Greater than the parts

At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark the Ark of the Covenant is entrusted to a secure archive for study - but as the closing credits roll we see it being locked away beside countless crates of precious artefacts in a cavernous vault, removed from even expert gaze. If Harrison Ford represents the archaeological stereotype then Raiders of the Lost Ark portrays the stereotypical archive. Are archives really like that?

In October the Archaeological Archives Forum and the Society for Museum Archaeology held a conference at the Museum of London on the development of archive resource centres. Local museums face problems in the storage of archaeological archives. They lack the staff and space to store and provide access to finds. In London the LAARC may be a model for archive hubs which will provide secure storage and public access at regional level.

The digital dimension of this is important. Although traditional ideas of archival integrity require finds and paper records to be held together, digital data can be curated wherever they can properly be looked after. The digital archive can be seamlessly reunited with other archival components so long as online catalogues link the distributed elements. Digital data can be used to promote access to archives, acting as glue to bind the elements together. It doesn't matter whether digital archives are local, regional or national, so long as they follow emerging standards, such as OAIS, and so long as they are cross-searchable.

This issue of ADS News looks at links between sectors and across boundaries. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link archive, created by a large consortium of professional field units, was launched this Autumn. This has excited much interest amongst local societies in the South East and colleges and universities nationally. At a technical level, the 'geoXwalk' gazetteer, developed by EDINA at the University of Edinburgh, now provides a simple postcode search interface to ArchSearch. Beyond the UK, the EC-funded ARENA project now provides access to around ten major fieldwork archives. In November ARENA launched a portal, which provides simultaneous searching of six European sites and monuments databases. Lastly, from the US, we report on a major initiative to develop an online archive and publication of the archaeology of the Chesapeake plantations. By forging links with other organisations across sectoral and national boundaries the days of closed archives are hopefully gone forever. In the digital age, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Julian Richards

In this issue ...