Working at the ADS/Internet Archaeology

I have been working at the University of York since November 2012, as the holder of a one-year IFA/HLF Workplace Learning Bursary. My days here are often split between tasks for the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the e-journal Internet Archaeology.

Work for the journal can involve proof-reading articles for publication, looking at proposals and writing HTML mark-up in order to prepare the articles for online publication. This really helps you get to grips with what the authors put across, and because of the electronic nature of the journal, it’s amazing to see the innovative ways that data and concepts can be presented. Whereas traditional print journals are confined mainly to text and images, Internet Archaeology regularly deals with animations, videos, 3D visualisations and other media, which all comes together to provide some really rich, interesting content.

As part of the submissions process, Internet Archaeology articles have a digital archive with the Archaeology Data Service, and for the past few months I have mainly been busy with preserving and archiving the digital files that make up individual articles. Depending on the content, this can be quite a challenge, especially when you start to delve back to the mid-90s origins of the journal (some days I can almost hear the dial-up tone), and involves making sure all file formats are suitable for deposit under the ADS Depositors’ Guidelines, converting files which aren’t, and making sure the finished archive is suitable for long-term preservation. As I’ve alluded to, many of the deprecated formats that the journal once dealt with don’t fit comfortably within the ADS archives, and I’ve bothered many a member of staff with questions about MATLAB files or animated GIFs.

As I have reached the end of this process (for the time being), the focus of my work here has shifted to the Grey Literature Library, held here at the ADS. This is a collection of unpublished reports that are produced by archaeological contractors relating to projects they are carrying out, which are then uploaded via the Online Access to the Index of Archaeological Investigations project, better known as OASIS.  Thousands of events occur across the country every year, and a great deal of data is produced, so it’s important to be able to make this data available for future research. The Grey Literature Library is a fantastic tool for this, and as new reports are uploaded every day, there is always plenty of work to be done.

So today, my day has mainly revolved around adding reports to the library, and transferring the file-level metadata so they can be accessed easily. The reports are copied to our server, and the accession recorded in the internal Collections Management System (CMS), which also documents what processes are carried out on any files—this is important, as it allows other archivists to see any changes that have been made if the archived needs to be revisited. I’ve found that documentation at every level is a key part of working at the ADS.

Most of the grey literature reports are deposited in PDF format, which have to then be converted for preservation and dissemination into PDF/A, an archival format (you can read more about the intricacies of PDF formats in the ADS blog). The conversion of PDFs can be quite a time-consuming task, and in fact the lion’s share of the process is taken up by these conversions. After all the conversions are complete, and the archived files are safely stored, more file-level metadata is generated, and the reports are available to be accessed. So data relating to archaeological events that were once consigned to filing cabinets now have a new, digital life!

The Archaeology Data Service, keeping the Grey Literature Library going

Welcome to another post to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog 2012

If you want a quick introduction to the ADS and what we do see last year’s post.

We have contributions from two members of staff from the ADS this year, one from Stuart Jeffrey ADS deputy Director (Access) and this one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

ADS logoRay Moore

As a digital archivist at the Archaeology Data Service, my day to day activities involve the accessioning the digital data and other outcomes of archaeological research that individuals and institutions deposit with us, developing a preservation programme for that data, but also curating existing ADS collections.

Today, and indeed for the past week, I have spent much of my time working on the Grey Literature Library (or GLL).  The GLL is an important resource for those amateur and professional archaeologists working in archaeology today providing access to the many thousands of unpublished fieldwork reports, or grey literature, produced during the various assessments, surveys and fieldwork carried out throughout the country. These activities are recorded using OASIS (or Online AccesS to the Index of archaeological investigationS) and after passing through a process of validation and checking the reports produced in these projects arrive at the ADS. On first impressions then the digital archive may seem like an ‘end point’, a place where archaeological grey literature goes to die, but the ADS, through the GLL, makes these reports available to other archaeologists and the wider community allowing the grey literature to inform future research. At the same time as a digital archive we take steps to preserve these reports so that future generations can continue to use the information that they contain; an important job as many of these reports do not exist in a printed form.

Grey Literature Reports

Reports from the Grey Literature Library.

So what does digitally archiving a grey literature report entail? Initially all the grey literature reports must be transferred from OASIS to the ADS archive; the easiest part of the process. More often than not the report comes in a Portable Document Format (or PDF) form, and while this is useful for sharing documents electronically it is pretty useless as preservation format for archiving. One of my jobs is to convert these files into a special archival form of PDF, called PDF/A (the A standing for Archive). Sound’s easy, but often it can take some work to get from PDF to PDF/A (my all time record is 2 hours producing a 900mb PDF/A file). These conversions must also be documented in the ADS’ Collection Management System so that other archivists can see what I did to the file to preserve the file and its content. While OASIS collects metadata associated with project, the ADS uses a series of tools to generate file level metadata specific to the creation of the file, so that we can understand what and how the file was created. Only once these processes are complete can the file be transferred to the archive, with a version also added to the GLL so that people can download and read the report. With a through flow of some 5 to 600 reports per month the difficulties of the task should become apparent; and all this alongside my other duties as a digital archivist. This month’s release includes an interesting report on The Olympic Park Waterways and Associated Built Heritage Structures which stood on the site now occupied by the Olympic Park. Anyway I’d better get back to it!

Karen Thomas: A Day in the Life of an Archivist – The Musical!

A DAY IN THE LIFE  – 29 June 2012


1.  Today we are supposed to be depositing a bunch of site archives with LAARC and need to put the finishing touches to a few of them to get them ready.  We have to check the microfilming, make sure all the digital records are in the right format, compile bibliographies and metadata, prepare deeds of transfer and get them signed and complete the special checklists required by LAARC.  There are 26 sites in all so better get on with it!!!!!!


2.  Part of the process is to prepare a pdf/A version of the site reports (including desk top assessments and project designs).  For older sites we have to convert the original Corel Draw report figures into pdf/A images and then combine them with the text to make the finished report.  The conversion process can be a bit slow, especially when your original figure is on the large size so finding other things to do whilst waiting for something to happen is always a good idea.  I chose to eat lunch ……


3.  It’s the afternoon now and we are rapidly approaching 4 o’clock when we are due to take the boxes downstairs (at least we haven’t got far to go!).  Still got a bit to do so better get a move on.  The temperature in the office today hasn’t quite reached the heady heights of 31.8 degrees that we had yesterday but at 29.2 degrees it’s still warming up in here.  Ideal for rushing round like lunatics!


4.  We did it!  Twenty-two sites have gone down and we’re going to finish off the last 4 on Monday morning and sneak those in too with all the finds (Thanks Andy!).

A trolley-load of archives!


In between all this activity we’ve been answering queries, helping our colleagues to find records and books, doing some OASIS training, responding to emails, chasing people again for things that we’ve been waiting for, testing new software, finishing off the last of the outstanding site summaries, and, of course, Steph’s been co-ordinating all your Day of Archaeology entries too.  Next week we’ll have to start looking at the next lot of records to get ready .  Here we go again!


Archaeological Publication and Linked Data

Earlier this month I had the distinct pleasure of participating in the first Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI or #lawdi on Twitter) at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) in New York City, the brainchild of Sebastian Heath, Tom Elliott, and John Muccigrosso. I presented on the current state of archaeological publishing of my organization, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). The best part about the conference, though, was listening to new friends and colleagues speak about the many aspects of linked data, open source, and open access the archaeology of the Ancient World. As the ASCSA’s Director of Publications, I am beginning to put into practice what was discussed at LAWDI, and look forward to continuing to contribute.

Here’s what’s been done so far:

1. Open Access Hesperia. Our journal, Hesperia, is currently housed on JSTOR. We have a Content Sharing Agreement with JSTOR, however, which allows us to share our content from beyond the 3-year moving wall. This means that in July 2012 individual readers who need to search for and download any/all Hesperia articles published from 1932-2009 will be able to do so from the ASCSA’s website for free. The PDF articles can be read on any device that can open PDFs, and they can be used without Internet access post-download. There is no DRM. I alpha-tested the behind-the-scenes upload utility yesterday with reasonable success. I need to do a batch name-change on the PDFs and then load those onto our webserver (the test links currently point to JSTOR, but this will change in July). It is my hope that I can find just over $1M with which I can endow the journal at which point I can make open access to it complete and eternal.

2. Open Bibliography on Zotero. After the LAWDI meetings, I returned to Princeton to map out what I could begin to do with the concept of linking content for the ancient world. I had briefly used Zotero to read articles posted by Tom Elliott on Twitter, but I’d never gotten into the platform as a contributor of content. Since then, I have created a Zotero group for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in which I have now shared publicly the enter bibliography of 1,500+ Hesperia articles and about 150 (or 230+) monographs. I need to go through (and encourage others to help with this) and edit the book entries and add abstracts to earlier Hesperia articles. This will take time, but it’s a good start.

3. Linking in eBooks. June saw the publication of our latest printed monograph, Isthmia: The Roman and Byzantine Graves and Human Remains (Isthmia IX), by Joseph L. Rife. I spent yesterday and will spend today creating links in the PDF eBook. My previous attempts at linking were restricted to links between text, note, table, and image. I have done this in Isthmia IX, tedium made bearable through listening to hardcore punk, gangsta rap, and the Euro 2012 match between Germany and Italy. This is only the first step. The next is to attempt to create dynamic, outward-looking links from every bibliographic citation and every footnote to actual articles and books on the Internet. This could be insane and/or impossible, but I’m going to try. I am also going to attempt to link each inventoried object as presented on the ASCSA’s open access website for archaeological data, ascsa.net. Lastly, I’m going to try to link from places mentioned in Rife’s book to records in Pleiades. Wish me luck.

The above is what I’m doing now and in July, and I’m looking forward to sharing/linking with other archaeologists worldwide on these and future projects.

Andrew Reinhard, Director of Publications, ASCSA

A Day in the Life of an Illustrator

First off I should say that I always find it quite uneasy calling myself an Illustrator. To me illustrator conjurs up images of amazing artefact and reconstruction drawings; I am not one of those, I deal with plans, sections, maps using CAD, GIS and Adobe Illustrator, as well as carrying out graphic design and web design.

Today I have three main tasks to deal with:

1. Carry out edits to the illustrations for a site that AOC excavated a while ago, and is now ready to be published.
2. Finish designing a pair of interpretation boards that will eventually be placed by a Neolithic cairn.
3. Produce some maps using GIS for our York office so that they have them ready for carrying out a heritage assessment

On top of this I normally have lots of small tasks given to me over the course of a working day. These can be to place a news item on our website and then tweet a link to all of our followers, to design & produce a trenching plan for evaluations, to edit/enhance photographs, to PDF documents ready to be sent to clients (my machine is one of the few capable of producing PDFs) and so on.

7:15 I’m in the office, cup of tea made as the computer boots up and logs in. Straight away there’s an email asking me to produce some plates for an HBR report. A small job that will only take 10-15 minutes. Time to load up InDesign and make some plates!

A Day of Archaeology for a Freelance Zooarchaeologist

Sylvia Warman Cirencester UK

8.30 am

My day starts with checking emails.  I am signed up to the ZOOARCH email list, a superb resource which enables animal bone specialists to ask each other questions, hunt down missing references and even identify mystery bones. The first email is from a PhD student in France who has read a paper I wrote back in 2004, requesting a copy of my thesis. This involves burning the files to a CD, as it is too large to email. The second is a request for a paper I had contributed to in 2007 on an assemblage from Tewkesbury (Gloucestershire) which had included the skull of a lamb from a four horned breed (like the Hebridean breed of sheep still seen today).  Unfortunately I did not have this paper as a PDF (the preferred format for emailing) so I photocopied my hard copy using my handy printer/scanner/photocopier.

The next is from the local history and archaeology society, the council is changing the parking charges for evening and weekends and there is concern that this will impact those who attend the lectures that this group organises.

I receive several emails that include adverts for archaeological jobs. I forward these to some friends who are currently without work. The recession hit commercial archaeology hard and many archaeologists are currently out of work. Now government cuts mean that those working in the public sector also face the possibility of redundancy.

I receive some comments back on a draft report I have written for WHEAS (Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeological Service). The report is on an assemblage of animal bones from a Romano-British site in Worcestershire. Much of the county has acid soils which are not good for preserving bones as they are alkaline. So when a site in the small pocket of calcareous clay comes up I often have the pleasure of studying the bones. This project is a publication, but much of my time is spent on assessments. The latter are short summaries of the potential of an assemblage which are then used to help decide what further study is worthwhile.


The snail mail arrives – a parcel from WHEAS with some additional animal bones from the evaluation carried out at the same site (as the excavation assemblage I have already studied). I take the parcel to my lab in the conservatory at the bottom of my garden.  I quickly scan these in case there is anything to add to the report, they are very similar to the bones I have already looked at from the excavation, mostly cattle and horse leg bones, all very well preserved and stained dark brown from the deposit in which they were buried.

additional animal bones from the evaluation


I head into town (about ten minutes’ walk from my house) to post the CD and photocopies. I have lunch in town and then head home.


I read through the edits and reply with a date by which I will have them completed. Commercial archaeology projects are often run to very tight timetables so keeping the client updated is important. A project such as this one could have up to ten different specialists contributing to it both within the organisation and freelance like myself. The project manager ensures this all runs smoothly and that everyone has the latest information.  This project has been partly funded by English Heritage as far more was uncovered during the excavation than had been predicted.

I start working on the edits which are very clear thanks to the track changes tool that the word processing program has. This makes it much easier to work on documents that are emailed back and forth. I complete the text edits but the reformatting of the figure proves more complicated and will have to wait until next week.

5.30pm My Day of Archaeology ends

Returning to archaeology

In my ‘day job’, I’m an IT professional at the University of Nottingham: my alma mater from which I graduated in Archaeology and Geography some time ago. However, I’ve retained my fascination with archaeology and I’m excited to be starting a part-time MA in Archaeology here in September. In the year leading up to this, I’ve read academic books and papers voraciously, enjoyed the regular research seminars in the Department, joined The Prehistoric Society  and attended some fascinating conferences. I’m really looking forward to studying the subject again in depth over the next two years.

Today, however, archaeology had to be set aside for the morning, as my wife and I attended a friend’s funeral. It was an occasion to share happy memories with her family and to celebrate her life, so in that sense, it was a positive event and we were glad to be there. Recently, I was reading some of the papers regarding the Neolithic landscape of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Mike Parker Pearson’s suggestion of the landscape being divided into domains of the living and of the ancestors, with the transition from life through death to the realm of the ancestors perhaps being related to ritual passage through the landscape. During moments of reflection at the graveside before the committal, I realised that the ritual in which we participating was one which people and communities have shared for thousands of years and that, just at that moment, we had something intangible in common with our Neolithic predecessors.

On a happier note, my archaeological activity today involved some preparation for a conference on Deer and People which is being organised by our zooarchaeology lecturer in the department, Naomi Sykes. It’s to be held in September in Lincoln and I volunteered to help. We’ve discussed some issues for supporting the conference, so I’ve set up an e-mail address for it and provided a link to the conference web page on the University’s web site. Today, I’ve done some work on Powerpoint slides for the conference to be displayed on screen before or between speakers, themed to the colours of the various sessions in the programme.

Lastly, we’re packing tonight for our regular family holiday in Northumberland, my home county and the original inspiration for my interest in archaeology, with its landscape rich in remains from the past. I’m looking forward to the luxury of some time to sit and read. I have some papers in PDF format to catch up with on my laptop and iPad while we’re away but I won’t be able to resist packing a few of the archaeology books I have on loan from the University Library and of course there’s Barter Books to visit in Alnwick. Can one have too many archaeology books? My wife may disagree but I think not!

Day in the life of a HERO

My name is Helen Wells and I’m the Historic Environment Record Officer (HERO) at Leicestershire County Council.  There are archaeologists here in both the Museums and Planning sections – I’m based in the latter.  I do work with the Museums archaeologists though, including Wendy Scott (the Portable Antiquities Scheme officer).  My job is basically to look after a database of all the county’s known archaeological remains and historic buildings.  It’s a fascinating job – I’ve been here since 2004 and I’m still enjoying it!

Before I start describing my day, I thought I’d give a bit of background about how I became a county council archaeologist.  (more…)

A day with the Archaeology Data Service

ADS logo 

Welcome to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog. Before we start looking at some of the nitty-gritty of our busy day it might be useful to give a little bit of background on what we do, especially for those of you who maybe don‘t know anything about us at all.

It’s not all trowels, beards and woolly jumpers:  In lots of the other Day of Archaeology blogs you will be reading about archaeologists out in the field excavating, surveying, recording and so on. You’ll also read about the careful cleaning and analysis of artefacts that have been recovered the pots, metal work, skeletons and so on.  This is often exciting and stimulating work, but it raises an important question, why is it being done? There are lots of good answers to this question that range from the very philosophical to the very practical. However, almost all the answers rely on the fact that the information that archaeologists create, the data they gather, will be around for everybody to reuse in the future.  This can be said to apply to many disciplines, but it is especially important for archaeology because the process of excavating a site is of course the process of destroying it too! What remains after the site is excavated are the memories of the experience, the impressions of those affected by the site and the ideas about the past that those involved in the work – and those watching it happen – have created through direct  contact and through consideration of the material that has been recovered.  After the project is over the main connection back to the site apart from memories and the physical remains considered important enough to  keep in a museum are the records that are generated throughout the archaeological process (sometimes called primary data) and the ideas about people in the past that these records have helped to inform (often called interpretation).

The King's Manor, York - where the ADS is based.

The King's Manor, York - where the ADS is based.

So it is important for archaeologists and all those with an interest in the past that these records are kept safe for the long term, especially because they can’t be recreated. At first glance this might seem like a straightforward problem, but it is a surprisingly complex one and has become more so in the last 25 years. This is because almost all archaeological information is created in digital form and now covers a huge range of data generation and recording  techniques, databases, text documents, images, videos, sound recording, aerial photographs, satellite images, laser scanning, digital mapping, sonar data, three-dimensional models etc. etc. It is often very surprising to discover that even with all this new technology, and sometimes because of it, the data created is really quite fragile and requires a lot of looking after. This is where the ADS comes in. The ADS are a digital archive with two main objectives:  1) to provide a safe place for those interested in keeping the results of their archaeological work available to others in the long term; 2) exploring new ways of making all these exciting results  available, findable and usable to anyone and everyone over the internet.

There is lots more about the ADS and it’s history here.

So that’s the headlines, what does it mean in practice? Apart from these main objectives there are lots of other activities we undertake to support them, such as giving advice and creating guides to good practice, but you’ll read more about these activities in the sections below. Different people do different things at the ADS so the sections below will detail a number of activities on or around the 29th July.

Stuart Jeffrey – Deputy Director (Access)


A busy day for me, right now I’m concentrating on various European projects that the ADS are involved with, it’s important to remember that the national boundaries we work within today are a relatively new invention and people in the past wouldn’t recognise them, so to help people study human activity in the past it’s crucial to work with colleagues in other countries.  Information on all the ADS research projects can be found under the ‘OUR RESEARCH’ pages on the main ADS website.

First things first though, a good big cup of coffee is in order to get me ready for the day! I also like to check activity on twitter and see if we have any big collections coming up for release. My colleague Jen Mitcham and I normally have a check to see if her ADS facebook page has more new followers or if the ADS_Update twitter account which I run has more, twitter is winning so far, but it can be a close run thing.

It almost goes without saying that after the coffee and a short gloat over twitter’s success most of the morning will be spent on the computer dealing with emails, lots of emails. The ADS are involved in quite a number of projects with partners all over Europe and also in the USA, keeping in touch with these colleagues is a very important part of my job. Today I have been writing a progress report for the CARARE project which is about getting ADS 3D data into a big Europe wide heritage search mechanism called Europeana.

Coffee break time!  – then onto arranging exhibition space for a photographic exhibition on the diversity of archaeological practice as part of a project called the Archaeology of Contemporary Europe (ACE). A couple of weeks ago I was escorting the photographer round the sites of York including stone masons at the famous York Minster, the Jorvik center and the Hungate excavations by YAT.

After sandwiches for lunch and a quick walk round town, York is lovely in the summertime, my afternoon is split into two tasks. Firstly I’m looking at progress on the development of some new features on the ADS website, if you are a regular user you will know it has been recently updated with a new design and also lots of new features. We are working hard on trying to integrate the Imagebank (a free to use collection of archaeological images for teaching and learning) into our main search – ArchSearch. This means that when someone searches on, for example, Stonehenge, they get a series of good pictures to use in their results set as well as monument inventory records and archives relating to the site. Progress on this is good thanks to the hard work of the development team and others. Secondly I have meetings with the ADS development team in the afternoon to discuss our plans for services –this means that as well as the various ways of discovering data held by the ADS via our website we are working to publish data as ‘services’ that can be consumed by other search mechanisms. This is quite a technical discussion, but it’s also quite exciting because we can see lots of potential for making our holdings more easily discoverable to wider and wider audiences, and in my job that’s what makes me really happy.

So after a long day I’ve got no dirt under my fingernails, and discovered no new sites, but I feel that it’s been a good and satisfying day working on ways to both keep archaeological data safe and to get it out to people who need it to continue their work or simply have an interest in our shared past.

Tim ponders some worrisome floppy discs

Tim, one of our curatorial officers ponders some worrisome floppy discs, will the data be recoverable?


Jenny Mitcham (Curatorial Officer)


I work for the Archaeology Data Service as a digital archivist. I have an archaeology degree and did a couple of years digging in the UK before I decided that an office job was more my style. I am engaged in the very useful task of preserving the digital data that archaeologists create in the field (and the office).

At the ADS we know that in order to keep files safe and accessible long into the future, we need to migrate or refresh them to create newer versions to replace the old obsolete files (which will soon not be readable by modern software). To this end, I am currently working on one of the first large collections that was entrusted to us back in the very early days of the ADS. The resource I’m looking at is an archive of Council for British Archaeology (CBA) Research Reports. A run of reports dating back to 1955 which were no longer in print so were scanned and given to us in digital form to make more widely available on-line. The collection consists of some 100 reports and covers many different topics and themes within British Archaeology. This has remained one of our most popular and well-used resources ever since we started making it available on-line in 2000.

The year 2000 was a long time ago in computer terms. The internet was quite different to how it is now and many people relied on very slow dial up speeds. The decision was made at the time that people would not be able to download the CBA Research Reports in one go and would prefer to access them in small chunks of 3 or 4 pages per pdf file. This was all well and good at the time but things have moved on since then and the majority of our users now have access to faster broadband speeds and would actually prefer to download the whole report as a single file.

The other issue with these original CBA Research Reports is that the files are quite an early version of the PDF standard (1.2) and though they are not yet obsolete, some of them are throwing up error messages and they would all benefit from being refreshed.

The exciting job in store for me today is to turn all of these CBA Research Report chunks into full and complete pdf files (one file per report), to refresh them into a more up-to-date file format (the archival version of pdf) and also to update the web interface which people use to access these reports.

OK, so I know this isn’t the most exciting of posts (or exciting of days for me!) but it just highlights some of the essential and ongoing work that we have to carry out in order to make archaeological data available to anyone who wishes to access it, both now and into the future.


Kieron Niven (Curatorial Officer)

Kieron hard at work on the new Guides to Good practice

As with other members of the ADS curatorial team, my day can be quite varied ranging from archiving datasets and creating web pages right through to dealing with helpdesk queries coming in through our website or providing guidance and support to potential data depositors. Although I’m currently posted to helpdesk (we rotate this on a weekly basis and it’s been satisfyingly quiet this week!) my main activity today has revolved around the finishing up of major chapters of our new Guides to Good Practice. This has mostly been focussed on completing outstanding sections in the guide for marine survey data (looking at data from bathymetry, single and multibeam sonar, etc.) but I’ve also had a brief ‘catch up’ skype call with the guides project partners in the U.S. at Digital Antiquity /Arizona State University. As a minor break to my predominantly ‘guides focussed’ day I’ve also done some tweaking to the introduction and overview pages of a large laser scan project archive that we will be imminently releasing. The archive has come to us as part of the LEAPII project (a collaboration with Internet Archaeology to showcase projects featuring linked digital publications and archives) and contains laser scans of a number of objects from Amarna (Egypt). The really interesting thing – for me, at least – is that we have data for each object at a number of different points in the laser scan lifecycle e.g. individual point clouds from the scans, registered scans, meshes and – my favourite – 3D PDF files. This variety, I hope, will make it a really useful dataset for those interested in the process of laser scanning.