Title:The Future of the Past: Archaeology and Anthropology on the World Wide Web
Authors:John Hoopes
Publication:MW97: Museums and the Web 1997

In the final scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", a crate containing the object of Indiana Jones' quest is wheeled into an immense warehouse for indefinite storage and questionable research access. Unfortunately, this fate is not all that far from reality. Collections of archaeological and ethnographic materials ranging from stone axes, broken potsherds, and carved monuments to baskets, ceremonial masks, and skin canoes have been held by museums collections since the Renaissance. However, their inestimable value and unique conservation and curatorial requirements often conspire to remove them from the reach of all but the most diligent scholars. The potential of the Web to enhance the quality of research on archaeological and ethnographic collections is enormous. This paper will examine ways that one can use the Web to enhance research and improve access to a variety of materials. It will also explore the potential of the Web for innovative research strategies. Digitization of catalogs, associated documents, and images to help one locate and study collections and specific artifacts are just one approach. Others include the connection of devices to the Web, such as cameras and microscopes, the creation of virtual reference collections, and the establishment of research networks that will enhance the identification and analysis of material culture. This paper will also consider the role the Web will play in issues of cultural property, contributing to and in many ways intensifying ongoing debates of ownership, curation, conservation, and repatriation of sensitive materials.