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The dark valley: notes from the ADS library

Tim Evans

Over a year and a half ago I wrote a short blog on the mechanics of the ADS grey literature library, going in to (what I considered) fascinating detail on the technical considerations of archiving the reports we host online. In the intervening period since that blog I’ve spent a large portion of my time working on the Roman Rural Settlement of Britain project, and an array of what we term special collections (for example  Stones of Greece, Origins of Nottingham and Parks and Gardens). Colleagues such as Jenny O’Brien and Georgie Field have primarily been responsible for  transferring reports into the library and as such, some distance has crept into the relationship between myself and the library. Like an old friend to whom one hasn’t spoken for sometime, one starts to wonder as to whether the links and shared experiences will persevere.

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Rural Settlement of Roman Britain

Tim Evans

In June 2013 I wrote the first in what I planned to be a two part blog describing my work on the Rural Settlement of Roman Britain Project (henceforth RRS).  A little later than planned, here it is.

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Drawing of a columnar Roman milestone found c.1772 on the Fosse way two miles from Leicester, bearing the name Ratae (the unofficial logo for the project Web Mapping). Image from the Society of Antiquaries of London Catalogue of Drawings and Museum Objects doi:10.5284/1000409

Background

The RRS project arose from a two-stage  pilot project undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology and funded by English Heritage (now Historic England), Assessing The Research Potential of Grey Literature in the study of Roman England. This project identified the large levels of grey literature, the colloquial term for unpublished reports produced primarily through the planning process containing significant information about the Roman period.

The RRS project is being undertaken by the University of Reading and Cotswold Archaeology and funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust with additional backing from Historic England. The project has built on the pilot by reviewing all sources – traditional published journals/monographs and grey literature – for the excavated evidence for the rural settlement of Roman Britain with the over-arching aim to inform a comprehensive reassessment of the countryside of Roman Britain.
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Roman Rural Settlement at the ADS

Since April 2012 I have been fortunate enough to be the ADS lead in the Roman Rural Settlement of Britain project, undertaken by Mike Fulford and a small team at the University of Reading in collaboration with Cotswold Archaeology with funding from the Leverhulme Trust and English Heritage. For those unfamiliar with the project, the primary aim is to research both unpublished and published sources from excavations to write a new account of the rural settlement of Roman Britain. The settlement evidence from Roman England will be published in a book-length study and simultaneously online via an ADS interface in April 2015. An ongoing phase of analysis incorporating the settlement evidence from Wales and related finds and burial data will be added in 2016.
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ADS 3D Viewer

ADS 3D Viewer is a two year project funded under the ‘Marie Curie Actions’ Seventh Framework Programme, and benefits from the collaboration with the Italian Visual Computing Lab in the framework of the ARIADNE European project. In the past ten years the use of new technologies for the 3D documentation and reconstruction of cultural heritage has changed how we approach archaeological research.

The growth of information technology in 3D documentation tools, including electronic surveying instruments, laser scanners, photogrammetric cameras, and even CAD modellers, has brought an exponential increase in the use of digital data. The use of “real-time” survey software and hardware such as total stations, global positioning systems (GPS), photogrammetry and laser scanners has had a remarkable impact on archaeological recording as well as important implications for archaeological survey. The use of these techniques, by improving the accuracy and precision of the documentation process, is considerably changing the nature and implications of the word “digital” in archaeology. Presently, the main challenge for archaeologists and information and communication technology specialists consists in the preservation and dissemination of 3D data in archaeology. Up to now, a large number of 3D digital data archives have been produced and most focus on the preservation of the information over time without thinking about the accessibility of these data on the part of the scientific community.

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Blue/Black on Red Jar, ID 76449 in the ADS 3D viewer. © Egypt Exploration Society, Amarna Trust

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Archaeological Drones

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are a ‘disruptive technology’, a technology that forces us to rethink how we do (or used to do) things – from protecting white rhino to delivering pizza. Everyone who needs a bird’s eye view is now wondering how this technology can help them; farmers, structural engineers, ecologists and, of course, archaeologists.

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Hexacopter equipped to take near-vertical photographs

In theory, even a very minor archaeological site can now benefit from its very own aerial survey. But while the possibilities for archaeology are immensely exciting, many of the actual results are still disappointing; blurry aerial photos, images which may be pretty but which can’t be georeferenced and expensive cameras hitting the ground at terminal velocity.

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Opening up the Grey Literature Library

The Grey Literature Library is one of the ADS’s most popular resources, and as shown by projects such as the Roman Rural Landscape, one that is of massive research value. The library is constantly growing, with most reports coming from the OASIS system. In 2013 alone, there were 3891 reports submitted. Feedback from all levels of the archaeological community makes it clear that the hosting of openly accessible digital grey literature is a boon. However, one of the questions we are most commonly asked is “why does it take so long for a report uploaded to OASIS to make its way into the library?”. This is perfectly understandable; people who have completed an OASIS record to share the results of their fieldwork want to make sure this effort is not in vain. Rest assured it isn’t, here’s a small insight into what’s going on underneath the workings of the library.
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Persistence in Preservation and Publication of Data

To recognise the effort that authors make in order to deposit digital data and to get academic credit for that effort, Internet Archaeology (IA) and the ADS have established an open access data paper series. ‘Data papers’ maximise a dataset’s re-use potential and help to improve the preservation and the publication of data and are a valuable addition to the advancement of archaeological research. However IA and ADS have now taken the concept a little further.

In order to identify the content and provide a persistent link to its location on the Internet, each data paper in IA and the corresponding archive in ADS are assigned unique DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers, issued via CrossRef and DataCite). The introduction of these unique digital identifiers has been a major advancement for persistence in data preservation, publication and citation, but our approach has been to extend them to a more granular level. While an ADS dataset is assigned a ‘top level’ DOI, additional identifiers to specific sections of the data area have also been allocated. This enhances the archive not just by enabling direct access to a subset of data but also allows those sub-sections, often authored by specialist researchers, to be citable in their own right and gives recognition to the individuals who undertook the work e.g. see Richards & Roskams (2013) archive: where the Geophysical Survey, the Field-walking Survey and Animal Bone reports all have their own DOI. There is no limit to the granulation possible and we envisage usage right down to individual digital objects, such as a photograph or a GIS shapefile, when their importance to a hypothesis is apparent. Such use of DOIs will greatly benefit archaeological research, providing greater transparency in archaeological reporting and improving research efficiency.

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HERALD: a new beginning for OASIS

We all know that the historic environment sector has undergone a great degree of upheaval over the last few years as a result of the recession-busting
moves by both central and local government and, perhaps even more importantly,
the slump in building activity. At the same time colleagues in the sector are coming to rely more and more on technological solutions to help provide a high quality archaeological information to the public. It is therefore heartening to be able to announce an investment by English Heritage in OASIS to consider a project to redevelop the system to better meet the needs of the historic environment community it endeavours to serve.
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Topping Up your Credit (or how you can learn to stop worrying and love your data)

“Data that is loved tends to survive” (Kurt Bollacker, Data Scientist)

We all want better ways to make research data available and to give more credit to the researchers who create and share their data. Yet even when that hard work culminates in data being deposited in an accredited archive, the level of recognition and academic credit gained is still limited.

In an attempt to redress this, Internet Archaeology has established a series of peer-reviewed, open access ‘data papers’ where authors characterize the content and the re-use potential of a dataset they have deposited in one of a number of trusted digital archives (e.g. ADS, but also tDAR and Open Context in the USA for example) and describe it in a way that promotes data sharing and reuse.  After all, data generated in the course of archaeological research are just as valuable as the content of journal papers or monographs.
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Digital Romans

This is the first of a two-part blog – the second will be a more detailed overview of the technologies involved in the digital dissemination – on the ADS’s work on what is colloquially known as the Roman Grey Literature project, but more officially as The Roman Rural Settlement of Britain. The project is funded by English Heritage and the Leverhulme Trust and is collaboration between ourselves, University of Reading and Cotswold Archaeology, which aims to produce a new synthesis of the rural landscape through the analysis of developer funded fieldwork. Some may be familiar with an earlier associated project, which has been archived by the ADS doi:10.5284/1000418, if you haven’t already seen it it’s well worth a look.

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3rd century AD Pakenham colour-coat beaker (left) and 4th century AD Nene Valley colour-coat pentice moulded beaker from excavations at The Babraham Institute, Cambridgeshire. Cambridge Archaeological Unit doi:10.5284/1001160

As with nearly all major research projects, the main outputs for this consist of the usual hard-copy publications including a monograph and various journal articles but in addition to these there will also be a project archive held with the ADS. As we’ve been involved in the project from the beginning the archive will be a great deal more than the usual ‘downloads’ interface. Hopefully by the end of the project (at the time of writing summer 2015) we’ll have in place a well-formed and meticulous archive to allow sophisticated reuse of the data and grey literature sources collected by the team, thus facilitating and encouraging further analyses by the archaeological community.
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