Announcing The Archaeological Data Archive Project

Hugh Jarvis (C129QP43@UBVM.BITNET)
Thu, 2 Dec 1993 16:55:07 EST

Announcing The Archaeological Data Archive Project

At the meeting of the Committee for Computer Applications and Electronic Data
of the Archaeological Institute of America last December there was a lengthy
discussion of the importance of providing access to scholarly information
electronically over the Internet. All agreed that as much information as
possible should be available and that the question of access raised additional
questions about data standards. The members of the committee were especially
concerned about the possible loss of computer-based records, since long-term
storage of magnetic media and changes in computer standards can create
significant problems.

As the members of the committee came to agree that a major archival project
should be initiated, they also realized that the geographic and cultural
spread of the archive would be so broad that an independent organization
should be established to manage the project. CSA Director Harrison Eiteljorg,
II, volunteered to organize an independent archival project.

During the winter months the members of the committee and Mr. Eiteljorg
refined the aims and scope of the project. The resulting formal proposal was,
at the request of the committee, endorsed by the AIA, and the Archaeological
Data Archive Project was started. Endorsements of the Project by other
archaeological organizations are now being sought. (The Project will operate
under the aegis of CSA, the Center for the Study of Architecture, but will be
independently funded.)

Since that time, there has been an ongoing attempt to be sure others are not
undertaking a similar project. Two major archival projects of this nature are
not needed. No similar project has been found, and the Bryn Mawr College
Director of Computing Services, Thomas A. Warger, has offered his
encouragement and assistance. Therefore, the Archaeological Data Archive
Project (ADAP) is now being publicly launched.

The principal goal of the Project is to Rprovide a repository for excavation
information, access to that information, and safe, secure, long-term storage of
the information.S Long-term storage includes refreshing the data on a
periodic basis and, when required by changing technology, transferring the
data to new media. Records of excavations explicitly include data sets from
database systems, CAD, GIS, spreadsheets, etc., but may also be taken to
include any other records available in computer form.

Access to electronic data should be as open and easy as possible; such access
requires several things.
First, of course, access requires that the data be on a computer linked to the
Second, real access to data sets requires that the data be structured in ways
which users can understand. At a minimum, the relationships within the data
files must be clear and explicit.
Third, the terms used in the files must be well defined if a user is to
understand the data fully.

Individuals or institutions that cannot maintain records safely or that cannot
provide access may transmit them to ADAP for safekeeping. ADAP is prepared to
accept such materials now. (ADAP personnel will also work with scholars who
have paper-based records they wish to convert, although funding for that work
would be required from other sources.)

There are three requirements for data files to be included in the archive.
First, the records must be in a form which can be accessed by current
software; files created in obsolete formats must be converted (ASCII being the
minimum standard), a process with which ADAP personnel will assist if
necessary. Second, the records must be accompanied by an explanation of the
data structure and terms used so that the data will be meaningful. Project
personnel will also assist with developing that explanation if necessary.
Third, the data must be accessible to others at the time it is transmitted or
at a specified date in the future.

Relevant, Internet-accessible records maintained by other institutions may be
contributed to the archive without physically transferring them to ADAP. The
use of Internet navigation aids makes it unnecessary to keep the records in
the same place. Locations of other computerized records which are not made a
part of the archive will be noted by ADAP so that records kept by ADAP or by
other institutions may be found through a single source.

The major benefit of this archive, at the outset, will be preserving and
providing access to records that might otherwise be lost or rendered useless
by changing computer standards. Other benefits will flow from the existence of
a computerized archive, for example, placing full data sets in the archive for
public access would provide prompt and efficient publication of information
too voluminous to be published effectively or economically on paper. Such an
archive will also make available to scholars CADD models, GIS data sets, and
other such computer-based information which cannot be conveyed on paper. If,
as is possible, scholars use the archive as the preferred form of publication
for catalog information and use traditional paper publication for
interpretation, analysis, and synthesis, there will also be considerable
savings of both time and money.

In the longer run, the existence of an archive will also aid in leading the
archaeological community toward reasonable standards for terms and data types.
The archive will provide examples of the problems raised by the absence of
consistent definitions and samples from which to begin a synthesis. Plans also
include arranging meetings of representatives of national and international
archaeological organizations to begin Rthe process of reaching agreement about
those standards, both archaeological and computer-based, which are needed to
make the archive function effectively.S The recommendations will not be
restrictive; nor will they prescribe the structure of excavation data sets.
Common terminology will be the crucial goal.

Working groups will address various areas of concern and will be asked to make
recommendations to enable the effective exchange of information.
Recommendations for carefully delimited areas will be issued separately and
will be disseminated for comments. A full set of recommendations will
ultimately be agreed upon, and scholars wishing to contribute their
information to the archive will be expected to follow those recommendations.

As the Project goes forward and technology advances, new problems relating to
the storage of and access to data will surely arise. They will be examined
with the aid of the international steering committee

As data become available, the international steering committee will consider
cost questions - whether to charge for access, how to impose charges, and how
much to charge.

The international steering committee will also be obliged to concern itself
with the issue of data integrity. If data on a network can be copied, they can
also, once on another machine, be altered. Protection of data integrity will
be an important issue for consideration.

ADAP will be funded separately from CSA. However, start-up work is being
funded by CSA, and information about ADAP will appear regularly in the CSA

This is a Project of enormous scope, and there can be no doubt that success
requires the cooperation of the archaeological community. That cooperation is,
in fact, needed here and now. Data sets that are in need of safe and secure
storage must be the first priority, and anyone who knows of such data is
encouraged to help. Files from KayPro and other obsolete microcomputer systems
are among those which most urgently require attention. Similarly, data sets
which should be widely available but cannot be accessed now should be high on
the list of priorities.

Planning for the first general conference to begin the process of seeking
standards has just begun; those who would be interested in assisting are
encouraged to contact Harrison Eiteljorg, II, at CSA.

(Quotations are from RThe Archaeological Computer Archive Project: A Summary
Proposal.S Copies are available on request, by mail or Internet. Your comments
about the Project, questions, and suggestions will be extremely helpful to the
development of this archive. Please give us the benefit of your thoughts.)

Harrison Eiteljorg, II
CSA, Box 60, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
(215) 526-7925
November 29, 1993