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Case studies

The summer school will draw from (and contribute to addressing) digital curation challenges faced by research projects submitted by ARIADNE TNA Scholars. The very diverse “case studies” listed below, addressing complementary digital curation problems faced by archaeologists and custodians of archaeological collections, will form the basis of the project sprints which is part of module 1 (Workshop), and will inform the speculative work towards a vision, specifications and scenarios for future digital archaeological infrastructures in module 2 (Expert forum).

Case studies – Workshop and Expert Forum

Case study 1: Digital numismatics: integrating information on coins from excavations, collections and auction houses in a research database

Pavla Drapelova, Department of Archaeology and Art History, National Kapodistrian University of Athens

Datasets related to coins represent specific problems as the material can be divided in two basic groups: a) coins from excavations and b) coins from collections and auction houses. While the numismatic material from the first category has an archaeological context, the coins from the second category usually provides various data and metadata; however the place of finding is often unknown, so the reconstruction of circulation is impossible. This case study focuses on the possibilities to establish a dataset which would provide an overview of the existing available material and would let to create a database of coins struck in one mint (Antioch) in one specific period (324 – 610 AD) and which would combine data from excavations with an archaeological context (placement in space and time) with data available in museums’ catalogues (descriptive information of existing material in depositories often without context) and catalogues of auction houses (information on coins circulating on market, often without possibility to touch the material, but with high-quality photos) . In this summer school, I hope to be able to discuss and address challenges and problems related to this kind of study.

Case study 2: Mapping the ICCD RA schema  with the CIDOC CRM and its extensions, and ensuring better communication of archaeological datasets

Ilenia Galluccio, VASTLAB, PIN s.c.r.l. Educational and Scientific Services for the University of Florence

Within the process of standardization of national archaeological data, the main goal of ICCD (Italian Central Institute for Catalogue and Documentation) is creating a centralized national catalogue for cultural heritage, producing standards for the knowledge and implementing interoperability. Amongst this set of schemas, the RA schema for movable objects is the most used in archaeology. Related to this schema, ICCD provided a detailed thesaurus to produce a correct encoding. Over the past years of research, a deep analysis of RA schema and thesaurus was conducted, for mapping to CIDOC CRM and other international standards. An interesting part of our analysis is to make the life cycle of archaeological data explicit: through the excavations it is possible to find many archaeological objects, with a large amount of intrinsic knowledge. The documentation produced on the excavation is then formalised through the ICCD schemas.  Much of the work carried out during the collaboration between ICCD and VASTLAB has been the analysis of RA Schema and and the CIDOC CRM encoding, including the CRMarchaeo and CRMsci extensions, referring to the information about archaeological excavation and laboratory activities.

An important step for the realisation of the mapping has been the use of a semantic tool, the Mapping Memory Manager (3M), released by FORTH. At this stage we could plan an updating of the mapping due to the possibilities offered by 3M mapping tool, ultimately to realise a real case-study using archaeological data provided by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage (MiBACT). This phase will be useful for testing the RA-Mapping. Specifically we will use datasets from “Archivio del Friuli-Venezia Giulia” and “Istituto superiore per la conservazione ed il restauro”.

Attending the Summer School, I expect I will have the possibility of finalising a long conceptual work of mapping -produced by a team of researchers- and improving the understanding of aspects of the digital curation of archaeological data process. My main learning objective is to refine the final stage of the life cycle of data: the communication aspect. In my opinion, during the summer school, the most interesting challenge is to understand the importance of collaborative work, exploiting theories of knowledge management and communities of practice. I hope that, by sharing experience and perspectives, we may contribute to the uptake of digital humanities approaches and promote best practices which will encourage researchers worldwide to conduct new research through data reuse.

Case study 3: Connecting historical maps and datasets with placenames of Greece and the Mediterranean through geo-gazeteers and the Semantic Web

Eleni Gadolou, Institute of Historical Research, Greek National Research Foundation

The visualization of historical information in current base maps is a valuable tool for synthesizing and interpreting information in historical research since it: a) facilitates further analysis of the data, b) supports the retrieval of secondary data, and c) highlights spatial and conceptual relations between different thematic datasets (networks). For this, the identification of the spatial dimension of historical information is needed, as well as its organization into a spatial database, using standards for modelling of geographic information (ISO series of 19100) and publishing on the World Wide Web. Based on these guidelines, the Institute of Historical Research, Greek National Research Foundation developed a digital interactive Atlas in order to model its various historical datasets into 35 different sub-databases, offering access to broad-ranging historical knowledge (from prehistory to the present era) and over 300 thematic maps available on the Web. At a second, derivative level, a large database of historical toponyms (covering Greece and the Mediterranean region) has also been produced. Currently, it is our plan to develop further this database of toponyms into a geo-gazetteer.

Historical maps deliver valuable historical geographic information, sometimes unique and not available in other historical datasets. For example, they depict: a) old administrative units (e.g., borderlines), b) entities that no longer exist (e.g. outposts, inns), c) geomorphology and landscape, d) settlements (boundaries, size, importance) and changes (e.g. shrinkage or abandonment), e) place names and changes through time. Historical maps support historical research and can assist the critical analysis and interpretation of other historical documents. By georeferencing and overlaying maps in a Geographical Information System, further data can be extracted such as the spatial relations between geographic entities, their evolution in time and possibly the reasons for it. For optimal search and re-usability, historical cartographic information must be properly modelled, so that a) users can apply multiple criteria (spatial or not) for retrieving the appropriate data, b) cartographic information can be linked to the map’s metadata (e.g., creator, date of creation, scope, surveying methods), something important to account for bias and information quality evaluation, and c) the integration of historical cartographic information in various applications (e.g., of historical, educational or cultural purpose) and its linking to other historical databases can be achieved.
Such needs can be fulfilled by adopting Semantic Web recommendations and technologies (e.g. ontologies, RDF syntax, URIs), so that each resource can be modelled as RDF data, uploaded in web repositories and integrated to systems that use the same technological approach (Linked Open Data). Placenames that can be extracted from historical maps, and especially their changes through time, can be of great interest as common reference to various domains (e.g. archaeology and history) and as keywords for data mining across multiple external data sources. This, however, requires proper modeling and standardization, which is often lacking. On the other hand, geo-gazetteers have been a common way to deliver information about different names of a place and its location on the Web, either for modern times (e.g. Geonames) or ancient times (e.g. Pelagios project). In parallel, annotations on (historical) maps can enable the development of contextual semantic links to semantic resources in a linked data set such as gazetteers.

This proposed research focuses on exploring methods derived from Semantic Web technology in order to: a) bring together different historic databases on Greek placenames, b) model them and connect them with their original sources (usually historical maps), and c) create connections with other worldwide gazetteers available on the Web. We intend to use insights on managing knowledge from different resources to support the development of the geo-gazetteer of our databases and its interconnection to other datasets. Also, we wish to integrate approaches of representing archaeological knowledge semantically, metadata schemes and web technologies as a framework for our work.

Case study 4: Formalizing the informational and communicative levels of archaeological “texts” through semiosphere theory

Rimvydas Laužikas

Material remains (artefacts, ecofacts, features, and assemblages) found during excavations (or non interventional research) could be viewed under the light of: a) an informational paradigm, i.e., as objective empirical data, or media important for scientific research, which should be is detailed and as comprehensive as possible (collecting maximal information from field excavations and archaeological findings, aiming at larger and deeper information coverage, most accurate data capture, using information management methods and tools), or, b) a communicative paradigm, viewing them more as objects of subjective interpretation, whereby archaeological findings are understood as signs, and assemblages as texts (understanding text as an orderly sign system that is dedicated to communication and has clear differences from other systems that we can record) amenable to contemporary interpretation and use.

My project objectives are: a) to understand the theoretical background of applying informational and communicative approaches on collecting and interpretation of archaeological information and knowledge; b) to investigate methodological connections (i.e., between research methods and methods of digital curation) linking archaeology on one hand, and information and communication sciences on the other; and, c) to better understand how archaeological knowledge functions are taken up in digital culture (.e.g. by different professional and amateur, non-profit target groups and communities). Using Lotman’s semiosphere theory to conceptualize archaeological assemblages as texts, whereby individual heritage objects (discoveries, artefacts, ecofacts) can be viewed as (atomic) signs, whose articulation is governed by (semiotic) codes, we can frame archaeological investigation as a communication process, and apply information and communication paradigms, models of information management, and information lifecycle approaches to archaeological research, regarding the relation between finds and assemblages, the identification of specific features of societies which created them (urbanization level, micro-regional structure, social differences, religion, etc.), as well as the relationship between primary achaeological data, secondary texts comprehensible to the scientific community (e.g., archaeological research reports, conference papers or scientific publications), and tertiary texts produced by communication professionals (exhibitions, movies, websites, popular publications, etc.).

Planned work is based on examination of digital cultural elements important for archaeological heritage and archaeological knowledge: textuality and visuality, openness vs. closeness, textual vs. object-centred approaches, concentration vs. decentralization, expert vs. crowdsourcing, static vs. interactivity, one-directional communication vs. participation, gamification, new economic models (e.g. sharing economy) etc. On this basis, I want to explore the growing erosion of a clear line between archaeological heritage (which belongs to the past and represents past culture) and contemporary culture, through which archaeological objects essentially become present – an instrument of modern culture, entertainment industry, identity construction, political communication, etc. – acting as a means of representing not so much the material conditions a historically situated place (cf. genius loci, lieux de mémoire), but “nonmaterial products of our minds and other human produced data that have become objects of a discourse about their identity, circumstances of creation or historical implication” (CIDOC CRM: definition of E28 Conceptual Object).

Case study 5: Achieving interoperability among legacy preventive archaeology datasets through data harmonization and classification

Federico Nurra

The primary aim of the project is the elaboration of a long term strategy functional to the conservation and interoperability of the archaeological data within Inrap, the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research. During its archaeological investigations the Institute produces a huge amount of data. Every year Inrap realizes an average of 2000 archaeological evaluation interventions (trial trenching) and about 300 complete excavations, producing diverse data: data registered on the ground, topographic data (GIS), data relating to finds, photographs, and drawings. Data formats are extremely heterogeneous. The inventories (of structures, artefacts, etc.) are normally registered in tables (spreadsheets), the excavation reports in .doc files, subsequently converted in .pdf, excavation images and photographs are archived in .jpeg format, using a local archiving. Topographic data range from Illustrator vector drawings, to CAD, to Shape files and GIS-based formats that, for the first time, allow integration of field recording. In addition, different datasets have been archived in different physical media, ranging from 2005 to the present. Yet, neither standard data aquisition and management procedures, nor common metadata schemas have been developed yet.

To achieve conceptual and logical interoperability, disregarding technical or technological availabilities (or limits), is thus fundamental. For this, a territorially homogeneous case study will be used, in order to range over the different types of data produced through the years. A standard procedure of data transformation to achieve interoperability will be proposed through experimental application of data harmonization criteria and, above all, through development of a common metadata element set, taking into account LOD and semantic Web approaches, as well as the definition of “families” of data allowing the same treatment. The use of PACTOLS thesaurus, and its recent mapping with AAT, will allow to have a tool capable to link metadata of these repertoires.

Case study 6: Designing a web-accessible database of geolocated archaeological, ethnographic and ethnohistorical data on cremation in Brazil

Priscilla Ulguim, Teesside University

This project aims to develop a free, interactive online resource for archaeological, ethnographic and ethnohistorical data on cremation as a funerary practice in Brazil. This will involve the  integration of data resulting from a literature survey into an online map. The specific motivation for this resource is the lack of a single source of online information relating to cremation practice in Brazil, with current records fragmented across different repositories, and lacking standard terminology or controlled vocabularies. In this light, the project aims to integrate existing archaeological, ethnographic and ethnohistorical research data from the fragmented corpus of material on these topics and develop a web-­‐based repository to consolidate, standardise, enrich, and curate this data in a digital format. The resource will consist of data gathered by the author, but other researchers may also submit data. The project will also meaningfully enable the dissemination of information regarding past lifeways and customs to modern Amerindian groups related to those in the archaeological and ethnographic records, who often have inconsistent and limited access to this information.

This project is designed as a clearly-­‐defined, achievable initiative, but one which has the potential for future development and expansion. Future iterations could include digital imaging including Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and 3D models, as well as supporting data for attributes such as bone colour, types of cut features, bone measurements and minimum number of individuals. The dataset will be planned for potential expansion to other funerary practices, and other regions beyond Brazil, within a broader GIS database. The project will result in a website with an interactive map-­‐based interface displaying records of cremation in Brazil from archaeology, ethnography and ethnohistory. The site aims to provide a resource for  local communities and researchers to understand past funerary practices, consolidate fragmented and  disparate datasets into a single repository, and provide consistent and systematic vocabularies and  terminology for an area of funerary practice where multiple terms have been used inconsistently. The site will consist of a map containing linked data which users can interact with on screen. The interface will display characteristics of each record via a geolocation marker, which calls record metadata from a database. The metadata should be searchable and filterable, to enable the user to view specific categories and datasets. In the summer school, ways to facilitate the realization of the database, and implement current best practices regarding curation and publication of of digital archaeological datasets, as well as potential integration with other datasets and repositories, will be explored.

Case studies – Expert forum

Case study 7: Assessing access, engagement and use of online archaeological information assets among diverse communities

Lorna-Jane Richardson

The objective of this project is to assess the social importance of different ways of representing the archaeological record with a focus on digital media and Internet communications (from field project websites to collective blogs and initiatives in which I am personally involved, such as “The Day of Archaeology”, to mobile interpretation apps and 3D visualizations) on emerging practices of archaeological research, stewardship and public engagement. As part of my research project at Umeå, I explore the motivations, intentions, needs and  existing skill sets of people who are not professional archaeologists, but who choose to access archaeological information, for professional or hobby purposes. Relevant platforms and areas include: social media in all forms; crowdsourced and crowdfunded archaeology projects; mobile apps and heritage interpretation, 3D modeling and visualization.

The key objectives of the planned and ongoing work for this research project include:  a) to examine website and social media metrics data to understand web traffic and audience behaviour data that will provide a baseline quantitative understanding of when, where and which areas of the chosen archaeological websites, social media and apps are used, and provide useful data for understanding audience reactions to website content, navigation and accessibility; b) to identify, extract and measure opinions about archaeological topics from social media discussions; and, c) to produce a robust dataset which will provide contextual information on the archaeological interests of the wider public and the types of archaeological information sought online, especially within diverse urban and rural communities.

Case study 8: Balancing usability, analytical power and information richness in an integrated ancient pottery information system

Prof. Vladimir Stissi, Department of Archaeology, University of Amsterdam

A large amount of old and new data (results of fieldwork, but mainly databases describing and classifying collections of (pottery) finds from both old and ongoing fieldwork) were collected, brought together and analysed as part of the New Perspectives on Ancient Pottery (NPAP) project, and recently enriched with further collections, some of which through ARIADNE. The problem with combining different datasets is in balancing the ability to directly compare data of different origins, with loss of detail and some of the original focus of the data collection. Even after studying other comparable projects and discussing with many people facing similar problems, it remains difficult to finds systems and approaches that are truly universal in a field that is extremely fragmented and stuck to diverse professional traditions. A complementary problem is to find ways to make a very large, diverse and complex, but also very rich and potentially completely open dataset, truly accessible to those not originally involved with its creation.These problems persist in the new public interface of the continuation of the NPAP project: it is user-friendly at first sight, but the wealth and detail of information which is then accessible is truly overwhelming.

We hope to find ways to at least partly overcome this problem. On the one hand, we are working on continuous expansion of our dataset (involving the field work projects already in it and some new ones), and making additions of new heritage data and newly entered data easier and faster; on the other hand we are working on a open access online interface giving access to all our primary research data, but also allowing selection and analysis of these data, and further processing and addition of information by ‘the crowd’ and other scholars. The ultimate goal is a fully interactive dataset, through which all our fieldwork finds can be accessed and studied, individually and collectively. In the summer school, we hope to be able to discuss these issues and find shared attitudes and approaches regarding relevant methods, goals, processes of data management, interactive use of data, etc.

Case study 9: Designing multimedia archives on the history of archaeology for interdisciplinary scholarly use

Amara Thornton

This project has been formed to investigate the economic, social, political and cultural history of archaeology, with specific reference to British archaeology taking place in the Eastern  Mediterranean and Middle East. The Institute of Archaeology at University College London holds a vast amount of archive material relating to the excavations of British archaeologists in these regions, and it is these archival sources that the project seeks to  examine, analyse and present publicly. Archaeological archives within the collections of the Institute of Archaeology are being  read and evaluated in conjunction with archives relating to other social, political, economic and cultural themes and trends – learned societies, archaeological training schools in key international cities, government departments, museums, systems of patronage and sponsorship, publishing and public communication, exhibition and display incorporating the work of artists, architects and photographers to enhance the public understanding of archaeological excavation  techniques and the artefacts uncovered during this work. The Institute of Archaeology’s archaeological archives comprise various formats and media – correspondence, diaries, and journals, maps, photographs and film. Each of these provides a window  into the historical context of archaeology, and understanding the nuances of each of these categories of information, and providing a clear route to access (physically, virtually  and intellectually) both within and outside the discipline (and the university) is another major aim of the project.

Most recently, a new archive belonging to the British archaeologist Gerald Lankester Harding (1901-1979) has provided the project with a case study bringing together documents and film. An interdisciplinary team from the Institute of Archaeology and the Departments of English (Film Studies) and Information Studies at UCL have been funded to digitize, contextualize and present the archive In a publlcly accessible digital output. The project, entitled “Filming Antiquity”, has been running since spring 2014. After an Initial period of research, the Harding films were labeled and packed for digitization. The Filming Antiquity team established a blog at the outset of the project in order to document progress . Key members of the Filming Antiquity team began to research other early 20th century excavation films In other collections, which are available both on-line and off-line; this research was useful in understanding how other organisations had approached their archaeological audio-visual archival material and (where relevant) how they had made it accessible. The conservation and digitization of the Harding films took place between August 2015 and April 2016. The Filming Antiquity team has begun to analyse the footage in greater detail, and Is now exploring various methods, including digital ones, for disseminating the material.

This forum represents an exciting opportunity to engage with international scholars working on various aspects of digitization and curation of archaeological archives and collections. As a historian working primarily on archaeological and archaeology-related archives, it is particularly important to me that archaeological archives are viewed not just as resources for archaeological inquiry, but as unique windows into complex historical contexts and networks relevant to a variety of disciplines, and valuable for analysing the political, social, economic and cultural impact of archaeology in the past which continues to affect how archaeology is viewed today and will be viewed in the future. Augmenting existing digital infrastructures in archaeology to be more relevant and useful for interdisciplinary research is something I am particularly interested to explore. Online access is particularly relevant for archaeological archives in Britain, as many of them relate to countries that were formerly within Britain’s imperial zone, and were created during times of great political and social change. The question is how we make the most of the material we have, and share it in a way that ensures its accessibility both for specialists and non-specialists.