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New British Museum Website Allows Amateurs To Help Unravel Bronze Age Mysteries
April 23, 2014
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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ever wonder what it's like to work at one of the best natural history museums in the world? (And we're not talking about taking lessons from Ben Stiller.) Or do you really just love the fine art of transcribing documents? If so, London's renowned British Museum would like your help.

The museum has partnered with the University College London Institute of Archaeology to create MicroPasts, a crowd-sourced initiative to help further the organization's archaeological research. MicroPasts is an attempt to gather as much human knowledge as possible about the Bronze Age (about 2500 BC - 800 BC), a period of time researchers know relatively little about — despite having a large collection of metal artifacts at their disposal.

“This information has long been known to be an extremely important untapped resource,” Neil Wilkin, curator of Bronze Age collections at the British Museum, told the archaeology magazine Heritage Daily . “Metal finds are not only crucial forms of evidence for dating Britain’s prehistoric past, but also tell us a great deal about prehistoric society and economy."

The museum is asking for help with things like confirming the location of photographed scenes (ones that haven't been properly recorded), categorizing the type of object or transcribing letters and catalogues — effectively, digitizing stuff the museum has lying around and needs done, but hasn't gotten around to yet. For example: the British Museum has drawers and drawers full of index cards about various Bronze Age artifacts — their catalogue of artifacts from that time period contains more than 30,000 objects. They've scanned those into the system, and now MicroPasts users can help enter that information into a digital database. 

The hope is that MicroPasts will be a place where academics, researchers and amateur enthusiasts can convene to collaborate on archaeological projects in the future. Ultimately, they hope to use the information to create a series of 3D models of Bronze Age artifacts that can be shared online. 

"We want to improve how people traditionally distinguished as ‘academics,’ ‘professionals,’ and ‘volunteers’ cooperate with one another, as well as with other people out there who as yet have no more than a passing interest,” Chiara Bonacchi of the UCL Institute of Archaeology told Popular Science.

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