Seeing the light of day – archaeological archives

Archaeology is in a special position when it comes to archiving because the objects and data are often the only things that survive of a site. As new housing and development takes place, archaeologists are busy excavating to record archaeological evidence before it is destroyed. Securing the resulting archives for future uses involves care, attention and facing up to some challenges.

The aim of the “Seeing the Light of Day” project is to develop a sustainable solution to the management, accessibility and long-term preservation of archaeological archives in the South West of England. Across the region there are differences in practice and in local situations and both publicly funded and independent museums collecting these archives. Many of the issues that museums and archaeology units are facing are well known (see http://archives.archaeologyuk.org/ for a summary of initiatives since 2002).  The fundamental issue comes down to funding – for storage, specialist staff and access initiatives.

The “Seeing the Light of Day” project, is funded through the Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund.  It is led by the Wiltshire Museum in a partnership with the South West Museum Development Partnership, South West Museums Federation, Historic Environment Teams and Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers in the South West, Historic England, the Chartered Institute for Archaeology Archives Group, the Society of Museum Archaeologists and the 5 largest archaeological contractors active in the South West.

The project is managed by David Dawson, Director of the Wiltshire Museum, which has appointed myself (Kate Fernie) and Paddy McNulty to work on the project.  My brief focuses on the museum issues. Together we are consulting with planning archaeologists, contractors and museums. Our aim is to develop business models and guidance on how to deliver funding for archaeological archives from developer contributions, models for sustainable, shared storage where these important archives can be properly looked after and the public access promised under the National Planning Policy Framework can be delivered.

Looking beyond storage and deposit of archaeological archiving we aim to identify approaches to unlock the community and academic research potential of archaeological archives both physical and digital.

Image showing the archives preparation and storage at Wessex Archaeology

Wessex Archaeology Archives processing and storage, January 2017

“Archaeological archives consist of the records and finds made during an archaeological project. The documentary archive includes written records, drawings, photographs and digital data. The material archive includes artefacts such as pottery and metalwork, or environmental remains such as animal bone” Historic England

Summer school – archaeological datasets

I recently had the honour of being invited to participate as a tutor in a summer school on the curation of archaeological datasets organised by the Digital Curation Unit of the Athena Research Centre for ARIADNE.  The school took place in Athens from the 12th to 17 June this year.  Case study presentations The participants at the school included both early stage researchers, experienced archaeologists and experts in digital curation from Lithuania, Italy, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Bulgaria, Greece and Canada.

The aim of the school was to focus on curating archaeological data from fieldwork projects, museum object collections, commercial and community archaeology, and the issues around making legacy data from past projects accessible to archaeologists and scholars today and in the future.

In addition to lecturers introducing specific topics the young researchers taking part in the school were invited to present their case studies and to describe the challenges that they are facing in working with their datasets.  A really interesting set of projects (covering numismatics, ceramics, cremation burials, place names and the web of maps, conceptual modelling and integrating the fieldwork legacy of hundreds of field teams) were introduced and worked on throughout the school in a series of sprints.  All the participants were divided into groups to focus in depth on particular case and then worked together to develop a “solution space” or plan to meet the challenges, which was presented by the researchers on day four.

Data transfer group_Neil Ferris photoOn the formal side, I presented the work carried out to develop the CARARE metadata schema.  I described some of the choices that we made and the issues we faced in developing a schema to integrate archaeological and architectural heritage inventories from 25 different countries.  In my lecture I introduced some of the work that we’ve done with controlled vocabularies, time and space.

The final day-and-a-half comprised of an expert forum, which set out to explore the future of archaeological curation based on the legacy of data and resources from past (and future) projects.  Costis Dallas began the session by asking ‘is archaeology in serious trouble or does it stand on the threshold of new advances?’

The forum then focussed on some of the challenges and advances that can be foreseen for the discipline such as advances in knowledge representation, communication and visualisation, sustainability and openness of data.  On the final day we were divided into groups to discuss our vision for the archaeological digital curation infrastructures of the future!

You can read more about the summer school on the ARIADNE website: http://www.ariadne-infrastructure.eu/News/DCAK2016-summer-school

2Culture content in Europeana

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During LoCloud training workshops I established my own digital library using the LoCloud Collections service.  It was easy to set up the digital library and, taking advantage of the free storage plan, I uploaded a small collection of my own photographs of Wiltshire Heritage.

Screenshot of 2Culture Collections

2Culture Collections

I uploaded five images and created simple metadata records using the management interface.  The LoCloud Collections service then allowed me to design the template for my collections website, which you can see at https://2culture.locloudhosting.net/.

The really cool part of the LoCloud collections service is that it automatically creates a remote harvesting target for each new collection.  Recently we put this service to the test, harvesting the 2Culture Collection’s target using the MORe aggregation service established for CARARE.  The metadata was harvested as Omeka-XML, transformed to EDM using a metadata mapping, then enriched before being provided to Europeana.

My small collection of images is now available on Europeana, and can be seen at: http://www.europeana.eu/portal/search?f[DATA_PROVIDER][]=2Culture&view=grid

Screenshot showing Europeana search results

2Culture content in Europeana

 

International Archives Day – preserving personal memories

The 9th June is International Archives Day with events going on in Archives across the world, the Municipal Archive of the city of Girona decided to celebrate the day by publishing a guide to preserving personal archives, based on the experiences of the archive’s technicians.

The guide covers both paper and digital archives.  It offers a useful starting point for thinking about which documents are important to you and how to organise them to keep them safely.  But it is particularly useful when it comes to digital archives.  More and more personal information being created and stored digitally – from emails to family photos and video as well as important personal documents.  Given the rapid developments in technology, and occasional accidents, which affect whether you can access your information on a personal computer, DVDs, flash memory stick or on a social media site, this guide is a useful starting point to thinking about how to store your personal memories for the future.

The guide is available in English on http://www.girona.cat/sgdap/docs/dia2013_def-eng.pdf.

For more about International Archives Day 2014 see: http://www.internationalarchivesday.org/wordpress/

Local content in the Europeana cloud

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The LoCloud project aims to make over 4 million items of digital content available through Europeana within two years. In March 2013, the team started its work to facilitate aggregation of digital resources from small and medium local cultural institutions.
Content from local museums, archives, libraries, archaeological sites, and other similar institutions is still underrepresented in Europeana and, in general, on the internet. Cloud-based technology offers an affordable and user-friendly solution for making their content available online. This recently published video explains the project aims and how it can help smaller and mid-size institutions to get their collections on the web.

LoCloud is developing a cloud-based technology infrastructure for aggregating local content. It will also provide a number of micro-services offering geo-location and metadata enrichment, multilingual vocabularies for local history and archaeology, a historical place name gazetteer and a Wikimedia application to handle relevant ‘crowd-sourced’ content. Moreover, the project is working on the implementation of a lightweight digital library software for deployment in a cloud environment, compatible with Europeana requirements. This will benefit those data providers requiring a user-friendly, scalable system for cataloguing their digital content and metadata.

LoCloud relies on a large consortium of technical partners, content providers, aggregating services and partners with specific expertise which make together a very strong consortium.

PATHS project draws to a close

After three years the PATHS project is drawing to a close. We started our work back in 2011 with funding from the European Commission’s 7th framework programme to carry out research into techniques to find ways of improving and personalising access to the significant amounts of cultural heritage material that have been made available online digital library portals as a result of digitisation initiatives in recent years.

Screenshot of the PATHS user interface

PATHS desktop application

Very large collections can be difficult for users to navigate – it is difficult to find content in the depths of the collection without specialist knowledge about how it is structured and or the vocabulary used to describe the content. The metadata that is available can limit the kind of information retrieval that cultural institutions are able to offer their users.

Discovering interesting ites can be even more difficult in collections where content is brought together from many different institutions (such as in Europeana), where staff are using different cataloguing systems, standards and languages. PATHS aimed to demonstrate the potential for improving users’ experience by exploiting natural language processing to enrich metadata and by implementing state-of-the-art systems in user-driven information access.

One of the major achievements of the PATHS project has been to demonstrate the practical benefits and technical feasibility of enriching the metadata for cultural heritage collections as a means of improving content retrieval, supporting innovative discovery and exploitation.  This addresses a critical issue for cultural heritage institutions across Europe who hold vast quantities of quality content in digital libraries that are currently never found unless explicitly sought. A prototype content enrichment service was released for cultural institutions to trial enriching their content item by item.

The initial deployment of PATHS focussed on browser-based applications on desktops. To demonstrate the flexibility of the PATHS API, the project developed a version of the application for use on iPADs.

Screen shot of the PATHS iPAD app

PATHS iPad app

The project developed a range of tools to visualise the content of the digital library (such as topic maps, thesaurus browse and tag clouds) and to enable users to create and publish their own pathways (of interesting items and related materials) through the collection.   We evaluated the system with users through lab trials and a series of demonstrations and received positive feedback which confirmed that the project achieved its objective of providing tools that enrich users’ experiences of digital libraries. The interactive tools provided for expert and non-expert users to use content and create narratives, tell stories and make personal collections were very well received.

The project also provided an important test bed for Europeana content and the Europeana Data Model (EDM) making recommendations on extensions to the EDM schema to manage semantically enriched content. PATHS made a significant contribution to research into the application of semantic enrichment techniques to cultural heritage content, demonstrating the potential to enrich the simple content metadata to enable novel browsing and information discovery. The techniques used enriched items with links to similar content, created links to related Wikipedia articles, and enabled the collections to be thematically organised into a semi-automatically created hierarchical structure. We explored the potential of generating personalised recommendations based on user profiles, query logs and the similarity of content items, contributing to research in this important area.

Additionally, the knowledge developed through the project with regard to information retrieval, indexing and Web APIs have been invaluable to the development of the next generation of portals.  A prototype content enrichment web service was released and has been adopted for development by the LoCloud project.  The next generation of Avinet‘s map portal, ADAPTIVE, is being built exploiting PATHS technology in its search engine and is a first step on the way towards commercial exploitation of PATHS products.

Throughout the project the PATHS team have researched, developed and evaluated techniques to improve the presentation of digital library content to end users.  Our research activities have led to scientific publications, and the project results form a core technology with expectations for further exploitation in the Cultural Heritage domain. We hope that the knowledge developed through the project will be invaluable in the development of the next generation of portals.

For more information about the project’s results see: http://www.paths-project.eu/eng/Resources