digital archiving

Something old and something new: CAD migration and archive accessioning at ADS

ADSeasy-250x250As a reasonably new face at the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) I am still getting to grips with the somewhat baffling world of digital archiving and preservation! If someone had asked me this time last year when I was graduating what I saw myself doing in one year’s time, I would probably not have said doing a mass CAD file migration… But being a Digital Archivist for the ADS has so far been a fabulous experience.

Today I am working on two tasks, archiving collections coming through ADS-easy (for more information about ADS-easy see Ray Moore’s post from the Day of Archaeology in 2014 ), and continuing the ADS’ preservation work by migrating our historic CAD files.

It has been just over a year since the first ADS-easy archive was released, and a lot has happened in a year! For those who have not heard about ADS-easy, it is a system that allows users to electronically submit archaeological archives, along with metadata (information describing the files). It has significantly altered the workflow of digital archivists at the ADS as data from ADS-easy does not require manual inputting of metadata. Since last July we have worked on 71 archives, ranging from image collections, to excavation reports, to geophysical data. We have had 6636 unique visitors to the website and have an average of 250 unique visitors per month. Most of those are from the UK but visitors come from all over the world, including the US, Germany, Italy, France, and Spain. On average 8 archives are submitted each month and the number has been gradually rising.


Screenshot from The Grand Western Canal archive, submitted through ADS-easy (

My role within ADS-easy is to take the data we receive, accession it into our collections management system, convert the files into suitable preservation and dissemination formats- and document all of these processes!  Finally, I create an interface so that people can see the files on the ADS website. Today I am working on an image collection from a building recording of farm buildings in Lanchester, County Durham, and a data archive from an excavation in Crowle, Worcestershire. The data that comes in from ADS-easy is varied and often comes from small scale projects that would not otherwise be shared with the public. That is what makes the job both interesting and somewhat rewarding.

That has taken me up to lunch time, this afternoon I am carrying on with the long-running task of migrating all of our historic CAD files. Data that is archived at the ADS is continually ‘preserved’ over time to ensure that it is always readable and useable, and does not become obsolete. We are in the process of migrating our CAD files from earlier versions to the more recent 2010/2011 version. This has so far involved manually going through each collection containing CAD drawings and checking each file, converting them to the 2010 version, and then moving the previous versions to a migration folder. Another part of this process is creating a PDF file of each drawing to make them accessible to people who don’t own CAD software. All of this then needs to be documented in our collections management system so that the rest of the digital archivists know what I have done to the files, and where to find them if anything goes wrong!  After this the interfaces need updating to include the new PDF files.


Example of one of the many CAD plans the ADS holds. From Elizabeth House (

CAD migration may seem quite a repetitive task, but it has allowed me to look back at some of the earliest ADS collections, such as the excavations at Eynsham Abbey in the late 80s/ early 90s, and the survey and excavation at the Iron Age emporium of Vetren . This process of migration is a very important part of what the ADS does; active management of our data means that it should (in theory!) always be accessible to the public in the most useful file formats and have longevity.

Better get back to it, those remaining 1000(ish) CAD files won’t migrate themselves!

Now where did I put that data?

For someone who has been tasked with helping my team improve how we look after the data from our archaeological research, it’s a sad state of affairs that I just spent a half hour trying to find my Day of Archaeology login details. As I failed to take part last year; this means a small piece of information from just 2 short years ago was nearly lost for good. Not necessarily the most important piece of data, but it does go to show that if you do not look after data at best you waste time trying to find it, and at worst it will be lost for good. Repeating research is not a luxury that archaeologists typically have; usually it is impossible (you can’t re-dig a site), and even if you could it’s not cost effective to pay to do the work twice, so we have to make sure we are looking after it and when the time comes others can use it.

So until I spent a half hour looking for my password and login details, this is what I’ve spent most of my Day of Archaeology doing.

Our project is called Archaeological Data Archiving Protocol (ADAPt), my organisation English Heritage likes its acronyms (the less said about that the better). However, as acronyms go ADAPt is a pretty appropriate name as it is what we need to have happen. We can no longer count on our archives team to just swoop in at the end of projects and pull it together into a sensible set of files and collection of boxes to be submitted with a report to the local museum. In the digital age data management and care must be a shared responsibility from the beginning of all of research by the whole team.

I hope I’ve convinced you; now just to convince the rest of my team to do the work, on top of all of their other responsibilities.

Wish me luck,


Karen Thomas (MOLA): Another musical day from the Archive

Started the day by walking from Liverpool Street to the office as part of my new fitness regime

First job was to finish the digital archiving for a small but, hitherto lost, archive under the Jubilee Line extension project in the 1990’s – LBG95.  Yesterday I spent ages trying to understand why there was a box of finds for this site with no archaeology (and therefore no contexts!) until the penny dropped and I realised that the finds belonged to LGB95.  Note to all archaeologists: make sure you put the correct site code on all your records including the finds labels!!!

Media meeting discussing all the great projects MOLA is working on and how we are publicising them via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and any other media outlet we can think of.  I think this is brilliant for getting the message out there however, I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology which is why Stephanie is going to be ‘posting’ this for me (I hope I got the right word there!)

Back to some spreadsheet compiling for a project to digitise all our site reports – a bit dull but a very worthwhile project to free up some space and make the reports much more accessible.

LUNCH – actually escaped my desk today and had lunch with the girls.

After lunch, more spreadsheet stuff but with the happy distraction of listening to JB next door regaling a visitor from Argentina on the archaeology of Shakespeare’s London.

Had enough of the spreadsheet so moved on to another site archive that is nearly ready to microfilm.  Change of scenery and temperature with a trip to the Drawing Office (where the air conditioning actually works) to convert some report figures from coreldraw to pdf/a.  Nice and quick now there is a new W7 computer to use.

Back to the tropical conditions of the Archive to finish off the metadata – always a good thing to fry your brains on a hot Friday afternoon!

Now time to go home and enjoy the weekend.  Hope you’ve all had a good day.