Using the iPad to record rock art

This past year I’ve been working on a side project to use the iPad as the primary data collection device for recording rock art in the field, replacing paper forms that can number in the hundreds. Last week I presented the idea and the results of field testing at the Australian Archaeological Association Conference.



The premise is fairly simple, to use a database app (I used Tapforms, but there are a number out there of various functionalities and prices) and translate existing paper forms into digital ones. The great advantage of the iPad is that one can integrate the camera and GPS functions into the form, so sketching the rock art becomes unnecessary when you can just snap a photo. The biggest advantage is the post-fieldwork paperwork – where before I would have taken me two months to backup the forms and move the data into a table, it now takes two minutes.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, and there are some interface and user considerations. The iPad is still an expensive piece of equipment to bring out to the field and there’s the perpetual fear of dropping the device. Most users (not just archaeologists) complain about the glare of the screen under sunlight, and the key thing to remember about the difference between an iPad and a paper for is the way one interacts with both. On a paper you can write and draw, on an iPad you’re limited to tapping on glass so it’s not one for scribbling notes on. How do we get round that? I used voice memos for all long chunks of texts.

You can see my presentation slides here, or by clicking on the image.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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