Open source

A Day in the Digital Index of North American Archaeology


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!

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.


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

Jetlag and a very full day – GIS manuals, Egyptology and conference preparation


Yesterday was a very busy day, thus I am only now able to submit a post here!


I got back from a two-week holiday to Western Australia on Thursday. My Dad and I went to visit his brother who moved to Perth from the Isle of Man 40 years ago, and his family. We had an awesome time, saw lots of places and wildlife: Roos, Quokkas, Koalas, the lot 🙂

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

My family out there is lovely! I am still rather tired and recovering from a long journey back, which commenced on Wednesday afternoon: 5h flight from Perth to Singapore, then 13h Singapore to London-Heathrow. Then another 3h back to Liverpool by train. My poor Dad had to fly back to Hanover, which is close to Peine, Germany, where I am originally from!

The thing that struck me, whilst visiting Australia, however, is the general attitude towards archaeology. Whenever I mentioned my interest in visiting a particular museum, or seeing anything related to archaeology, I was told that “Australia doesn’t have very much history at all”, and that “surely, there is not very much archaeology around”… I was rather shocked and saddened by this, given the huge amount of aboriginal culture in Australia. I did point this out, and obtained some understanding, but the attitude of Australians towards Aborigines is a very problematic topic in general. When visiting the Western Australian Museum in Perth, however, I saw a very well-displayed and super-informative exhibition on aboriginal culture in Western Australia. Shame it didn’t seem to be too-well visited! 🙁

Back to work!

I had to get up extra-early yesterday (29th July), as I had to get straight back to work: I work as a Supervisor in Geomatics for Oxford Archaeology North, specialising in open source GIS. I totally love it and really do think it’s the way forward, especially given that proprietary software can “lock in” archaeological data, which can lead to data loss – something that should be avoided, I guess we all agree! Over the past couple of years we have been using open source GIS software, such as gvSIG (both the “original gvSIG” and the OADigital Edition), Quantum GIS, GRASS,  in addition to some 3D GIS visualisation tools, such as Paraview. Furthermore, we have been testing and using database software, such as PGAdmin (PostgreSQL and PostGIS), and illustration software, such as Inkscape successfully. I must say that all of the software we used has come a long, long way in those past two years, and at OA North, we use open source tools more or less as a standard and I can confidentially say that it is replacing the proprietary software previously used, such as AutoCAD and ArcGIS.

My friend and colleague Christina Robinson and I were given some time to document our combined knowledge in order to make it accessible to both colleagues within the company, and also the wider archaeological community – what is better than a free guide to open source GIS, which allows you learn to use free, powerful GIS software, and edit and analyse your own survey data! 🙂 We have produced guides and manuals during the past couple of years – they are available for free download on the OA library website and released under the creative commons license. Here are the manuals we released so far:

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Hodgkinson, Anna (2010) Open Source Survey & GIS Manual. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Using the Helmert (two-point) transformation in Quantum GIS. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd.. (Unpublished)

Robinson, Christina and Campbell, Dana and Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Archaeological maps from qGIS and Inkscape: A brief guide. Third edition. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished) – this is the third edition, re-released today!

And here are two brand new guides, produced on the Day of Archaeology and made available today:

Robinson, Christina (2011) QGIS Handy Hints. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Download of the Leica 700 and 800 series Total Station. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Please download and  use these and extend your skills; please burn them and let us know, we are grateful for your feedback! Some more guides/manuals are currently in production and will be added to the library, so please watch this space!

Lunch Break – (not really) time for some Egyptology

I briefly escaped work at lunchtime in order to go to the bank – I had to make an international transfer, the only way (annoyingly) to pay for my speaker’s fees for the upcoming 16th International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, Vienna, November 2011. My paper on “Modeling Urban Industries in New Kingdom Egypt” was accepted for presentation, my abstract an be found here. I will be presenting my current research on the distribution of (mainly) artefactual evidence from Amarna, ancient Akhetaten, in Middle Egypt. Using open source GIS (naturally), I am studying the distribution and density of artefacts relating to high-status industries, such as glass, faience, metal, sculpture and textiles within the settled areas of Amarna, in order to establish how products and raw materials were controlled and distributed.

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

This paper presents part of my PhD research on high-status industries within the capital and royal cities in New Kingdom Egypt, Memphis, Malkata, Gurob, Amarna and Pi-Ramesse. I have now completed my third year of part-time research and am hoping to finish the whole thing within the next two or three years. We will see, thought I’d better get on with it!! 🙂

I am a member of the fieldwork team at Gurob, and I am very much looking forward to our next fieldwork season in September this year! Check out the project website for reports of past fieldwork seasons and my work in the industrial area, which I also presented at The Third British Egyptology Congress (BEC 3) in London, 2010.

After-work seminar and more open source GIS

We had an in-house, after-work seminar at 5pm, at which Christina and I gave our paper on “Open Source GIS for archaeological data visualisation and analysis” to colleagues, which we presented at OSGIS 2011 in Nottingham. You can watch the webcast of the original talk online (scroll down until you find it), unfortunately it only works for Windows, though. :'( The paper, which was presented on June 22nd 2011, is about our successful case study, moving Geomatics at OA North to open source GIS and away from proprietary software. We even won the prize for the second-best presentation! It went down well with colleagues, and after a discussion we moved on outside for a barbecue, which was very nice, as it stayed warm all day (unusual for Lancaster). I had to eave rather early unfortunately, as the commute back to Liverpool takes about 1.5 hours. At least I was able to relax and read George Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons”on my Kindle!

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham