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Detail of a British Museum index card for a winged axe found in France (via MicroPasts)

Some of the most significant records on human history remain inaccessible to a wide audience. A new open source crowdsourcing platform called MicroPasts is looking to involve online amateurs in collaborations with professional archaeologists to create digital records of archive collections.

MicroPasts logo (via MicroPasts)

Launched earlier this month, MicroPasts is initially focusing on the Bronze Age. With a joint partnership between the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology, troves of records for thousands of objects, as well as photographs of the artifacts themselves, are in need of public help. By transcribing information on reference cards, or tracing outlines of objects for 3D imaging, anyone can work to make this ancient history available in an open license form.

Many museums have turned to crowdsourcing their collections recently, such as Calbug that teamed with Notes from Nature to put the millions of insect specimens from California natural history museums online for the public to help identify. Yet rather than just hoisting out the tedious work to idle internet hands, MicroPasts could be a real chance for engagement between professionals in the field and dedicated participants on the website. In addition to the data entry-style tasks, the platform also aims to focus on projects that get the most audience interest, whether that be photographs from the field of archaeological sites or helping to pinpoint artifacts on a map. The current featured applications include a British Museum Bronze Age card index transcriptions and the photo masking of the museum’s Bronze Age objects.

Masking a palstave for 3D imaging (via MicroPasts)

Professor Andrew Bevan of UCL Institute of Archaeology, a co-leader of the project, says:

One of the things that makes MicroPasts such an exciting project is the fact that we can potentially take it in so many different future directions. We plan to create yet more crowd-sourcing applications for the platform, following both our own personal research interests and those of other university or museum researchers worldwide, but also the ideas of the contributors we attract online.

The Bronze Age catalogue of the British Museum, started in 1913, has more than 30,000 items, and it’s an impossible task for even a large museum staff to quickly complete, even if the value of the study to early human history is great. And while the Bronze Age is the beginning, MicroPasts proclaims its goal is to “develop and support a range of online crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding projects about our human history.” The platform, although it can be a bit slow, does make the crowd-actions easy to do, and user profiles and a forum make it feel like you’re not just another anonymous contributor. Perhaps a community can form around the project that will have a real stake in its success in contributing to archaeology.

Participate in crowdsourcing Bronze Age artifact history at MicroPasts.  

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...