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Work in progress: an update on the new OASIS system

Working shot of Ralegh Radford and Peter Poyntz-Wright, Glastonbury Abbey 1962. Image from the digital archive: Glastonbury Abbey: Archaeological Excavations 1904 – 1979;

In the three months since the last technical report on HERALD Stage 2 (i.e. the build of the new OASIS system), the development team here at the ADS have been working hard. The new database has been built; in a departure from our usual database here at the ADS we’ve decided to use PostgreSQL as our database management system. A whole other blog could (and probably will) be written on why we’ve made this decision, but suffice to say it offers -for our needs – a greater flexibility in terms of datatypes, scale and indexing. Furthermore, via the PostGIS extension it also allows us to store geospatial datatypes, and makes it easy to do many of the location based activities we’ll need to record places simply and efficiently (and a whole lot more besides, but I will save that for another blog).

We’ve also – via consultation with ALGAO members – established a criteria and plan for moving records from the old OASIS database to the new system to ensure that no useful information gets left behind. Part of this work package has also been to map ‘bespoke’ terms used in the old/current model to appropriate UK heritage vocabularies, and in this we’ve received valuable assistance from the FISH Terminology Working Group. This last piece of work has highlighted the need for small revisions to existing lists, and indeed for new lists altogether (e.g. archive component). Over the next couple of months we’ll be finalising these edits and tweaks with FISH, HE and HES, and get ready for a pilot migration of data in the Autumn. As soon as this in finished I’ll report back here, as the level of semantic interoperability built into the new system (including LOD concepts from the BGS and OS) is quite exciting, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

Aside from this, Jo has been hard at work building the main application framework (or more simply ‘the new OASIS form’). Having written the Functional Specification and built the old system (back in the early 2000’s), Jo is probably better placed than most to implement the new build! At the moment she’s been working on arguably the hardest part in the logon and registration module…

The first glimpse of the new system: a snaphsot of the working registration module on Jo’s PC

The new system is – hopefully – a significant technical and conceptual upgrade on what we have in the older system. For starters, users will be able to log on as themselves rather than via an organisational account. Users will be able to be associated with more than one organisation to reflect different roles people may have in their work/research capacity, and be able to create a new organisation if theirs is not in the system. Extra steps are built in to ensure as little duplication as possible, including use of other ADS user groups to equate a user/organisation in that system with the same entities in OASIS.

At a slightly higher level, an organisational admin will be able to oversee their group’s members (add and remove), and have the ability to add details about their organisation. The latter will have capacity for Level 2 + 3 users (such as HERs and Museums/Archives) to add reference details on how their organisation is using the system, with space for specific guidance notes for where necessary.

Overall, we’re aiming for a simple yet flexible , quick, and well-explained (i.e. on screen guidance) workflow that reflects the feedback we’ve received on how the majority of users want to use the system. We’ll be showing this and other developments as part of timetabled project milestones to the project funders in the next month, and I’ll be reporting back on other significant developments as often as I can.

Please remember that that the timetable for HERALD Stage 2 is available on this wiki. If you’re interested in becoming a tester for the alpha build then please do get in touch with me via the project email:



Developing the OASIS Form for Northern Ireland

Jenny O’Brien + Louisa Matthews April 2018

In late 2017 we were incredibly pleased to hear that the Department of Communities, Historic Environment Division, Northern Ireland, were ready to implement a long-standing ambition to join-up to OASIS. It was felt that OASIS could help realise several goals set as part of their wider look at the management of archaeological archives and licencing of excavations in Northern Ireland. These goals included adding more structure and consistency to data generated during the course of investigations, and integrating this information into existing systems (and obviously, the dissemination of grey literature!).

At the start of 2018 the ground work had been prepared and Jenny embarked on coding a Northern Ireland instance of OASIS. Here’s how she got on…

Adding the Northern Ireland-specific forms to OASIS was a fairly straightforward process as similar had already been created for Scotland and Wales.  The linear three-stage process, by which the information was passed from contractor, to local government validation, to national level validation, was also kept the same.

Of the five main areas of the form (Project Details, Project Location, Project Creators, Project Archives and Project Bibliography), three required alterations to the way the form appeared or behaved: Project Details, Project Location, and Project Archives.

Project Details

The form of the project details page remained the same as for the other countries; it was the word lists that needed changing for this section. For most of the controlled lists, such as the ‘Type of project’ or ‘Site status’, the lists were generated by amending current database tables to indicate the terms that were applicable to Northern Ireland. The main alteration was to the Period table, where a new table had to be created that had the period-date relationships for Northern Ireland as well as the slightly different period-date relationships for the other countries.

Project Location

The Project Location section was, as expected, the area of the form that needed the most work.  The Northern Irish location options differed from the other countries in that there was a single ‘Local Council’ level location, rather than the ‘County’, ‘District’, ‘Parish’ sub-divisions seen in the English version of the form.  A new table was added to the underlying database to hold the location information including a second level to differentiate between ‘Terrestrial’ or ‘Maritime’ projects.  In this case, ‘Maritime’ being treated just as another location sub-division, rather than being used to inform multiple Historic Environment Records (HERs), as the Northern Ireland projects would all be validated by the Historic Environment Division, regardless of the area type or Local Council.  The option to select the main and additional HERs was therefore removed, with the validating body set at Historic Environment Division for all Northern Irish records.

The ‘Site Coordinates’ aspect of the form also needed to be altered substantially from the other countries, being the only country that does not fall under the OSGB coordinate system.  Rather than having multiple options to allow users to enter Lat/Long and/or OSGB coordinates here, the default was set to Latitude and Longitude.  The functionality which automatically converts the coordinates from OSGB to Lat/Long upon saving was also completely removed in the Northern Irish forms.

Project Archives

This section required the smallest change, with the field heading ‘Archive recipient’ being changed to ‘Archive location’ in all headings and drop-down list defaults.

Finishing touches

Once the main areas of the form were completed and functioning correctly, the rest of the form needed to be checked for country-specific references, right down to the help text, such as that used for the bibliographic information, these were changed to incorporate Northern Irish examples.

The Northern Ireland additions have now been transferred to the live version of the form and are ready for testing.

Time for an update: OASIS redevelopment

Tim Evans March 2018

It’s been nearly a year since this blog was last updated, and I’ve become aware that many people are interested in what’s happened over that period, and indeed what is happening with the HERALD project overall.

For those blissfully unaware, HERALD is the overarching title for the project that is actively redeveloping the OASIS system. For background, please do have a look at the revitalised HERALD wiki pages.

Chainless Cycle Co. Jorck’s Passage. Cycler uden Kæde | Fischer, Paul ; Vilh. Søborgs Eftfs. Etabl. Image from Europeana. CC0 1.0 Universal

Well, a great deal has happened! In the first instance there have been significant staffing changes and reshuffles here at the ADS. Over the winter, one of our Developers (Lei Xia) moved on to a fantastic job with  University of York IT Services. Lei was one of the key brains behind the new ADS Library, and his last few months were spent finishing the final tasks and processes for that system. With Lei moving on, we’ve looked around for a new Java Developer to take over as a designated ‘OASIS Developer’ to work with our existing Development team. It turns our that despite casting a wide net, the answer was very close to home and in February Jo Gilham (previously the  HERALD Project Manager) successfully interviewed for the post.

Those reading this will probably be aware of Jo through the scoping work she did as part of  Stage 1, and it was Jo that wrote the final Functional Specification for the new OASIS system that was signed off by HE and HES in July 2017. Not many people know this, but Jo comes from a technical background and in recent years has begun programming in Java, so she’s ideally based to take on  this challenge.

Despite this quick turnover, losing an experienced member of staff has not been ideal and has led to a delay in the expected delivery of the project. In truth, this delay has also been exacerbated by the need to finish work on the previously mentioned ADS Library, which has proved to be an extremely large and complex piece of work that has consistently thrown up problems that could not have been predicted at the outset. Significant delay on HERALD has thus been inevitable.

With support from Historic England, we’ve thus gone back to the original plan, identified which pieces of work may require additional resources (one of the positives of the Library was that we learnt alot more about the complexities of particular tasks), and come up with a new time frame for the OASIS redevelopment. I’ve created a project timeline on the HERALD wiki pages for easy reference, but to summarise we are now looking at completion of the Beta format of new OASIS in March 2020. Although that seems a long way off, in terms of development time this is still relatively short, so for the new/old HERALD team it’s full steam ahead.

On a final note, one of the issues that was raised recently was the need for increased communications regarding HERALD, especially in the build up to the public release of the Beta after March 2020. We’ve come up with a broad strategy of ways to accomplish this, of which you’ll see a great deal of in the immediate future, including:

  • the HERALD wiki pages and this blog will be kept up to date, and act as a constant guide to what’s happening and a reference resource with accessible reports and other publicity materials
  • you’ll also see me (Tim) out and about as much as possible at conferences, workshops and meetings
  • production of a great deal of paper-based literature about HERALD
  • new electronic publicity material which can be reproduced by non-ADS individuals if required
  • a greater presence on ADS and partner social media

I hope this does not seem like an overkill, or a saturation of the landscape! The desired effect is instead to try and make as many people aware of how the redevelopment is going, how they can participate and feedback  on testing and establishing training needs.

The redevelopment of OASIS is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an excellent resource that plays a core part of Historic England’s HIAS, and a system that will work optimally for everyone involved. The communications side of this work will focus on making the existing community aware of this, and how their specific concerns and issues with the old system are being addressed. It’s also an opportunity to engage those who previously have not used OASIS, or have thought that OASIS is not suitable for their work.

So please, do keep up to date with this blog, and related social media channels such as


For those of you who prefer face-to-face chats, please have a look at the upcoming events to see where members of the HERALD team will be in attendance. If you have any questions about the project or require any information that is not available on the main HERALD wiki then please email the team.







OASIS calling Museum Archaeologists and Post-Excavation Professionals

This is the third of these consultation blog posts, this time we need to talk about…


National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.OASIS has always had an archive section – it is one of the five main sections of the OASIS form: Project details, location, creators, ARCHIVE and bibliography. In the redeveloped version of OASIS we want archive information from OASIS to go to HERs as usual, but also to museum and archive curators, and allow archive depositors to connect directly with the organisation receiving the archive. Continue reading OASIS calling Museum Archaeologists and Post-Excavation Professionals

HERALD: The agreed project design

The Herald: John D. Batten
The Herald: John D. Batten

It’s a busy few months on the HERALD project. In March the final project design was agreed and work commenced almost immediately on the first major milestone: the creation of the ADS Library.

There’s been considerable interest in what is happening next, so we thought it would be a good idea to circulate the HERALD Stage 2 Project Design, so that people can see what has changed since we circulated the draft design last October.

Broadly speaking the timetable for the redevelopment project is as follows:
1. BIAB search interface and data entry interface – Autumn 2016.
2. Agreement of final functional specification for OASIS – Jan 2017.
3. Main OASIS form created – Winter 2017.
4. OASIS PLUS modules created – Spring 2018.
5. First testing release (ALPHA) – Summer 2018.
6. Beta Release – Autumn 2018*

As ever, questions and comments can be sent to the HERALD Project Manager, Jo Gilham. Or use the comments below.

Remember: to keep up-to-date with HERALD developments subscribe to our blog.

OASIS+Buildings Mock-up open for comment!

During the user needs survey undertaken as part of the HERALD project, it was recognised that historic building practitioners were keen to have an interface in the new system that related specifically to buildings.

It was also clear that this interface would need to be carefully designed, with the process involving plenty of feedback from those who would be using the new system.

With this in mind, Historic England commissioned the ADS to design a mock-up of what a historic buildings interface for OASIS might look like

This is your last opportunity to comment before the system is built, so please let us know what you think!

How to comment:

Chrome 21+, Firefox 28+, Safari 6+ and Opera 15+ users can view an interactive version online at Send comments to or  ask to be put on the collaborators list. Becoming a collaborator will allow you post comments onto the mock-up pages themselves.

Internet Explorer Users: Download the PDF, send comments to

Important note: The new OASIS system (as opposed to the mock-up) will work with recent versions of most browsers including Internet Explorer.

Assessing voluntary group archaeology

One of the aims for the OASIS redevelopment project is to develop a system that will encourage greater engagement from the community sector. In order to do that we need to know how much and what type of work is being carried out by the volunteer and community sector.

Therefore we are particularly keen to see the result of a new Historic England commissioned project to find out how much archaeology, historic building and local history research is carried out by voluntary groups in England. The project, conducted by Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, will assess the value or potential value this research has for enhancing Historic Environment Records (HERs) and Research Frameworks, which will directly impact our OASIS redesign.

The project asks local history and archaeology societies, diving groups and historic building enthusiasts to contribute to the project by completing an online survey before the 21st September. Completing the survey will help provide a better understanding of the contribution of volunteer efforts to heritage research, and to make sure that local history, historic building and archaeological research is better valued.

Survey link:

We encourage all community and volunteer groups to complete the survey, and ask people not directly involved in community work to share the survey with those that are, while we look forward to seeing the results.

The survey can also be completed by post – please contact Rob Hedge on 01905 765654.