Caught in the Net
Electronic Opportunities in ArchaeologyBy John Younger
The proliferation of WWW sites and discussion groups makes even the most veteran net cruiser flinch at the thought of adding another list or visiting another arcane web site. But the richness of the Internet's information is compelling as this column's sampling of what has been "caught in the Net" demonstrates. Access begins with one's server, however, and the rapidly changing availability of Net services draws our first attention.
Last Spring I got interested in the servers, the systems that relay information from person or site to subscriber. I'll look into the university servers operating over the Internet another time, but the commercial servers, like AOL (America On Line), CompuServe, and Prodigy, intrigued me. I asked subscribers to several archaeology lists what they thought of their commercial server, and over the summer I heard from many of them (a complete summary is available at AegeaNet's FTP/Gopher site). Of the commercial servers, AOL was my respondents' top choice; many found CompuServe expensive; and several subscribers found Prodigy intrusive with its shopping advertisements on screen and monitoring for decency.
If you want a Consumer's Report-like analysis of commercial servers, check out the article "The Changing Face of On-Line" by Rick Ayre and Robin Rasking that appeared in the February 21, 1995 issue of PC Magazine (pp. 108ff.); they go through many servers and characterize them. You should also investigate a local company-these may cost less, and help is just around the corner.
Respondents' Helpful Hints on Servers.
"Do what I did and make use of some of those free-first-month offers that keep showing up in the mail. There's no substitute for firsthand experience." [Some people keep an academic account and an account with a private server]: "I've had America On-Line for coming up on two years now. I keep it because it's a permanent address no matter where the job market takes me ƒ." "I use AOL, CompuServe, and Delphi, as well as CLASS, which is a subnet of CERF.NET in California. As a librarian offering Internet training, I need to know how these things work and what they offer." [This should remind us all: if you need help, ask a librarian!]
Toward the end of the summer I subscribed to a couple of discussion lists as a lurker just to see what kinds of things people posted and what the "atmosphere" was like. For fun I subscribed to the Hebrew Language list "HebLang" (no, I don't know Hebrew) and "MedSci-L", the list for Medieval Science. I lurked for three weeks and then unsubscribed, but from both lists I learned things, which is what it's all about.
Late last August the MEDSCI-L list (Medieval Science Discussion List; about 430 subscribers) was generating a comfortable two messages a day. Discussions were intelligent and polite. I lurked on two strings. On "Ten Greatest Scientists and Engineers of Medieval Times," I was startled to learn that St.Thomas Aquinas invented the idea of mass. And I had never heard of Nicole Oresme, who "proved the divergence of the harmonic series, invented fractional powers, understood probability and relative frequency, and invented graphs". (Thanks to Francis J. Kelly & James Franklin.) "Europe's Adoption of Arabic Numerals" demonstrated that by the late 900s Arabic numerals began appearing in European manuscripts for the first time, but they were not widely used, and did not replace Roman numerals until the late 17th century. After the earliest texts Arabic numerals were then more or less forgotten until the works of Al-Khwarizmi were translated from Arabic into Latin in the late 12th century. These Latin texts, called "algorisms," taught the use of writing numbers in a positional system, and the corresponding methods of reckoning. (Thanks to Gerhard Brey.) To subscribe to MedSci-L, mail "subscribe medsci-l" to "firstname.lastname@example.org" or to "email@example.com". In late August, the HEBLANG list (Hebrew Language; about 290 subscribers) was generating about three messages a day, with probably a lot more during the academic year. The level of discussion was technical, extremely intelligent, and polite. Not knowing Hebrew, much of what was discussed, like fine points of grammar and pronunciation, was way beyond me; but from afar, I enjoyed a long and interesting string about grammar books and other resources for learning the language. One subscriber (Mark E. Shoulson) philosophically observed that to each question there exist many levels of answers "because of the variety of readers we have here." The observation produced some thoughtful responses on e-mail etiquette: should one signpost one's reply (marking levels of complexity in one's answer); should one use technical jargon or KISS ("keep it simple, stupid"); and for the novices on the list, should one "pablum feed" answers or encourage research? These are good questions, and I agree with Avraham Sh'lomo's humane conclusion to the string: "I believe HebLang has room for more than one type of subscriber, and I have enjoyed the interaction of people with different backgrounds and levels of expertise." To subscribe to HebLang, mail "subscribe heblang Your Name" to "firstname.lastname@example.org".
World Wide Web
World Wide Web certainly seems to be exploding. I've been keeping a list of WWW addresses that look promising and then I browse through them on off hours. I couldn't resist "Secrets of the Lost Tomb"
(http://www.pathfinder.com/@@69su6/AAAAAAAAOLg/time/special/tomb/950529.tomb.html), the Time Magazine article by Michael D. Lemonick on Valley of the Kings tomb 5, "the biggest and most complex tomb ever found in Egypt-and quite conceivably the resting place of up to 50 sons of Ramesses II." The text is informative, the little "thumbnail" photos give the character of the tomb, and the opening photo is impressive. Unfortunately the "thumbnail" photos are also click-ons for videos (byte-sizes indicated) for which I don't have the equipment.
Web sites typically include photographs, charts, and other graphics that can take a long time to pull up if you're using a slow modem. Changing your modem speed will help, but here's another tip: turn off the automatic graphics-loader that operates on default in your web-viewer. Or, if you just want to scan a site for the text alone before you choose to see the graphics, don't use a web-viewer at all; use your regular Internet server, and after you log in, just enter at the prompt: www http://address. Only text will appear, but it's very fast, and usually from the text you can tell if you want to reenter later with your web-viewer and take a look at the graphics.
To continue last issue's attention to the early horse, I looked at the first two files of "The Legacy of the Horse" maintained by The International Museum of the Horse (through ABZU or direct: http://www.horseworld.com/imh/kyhpl1a.html). This site is sweet and very nicely designed. A thorough table of contents outlines the history of the horse ("58 Million bce-450 ce"); the text is clean and contains unusual material like the Mitannian regimen of "master horseman" Kikkuli on the "Care and Feeding of the Chariot Horse." Its frequent "thumbnail" photos are informative (in the Egyptian chariot wheel the spokes were made integral with the hub in an ingenious manner). This file I printed out for students.Just out of curiosity, I peeked at the endangered palaeolithic rock engravings at Foz Coa, Portugal; they must be saved! Palaeolithic Rock Carvings of Vila Nova de Foz Coa, Portugal (Web address: http://leo.lnec.pt/~lms/FozCoa) is maintained as a cooperative effort by the Movement for the Preservation of the Paleolithic Art of the Foz Coa Valley (email@example.com); letters in support of preservation are welcomed. This shelter site in north Portugal houses the Iberian peninsula's largest collection of palaeolithic rock art (20,000-17,000 bp), but a hydroelectric dam threatens to inundate it. While there are 280 caves in Europe with painted decoration, only six sites open to the air contain rock carvings, and Foz Coa is one of the largest. Bison, equids, caprids, deer, horse, and the early bovine aurochs are all represented, an astounding assemblage. Though the photographs vary in quality (some are postcards), the art itself is well worth a Web-visit.
A lot of different kinds of WWW sites have just recently emerged: gateways or home pages for universities, academic departments, and courses of instruction. Even individuals have designed their own "Home Page" (complete with portraits!). So, I couldn't resist; as they say on the Web, "check me out!": http://www.duke.edu/web/jyounger/.
If you have any comments or questions, or would like to see a topic discussed, e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accompanying illustration was downloaded from the Web, and used by permission, after extensive photomanipulation. Web users should note that pictures available on the Web are saved in special low resolution formats (GIF or JPEG) not suited to print reproduction.