Publishing Archaeological Data on the Web (New York, 14 April)

Two Public Lectures on Publishing Archaeological Data on the Web

Sebastian Heath, Ph.D. (American Numismatic Society)
Eric Kansa, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley)

Date: 14 April 2009
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 15 E 84th St., New York, NY  10028, U.S.A. (lecture room)

Heath: Digital Publication and Linked Data at Troy

The Post-Bronze Age Excavations at Troy in Turkey, known as Ilion in the Greek and Roman periods, have begun a program of publishing ceramic vessels and coins from the site in digital format. Our goal is to provide the information in formats that are useful to archaeologists in the field and to students or anybody else interested in this material. Accordingly, all the files that make up these publications are available for download under Creative Commons licenses. Anybody can take this information and redistribute it for free. We are also working to express the inherent links within archaeological information. A user reading about pottery from North Africa found at Troy can easily link to secondary literature and internet resources that will increase their understanding of this material. We likewise hope to make such links discoverable by search engines as well as by researchers working on the digital processing of humanities resources.

Kansa: Open Context: Digital Dissemination of Field Research and Museum Collections

Publishing archaeological field data and primary documentation has received increasing attention and concern. Archaeological sites are threatened and archaeological methods themselves are often destructive. Often, excavation and survey records represent the only aspect of the archaeological record that can be preserved. This is especially worrisome, since so much of this documentation is in vulnerable, volatile digital formats. In addition to cultural heritage preservation issues, archaeologists often want to use pooled primary field documentation as a resource for investigation. Research may be enhanced by simplifying and speeding access to such documentation, or even by comparing across the results of multiple studies.

In an attempt to respond to these needs, several initiatives are exploring several approaches toward digital dissemination. Open Context ( is an open source system that provides a cost-effective dissemination solution for field research and museum collections. The system offers integrated access and services across datasets pooled from multiple research projects and collections. A long-term development goal is to help link field research and museum collections with active discussions and creative reuses, making these collections a much richer and integral part of continued cultural and scholarly production. Citation features and editorial control encourage researchers to consider publication in Open Context as a valid form of scholarly communication. At the same time, Creative Commons licenses give explicit permissions for users to freely and legally use the material so long as they properly attribute the original creator and abide by a few other optional terms.

A major challenge with Open Context’s approach lies in data integration and mapping different source data sets to Open Context’s common global structure. Open Context aims to provide Web-based tool for researchers and collections managers to upload, "markup" and publish diverse archaeological and museum collection datasets. It remains to be seen if this tool can be easy enough to use by individual contributors, or if trained staff will always be required to aid such markup.