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Table of Contents
Digging for Data by Julian Richards Bulletin Board by Jo Clarke New faces at the ADS by Julian Richards Strategies for Digital Data by Damian Robinson Guides to Good Practice Update by Damian Robinson Digital Archiving - this means you! by Anne Dodd Archsearch Latest by Tony Austin The future direction of SMRs by Ben Robinson Accessing Scotland's Past - Project Update by Damian Robinson
Since its launch in September last year the ADS catalogue has been enhanced dramatically, so that at the time of writing (in early March 1999) it contains 172,166 records. Partnerships with various bodies now allow us to provide the first national on-line index to the archaeology of the British Isles. Thus ADS users can search across a monument-level index of Scottish archaeology supplied by RCAHMS (with direct links to the NMR for Scotland), updated versions of the RCHME’s Excavation Index and Microfilm Index, and the Radiocarbon Index supplied by the CBA. Also available are site gazetteers from the Museum of London and York Archaeological Trust, and the West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR. The latter allows users to compare NMR and SMR records for the same sites, providing a foretaste of the potential of the on-line access to SMRs now being sought through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Also available as an ADS Special Collection, and initially just for free-text searching, are the complete abstracts and titles for all pre-1992 archaeological publications, as supplied by the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography. This will surely be the essential starting point for anyone interested in the archaeology of the British Isles. As our own collections develop, these index-level metadata records will provide a way in to the individual site-level digital archives which it is our primary purpose to preserve for the future. Amongst the first to be available will be extensive digital archives from excavations at the Royal Opera House by MoLAS, and at Eynsham Abbey by the Oxford Archaeological Unit. In collaboration with the two field units, ADS is conducting an excavation archive pilot for English Heritage and we will be sharing our experiences in future editions of ADS NEWS. In this issue Ann Dodd previews the Excavation and Fieldwork Archiving Guide to Good Practice, and we also announce the hard copy publications of the GIS and Archiving Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing Data Guides.
Digging for Data
Going Digital For Museums A day long seminar on the creation and use of electronic resources for museum based projects
Monday 6th September 1999
Imperial College, London
Contact Susan Jephcott for details 0171 848 2937 or email@example.com
ADS Acronym Guide Click here Thinking about archiving data with the ADS? Guidelines for Depositors are now available on the web.
New Faces at the ADS
Since the last newsletter we have been sorry to have to say goodbye to two of the original members of ADS staff, Paul Miller and Alicia Wise. Both made key contributions to our early development and we wish them well in their new roles; Paul is directing the Interoperability Focus for UKOLN; Alicia is now Collections Manager for the JISC. Having completed our Digital Data User Survey Frances Condron also left the ADS and is now working for the Computers in Teaching Initiative in Oxford, alongside our colleagues in the Oxford Text Archive.
We have been pleased to welcome Damian Robinson as our Collections Development Manager, and Tony Austin, already familiar to regular readers of ADS News, as Computing Officer. Jo Clarke, student on the MSc in Archaeological Information Systems in York, has also joined us as a part-time secretarial assistant.
Strategies for Digital Data
Findings and Recommendations from Digital Data in Archaeology:
A Survey of User Needs
In the last issue of ADS News, Frances Condron introduced the ADS survey into the creation, archiving, use and re-use of digital data in British and Irish archaeology. It was found that digital data is becoming an important component of the archaeological enterprise. Nevertheless most of the datasets are not secure, due to limited or poor archiving strategies, illustrating the need for digital archives. The survey also showed that archaeologists want access to digital information. Consequently, accessible, computerised, on-line linked indices of archives are needed to facilitate research, education, planning and policy. Finally, a wide range of training is also required to help bring about the effective creation, preservation and re-use of digital data.
The results of this important survey are now available via our web-site at http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/project/strategies/.
Strategies for Digital Data will also be available in hardcopy from the end of July. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to order your own free copy.
Cadw, English Heritage, The Environment and Heritage Service of the DoENI, the Heritage Council of Ireland, Historic Scotland and the Royal Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales generously supported both the survey and its publication.
This summer will see the official launch of the AHDS Guides to Good Practice series with the simultaneous hard copy publication of the GIS and Archiving Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing Data guides from the ADS and Digitising History from our sister service provider the History Data Service. The guides are being published by Oxbow Books at a price of £10. The guides can be ordered directly from
Park End Place,
Oxford OX1 1HN
Tel: 01865 241249
Fax: 01865 794449
or via their Internet ordering service, email email@example.com
The web version of the GIS Guide to Good Practice has received a thorough and positive review from Anne Gisiger, of the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, University of Arkansas, which should appear in the Society of Archaeological Science Bulletin by the Summer of 1999. Anne praised not only the content but also the design of the web version, which she described as "clean" and "pleasing to the eye". Here follows a snippet from her review article:
"Have you ever wished you could find a how-to guide to integrating your excavation data in a Geographic Information System (GIS)? Are you concerned about the accuracy of the digital data you have acquired? Are you looking for a definition for DEM, GeoTIFF or SDTS? The answers to these questions can be found in the GIS Guide to Good Practice, a web-based document designed to assist individuals and organizations involved in the creation, maintenance, use and long-term preservation of GIS-based digital resources. Written for specialists as well as students, this volume is the perfect teaching aid for any course focusing on GIS and archaeology."
The ADS guides have also received plaudits from the internet community, with the both the GIS and Archiving Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing Data guides gaining Scout awards for the Social Sciences and the GIS guide receiving a ‘Best of the Net’ award from The Mining Company. The guides are also proving extremely popular with our user community, with the GIS guide, for example, having around 74,000 hits since it was launched last year.
Digital archiving - this means you!
Here Ann Dodd of the Oxford Archaeological Unit and one of the co-authors of the Excavation and Fieldwork Archiving Guide to Good Practice looks forward to its publication.
Digital archiving has a lot in common with a dripping tap. For a start, they are about equally exciting to the average archaeologist. We view our mounting backlog of digital files with all the enthusiasm we feel for the prospect of spending Saturday afternoon dismantling the kitchen plumbing. And digital archiving, like the dripping tap, is so easy to ignore. We tell ourselves it’s not a real problem…yet; it’ll be ages before the sink overflows, and there are a thousand good reasons for doing something more interesting instead.
So most of us do nothing, and prefer not to think about it too hard. But a lot of people are now becoming uncomfortable about the growing backlog of unresourced digital datasets lurking in the ether. What needs to be kept, who wants it, how do you prepare/transfer/store it? What is everybody else doing? Am I hopelessly behind the rest of the profession? Where can I get advice? The forthcoming web publication of the ADS Guide to Good Practice on Excavation and Fieldwork Digital Archiving is the first serious attempt to address the issue. Here, readers will find guidance in plain, jargon-free English on the purpose of digital archiving in archaeology, what digital archiving is and why it is different from conventional archiving, who curates digital datasets, and what you can include in a digital archive. More detailed sections offer guidance on how to document a digital archive, how to store digital material safely, how to keep it up to date, what file formats to use, and what to do about copyright. There is guidance for curators, and for funding and standards bodies, on encouraging good digital archiving, and (perhaps most importantly of all) advice to archive creators on how to manage their digital resources. A very useful appendix describes the methods currently employed by the Central Archaeology Service of English Heritage.
The Guide also aims to encourage the setting up of a national computerised index of all archaeological archives, whether digital or not. At a time when there is a massive proliferation of material of dubious value on the Internet, it is becoming increasingly desirable that there should be reliable, recognisable and reputable sources of up to date archaeological information. A computerised index of archives, and their content and location, could be a very useful component of this.
Digital archiving is in its infancy, and the Guide to Good Practice has been produced in the expectation that it will be updated as the process develops. As it stands now, it was the product of a working party that included representatives of many different sectors within UK archaeology. Once a draft was produced, comment was sought from an even wider constituency. It was clear that there is at present no real consensus among archaeologists about digital archiving. There are a number of excellent individual initiatives, but little coordination; there are untold thousands of digital datasets representing years of research and analysis, but no standard for their curation and dissemination; there is enormous potential for remote accessing of archives, but no coherent national policy for the creation and exploitation of this new research resource. The final aim of the Guide, therefore, is to stimulate discussion towards the development of a national digital archiving policy, based on a wide ranging consideration of the needs and capabilities of the archaeological community, and the tremendous potential that remote accessing holds for the future of archaeological research and dissemination.
All the Latest from ArchSearch
Afloat in the digital Sea
The On-line CatalogueApart from a short hiatus between Paul Miller’s leaving and my arrival a relentless loading and reloading of upgraded data has taken place since the last newsletter. By the time you read this ArchSearch, the ADS on-line catalogue, will contain well in excess of 200,000 records referencing archaeological activity. The challenge of integrating these large and disparate datasets into a single searchable entity was immense and largely overcome by Paul, to whom the ADS owes much. The catalogue currently contains the following indexing datasets:
CBA Archaeological Site Index to Radiocarbon Dates from Great Britain and Ireland - 6,382 records
Museum of London Archaeological Archive - 3,169 records
RCAHMS National Monuments Record of Scotland records for the Borders, Central, Dumfries, Fife, Grampian, Highlands, Lothian, Orkney, Shetland, Tayside and Western Isles regions accessible. The final NMRS zone, Strathclyde, is being loaded at time of writing - 122,000 records
RCHME Excavation index for England - 50,061 records
RCHME Index to Microfilmed Archaeological Archives - 5,730 records
West of Scotland Archaeological Service SMR - 18,226 records
The bulk of the large reference datasets currently held by the ADS have now been loaded into the catalogue and the emphasis in development is now starting to shift elsewhere. Three main foci have been identified: the user interface, the integration and accessibility of datasets generated by specific projects and the addition of more Special Collections, and provision for the seamless searching of remote databases accessed through an Internet Gateway.
The ArchSearch InterfaceUsers of the ADS catalogue may have noticed that the ‘Where and When’ search has recently disappeared as an option. Quite simply this search overloaded and ‘timed out’ before completion because of the huge amount of data now in the catalogue. The problem is being tackled through the construction of an index for this search and scripts to update this as new data is added; however, it is symptomatic of the much wider problem of ‘data-overload’. The whole interface and its support systems need’s to be redesigned to allow users to focus their interest more easily.
Projects and Special CollectionsThe ADS already holds the digital archives for a number of projects and regular additions are constantly being negotiated with depositors. The ADS, as well as ensuring the preservation of these resources, is now in position to start providing on-line access for the archaeological community. Project datasets will be accessible through both metadata entries in the main catalogue and through the provision of a new menu option, a button on the on-line ArchSearch interface. Similar to the current Special Collections option, clicking the button will take the user to a list of projects for which data are held. Selecting a project will then display a number of viewable or downloadable resources. The ADS is working closely with English Heritage to pilot this form of digital archive.
Readers will note the addition of another Special Collection since the last newsletter, the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography. The on-line version of the BIAB currently references material up to and including 1991. It is expected that the Special Collections hosted by the ADS will continue to grow in number.
Internet GatewayThe ADS is currently in discussion with a number of organizations in order to establish a dedicated Internet Gateway for the archaeological community. The Gateway will allow the user to integrate remote datasets into their searches. It is intended that a Z39.50 enabled Gateway will not only provide access to nationally important resources but will integrate into a wider European context and beyond. This kind of Z39.50 technology is also used to link up the distributed datasets of the five service providers of the Arts and Humanities Data Service (http://ahds.ac.uk/).
ArchSearch can be viewed at http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/
The future directions of Sites and Monuments Records: from planning to research
Ben Robinson, Archaeological Officer for Peterborough Unitary Authority, has just begun a part-time research project to examine the rôle of the nation’s Sites and Monuments Records in providing an integrated research resource. The research will draw on the experience of the ADS in creating mechanisms for the curation and dissemination of archaeological information through ICT. The research is funded by the University of York, the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, and Northamptonshire Heritage.
The need to inform ‘rescue’ archaeology and the management of archaeological resources provided the primary impetus for the creation of Local Authority SMRs. From the earliest days, however, archaeologists responsible for the development of SMRs and those consulting them, began to recognise that they could also form valuable research resources. As a synthesis of archaeological interventions, ‘sites’, and incidental discoveries within discrete administrative areas, an SMR could accumulate information at a level of detail and pace which did not sit comfortably within traditional archaeological publication. Their proximity to local researchers and communities - the casual flint gathers and metal detectorists - enabled them to draw on sources practically unavailable to the national inventories.
The imperative of providing a planning control role, lack of appropriate technology and staff resources, however, have all tended to frustrate the fulfillment of the SMR’s research potential. The diversity of provisions arising from the plethora of approaches to the support of SMRs and the technological assistance available within their respective umbrella organisations has resulted in structural, qualitative and quantitative inconsistency across the SMR community. Researchers wishing to make use of this impressive reservoir of information are confronted with a wide range of systems, standards and levels of interpretation. Such variation and a lack of ability to network SMRs compromises the efficiency of archaeological research, the validity of its results, and the ability to share ‘models of the past’ with a wider public.
Important steps to lend coherence to the representation of archaeological information have been made by various specialist interest groups and for SMR standards in general by RCHME, FISHEN and ADS. The promotion of the ‘Event/Monument’ model for information representation, which recognises the importance of constructing interpretations from explicit investigation processes, marks an important philosophical step in SMR development. There is as yet, however, little agreement in what should constitute the basic building blocks of this approach. Furthermore, does the ‘Event/Monument’ model really provide the basis for true SMR integration, whilst meeting the needs of the spectrum of users? What are the practical implications of SMR re-structuring given the present variability of the SMR community? How might the ‘Event/Monument’ model affect the acceptance of archaeological information from field workers? How close can we come to empowering users with the ability to construct their models of the past in confidence that these are built on solid informational foundations?
The project intends to draw on the experiences of researchers who have relied on SMR information in order to inform the possibilities for development. It will work with real SMR information sets in order to assess the management implications of re-structuring, and will experiment with the appropriateness and user-friendliness of ‘Event/Monument’ units.
The project is a timely one. The promise of greater resources for SMRs under National Lottery-funded projects, the possibility of future statutory status, and the development of ever-more efficient methods of networking, provide great opportunities and challenges for SMR development. If SMRs wish to take a central place in the interpretation and presentation of our past, their organisation must be based on a common understanding of user needs and a structure which facilitates easy access to meaningful data.
In the last week of March Accessing Scotland’s Past was finally signed off as an active ADS project. ASP was a collaborative undertaking between the ADS, Oracle, RCAHMS, SCRAN, Shetland Amenity Trust, the Sites and Monuments Records for Fife and the West of Scotland Archaeology Service. ASP has facilitated public and scholarly access to an outstanding collection of integrated heritage information and was the project where we piloted the integration of distributed datasets. The lifetime of ASP also saw the development of the RCAHMS’s Canmore-WEB Internet searchable database and its allied ArchSearch metadata catalogue records. During its second phase ASP also increased the amount of information provided through integrating the WoSAS and a sample of the Shetland Amenity Trusts SMRs with ArchSearch. By linking these data sources together using the infrastructure of the Internet and the mechanism of metadata, users now have the opportunity to explore data held by national and local organisations. The Scottish data are also cross searchable with complimentary ADS holdings such as the CBA’s Archaeological Site Index to Radiocarbon Dates from Great Britain and Ireland, thus enhancing their utility for the general public and research communities throughout the world.
Accessing Scotland's Past - Project Update