database

43,847 sites and counting…

Hi! I’m Jolene Smith. I manage all of the archaeological data for the Commonwealth of Virginia at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. We’ve got nearly 44,000 sites in our inventory, with more being added every day. While most of my time is spent in front of a computer and not in the dirt, what I do is no less important. It’s about the follow-through. It’s taking the data produced by the destructive act of removing artifacts and features from their context in the soil and making sure it is safe, accessible, and useful. It’s about making connections. Here’s a day in my life.  (more…)

Archiving Ipswich

Two years after posting about my work on the Silbury Hill digital archive, in ‘AN ADS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY’, and I’m still busy working as a Digital Archivist with the ADS!

For the past few months, I have been working on the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive, deposited by Suffolk County Council, which covers 34 sites, excavated between 1974 and 1990.

Ipswich2

Excavation at St Stephen’s Lane, Ipswich 1987-1988

To give a quick summary of the work so far, the data first needed to be accessioned into our systems which involved all of the usual checks for viruses, removing spaces from file names, sorting the data into 34 separate collections and sifting out duplicates etc.  The archive packages were then created which involved migrating the files to their preservation and dissemination formats and creating file-level metadata using DROID.  The different representations of the files were linked together using object ids in our database and all of the archiving processes were documented before the coverage and location metadata were added to the individual site collections.

Though time consuming, due to the quantity of data, this process was fairly simple as most of the file names were created consistently and contained the site code.  Those that didn’t have descriptive file names could be found in the site database and sorted according to the information there.

The next job was to create the interfaces; again, this was fairly simple for the individual sites as they were made using a template which retrieves the relevant information from our database allowing the pages to be consistent and easily updateable.

The Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive called for a more innovative approach, however, in order to allow the users greater flexibility with regards to searching, so the depositors requested a map interface as well as a way to query information from their core database.  The map interface was the most complex part of the process and involved a steep learning curve for me as it involved applications, software and code that I had not previously used such as JavaScript, OpenLayers, GeoServer and QGIS.  The resulting map allows the user to view the features excavated on the 34 sites and retrieve information such as feature type and period as well as linking through to the project archive for that site.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

So, as to what I’m up to today…

The next, and final step, is to create the page that queries the database.  For the past couple of weeks I have been sorting the data from the core database into a form that will fit into the ADS object tables, cleaning and consolidating period, monument and subject terms and, where possible, matching them to recognised thesauri such as the English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus.

Today will be a continuation of that process and hopefully, by the end of the day, all of the information required by the query pages will be added to our database tables so that I can begin to build that part of the interface next week.  If all goes to plan, the user should be able to view specific files based on searches by period, monument/feature type, find type, context, site location etc. with more specialist information, such as pottery identification, being available directly from the core database tables which will be available for download in their entirety.  Fingers crossed that it does all go to plan!

So, that’s my Day of Archaeology 2015, keep a look out for ADS announcements regarding the release of the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive sometime over the next few weeks and check out the posts from my ADS colleagues Jo Gilham and Georgie Field!

A Day in the Digital Index of North American Archaeology

dinaa

What is DINAA?

The Digital Index of North American Archaeology, or DINAA,  applies open access principles to archaeological data created by governments and researchers, in order to create a standardized data discovery tool (without using sensitive information like site coordinates). This allows for a more complete understanding of the past by allowing data covering large areas, or those separated by modern political boundaries, to be analyzed using the same terms in one data set. As the index of DINAA grows, it will incorporate larger numbers of stable links to public data sets hosted throughout the Internet, and can act as a kind of library search engine for primary archaeological data on architecture, fauna, flora, lithics, pottery … or anything!

What We Do

Each state in the U.S. has a State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, and each of these maintains their own database of archaeological sites in their respective state. These databases have been designed independently of each other, and often differ in terms of data structure and vocabulary. DINAA uses definitions and organizational elements from these nearly comprehensive catalogs as its base data layer. We have created a system that allows these differing databases to become interoperable through translation to one or more standardized classifications. If the DINAA and each SHPO can talk to each other, the information from each state can be presented in one data set. A publicly accessible live map, seen below, is the one of the products of this process. Click on the link, or the map image to try your own query!

http://opencontext.org/sets/United+States/?cat=Site&map=1&geotile=0&geodeep=10&dinaaPer=root&leaflet-base-layers=on&q=moundhttp://opencontext.org/sets/United+States/?cat=Site&map=1&geotile=0&geodeep=10&dinaaPer=root&leaflet-base-layers=on&q=mound

Live Map of mound sites listed in the DINAA as of April 15, 2014.

DINAA is an archaeological information tool for the Internet. Records for sites of interest can be browsed and used as a basis for further research. Maps can be exported as GeoJSON files for use in GIS software programs like QGIS and ArcGIS, allowing use by anyone through our open access policies. DINAA can be used by researchers to help identify broad areas of interest for their work, by educators who want to show students current maps of archaeological cultures, or for all sorts of important investigative or public activities. However, because of its sensitive data restrictions, DINAA is not built to conduct records checks for cultural resource management or other legal compliance activities. It is a public research and educational tool. Click on the map links or images to go to our query page and try it yourself!

On a typical day, much of the work involved with creating the DINAA consists of two tasks: obscuring site locations to prevent unauthorized access, followed by linking culture-history terms in individual state databases to a standardized terminology. Obscuring location data involves allocating sites to sectors on the map grid, each sector is 20 km on a side (or 400 square km),  then removing all geographic coordinates and other sensitive data. This work, done by registered professional archaeologists ONLY, allows useful cultural and scientific information to be published publicly online while simultaneously protecting important site locations.

The next step is to relate each state’s unique terms to the standardized vocabulary used by the DINAA (based off of the CIDOC-CRM ontology which is an international standard for cultural heritage data. The DINAA team first creates a comprehensive list of all archaeological terms used within a source database. They then sift through the published archaeological literature on each state or region to find discrete definitions for each term. DINAA accumulates definitions for sites, rather than replacing them, and users can query the original definitions to compare with the newer DINAA definitions to ensure accuracy and continuity. Reference citations for each new definition are then recorded and added to the DINAA Zotero library, which is also available as a public resource online.

zotero

Screenshot of the DINAA Zotero Library

 

The word cloud above, created by DINAA team member Kelsey Noack Myers demonstrates the variety of terms used across state archaeological databases. The size of the text for each terms corresponds with the frequency with which it is used. Linking these categories across multiple states is a major challenge facing the project team, but it is being used to document where people were on the landscape by major time periods in the past.

The word cloud above, created by DINAA team member Kelsey Noack Myers demonstrates the variety of terms used across state archaeological databases. The size of the text for each terms corresponds with the frequency with which it is used. Linking these categories across multiple states is a major challenge facing the project team, but it is being used to document where people were on the landscape by major time periods in the past.

What’s next?

Papers and posters about DINAA have inspired audiences at professional meetings over the last two years. Our team recently produced presentation materials for the 2014 Society for American Archaeology annual meeting (click here to access our papers, posters, slides, and a summary of our activities at the SAA meetings). An article in Literary and Linguistic Computing will be available this fall. Please follow our work or tweet us @DINAA_proj on Twitter, and visit our blog for updates. Team members are currently working on technical papers describing DINAA, and research based on it, related to both the construction of the index, and from examining the combined dataset.

DINAA also gives back to the discipline of archaeology, acting as a focal point around which we can discuss “how” and “why” we record data in different ways. Project team members have hosted one workshop with 30 participants already this year, and are planning a second next month. Site file managers and other researchers from many states in Eastern North America are participating. DINAA is an open, community effort, and the support of many people and organizations is what makes it happen. Feel free to contact us!

In 2014 our initial NSF funding period is coming to a close. We are currently planning the next round of funding that will help the DINAA grow to cover all US states and territories, as well as other North American nations as well.


 

 This Post Was Authored By the DINAA Team: R. Carl DeMuth, Kelsey Noack Myers, Joshua Wells (PI), David G. Anderson (PI), Eric Kansa (PI), Sarah Kansa (PI), Steve Yerka (PI), and Thad Bissett

Building an Archaeology Data Recording App

Today, I’m working at the Western Washington University archaeology lab, but since I wrote about that for Day of Digital Humanities a few months ago, I thought instead I’d write about the work I do with my company where I create software and tutorials for archaeologists.

9-12pm Worked through a Database Tutorial

This morning I finished up working through the tutorial for FileMaker Pro 12, a database management system (DBMS). I’ve heard great things about Filemaker from other archaeologists who have used it to create custom databases for recording archaeological sites. Compared to some other DBMS, Filemaker’s interface is very simple, and the program has some nice features, like tight integration and easy portability for iOS devices (e.g. iPhones, iPods, iPads) through the FileMaker Go app. This past year, I attended two conferences where several archaeologists demonstrated the Filemaker databases they built for academic projects. In particular, the Center for Digital Archaeology built their impressive Codifi app using FileMaker. Although I’ve yet to hear of any CRM companies who use Filemaker, I think it should work as a short term solution for a friend of mine to use this summer on field projects. In fact, I built a simple relational database for archaeological survey this morning based on the Intermountain Antiquities Computer System (IMACS) and Filemaker made it pretty simple for me to transfer the database to an iPad.

A Quick and Dirty Filemaker Form for iPad

Although Filemaker seems great so far, I’m hesitant to rely on the whims of two different companies, Filemaker and Apple, to ensure that I will be able to access my data when I need it. I interned briefly at Digital Antiquity (the organization that runs the Digital Archaeological Record data repository) and know that archaeologists who trusted their data to propriety database systems regretted it later when the database companies went under, leaving archaeologists with datasets that were difficult to access on new computers that couldn’t run the older database software. If the archaeologists were cautious, they might have translated their databases into less flexible but more stable preservation file formats, like plain-text comma separated value (CSV) files, but in many cases that didn’t happen.  Because of that experience, I always try to ask myself “how can I get data back out of here?” whenever I use a new piece of software.

For the past few months, I’ve also been building a custom archaeology data recording application for mobile devices using the Adobe Cordova/Phonegap framework.

Picture of an archaeology data recording application.

Screens from our data recording application.

The Phonegap framework allows me to use web languages like HTML, CSS, and javascript to create mobile applications that will run on multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and webOS. I’m already familiar with these coding languages from building websites and I like the idea of being as platform agnostic as possible. As an added plus, if my partner and I decide to make the application open-source, other archaeologists will be able to edit and customize the code more easily than if we wrote the app in C or Java. Phonegap and HTML5 do have their limitations though, so in case we run into issues that slow our app down too much to make it useful, we’re also looking into porting the app to native code. For now though, Phonegap allows us to quickly prototype the application using languages we’re familiar with.

1-3pm Videoconference with Chris at DigTech  

Two archaeologists communicating over Skype

I’m working on the PhoneGap application with Chris Webster of DigTech, LLC. Chris is a long-time shovelbum, project manager, and podcaster who recently started his own cultural resource management (CRM) archaeology company. Chris wants to do as much of his site recording digitally as possible in order to increase efficiency and data accuracy, spend less of his clients’ money, and free up his archaeologists’ time to do more research, analysis, and publication rather than data-entry. Chris has accomplished a lot of this by using various off-the-shelf applications like Tapforms and MementoDatabase, but decided that none of them were doing everything he wanted or needed to do for CRM archaeology.

Chris and I meet weekly to discuss projects and to collaborate on the application. Chris primarily works on the interface design: making sure that the app is useful in field situations, with large enough buttons, text, and easy access to vital data. I primarily handle the coding and database design, but Chris and I have also been challenging each other to learn more about computer programming as we go. Simply designing a database to hold archaeological data has forced us to carefully consider and try to anticipate the different needs an archaeologist might have for a database in the field: if sites can contain features and artifacts, but features can also contain artifacts, how do you map that relationship? How many controlled terms for material types do you need to offer to standardize and streamline recording without limiting an archaeologist’s ability to add in an unexpected material type? Others have put much more thought into this area, but the end goal is to design databases that are specific enough to increase efficiency and accuracy while being general enough to compare data across sites, archaeologists, and regions. For Chris and I though, it’s been useful mental exercise to think about these kinds of problems as we program.

Recently the app has started to resemble something that would be useful out in the field, but we still have a lot of work to do. Some of the field situations we need to adapt our app to handle are to expand beyond simple survey to being able to quickly and efficiently record rock art. We have a database up and working in the app and have tested recording coordinates using the mobile device’s internal GPS (it’s nowhere near submeter accuracy, but it’s still handy), but we’d also like to add in some other features, like simple mapping, storing photographs, and making the data exporting work more easily.

3-4pm Wrote an email to a programmer to collect bids on fleshing out the application.

Because neither Chris nor I are professional programmers, we’re contacting several people who are to see what they might charge to help us add features. We’re not sure yet whether we’ll fund that ourselves, release a beta version to fund further development, or seek funding through a crowdfunding website like Kickstarter. If you’re an experienced programmer, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact us through our websites or at russell[at]diachronicdesign.com or chriswebster[at]digtech-llc.com

4-6pm Geeked out with other archaeologists over a new toy

A few other archaeologists and I have been eagerly awaiting a low-cost tablet with both an internal GPS and a >3mp camera that we can use for field recording. Today, Google announced the new version of their Nexus 7 tablet which met our requirements. I’ve been waiting awhile for that right combination of specs, so I bit the bullet and bought one. I’m really excited the Nexus 7 runs on android 4.3, which means I can finally run the FAIMS application on a real device; up until now I’ve had to emulate a Nexus 7 on my laptop, which is not ideal. From their website: “The Federated Archaeological Information Management System (FAIMS) Project is funded by the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) program[…] an Australian Government program to build new infrastructure for Australian researchers.” The researchers at the University of New South Wales and elsewhere have specifically designed for CRM data collection in Australia. I’ve been interested in the FAIMS project since speaking with Dr. Sobotkova at the 2012 SAA meeting in Sacramento and was very impressed when Dr. Crook showed me the progress they made when I saw FAIMS’s booth at the 2013 SAA meeting in Honolulu. The FAIMS project has open-sourced their app, which I love, and a friend and I want to customize the app for an excavation project here in the United States. Now that I will have a new android device, I can finally move forward with playing with the app and (hopefully) pay things back by contributing some code or tutorials back to the project.

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m generally pretty hopeful that technologies like databases, mobile devices, internet blogs, and social networks can help archaeologists record, analyze, and publish about archaeological sites more quickly, sustainability, and openly.  I’m excited about all the other posts I’ve seen on Day of Archaeology today that involved everyone from academic archaeologists to CRM archaeologists, community members, students, authors, and more. I hope this post has been interesting and helped add to the diversity of the voices on this blog. I’m looking forward to reading more posts and can’t wait until Day of Archaeology comes back around next year.

Cheers!

Russell

Phil Jeffries (MOLA): a hybrid job is never boring

I hold a hybrid job role within MOLA, being both an Archivist and a Senior Archaeologist for watching briefs. Combined, these provide me with a variety of different tasks and settings in which to spend my working days.

Within the MOLA Archive team I am principally responsible for preparing all the finds and finds records from sites, in readiness for their deposition into the relevant accepting public repository. Much of the material I handle relates to excavations from within Greater London and therefore is ultimately to be deposited into The London Archaeological Archive and Resource Centre (LAARC) run by The Museum of London, which has its own standards to which the prepared material must conform.

So many rows - he's getting data vertigo...

Phil in Archive-mode, checking finds data tables

Whilst having several small – medium sized finds projects currently on the go, I am also overseeing a long term finds archive project which has been opened up for the public to get involved with. This volunteering opportunity is concerned with preparing all the finds material from the excavation of the Guildhall Yard in the City of London during 1992-1997 (Site Code GYE92).

GYE92 is perhaps the largest finds archive to be prepared by MOLA and also one of the largest ever to be received (eventually) by LAARC. To give you an idea of the scale of the project, there are some 2339 boxes of finds/environmental remains stored on 157 shelves across three bays of the building we occupy, plus larger objects yet to be discovered off site. There are over 20,500 Accessioned Finds, some of which are on display in the Guildhall and others already noted as missing in action. In order that the material is archive worthy, the finds must be packaged and labelled according to LAARC’s standards and these must then run in numerical sequence within boxes of material type. The boxes are then stored in material and numerical sequence on the shelves. All the finds must be checked against and systematically logged onto the finds or environmental inventory spreadsheets which have an initial combined cell count of over half a million cells. Where appropriate, errors, omissions, additions and amendments noted must also be updated on MOLA’s primary Oracle database and a running Archivist’s Note of un-resolvable errors/omissions kept to accompany the final archive deposit.

We currently have a pool of 6 members of the public volunteering on the project two days per week and for the last few months they have been processing the bulk animal bone from the site, (all 924 boxes of it)! Typically the volunteers can come in and once settled, get on with the day’s tasks with minimal direction, however I’m on call to assist with queries as and when they arise. This might be concerned with relocating non-bone material that has incorrectly made its way into the animal bone boxes or resolving discrepancies with context numbering or packaging policies. The information that the volunteers collate is then updated onto the final Excel finds inventory which is growing by the day as new discoveries not captured on the original database are brought to light during re-packaging.

Whilst not preparing finds or chasing up their present whereabouts in a building the size of an aircraft hanger or overseeing the volunteers, I might well be involved with other archive duties such as checking field records or converting digital files into archive storable versions. Alternatively, I may be dealing with one of the fieldwork watching brief projects I have been assigned to look after in the capacity of a Senior Archaeologist within the Field Team. Two of these projects are what can be described as long term and intermittent in nature and involve me monitoring certain key ground works on infrastructure projects that span several years. A watching brief is usually undertaken on sites where the proposed construction works do not require an archaeological excavation to be conducted or follow on from earlier evaluation trenching or archaeological excavations close by and are usually undertaken by one attendant experienced Field archaeologist.

Be Safe!

Phil with his Archaeologist Hat on now (c) MOLA 2013

The job essentially requires a high degree of observation under less than ideal circumstances, where a few minutes may be all the time permitted to make quick records of archaeological features and natural strata as they are removed by the machines at work. My projects require me to remotely monitor complex construction schedules via phone and email with lead engineers on the sites and organise myself to be on site when the latest sequence of excavations for new foundations, utility trenches, shafts or general ground reduction is due to begin. The sites I visit are varied and fall in numerous London boroughs, from public spaces such as the streets of The West End and central London parks to industrial sites of former power stations or basements of residential and commercial properties. Generally, schedules rarely stay on track and an anticipated site visit might be put back on the proposed day as problems arise with anything from a break down of a machine to discovery of asbestos or particularly reinforced concrete. In this case I have to be pretty flexible with my diary and be accommodating to working on several separate pieces of indoor archive work which will ultimately be interrupted. As well as actually creating the primary field records during my on site monitoring, I am also responsible for producing reports based on these observations, this brings me into contact with several other departments such as the Drawing Office, Photography Studio and Geomatics/Survey team. All in all it’s rare that I get two successive days that might be described as repetitive!

An ADS Day of Archaeology

Here it is, my Day of Archaeology 2013 and after a routine check of my emails and the daily news I’m ready to begin!

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

I am currently approaching the end of a year-long contract as a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service in York on an EH-funded project to prepare the Silbury Hill digital archive for deposition.

For a summary of the project, see the ADS newsletter and for a more in-depth account of my work so far check out my blog from a couple of weeks ago: “The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel”

Very briefly, though, my work has involved sifting through the digital data to retain only the information which is useful for the future, discarding duplicates or superfluous data; sorting the archive into a coherent structure and documenting every step of the process.

The data will be deposited with two archives: the images and graphics will go to English Heritage and the more technical data will be deposited with the ADS and as the English Heritage portion of the archive has been completed it is time for the more technical stuff!

So, the plan for today is to continue with the work I have been doing for the past few days: sorting through the Silbury Hill database (created in Microsoft Access).

Originally, I had thought that the database would just need to be documented, but, like the rest of the archive, it seems to have grown fairly organically; though the overall structure seems sound it needs a bit of work to make it as functional as possible and therefore as useful as possible.

The main issue with the database is that there are a fair amount of gaps in the data tables; the database seems to have been set up as a standard template with tables for site photography, contexts, drawings, samples, skeletal remains and artifact data etc.  but some of these tables have not been populated and some are not relevant.  The site photography and drawing records have not been entered for example, meaning that any links from or to these tables would be worthless.  The missing data for the 2007 works are present in the archive, they are just in separate Excel spreadsheets and there are also 2001 data files, these are in simple text format as the information was downloaded as text reports from English Heritage’s old archaeological database DELILAH.  The data has since been exported into Excel, so, again to make the information more accessible, I’m adding the 2001 data to the 2007 database.

My work today, therefore, as it has been for the past couple of days, is to populate the empty database tables with the information from these spreadsheets and text files and resolve any errors or issues that cause the tables to lose their ‘referential integrity’, for example where a context number is referred to in one table but is missing from a linking table.

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

So, this morning I started with the 2001 drawing records. The entering of the data itself was fairly straightforward, just copying and pasting from the Excel spreadsheet into the Access tables, correcting spelling errors as I went.  Some of the fields were controlled vocabulary fields, however, which meant going to the relevant glossary table and entering a new term in order for the site data to be entered as it was in the field.

Once the main drawing table was completed, the linking table needed to be populated; again, this was done fairly simply through cutting and pasting from Excel.

The next step was the most time-consuming: checking the links between the tables, to do this I went to the relationship diagram, clicked on the relevant link and ticked the box marked ‘enforce referential integrity’ this didn’t work which meant that a reference in one table was not matched in the linking table which meant going through the relevant fields and searching for entries that were not correct.  The most common reason for these error messages was that an entry had been mis-typed in one of the tables.

That took me up to lunchtime, so what about the afternoon?  More of the same: starting work on the sample records with the odd break for tea or a walk outside to save my eyes!

As much as the process of updating the database has been fairly routine, it’s an interesting and valuable piece of work for me as it is the first time I’ve ever really delved into the structure of a database and looking at the logic behind its design.  I was fortunate in that I had attended the Database Design and Implementation module taught by Jo Gilham as part of the York University Msc in Archaeological Information Systems which gave me a firm foundation for this work.  Also very helpful was the help provided by Vicky Crosby from English Heritage who created the database and provided a lot of documentation in the first instance.

The next step once the data has been entered will be to remove any blank fields and tables and then to document the database using the ADS’ Guidelines for Depositors and then to move on to the survey data and reports.

I’m looking forward to seeing it all deposited and released to a wider world for, hopefully, extensive re-use and research!

Globalisation

Its 30min past Day of Archaeology here in Estonia, so not too late to post my thoughts from the day.

I was sitting in my office in Tallinn, working with the dataset from Hungary for the University of Southampton and thinking about the TED’s talk I went to see day before (over live link from Edinburgh) about the globalisation and openness. Pankaj Ghemawat told us that when looking the data, there is actually no globalisation, or at least not at the level we’d like to think about it. He encouraged us to look for our own answers based on the data.

And here I am, working with the database gathered over half a dozen years or more. Main question I struggle with is how my work (merging and preparing  datasets for analyses) might change the end results… and how the people who are going to analyse the data trust someone like me to play with it and to make it “eatable” for them?

I do not agree with Pankaj about the globalisation, but i do think we need to know the data we draw our conclusions from much better, or even if we help someone else do it.

Penn Museum Archaeologist; Near East

I love being in the field, but this year I’m not excavating. My work is museum related for now, an important part of what we do. So, here’s my Day of Archaeology so far:

Got up around 6:30am and checked my email through my Blackberry. Found that our subcontract to the British Museum has gone through (much of what I do these days is done jointly with London and they are five hours ahead of me, so they have already begun work when I get up).

Got to the museum around 8:00am. I live nearby, which I like because I can walk to work. My computer is my secretary, so I checked on my ‘to do’ file. Yes, if I were more up-to-date I’d just use Google Calendar or some such, but I like having individual files for each day on my hard drive. I looked through the previous day making sure the most pressing things got done, deleting those items and assigning most pressing for today. I had a committee meeting for the Ur Project yesterday; I have to write up the minutes today for distribution to others on the project, that gets the most pressing mark for the morning.

 

Brad Hafford in his cluttered office, 524 Museum

 

Our project is taking legacy data, excavation material from 1922-1934, and modernizing, that is, recording it all digitally and uniting it in one place — the interweb. The excavation was a very important one, that of the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq and was conducted jointly by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Under laws of the day, artifacts collected were divided between the nascent state of Iraq with its newly founded National Museum and the two excavating institutions. Thus, half the artifacts are in Baghdad, the other half are split between Philadephia and London. But there is much more to an excavation than artifacts. There are also field notes, photographs, catalogues, letters, telegrams, receipts, drawings, watercolors, and so much more. We are digitizing and uniting all of this material. We want to create a site where anything and everything concerning Ur and its excavation can be accessed, researched, and gazed upon in wonder; all in open-source, freely accesible and linked data form.

Creating it takes time, patience, and money. It takes access to the artifacts and archives which are not solely spread among the three museums mentioned, but objects also secondarily sent to many smaller museums around the world, paricularly the Commonwealth at the time. There are Ur artifacts from our excavations as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. And many more in the UK: Almost 1000 artifacts are in the Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries. Not only that, but reconstructing the original numbering system for artifacts and photographs, and connecting that to the modern museum numbering systems, linking objects back to their original field records is not as easy as one might think. Our work is quite complicated. But also most worthwhile.

Museum cafe opens around 9am. Armed with coffee, and organized on my computer daily to-do list, I can face the rest of my day in confidence.

10:00am Eastern: Skype conference with British Museum colleagues. We’ve been trying now for some weeks to establish dates and room reservations for a project meeting near the end of the calendar year. Since this one needs to include funding agency, high-level museum administrators, principle investigators, other museum representatives, etc. it’s been difficult to mesh schedules. It’s also difficult to get space in the British Museum since it is in high demand.

Next we discussed the state of the merger of datasets between our two museums concerning Ur. It’s going slowly because we created our digital data from two sets of records divided by decades and the Atlantic. These records have to be meshed so that a unique identifier refers to each and every object. Then we have to get it all on a server so that both museums can access, update, and correct it. As I have probably already noted, re-unification is not easy. But we have great people on both sides of the pond working on it. Birmingham is on board and we’re starting the process of contacting the other institutions that have subsets of the Ur material. And of course we’re still trying to get the Iraq National Museum on board, but politics has gotten in the way for now.

More emails and arrangements have placed me at about the half-way point of my Day of Archaeology. More in part 2…

Learning New Skills

I’m learning XML (eXtensive Mark-up Language) today as part of Oxford’s Digital Humanities Summer School.  The skills I’m learning will allow me to share the data from our databases with different databases developed by different organizations.  By sharing our data with others it will be possible to do new types of research which will hopefully lead to new discoveries.

Archaeology creates an incredible amount of data.  I manage databases that allow a variety of different types of archaeologists to see this data and update it with the results of their work.

I’m the Archaeological Information Systems Manager for the Archaeological Project, Science and Archives Teams for English Heritage based at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth, UK and that was my day.