Category Archives: Digital Preservation

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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Data Seal of Approval: we’ve still got it!

Avid followers of the progress of the ADS recall that in early 2011 we were thrilled to be awarded the internationally recognised Data Seal of Approval (DSA); at the time only the second digital archive in the UK to receive the award, after the mighty UK Data Archive in Essex. What you may not know is that in order to retain the award you have to re-apply periodically. It’s a bit like keeping an MOT up to date to make sure a car is road worthy. So until we have our own Ministry of Archives (MOA) test we’ll use the DSA to make sure we remain archive worthy!

As you may imagine the renewal was certainly easier than the initial application and much remained the same. We, in essence, use the same procedures and policies now as we did two years ago although these are reviewed on an annual basis. So what has changed? We were able to include in our renewal application a number of enhancements to both our public interfaces and our back-room procedures. Enhancements for users have included the addition of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to each of our collections for greater clarity when finding and citing datasets; the completion of the new editions of the online Guide to Good Practice series; and the establishment of digital licences for depositors. Behind the scenes we have redeveloped elements of our Collections Management System to accommodate file level metadata and implemented the use of DROID, a file profiling tool developed by the National Archive.

We’re really pleased that the progress we have made over the last two years has been recognised and are proud to have had our accreditation renewed.

See our Data Seal of Approval here

Jenny Ryder’s Day of Archaeology at the ADS: a Silbury Hill update

Here it is, my Day of Archaeology 2013 and after a routine check of my emails and the daily news I’m ready to begin!

I am currently approaching the end of a year-long contract as a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service in York on an EH-funded project to prepare the Silbury Hill digital archive for deposition.

For a summary of the project, see the ADS newsletter and for a more in-depth account of my work so far check out my blog from a couple of weeks ago: “The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel”

Neil Gevaux’s Day of Archaeology at the ADS and Internet Archaeology

Working at the ADS & Internet Archaeology

I have been working at the University of York since November 2012, as the holder of a one-year IFA/HLF Workplace Learning Bursary. My days here are often split between tasks for the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the e-journal Internet Archaeology.

Work for the journal can involve proof-reading articles for publication, looking at proposals and writing HTML mark-up in order to prepare the articles for online publication. This really helps you get to grips with what the authors put across, and because of the electronic nature of the journal, it’s amazing to see the innovative ways that data and concepts can be presented. Whereas traditional print journals are confined mainly to text and images, Internet Archaeology regularly deals with animations, videos, 3D visualisations and other media, which all comes together to provide some really rich, interesting content.
Continue reading Neil Gevaux’s Day of Archaeology at the ADS and Internet Archaeology

The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel.

Shadow of Silbury Hill ©English Heritage
Shadow of Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

This is the first of a two-part blog reporting on the progress of my work in preparing the digital data from the English Heritage Silbury Hill Conservation Project for deposition.  For an introduction to my work, please see the ADS Spring 2013 newsletter

A bit of background

Silbury Hill is “the largest man-made mound in Europe” (English Heritage) roughly 4,500 years old and a mystery that many antiquarians and archaeologists have, in their time, tried to solve through extensive survey and excavation.

To summarise: The Silbury Hill Conservation Project began after a hole appeared on the summit in May 2000, after which the hill continued to be monitored through a series of surveys, assessments and evaluations.  These proved that the hill was suffering from various collapses caused by previous excavations being inadequately backfilled and voids were therefore created by the subsidence of material.

The Silbury Hill digital archive: a monumental task

Site office, progress shot of Jenny Ryder working ©English Heritage
Site office, progress shot of Jenny Ryder working ©English Heritage

As mentioned in the ADS newsletter, the digital data generated from the Silbury Hill Conservation Project represents all of the site visits, surveys, evaluations, excavations, photogrammetric recording, finds retrieval and environmental sampling undertaken over the span of 9 years as well as the consequent research, assessment and analysis of the site data.

At the beginning of 2012, the dataset comprised over 30,000 files and I was employed by English Heritage for three months to undertake the daunting task of selecting which files should be retained and renaming and reformatting files where appropriate.  As it transpired, that three month period was not enough to even sort through which files needed to be kept for archiving and which should be discarded; consequently I was employed for a further year to continue to prepare the digital data for deposition.
Continue reading The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel.

Felix Schäfer from IANUS visits ADS

Over the past two weeks the ADS has been extremely pleased to have hosted Felix Schäfer from IANUS for a training placement as part of the ARIADNE project. IANUS is a project to establish a National Research Data Centre for Archaeology and Ancient History in Germany. One of the reasons for Felix’s visit to ADS is to provide IANUS with a behind-the-scenes insight into the workings of a well-established and successful digital repository. Here is what Felix had to say about his time at ADS.


For two weeks I had the wonderful chance to stay and work at King’s Manor in York and look behind the scenes of the Archaeology Data Service. As IANUS is still a relative young project to build up a similar discipline specific  research data centre for the German archaeological and historical community, IANUS is very happy to see other successful institutions and learn from their experiences (and failures). And what better place to go than the ADS and look over the shoulders of the staff members, asking them numerous questions, inspecting their present and future systems, discussing issues about standards and guidelines and even processing some of my own German-type project collections according to the ADS’s workflows and checklists. All this has proven to be very inspiring and informative for me and I hope I can remember most of the insights when I’m back in Germany.

Continue reading Felix Schäfer from IANUS visits ADS

Two new print publications of the Guides to Good Practice are out now!

The Archaeology Data Service and Digital Antiquity are proud to announce the print publication of two new Guides to Good Practice, Caring for Digital Data in Archaeology and Geophysical Data in Archaeology. These two new print publications are the culmination of three years’ work to update the online Guides to Good Practice ( to cover a wider range of archaeological data and to refresh the content with up-to-date information. 

A wide variety of organisations are both creating and retaining digital data from archaeological projects. While current methods for preservation and access to data vary widely, nearly all of these organizations agree that careful management of digital archaeological resources is an important aspect of responsible archaeological stewardship.

Caring for Digital Data in Archaeology 

This Guide to Good Practice aims to improve the practice of depositing and preserving digital information safely within an archive for future use, by providing information on the best way to create, manage, and document digital data files produced during the course of an archaeological project. To do this Caring for Digital Data in Archaeology: A Guide to Good Practice is separated into three primary sections:

1.    Digital Archiving: An Introduction to this guide focuses on the need for digital archiving through the use of two case studies as well as how to best use the guides.

2.    Planning for the Creation of Digital Data outlines issues surrounding data creation and capture, selecting data for digital archiving, documentation and metadata, as well as issues surrounding copyright and intellectual property rights.

3.    Common Digital Objects, the final section, outlines best practices specific to documents, data sets, and images.  Each section covers which formats are archival, and specific issues related to each file format or type.

Copies can be ordered online at:

Geophysical Data in Archaeology

This 2nd edition of Geophysical Data in Archaeology: A Guide to Good Practice systematically explores what should be included in an Archive, illustrated with relevant examples. A conceptual framework is developed that allows assembling data and meta-data so that they can be deposited with an Archiving Body. This framework is also mapped onto typical database structures, including OASIS and the English Heritage Geophysics Database. Examples show step-by-step how an Archive can be compiled for deposition so that readers will be able to enhance their own archiving practice.

Geophysical data are sometimes the only remaining record of buried archaeological features when these are destroyed during commercial developments (e.g. road schemes). To preserve them in an Archive can therefore be essential. However, it is important that data are made available in formats that can still be read in years to come, accompanied by documentation that gives meaningful archaeological context. This Guide covers the creation of the necessary metadata and data documentation. There is no point preserving data if they cannot be used again.

Copies can be ordered online at:

These print publications are intended to be used in concert with the comprehensive online Guides to Good Practice site, which will be maintained with up-to-date information and provide more depth of content.

SPRUCE Hackathon – File Characterisation

The other week I had the opportunity to participate in the SPRUCE Hackathon hosted by Leeds University.  Hackathons are an opportunity for developers to get together and work on (or hack) common problems.  Typically hackathons in the USA are fuelled by Mountain Dew and pizza, but as this was a British hackathon it was mostly fuelled by tea and cakes (and mighty fine cakes thanks to Becky).  The hackathon was specifically focused on issues around file characterisation, which is precisely identifying and describing the technical characteristics of a file as well as its metadata.  This is an ongoing challenge for practitioners in the digital preservation realm since there are many file formats, many versions of those many file formats, and little consistency in the way these many file formats and their many versions internally identify themselves.  Digital archivists need to know more than just the file extension or format’s name, which Gary McGath sums up nicely in his recent Code4Lib article:

Just knowing the format’s generic name isn’t enough. If you have a “Microsoft Word” file, that doesn’t tell you whether it’s a version from the early eighties, a recent document in Microsoft’s proprietary format, or an Office Open XML document. The three have practically nothing in common but the name.

Thankfully there are a number of characterisation tools to help digital archivists with this, and of the attendees at the hackathon were some of the key developers behind the major tools such as JHOVE, JHOVE2, FITS, DROID and C3PO.  This provided an exciting opportunity to work alongside them on their tools and learn more about how the tools work.
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