By Matt McKnight, Chief Archaeologist
A routine part of my job, and part of the job for most of the archaeologists at the Maryland Historical Trust, is fielding the occasional inquiry from an interested member of the public about an artifact (or possible artifact) that they’ve found on their farm, in their back yard, or while out on a hike. These interactions usually start with an email or phone call to our office from the interested party. That exchange leads invariably to a request from one of us for a photo. The photo often comes back with nothing for scale, making it hard for us to interpret, and requires several follow-up emails. The photos may elicit more curiosity and a request for a map of the find location from MHT (something the caller may or may not be able to provide). The process involves a lot of back-and-forth and we thought, “There has to be an easier way!”
Today, I’m pleased to share that we have one! Several months ago, my colleague, Dr. Zac Singer and I began discussing ways to develop a smartphone app that could streamline the process of reporting unanticipated artifact discoveries in the field. To be clear, this app is not meant to replace completion of our standard Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) Archaeological Site Form for reporting newly discovered sites. Rather, we envisioned it as a supplemental tool, not meant for sites, but for individual artifact finds. This tool could be used by professional archaeologists for reporting isolated finds, but what we really wanted was something that could be used by an ASM member, a property owner, a metal detectorist, an arrowhead collector, or even just a hiker who found something interesting on their trek.
While I certainly have my qualms about some of these activities and the damage that can be caused to archaeological sites when they are done in an irresponsible or uncontrolled manner (I’ll be speaking in a Maryland Archeology Month webinar on the topic of “relic hunting” later this month), there may be instances where responsible admirers of the material culture record wish to record and report such finds to the state. MHT is the “home” of the MIHP, which includes nearly 14,000 archaeological sites and over 43,000 historic and architectural resources. For us (and by “us” I mean the collective body of Maryland’s residents) to learn about our shared history and cultural heritage, we need to have an accurate record of not just the known sites, but also isolated finds. These are often the first clues that lead to the discovery of new sites. And since it’s not just professional archaeologists that wander the fields and forests, hobbyists, hikers, beachcombers, and others needed a tool that would allow them to be a part of this discovery and documentation project. We also thought such a tool might be useful for “citizen scientists” to conduct coastal surveys for cultural resources after major storm and flooding events. After all, April is not just Maryland Archeology Month, it’s also Maryland Flood Awareness Month!
To that end, today we are releasing mdFIND, a crowdsourcing app that allows any member of the public to record and photograph unanticipated artifact discoveries in the field, and report those findings to the MHT Office of Archaeology. The app is built on ESRI’s Survey123 technology. Though the app presents you with a sign-in screen in case you have an ESRI account, no account is necessary, and you can click to simply continue without signing in. You can download the app for free at https://arcg.is/1PnOL10 or by scanning the QR code in the handy mdFIND flyer available at https://mht.maryland.gov/documents/PDF/research/mdFIND.pdf. The app will even work directly from a web browser with no download needed: just follow the simple prompts to report your find to MHT.
The app allows you to upload or capture up to five images of the object(s), report the location using your phone’s GPS, specify the broad artifact type or the diagnostic artifact name (if you know it), and report your name and contact info (if you wish) for any follow-up. Easy-to-use drop-down menus and links to external webpages (such as JPPM’s Diagnostic Artifacts Page) make filling out the form a breeze. If you use the app (as opposed to the web browser), mdFIND will even allow you to keep a record of your own personal submissions to the database on your phone (within the app). You can edit these previous finds and resubmit them later if new information comes to light.
We hope you find this new tool as useful as we do. Getting out into the warmer weather and recording some exciting new discoveries seems to me like a great way to spend some of Maryland Archeology Month. How about you?