This website (http://www.bigdigs.org) provides a focus for a project organized by the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI) and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) to explore shared opportunities and challenges for large-scale German and American excavations in the Mediterranean in the digital age. The project is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Germany) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (USA). Initially, this website will act as a forum as private collaboration but, as the project progresses, it will also become a tool for publicly disseminating the results in the hope that lessons learned will benefit other institutions investigating collaborative ways to support digital scholarship.

“Big Digs” is a term often applied to the large-scale, multigenerational excavation projects conducted around the Mediterranean starting at the end of the 19th century. Big digs conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens include excavations at Ancient Corinth (started in 1896) and the Athenian Agora (started in 1931). Projects conducted by the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), Abteilung Athen, include the excavations at Olympia (started in 1875), at the Kerameikos (started in 1913), and at Kalapodi (started in 1973).

First day of excavation at the Athenian Agora, 1931

The Problem

From the beginning, these “big digs” were marked by the accumulation of large amounts of data, and an early challenge was to find a way of recording and organizing that material. Notebooks, card catalogs, photographic negatives, large-scale plans and drawings were created and added to over the years, and registry departments archived thousands of pages of printed records and curated hundreds of thousands of artifacts. From the 1980s onwards, the print materials started to be replaced by digital records. At many of the “big digs” electronic technologies have now almost replaced analog ones.

Digital technologies offer new ways of recording archaeological information. They also present new possibilities for interpreting data and building regional perspectives. At the same time, the rapid development of digital formats and the ephemeral nature of electronic information pose new infrastructure challenges to large-scale excavation projects. These are challenges which institutions such as the DAI and ASCSA are finding it difficult to meet alone, and there is a clear need for collaborative solutions to such common problems. Successful collaboration will also provide a strong foundation for new kinds of research, building on interoperable datasets to create perspectives that link previously silo-ed fieldwork projects.

The Project

In November 2008, as an initial step in exploring collaboration, the DAI and ASCSA submitted a request for funding a series of workshops, one in Athens and one in the USA, to explore opportunities for collaboration. The request was submitted to the DFG/NEH Bilateral Digital Humanities Program. Funding was announced in April 2009. The first workshop will take place in Athens in November 2009. The second workshop will take place in North America in January 2010. A small group of expert guests have been invited to Athens to provide input and advice as the DAI and ASCSA explore the issues. More information about the project is available in the About section of this website.


This project is supported jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) is the central, self-governing research funding organization that promotes research at universities and other publicly financed research institutions in Germany. The DFG serves all branches of science and the humanities by funding research projects and facilitating cooperation among researchers.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.


National Endowment for the Humanities

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft