A Day at The Center for Digital Antiquity

Our offices at The Center for Digital Antiquity (DA) are located on the fourth floor of Hayden Library, on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.  The library is being renovated and this morning we were evacuated from our offices during the third fire alarm (drill?) of the week!   While we waited outside—enjoying rare Arizona cloud cover –I thought about what I’d write about today.  My job is totally different than the dirt archaeology I was trained in or the academic anthropology track I envisioned myself on when I started out as an undergraduate about 15 years ago, but I love it! I’ve decided to describe a bit about what we do in our small office generally, and then highlight a few of the specific activities we participated in today.

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The Center for Digital Antiquity is responsible for maintaining and improving the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), an online repository for digital archaeological information.  We specialize in providing long-term access to and the preservation of irreplaceable archaeological files.  tDAR accepts a wide range or archaeological information—field notes, reports, manuscripts, photographs, sketches, drawings, 3D scans, databases, charts, tables, and more—from around the world.  We keep them safe, associated with rich and archaeologically specific metadata to ensure that they can be discovered, and, as needed, migrate the files to new formats so that they will be usable today and long into the future.  Our mission is to ensure that the information collected as part of archaeological research, impossible to replicate and often generated at great cost (financial, as well as the literal blood, sweat, and tears of field archaeologists!) is available for researchers of today and the future.

After I finally made it back to my desk, I spent the morning reviewing and putting final touches on the first draft of a grant proposal seeking funds to develop an archival solution for a group of US government archaeologists who work for different agencies in the same geographic region but have a difficult time sharing important archaeological information across agency firewalls.  They each are responsible for archaeological and historical resources within their respective management boundaries, which rarely coincide with relevant archaeological boundaries, and need an efficient way to access the work that has been done nearby to contextualize current and future work.  As it stands now, archaeological work that has already been completed is difficult to find and incorporate into background studies—not knowing about an important report, or knowing about it but not being able to track it down is as bad as losing it to a flood or fire.   Using tDAR we hope to create a large repository for regional archaeological information to drastically improve efficient discovery and use of previous archaeological research in the region.  The metadata associated with all these records in tDAR will be searchable by anyone, so researchers from anywhere will be able to discover the records related to this region’s archaeology.

Next, I worked with DA’s Executive Director Frank McManamon on developing a means of publicizing the recent addition to tDAR of an important and very large set of digital images of Mimbres pottery vessels (mainly from archaeological sites dating to about a thousand years ago in the Mimbres River valley in western New Mexcio).  For more on this check out a recent news release published by ASU News:  https://asunews.asu.edu/20130716_mimpidd.

I spent about an hour mid-day planning and organizing meetings for next week to discuss various proposals we have out with clients who are interested in using tDAR.

I will spend the rest of my day reviewing a large Access database that inventories physical and digital collections at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab).  We are working with the MAC Lab to organize and archive their digital archaeological information related to collections they maintain from work carried out by the Department of Defense.

Meanwhile, other DA staff members were busy working on updating and revising sections of the policies and procedures related to tDAR.  Some of the new policy sections were approved at a Board of Directors meeting earlier this week and will begin to be used and made available on parts of the tDAR website soon.  Others will be edited using the comments made during the meeting and sent back to our Repository Oversight Committee for further consideration and revision.

Also today, one of our Digital Curators downloaded a large data set relating to Cold War era archaeology and cultural resource documentation at Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida from a CRM firm’s FTP site.  This data set, along with documents and images related to the archaeological resources and history of the Range, are being added to tDAR to make the data and information (if they are not determined to be “confidential”) more easily and widely available and to preserve them for future uses.  Next, our Digital Curator working on the Avon Park project began creating metadata records for the data set and other digital files from the Range and upload the files into tDAR.  After that US Air Force archaeologists and CRM officials will review the metadata and uploaded files before they are made “live” and available in tDAR.

So that’s what we’ve been up to!  Please stop by and visit tdar.org/news/ any time learn more about what’s going on out our way, and tdar.org to search our extensive archive of archaeological information!