Digital archaeology and the evolution of the ARS Ltd website over 20 years

Archaeology is the study of the past through material remains. Traditionally, the work involves specialists and diggers out on site, undertaking all manner of surveys, and working on the ground, scraping through the soil to uncover evidence of past human activity. We work in the physical landscape, dealing with very real material culture (as well as the weather).

But we also exist in an increasingly digital world. So, what of human activity on the internet? Things move so fast online, is anybody taking the time to record and protect evidence of our digital evolution?

Fascinatingly, yes.

The need to preserve our digital past

This particular idea has been around for a while, but was brought firmly into the public eye in the 2010 Internet Week Europe exhibition entitled ‘Digital Archaeology’. Suggested at the time to be the first ever ‘archaeological dig of the internet’, it highlighted the importance of documenting online culture through web archiving.

As the curator, Jim Boulton, said at the time:

“Today, when almost a quarter of the earth’s population is online, this artistic, commercial and social history is being wiped from the face of the earth.” (1)

This warning was built on fears from a few years earlier, when scientists increasingly became aware that the sources of many of the footnotes in their research reports – directing to online articles – were disappearing at a rapid rate, as those website URLs were either updated or deleted entirely. Sometimes within as little as 100 days! (2)

Thankfully, action has since been taken to better archive our digital past to avoid losing the foundations of the web that shaped our culture today. And while the term ‘digital archaeology’ has since become synonymous with the application of technology in more traditional archaeology pursuits (you can even study it as a course), the concept of preserving our online culture through archiving remains an important one.

The ARS Ltd website over the last twenty years

Did you know it’s the twentieth anniversary of the very first iteration of our website?

Thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine undertaking such preservation of online data, we can see that it was first crawled and archived in September 2003 and there have been many different ‘eras’ of its design ever since. Being archaeologists, we were eager to dig back into our own digital history to see what that first website looked like, as well as the changes it has gone through since.

Today we’re marking this milestone of our website’s existence by swapping our trowel for a mouse and taking you on a quick trip into the past…

ARS Ltd website in 2003
ARS Ltd website in 2009
ARS Ltd website in 2012
ARS Ltd website in 2015
ARS Ltd website in 2016
ARS Ltd website in 2023
Archaeological Research Services Ltd