Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Promise of Online and Transcendent Archaeological Information Databases

From the Online Lapita Ceramic Database (

So this week we're looking at managing information and data in archaeology, and the challenges of making data accessible. We're reading about initiatives in Europe that are seeking to allow regional and national databases transcend borders and transcend practitioner idioms to be of use... in a meaningful and comparable way to researchers, wherever they are.

Another example where online research tools transcends borders is if you happen to be working in a part of the world where subject matter transcends a lot of limited physical borders, and dispersed communities of scholars. This is really a challenge for archaeologists who work with ancient cultures of the Pacific. The physical challenges of documenting collections from dispersed island places is also compounded by the fact that there is a very dispersed community of scholars spanning the eastern and western ends of the Pacific. This has traditionally been a real limitation of people working with Lapita ceramics, for example, leaving them working on only portions of the overall record and only really learning about other collections through word of mouth or the odd publication.

Which is why I'm a big fan of the work by Scarlett Chiu, at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. She has developed a very robust and very user friendly database of Lapita ceramics that helps researchers looking for patterns of decoration, distribution, etc., allowing them to come to this centralized database to both access information, and, importantly, upload their own information.

It is a research portal I hope Sustainable Archaeology can begin to model as collection information begins to build up at SA, allowing people real access to collections, and even attributes, to explore ancient material patterns in ways previously unimaginable... After all if Scarlett can transcend the limitations of the Pacific to provide centralized material access to Lapita ceramic assemblages, surely we can do that for the Northeast and Great Lakes region!

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