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A day with the Archaeology Data Service

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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)

Stuart

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)

Jen

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.

Archaeology Remixed: The History of El Presidio de San Francisco, California Goes Digital

Ruth Tringham (professor) – “Busy day today at the SF Presidio. Usual San Francisco fog, then sunny with wind – lovely summer… Today we started off the discussion of how we are going to share our project to create microhistories about archaeology and cultural heritage at the SF Presidio. Since this is a class on Digital Documentation, it’s no surprise that we chose digital on-line platforms. We started off with Erica’s [Pallo] experience of her yummy foody blogs and do’s and dont’s of blogging. This was followed by Elena’s [Toffalori] technical guide through the ins and outs of WordPress. What a coincidence – unplanned – with the Day of Archaeology. Pure serendipity. There are no coincidences, you say; well maybe not…….Then plotting with dreams and realistic visions of what our tour of El Presidio, Funston Ave and El Polin will look like on the Web, on an iPad, and/or iPhone. Michael [Ashley] and I brainstorming very constructively and loudly as usual, making dreams come true.”

Michael Ashley (instructor) – “I was psyched about a ‘day in the life of’ archaeologists worldwide’ since I first heard about it from Lorna and friends. We spend the day digging deep into digital archaeology in our course at the Presidio of San Francisco. The student team had fabulous ideas on how to put together a virtual visit of past Presidio life with new technologies such as gigapixel imaging and Google Earth. I was pulled into a great discussion with Presidio staff about how to plan a 3-way documentation of the Officer’s Club, originally an adobe structure that’s spent most of its modern life shrouded in wood and sheetrock. Cyark will laser scan the interior, and CoDA will work with Presidio staff to produce color accurate photogrammetry and gigapixel imaging. We are working to meld practical digital techniques with real world archaeological problems, and have a lot of fun in the process. Thanks, Lorna and all for getting the Day of Archaeology rolling, and congratulations!

Instructors and students shooting a gigapan panorama in the SF Presidio Park  - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Instructors and students shooting a gigapan panorama in the SF Presidio Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Erica Pallo (CoDA intern) – “Digital Documentation for Archaeology: Documenting, Representing, and Interpreting Cultural Heritage at the San Francisco, California Presidio. So much is said in a name, and this one just so happens to be the title of the academic course we are hosting at the University of California in Berkeley. Teaching students of Archaeology the nitty gritty of the discipline, carrying out our official work-related projects both past and present, and in general just being excited about the implications and applications archaeology has to offer are all in a day’s work for us, so heck, we here at CoDA are chuck full of bright ideas for making archaeology happen habitually. Organizing our class for a special undertaking such as today’s – though it was a complete coincidence that this occasion fell on a pre-scheduled class day – where all of us Archaeo types can get together via the World Wide Web to celebrate all the ideals we hold dear, sounds like sweet success to our virtual ears!

UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at the Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Michael Ashley (standing) gives instruction to the UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at El Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

As a constant way to chronicle our class’s documentation of El Presidio de San Francisco , I write a weekly blog that assesses the skills learned, trials and tribulations of making archaeology digital, and feedback from the voices of the students themselves as they enter (sometimes with trepidation) into the multi-faceted world of cultural heritage preservation. Today I gave a crash course on blogging as a way to educate, but also to ease some fears and stir up excitement for future possibilities in the field. Below I carry on with my routine methodology of having the class participants – students, interns, professors, other CoDA staff – share a little insight into their stance on digital documentation of cultural heritage, only this time I am pleased to say it includes their general enthusiasm for the Day of Archaeology. Welcome to the class!”

Elena Toffalori (CoDA staff) – “Today I had the chance to cut in on the conversation about blogging and archaeology in this amazing course. Based on my experience of web development with the CoDA Website I followed Ruth Tringham and Erica Pallo and gave a first introduction to Content Management Systems and more “geeky-technical” details involved in blogging and publishing contents on the web, as I have done already in a series of posts on our blog section. Having to work with media and building narratives, and especially when handling cultural heritage-related data, it is particularly important to take care of our data and metadata, so that details such as copyright attribution, contextual information, and tracking to the original file are made possible and lawfully pursued. This is one of the major challenges young cultural heritage specialists have to face to help dragging the discipline into the XXI century!”

Ioan Chelu (student)“We’ve all been in that class with the instructor who’s lectures consist of reciting monotonously from dry, old textbooks. BORING. How do you make archaeology interesting for the greater public? How do you form connections with them, at large? How do we connect this dry, old subject of archaeology with new, modern technology? These are the questions we’ve been asking and answering today.”

Chris Fussell (student) – “Organizing multiple angles of history via interactive multimedia feels a bit daunting and exciting. Using Google Earth to generate a tour of the Presidio with images, text stories, movies all while placing all of this information spatially with the ability to travel vast distances will allow one to virtually travel to the past. There is so little of the original Presidio left at the site in San Francisco. Most of it is sealed under a parking lot or a part of the WWI era officers club. I think what we are doing is allowing as much accesses to the past as possible at this time and perhaps more. A historic place or artifact cannot simply speak for itself; it needs a touch of humanity, a story, something that makes it relevant to today, a connection that unites current residents of San Francisco and visitors from around the world. People generate history through events, through action. We are often left with the result but not the need, the idea, the planning, the consequences, the effort and use of what was made in the past. How do we bring this out in our project for the Presidio? I guess that is what I will be finding out through my and my teamates efforts and actions.”

UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at the Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Discussions among the students of UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at El Presidio de San Francisco National Park about the uses of digital technology in Archaeology - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Cyrena Giordano (student) – “What did I do today? I learned about blogging and how intricate and interlaced blogging communities can be. Also, how blogging can be a faster and semi-professional way to get one’s writing out to the public. Moreover how blogging can be, in a sense, a replacement for a resume or even a book.  This was really interesting to me.”

Luke Morris (student) – “Determination of blogging value, enhancing dissemination of digital data and its interpretation: clearly the future of archaeology.”

Adam Grab (student) – “Today was an informative session in digitally codifying archaeological information. We experienced the benefits and disadvantages of proprietary versus open source blogging, as far as customization and access to data is concerned. It’s amazing how much free reign is possible when you know the right kinds of editing.”

Francesca Favila (student) – “My mind was BLOWN by the discussions of html and php and blogging that took place in class today. My capabilities using the internet are limited, to say the least.”

Nicholas Joy (student) “Today was a great class. We learned about how to digitize our data in either a blog, html, or .org format. Today was important because not only does this information pertain to just archeology, but with so many digital links we learn they can be used in many areas out in life. Happy Archeology Day to all.”

UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at the Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

(Non-techy) tools of the trade for students in UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at El Presidio de San Francisco National Park as they plot areas on a map for their upcoming class project - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Debbie James (student) – “Hml, css, php…what? Okay, I understand what a blog is…sort of. Very interesting, but still need to catch up with the modern world. Happy Archaeology Day!”

Cheryl Guerrero (student) – “Acronyms flying fast and furious today, but think I was able to hang on to a few of them…HTML, CSS, and PHP, which used to be ‘personal home page’ but I don’t think that applies anymore.  Still learning about techie terms, hosting sites and blogging, but seems to be a slow process…”

Connor Rowe (CoDA staff) – “Well, today was a lovely day experimenting in the latest panorama viewing technologies coming out of the German-speaking world. Trying to get around the Apple/Adobe wars and get our panorama to view in the iOS Safari is so far unsuccessful, but we will persevere! In a side note, I came across a neat little trick that allows those of us running Macs to turn our desktop Safari into an iPad/iPhone Safari emulator. Try Safari > Preferences > Advanced and check the box that says “Show Develop menu in menu bar,” then, at the top of the screen you should see Develop, from which you will change your User Agent. For the good news, we finally remembered to bring the Magic Gold Cable (DV/FireWire 800) from our Berkeley lab out to the Presidio so that we can finally get started on the log&capture&compression process for the student vids.”