The Business School archaeologist’s Friday

Ian at workIn a University setting, Friday can often be a day of catching up, with attempts to carve out some thinking time or at least a chance to focus on tasks with a little less distraction from normal.  For me, as an archaeologist who also runs a University Business School based in Suffolk, England, I am using the day to combine the subjects of archaeology and business in a serendipitous way.  So far today I have marked a tourism management student’s undergraduate dissertation focused on ‘The economic and cultural impacts currently experienced by the Heart of Neolithic Orkney as a heritage site’, and have also spent an hour discussing a journal paper which I am contributing to with a colleague here at UCS as well as collaborators over in Italy.  This paper is exploring the interplay between residents in towns and villages on the Amalfi coast and the World Heritage Site designation which covers the area.  Using a web-based survey tool, it has gathered a dataset which we are now exploring to consider the views of citizens on their inter-relationships with the built and natural environment in which they live, ‘official’ bodies associated with conservation management and policy, and tourism and economic development organisations.

Ipswich waterfrontWhilst considering the relationships communities have with archaeology in far flung parts of Italy and the Orkneys, my eye is drawn to the office window and the great view I have over the half-finished regeneration project that is the Ipswich Waterfront.  Another part of my role at the moment is to help support the development of a co-ordinated tourism strategy for the town as part of a revitalised urban vision, through the creation of a Destination Management Organisation – and archaeology has a key role to play in this: the historic environment and bits of upstanding archaeology are to be seen on the historic quayside and found all over the town.  The story of Ipswich is one which can be told readily and engagingly through archaeology with the Anglo-Saxons at its heart, to a thriving mediaeval town and port, to an industrial hub and gradual resurgence as a University town  – and there is a strong desire by many in the town to see a celebration of this heritage and an opportunity to provide a visitor experience which could support economic growth and inward investment.

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.


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!