaka has allowed us to pass documents back and forth via email and dropbox. The wireless-only setting has inhibited constant communication but also encouraged students to put the devices aside when traveling or in the field. I’m not sure I would change that in the future.

The mezzanine level of our hotel: the student hub for accessing wirelessMay 30, 2012 006

More on the particulars in subsequent posts

Excavating Vigla

(Crossposted at History on the Bridge)

It is amazing what we accomplished in all our trenches in the first three days of field work. One trench came down on walls of the Hellenistic habitation, another on what appears to be a floor, a third on a foundation trench for a fortification wall, and a fourth on a premodern looting pit on the slopes. We’ve uncovered enormous quantities of Archaic-Hellenistic pottery, weapons of the Hellenistic era, an inscription, and several figurines. What a start!

The Messiah College students have posted some nice summaries with photos here, and Aaron Barth, a graduate student at North Dakota State University, created two orientation videos to our excavations.

Modern excavation is interesting in that it relies on tools and methods both traditional and scientific.  Here are some of my best photos of our team of faculty and students in action this last weekend.

Picks and dust pans – our main instruments

5501_7 (working)

And sometimes we need the bigger pick.


Trowels and brushes and buckets for cleaning floors


And sifters to collect artifacts


Paper forms and munsell soil books for recording

5301_3 (working)

A total station for angles, grids, and elevations


The prism for reflecting the total station


And iPads, our newest tool in PKAP this year.  More on this soon.