Ground-breaking Discovery or Old News?

In September of 2008 a paper came out in the Journal of Applied Geophysics, which reported on a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of the site of Le Pozze in Lonato, Northern Italy. Most of the findings were from the Roman period and include the discovery of a large villa and public building. The researchers estimate that the two structures combined extended over nearly 10,000 square meters of space.

Here is the stopper the survey was done in 2004. It took four years until it appeared in a journal.

A little known fact about archaeology is that the time period between the completion of field and lab work, and publication in a peer-reviewed journal or book, can be vast. In fact, except in cases where the findings are truly exceptional (ie- Homo floresiensis) multi-year wait times are common.

Sometimes archaeological investigations dont get published at all and remain stuck in the so-called grey literature, of unpublished, and hard to access, government reports and personal documents.

There are many reasons why these delays occur. Academics working in penny-pinched environments dont have a lot of time on their hands and may simply not get around to writing a paper as fast as they should.

Journals face difficulties. They tend to get large numbers of submissions but only have a limited number of editors and peer-reviewers to work their way through them. In some instances they may have to reject a paper for the reason that they dont have enough resources to properly edit it.

The end result of this is that the journals are often not the best place to get the very latest information on archaeology. Ive found that conferences and informal lectures often present information that will not be published for some time to come. Local news reporters will sometimes get news of discoveries in their area out before most scientists know of it. Government agencies, such as the SCA in Egypt, will occasionally make announcements ahead of publication.

Its a big change from the early 20th century when travel times made conferences impractical and the inexistence of computer and telecommunications technology limited the informal spread of information. At the time journals, and books, were the only way to get the latest news of archaeological discoveries out.