If useful explanations are to be provided about the relationship between computer mediated communication (CMC) technologies and online behavior, then a longer-term perspective needs to be taken than the current focus of CMC researchers. This paper provides such a perspective by outlining in theoretical terms how a cyber-archaeology of virtual communities can be conducted. In archaeology, researchers focus on cultural artifacts. A similar focus on the cultural artifacts of virtual communities should be a focus for CMC researchers as these artifacts can provide an integrative framework for a community's life, be it virtual or real. It is proposed that CMC researchers pursue cyber-archaeology by systematically examining and modeling the framework for virtual community life provided by their cultural artifacts.
The systematic exploration of cyber-space via cyber-archaeology cannot proceed without adequate linguistic tools that allow for taxonomy. The first step in the creation of such a taxonomy is to distinguish between virtual communities and their cyber-place, the virtual settlement. The second, is to define and operationalize the term virtual settlement so that they can be systematically characterized and modeled. With this new terminology, it is possible to detail a cyber-archaeology where technological determinism is replaced with the notion of bounded hierarchies and material behavior. The theoretical outline will show how cultural artifacts can play a role in constraining the forms virtual settlements can sustain. The modeling of the boundaries of virtual settlements via cyber-archaeology should dramatically increase our understanding of communication in general.