Strategies for Digital Data Contents ADS Home Forward

2. Executive Summary

2.1 History of the project

In the spring and summer of 1998 the Archaeology Data Service carried out a survey of the creation, archiving, use and re-use of digital data in archaeology. The ADS was commissioned to undertake this survey by English Heritage and the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England. Additional financial support was received from Cadw, Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, the Heritage Council (Republic of Ireland), Historic Scotland, the Royal Commissions for Scotland and Wales, and also the Arts and Humanities Data Service. This enabled the survey to be extended to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are very grateful for the support provided by so many organisations in archaeology.

Frances Condron undertook the survey, analyses and initial draft of Strategies for Digital Data. Julian Richards, Damian Robinson and Alicia Wise edited the work and brought it to publication.

In mid-April 1998, 3,000 questionnaires were mailed to archaeologists in Britain and Ireland. This was followed by a lesser number of structured telephone interviews conducted in July 1998. The results of this survey are presented in this report.

The aims and objectives of the survey are to establish for British and Irish archaeology:

Significant findings of the survey and issues that may be central to any national policy in digital data are:

The various recommendations made throughout this report highlight important areas for continued and new action in archaeology. It is essential that the many organisations in each country involved in the historic environment work together to develop and strengthen strategies for digital data, and that these build on strategies currently available for information in other media. Lead rôles need to be taken by those national bodies that funded Strategies for Digital Data, as well as national museums and professional associations. Any strategies need to be addressed to all those creating and holding digital data - including the small units and consultants that currently hold important and unique information.

Archaeology is not alone in facing these issues. Many initiatives related to the creation, management, preservation, and re-use of digital data are underway, and it is vital that major archaeological bodies and institutions ensure that the discipline is in position to key into relevant national and international projects. In Britain an enabling mechanism for such co-ordination exists with the establishment of the Historic Environment Information Resources Network (HEIRNET) under the auspices of the Council for British Archaeology.

2.2 Recommendations

    Programmes and Resources for Digital Data

  1. An on-line catalogue of digital data archive holdings, at least as national (and inter-linked) indices, and accessible from any computer connected to the Internet, would greatly assist research.
  2. The creation and archiving of digital data should be done in accordance with appropriate national and international data standards. The Integrated Information Systems underway for the dissemination of properly archived and curated archaeological data should be fully supported (e.g. Extended National Index for Wales, plans for English SMRs/the NMR and Scotland's CANMORE-Web). This necessitates collaboration between SMRs, NMRs, national bodies and the museum community, and co-operation within and across national boundaries should be promoted where possible. HEIRNET may provide such a co-ordinating rôle.
  3. Digital data created as a result of archaeological research is of relevance to the wider community. Archaeologists in Britain must take advantage of the various new Integrated Information Systems being developed, such as the New Library and the UK Archival Network, to ensure that archaeology has a voice in the inter-disciplinary partnerships envisaged between national and local government, libraries, HEIs, schools and public organisations.

    Standards and the Creation of Digital Data

  4. Data creation standards are essential to facilitate the exchange of information. National bodies in Britain and Ireland should continue to collaborate with European and international standards and guideline development programmes (e.g. CIDOC, CIMI).
  5. National bodies should continue to encourage the use of standards for projects they fund. Similar guidelines need to be built into project briefs for developer-funded work. A peer-reviewed list of archaeological data standards is held on-line by the ADS at: http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/project/userinfo/standards.html. As a part of archaeological good practice all archaeologists should make use of appropriate standards in any work they undertake.

    Standards and Digital Archiving

  6. Digital datasets are an important element of project archives that require active curation if they are to be preserved for future use.
  7. Project briefs should make clear provision for the archiving of any digital data created during the course of the project in an appropriate digital archive.
  8. Where archives are dispersed across more than one organisation, pointers to the location of other archive elements are important for maintaining archive integrity.
  9. There is a need for a document that details the appropriate standards and facilities for digital archives. Included in this document should also be a list of digital archives that conform to these standards. An accreditation scheme for digital archives should be devised.

    Selection of Digital Information for Archive

  10. 'Raw datasets' such as primary finds analysis, site context information, surveying data, catalogues and indices are vital sources of information for research, and ideally accessed on paper and digitally. Where created digitally, they should be targeted for inclusion in digital archives.
  11. The digital archiving of large databases, CAD and GIS files is necessary if these resources are to maintain their functionality.
  12. Regional and national proactive strategies need to be developed for the selection of digital datasets that meet the current and future needs of archaeologists.
  13. There is a need for the retrospective collection of existing digital data. The current lack of strategy means that archives are reacting in ad hoc fashion.

    Cost Recovery and Funding Digital Archives

  14. Access to indices of project archives should be free in order to assist individuals in locating project archives, to encourage greater use of archives (digital or other), and to involve the general public in as many ways as possible. It is recognised, however, that additional services such as copying datasets, postage, special tutoring and additional documentation may incur costs and these could be passed onto the user.
  15. Digital archiving bodies need some core funding for services such as archive maintenance, user support and training to ensure that charges to users are not prohibitive.
  16. Depositors may be charged for archiving datasets. Nevertheless, charges need to take into account how projects were initially funded and the level of public access the depositor allows to their data. Projects allowing high levels of access to their project information would ideally have lower deposit charges.

    Data Delivery Mechanisms

  17. Detailed datasets should be made available in a variety of ways to ensure access for the maximum number of users.

    Training Needs and Support Infrastructure

  18. In order to use digital data, training is necessary both as part of on-going professional development and as a component of university education. There is also a need to provide appropriate training for digital archivists.
  19. Archaeological organisations might co-ordinate their efforts to develop strategies more effectively for funding IT infrastructure for archaeology as a whole.

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