Professor of Archaeology and ADS Director
Ten years ago a consortium of UK University Departments of Archaeology - Birmingham, Bradford, Glasgow, Kent at Canterbury, Leicester, Oxford, Newcastle and York - joined forces with the CBA to put a proposal to the AHDS Executive to establish an Archaeology Data Service. The bid was successful; the ADS was established in York in September 1996 with two full-time members of staff; the rest, as they say, is History.
From the outset it was recognised that Archaeology is special. Not only does it create digital data in greater quantity and variety than most other disciplines; archaeologists are also quite sophisticated users of computerised techniques and digital data. ADS needed to reflect that pivotal position at the junction of private, public and university-based archaeology. In this it was greatly helped by early alliances with the CBA, English Heritage, and the National Monuments Records of the constituent parts of the UK. On 15th Sept 1998, when ArchSearch was launched by Professor Rosemary Cramp it provided joined-up access to the Excavation Index and Microfilm Index for England and a subset of the National Monuments Record for Scotland.
The launch of the online catalogue was swiftly followed by Guides to Good Practice, a Digital Data User Needs Survey, and the first ADS project archives. These have grown year-by-year so that ten years on it is now hard to keep track of the wide range of resources made available via ADS. There is no doubt that a lot has been achieved through dedicated staff, community support, and important project partnerships, but a tenth anniversary is a time to take stock and to look forward to the next ten years, as well as to past achievements.
Undoubtedly the primary preservation role of ADS will become fundamental as it becomes necessary to migrate some of the first archives to new formats. Fortunately, and in partnership with AHDS, we have now put in place the technical infrastructure that will facilitate that process.
However, it has always been our view that there is no point in preservation without access, and here user expectations are continually evolving. With such a wealth of material a key challenge is to provide easy and direct access to specific resources and to assist users to find what they are looking for. ADS played a key role in the development of the Dublin Core standard within archaeology. That helped underpin interoperable access at site level, but the next hurdle will be to allow users to cross-search across and within project archives, by geography, subject theme or by category of artefact. Supporting Virtual Research Environments, Cyberinfrastructures, e-Science and implementing our sub-domain of the Semantic Web are amongst the objectives for the next decade. The specifics of future user interfaces may be difficult to predict but if one thing is certain it is that in the digital world one has to run very fast in order even to stay still.