A red line

Archaeology Data Service

Archaeology Data Service Online

ISSN 1368-0560     Issue 2 (Autumn 1997)
Arts and Humanities Data Service
A red line

ADS Online, the Internet version of ADS NEWS, contains articles and pictures which do not appear in the printed version. Articles that are expanded from the print version are identified with a green icon green ball, articles which appear only in ADS Online are marked with a blue icon blue ball, and articles which are the same in the two versions (but with the addition of hotlinks in the online version) are marked with a red icon red ball

A red line


Table of Contents

Director's Welcome by Julian Richards
Where'd it all go? A tale of the ADS and its missing collections by Paul Miller
green ball Database of Radiocarbon Dates for British and Irish Archaeology by Cherry Lavell and Mike Heyworth
green ball COPAC: a new nationally accessible library catalogue by Shirley Cousins
How many archaeologists does it take to find a Cruciform brooch? by Alicia Wise
Archaeological Data Archive Project by Harrison Eiteljorg
blue ball Data Standards for Spatial Information on the Historic Environment and Geographical Information Systems by Neil Lang
My first approach to and use of the Archaeobotanical Computer Database by Gigi Signorelli
green ball ADS Advisory Committee
A red line

Director's Welcome

by Julian Richards

By the time you read this the ADS will have celebrated its first birthday on 1st October. It has been a busy year, and in this newsletter our Collections Manager, Paul Miller, describes some of the activities that have been going on behind the scenes to make sure that digital data is available from the ADS website by April 1998.

We have completed an initial series of liaison meetings with other archaeological bodies. Just one of the positive outcomes of these meetings has been that we have now signed a co-operation statement with RCHME which defines a wide range of areas in which ADS and RCHME will work together to promote and develop digital archiving. We hope to follow this with similar agreements with the other national archive bodies.

We are also pleased to be able to report that NERC can now be added to the list of research councils that either recommend or require grant-holders to offer data for deposit with the ADS.

We have also signed an agreement with the CBA by which all recipients of Small Grants or Challenge funding are required to offer digital data sets to the ADS.

Since our last newsletter the Archaeology Division of English Heritage have released a consultation draft of their Research Agenda. This includes, as recommendation A7, a commitment to work with the ADS and other bodies to "review and develop IT strategies to enhance the dissemination of and access to archaeological information". Digital preservation will inevitably have costs and it is encouraging to see one of the leading archaeological funding and policy making bodies taking such a proactive stance.

It is incumbent upon the ADS, however, to make the case for digital preservation, and to find out from you what digital data you would like to be able to access. This newsletter contains two examples of archaeological researchers posing questions of digital data sets. Over the next six months we hope to begin a more systematic survey to establish just how much digital data is already out there, how much of it requires preservation, and to what uses it might be put.

A red line

Where'd it all go? A tale of the ADS and its missing collections

by Paul Miller

Judging by the number of people who have already requested access to the Archaeology Data Service's earliest accessions, there is clearly a demand for a service such as this. Given that we have data, and that a number of organizations are knocking at the door to deposit a whole load more, why is it that ADS is not making the resources available to those visiting our web site?

The simple answer is that ADS staff take their responsibilities to the archaeological community extremely seriously, and we want to make sure we've got things right before unleashing them on the world.

Whilst it would be extremely easy to allow users to download the data we have, and even pretty easy to set something up that allowed querying of these resources via the web, for the system to prove scaleable and capable of coping with a large number of deposits, we need to construct an infrastructure suitable for handling diverse resources, and able to expand effectively as numbers of accessions and queries increase.

A philosophy such as this means that we are necessarily committing ourselves to an ongoing programme of development and evaluation; a programme that will be made easier if the foundations are well designed. So what, then, does this programme involve, and how will it help you as a user or depositor in the not too distant future?

Standards development

Archaeological data are extremely diverse, but this fact is often further complicated by different individuals recording the same - or similar - resources in their own fashion. This makes comparing information drawn from different locations potentially extremely difficult, and is part of the reason for the development of standards for describing archaeological resources, electronic data, etc.

Through our Guides to Good Practice and Guidelines for Depositors, the ADS is formulating advice on use of the most widely applicable standards. We are also involved in the process of developing new standards and recommendations likely to be of value to archaeologists through, for example, involvement with the metadata working party of the National Geospatial Data Framework, the cross-organisational Spatial Data Standards Working Party convened by Neil Lang of RCHME, and by reviewing draft standards documentation from organisations such as RCHME's Data Standards Unit and the Museum Documentation Association.

Possibly the single most important standards-building initiative with which ADS is involved is that of developing structures for resource discovery metadata. Resource Discovery is the process of locating information likely to be of value and assessing its fitness for your purpose. Metadata is a jargon term which is growing in popularity and which translates loosely as "data about data" or "a means of turning data into information of value to those other than the data creator". Resource discovery metadata, then, is the data or information which helps you to find a resource and decide whether or not it is going to be of any use to you.

Earlier this year, the Archaeology Data Service convened a workshop to assess the resource discovery metadata requirements of archaeologists, and widely circulated the draft report from this workshop for comment; you may well have seen a copy. The final version of this report, comprising the workshop findings and comments from the circulation process, is now available. With a sensible framework of resource discovery metadata in place, you as a user of the ADS will be able to search across data of very different types and from diverse locations without needing to be concerned about the underlying data structures. Rather, you will simply interact with a single query interface provided on the World Wide Web, and it will worry about translating your search terms into suitable syntaxes for the different resources hidden away behind the scenes. Indeed, thanks to our parent Arts & Humanities Data Service, your search will not be restricted solely to archaeology, but might encompass related disciplines.

Infrastructure development

Equally important to the development of standards for metadata and for more detailed data handling is the preparation of the infrastructure within which the collections will exist. Here, ADS staff are working to develop effective web-based tools to allow the search and retrieval of suitable information. Developments are also underway to prepare the legal and procedural frameworks within which users will be able to both deposit and access data in such a way that the data owner's rights are protected and the user is ensured the necessary level of documentation alongside the data set.

Pulling it all together

All of this work is extremely important if we are to offer a professional service of lasting value to the archaeological community. Being on the cutting edge of developments such as these can be extremely exciting as much of it has not been attempted on such a scale before, and we have an opportunity to make decisions and set standards that will have far-reaching implications in archaeology and beyond.

You will be glad to hear that these - and (many!) other - strands are being pulled together, and we now have internal drafts of many of our required documents as well as a prototype of the web-based query system. These will be gradually released for comment over the next few months and we should be in fine shape to meet the April 1998 target for releasing the first public prototype of the online system.

A red line

green ball Database of radiocarbon dates for British & Irish archaeology green ball

by Cherry Lavell and Mike Heyworth
Council for British Archaeology
Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate
York YO1 2UA
(01904) 671-417

An online database currently being prepared to be made available through the Archaeology Data Service. It is hoped to launch this new searchable database within the next few months.

This database originated in a printed index compiled by Cherry Lavell on behalf of the Council for British Archaeology. It was originally produced in 1971, with later printed supplements until 1982. The radiocarbon determinations were gathered and collated from all available sources (the journal Radiocarbon plus the entire range of UK and Irish archaeological publications) to produce the most accurate and complete description possible for each published date. Apart from a number of determinations that were incompletely published, the list was comprehensive up to 1982; but thereafter the flow of dates from laboratories became too rapid for a part-time editor to collect and process, and in 1986 the collection process virtually ceased.

At about that time, however, a project to computerise the list began under the aegis of R L Otlet and A J Walker (at that time running the Harwell radioisotope laboratory, later in a private partnership), partially funded by the Headley Trust. However, the lack of full funding inevitably meant that progress was very slow. (Since almost no radiocarbon dating laboratories were producing computerised data lists it was not possible to receive machine-readable dates directly, and manual collection was still the norm.) A fresh burst of activity from 1991 resulted in the accumulation and processing of many more determinations, to a total of some 4000 dates. Records of many more have been copied from the literature but await computerisation.

The STATUS database can still be consulted offline through RCD (contact either Bob Otlet or Jill Walker at RCD Radiocarbon Dating, The Old Stables, East Lockinge, Wantage, Oxon OX12 8QY, tel/fax 01235 833667). Another version of the database is also held offline by the CBA using Microsoft Access.

The version deposited with the Archaeology Data Service will be searchable online, or can be downloaded for more direct use. The information contained within the database can be seen from this screen shot of the current CBA Access database:

Screenshot of C14 database

More information about the Carbon 14 database can be found on the Council for British Archaeology website at http://www.britarch.ac.uk/info/c14.html.

A red line

green ball COPAC: a new nationally accessible library catalogue green ball

by Shirley Cousins
COPAC Project, University of Manchester
(0161) 275 6037

COPAC is a new online catalogue which provides unified access to the consolidated online catalogues of some of the largest university research libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland. COPAC is available all day, every day and there is no charge for its use.

COPAC currently contains the main online catalogues of the libraries of:

red ball Cambridge University
red ball Edinburgh University
red ball Glasgow University
red ball Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
red ball Leeds University
red ball Oxford University
red ball Trinity College Dublin
red ball University of London

There are approximately 4.25 million records accessible via COPAC and the number is increasing as new libraries are added. A further fifteen university library catalogues are scheduled for incorporation into COPAC in due course. Data currency is maintained by the regular loading of update files supplied by the contributing libraries.

Some of the libraries contributing records to COPAC have significant collections of archaeological materials, for example Oxford and Trinity College Dublin. The value of the database will be further enhanced as new libraries are added. For example, University College London will be loaded shortly giving access to their archaeological holdings. Work is also ongoing to provide online access to records for early materials, for example Leeds is carrying out work on an 18th century archaeological collection.

A search for a subject such as the Rosetta stone illustrates some of the advantages of COPAC. This search brings together records published from 1816 to the 1990s, written in four different languages and held by six different libraries. COPAC thus makes it much easier to see what information is available across a range of different institutions, as well as simplifying the process of checking the location of a document or confirming bibliographic details.

To search COPAC you can access the Web Interface at http://copac.ac.uk/copac/ or you can access the Text Interface via telnet at copac.ac.uk. The username and password are both copac.

You can view retrieved records in a brief or full format, including local information such as details of the volumes of a periodical held by each of the libraries. You can download records via email from the Text interface, or use the Web interface's new download display format in conjunction with your browser's download facility.

Online Help is available on both the Web and Text Interfaces, as well as online versions of the User Guides. You can also download copies of both User Guides from the Web Interface.

If you need advice on accessing or searching COPAC you can also contact the COPAC Helpdesk by email at copac.ac.uk or by telephone at (0161) 275 6037.

COPAC is being developed by the COPAC Project based at Manchester Computing, University of Manchester. The project is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee and uses records supplied by the Consortium of University Research Libraries.

A red line

How many archaeologists does it take to find a Cruciform brooch?

by Alicia Wise

The ADS is interested in case studies illustrating the challenges of creating, gaining access to, or re-using digital datasets. If you have experience you would like to share, please email email.

Making information in existing archaeological archives more accessible to potential users is important for both the staff and the users of those archives. One example of this has come to the attention of the ADS. A professional archaeological consultant has been completing a study of cruciform brooches from Anglian contexts in England, and is faced with the challenge of making sure she has identified all known examples of this artifact class. To accomplish this straight-forward task, however, has been anything but easy. She has had to write to the National Monuments Record and 45 county Sites and Monuments Records in England. Luckily, 35 of her queries have met with polite and informed responses from helpful staff members. Think of the time that has been required to process the same query 35 different times and the effort that will be involved in making sense of responses formatted in 35 different ways.

In each county a member of staff has had to search their database (if there is one) for some combination of terms such as Anglo-Saxon, brooch, cruciform brooch, early medieval brooch, ornament, Saxon burial, early Saxon, and Dress-civil. Each staff member has then drafted a letter explaining their search strategy, its limitations, and the results.

Search limitations have ranged from the lack of computerised recording systems at all to unreliable terminology and data-entry control. One common problem is that stray finds have been recorded in SMRs but artefacts found within an assemblage from a site have not been recorded individually. Staff were generally candid about reporting whether or not their systems were designed for this kind of user query.

After receiving this varied collection of results, the archaeologist has had to refine her queries and resend them to some SMRs. She's also faced with the large task of chasing up more information about individual artefacts to determine if they are cruciform brooches rather than, for example, some other kind of Anglo-Saxon brooch.

This case study illustrates the need we have in archaeology for wider adoption of data documentation standards (e.g. the proposed SMR data standard) and cross-referencing of archives to allow users a single access point (e.g. the ADS metadata catalogue).

A red line

Archaeological Data Archive Project

by Harrison Eiteljorg
Director, Archaeological Data Archive Project
CSA, Box 60, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA

ADAP is a digital archive serving the needs of archaeologists in the United States.

The Archaeological Data Archive Project (ADAP) preserves and protects archaeological data in machine­readable form. Begun in 1993, the project is directed by Harrison Eiteljorg, and is operated through the Center for the Study of Architecture in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The data archive will care for files on archaeological projects of any cultural, geographic, or chronological area, and any machine­readable files may be deposited, though some may require conversion at the time of deposit. The aim, of course, is to provide safe, secure storage for the original records produced in the course of archaeological work, whether in the field, the laboratory, or the office. Access to those records will be maintained indefinitely. Files will be kept in those formats that are deemed to be most useful to the widest possible audience and those most certain to permit future access. As required, they will be duplicated for safety or moved to new media or formats to be sure they remain accessible. Should another institution have the responsibility to care for a file or files, copies of the most current archival files will be provided for that institution as well as the archive. Archival copies may also be consulted by scholars if questions regarding the authenticity of copies arise.

Although files from on-going projects can be deposited for safe-keeping but not public access, most files in the archive may be downloaded through the Web site: http://csa.brynmawr.edu/adap.html. Some of the data are also available in tabular form on the Web, but the principal efforts of ADAP personnel have been expended to gather and protect data, not to create presentation systems. ADAP personnel will also provide advice and assistance to scholars who are creating electronic records or preparing existing records for archival storage.

A red line

blue ball Data Standards for Spatial Information on the Historic Environment and Geographical Information Systems blue ball

by Neil Lang
Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England
National Monuments Record Centre
Kemble Drive
Swindon SN2 2GZ

Information on the heritage (whether it be archaeological sites and monuments, buildings or findspots) has been mapped and recorded digitally for over ten years, and this trend is growing rapidly, particularly in the context of local government cultural resource management (CRM) applications of GIS.

Although a number of GIS special interest groups (such as GISARCH) have been established to promote the interchange of ideas, there has been more limited discussion among the heritage community of the application of standards to spatial information. Developments have often tended to be localised and on occasion, there appears to be limited awareness of relevant initiatives amongst developers of new systems.

The scope of spatial information standards is, potentially, both wide and could also become very detailed. It is likely to extend beyond the resources available to any single heritage organisation. Initially, RCHME, in association with English Heritage, the Association of Local Government Archaeologists and the Archaeology Data Service has established a working party on data standards to address some of these issues and to gain a perspective on those areas which will be both manageable, and practicable in order to deliver results within an acceptable period of time. It is also our intention to make full use of existing relevant work (rather than re-inventing wheels) and to ensure that those who might benefit from such standards know about them.

Amongst the topics we would like to cover are:

red ball standards for data capture
red ball standards for depiction
red ball standards for data quality
red ball standards for data transfer

We currently see the primary aim of the working party to act as an ‘umbrella’ to focus the individual initiatives undertaken by individual organisations in these areas and to disseminate, through advisory papers, best practice. In this, we will seek the active collaboration and endorsement of the Association for Geographic Information (AGI) and the Ordnance Survey. We would also see a role for the Working Party in disseminating summary information on GIS systems which are using heritage information, in order to broaden awareness and promote effective networking. The need for rapid progress in these areas appears to be widely agreed, especially as many new organisations are starting to make use of GIS technology.

Comments on the scope and content of this initiative, including the membership of the Working Party would be welcomed. In particular, we invite views on the appropriate balance to ensure that the varied interests of the heritage community are fully represented while keeping the panel to a manageable size. We would welcome expressions of interest from organisations and individuals who would be able to be contribute to the Working Party and also from persons who would like to be kept informed of its progress.

A red line

My first approach to and use of the Archaeobotanical Computer Database

by Gigi Signorelli
Department of Archaeology
University of York

Another case study illustrating the challenges of gaining access to digital datasets.

I am one of those students who is not very computer literate and I used to think that in some ways computers were a waste of time. I'm a mature student, 35 years old, and until a few years ago never knew how to use one of those 'strange machines'. Nevertheless, in the modern academic world I had to adapt and learn how to get some benefit out of computers. Honestly I have to say that they can save a lot of time if you know how to use them. Learning how to use them is easy if somebody is available to help, and it's a bit more difficult if you have to discover everything by yourself.

Anyway... about my case and the Archaeobotanical Computer Database (ABCD). It all started with my undergraduate dissertation at the University of York. The title was Agricultural strategies in north east Scotland. Barley production from the prehistoric to the medieval period and the aim of the research was to understand why barley was the most harvested cereal in north east Scotland throughout this time period.

To begin this research I began to study the environment of north east Scotland. After understanding the environment, I began to look for data about archaeological sites with evidence for prehistoric and medieval agricultural practices. I quickly discovered that in Scotland there has not been as much archaeological research done as further south in England, and I did not know how or where to start collecting data.

At this stage I was introduced to a researcher in the Archaeology Department at York University who does research in Scotland. She let me know that there was an archive of archaeological material at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in Edinburgh and another in each of the regions in the north east of Scotland. She also made me aware of the ABCD. The ABCD is a database about plant evidence from archaeological sites and it is integrated with an explanatory article in the electronic journal Internet Archaeology. It was created by two researchers, Philippa Tomlinson and Allan R. Hall. You can see it for yourself at http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue1/ [Editor's note: to view this article, you will need to register as an Internet Archaeology reader. There is no cost for registration, just a short form to fill out. This information is required so the journal can keep track of how many people are interested in which kinds of articles and is used to inform the future development of the journal.]

Searching gave me a very good starting point for my research and it actually provided me with the main material I needed for the entire project. To be honest I don't know how my research would have been possible any other way. For example, it was too expensive for me to visit all the archives in Scotland. I also did not get the right kind of information from the National Monuments Record of Scotland. Finally, I could use the ABCD over and over again, so as I refined my research topic I could easily reassess the data.

My suggestion is that universities should make their students aware of this type of valuable resource, but more then anything else, they should teach students how to use these resources and what kinds of information they can get. I was lucky in accidentally finding someone who could point me towards the ABCD. I don't think that every university has got someone ready to help students, and teach them about resources like the ABCD. My suggestion for universities is to ensure there is a person who is responsible for making students aware of the computerized information that is available on the Internet, and for teaching them how to access and use that information.

My experience was positive probably because I had the fortune of being helped by an expert who was ready to help me at any time. I was probably a lucky student who just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

If data sources like the ABCD are the future (and I believe they are) don't leave finding them a matter of lucky chance for students. Improve the knowledge your students have about the availability of this valuable information.

ADS Advisory Committee

Archaeology Data Service Homepage Edited by Alicia Wise
Data Coordinator
Archaeology Data Service
University of York
King's Manor
York YO1 2EP
Arts and Humanities Data Service