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:
the quantity of digital data in existence types of digital data currently produced and their relationship to data in conventional formats attitudes to the production of digital data (e.g. how many organisations now collect digital data, and how many expect to do so within the next two years) archaeological criteria for determining which digital data should be preserved digitally and for how long existing approaches to the preservation of digital data which digital data have secondary re-use value which digital data have commercial value ways archaeologists would like to access digital data preferences for delivery mechanisms (e.g. CD-ROMs, diskettes, internet) the level of charging that would be sustainable for digital archiving types of training that would be necessary to enable effective use of digital archives
Significant findings of the survey and issues that may be central to any national policy in digital data are:
The HEI sector has the most privileged access to computers and the Internet. Areas with limited provision are independent/amateur archaeologists, contracting field units, museums and consultants. Archaeologists in all areas are using computers in their work, and digital datasets hold important information. There is a growing body of information being created solely in digital format. Many types of organisations hold digital datasets for the long term (not just museums). Most datasets are not secure, due to limited or poor archiving strategies. Secure, long-term archives are needed for digital datasets. In general, archaeologists want access to information irrespective of the medium in which it is contained. There is strong support for obtaining information on paper and digitally (tabulated datasets are particularly wanted digitally), though very little support for the use of microfiche. Accessible, computerised, on-line linked indices of project archives are needed for archaeology to facilitate research, education, planning and policy. Strategies are needed to identify which datasets should receive the highest priority for preservation. This needs to be determined by the information needs of archaeologists, and also in response to those projects that are in most danger of being lost. Poor cataloguing/indices are a major barrier to increased use of archives. There is support for an up-to-date index of what information resources are available. Standards and guidelines are needed for the creation, archiving and dissemination of digital datasets. A wide range of training is needed to help bring about effective creation, preservation and re-use of digital data.
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.
Programmes and Resources for Digital DataAn 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. 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. 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 DataData 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). 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 ArchivingDigital datasets are an important element of project archives that require active curation if they are to be preserved for future use. 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. Where archives are dispersed across more than one organisation, pointers to the location of other archive elements are important for maintaining archive integrity. 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'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. The digital archiving of large databases, CAD and GIS files is necessary if these resources are to maintain their functionality. Regional and national proactive strategies need to be developed for the selection of digital datasets that meet the current and future needs of archaeologists. 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 ArchivesAccess 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. 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. 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 MechanismsDetailed datasets should be made available in a variety of ways to ensure access for the maximum number of users.
Training Needs and Support InfrastructureIn 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. Archaeological organisations might co-ordinate their efforts to develop strategies more effectively for funding IT infrastructure for archaeology as a whole.