The search for the past through human and machine learning
The Nesta grants programme explores combining machine intelligence and crowd intelligence to tackle pressing social and environmental challenges, and contribute to the UK’s COVID-19 recovery. We feel very strongly that one of the most important aspects of this award is that archaeology has been recognised as an essential public good, worthy of investment and exploration, alongside the many other important initiatives in our cohort.
As part of the current planning process, archaeology contributes £258m the UK economy. On a human level, archaeological research responds to our primal need to discover, connect and belong; but the sector struggles to channel its value and cement its position in civic life.
Our project hopes to facilitate this shift, co-creating datasets that underpin and describe the historic environment, preserving the distinctiveness of places, protecting fragile archaeology and positioning local people as stakeholders in the planning process. This methodology has wide implications for public and private land transformation projects, from climate change and carbon capture to housing development and large-scale infrastructure.
As the BLM movement and Colston statue protests have recently made clear, there is no equality in heritage narratives – and the proposed pace of development risks adding to exclusion. We’ve partnered with the Discover Brightwater Landscape Partnership to make sure that our participants are drawn from all walks of life and levels of interest or experience with archaeology.
We’ll be testing our CI/AI model across a Study Area which encompasses 200km2 of lowland County Durham and Darlington. We’ve already done some fantastic community archaeology in the area, and now we’re counting on our strong existing networks to help us roll in some new folks to to boldly go with us where no archaeologists have gone before! This area presents the perfect mix of varied landscape types, plus a very engaged group of diverse local stakeholders.
The project will be developing over the summer 2021, and we’ll be looking for participants from the region and beyond to help us test our experiment.
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