The future for England’s Rock Art

Several users have been in touch concerned over the future of England’s Rock Art website. Suffice to say that users should rest easy that no data is being lost, and public access to data is being retained.

Here’s the important background as to why this is happening:

England’s Rock Art website was originally launched in Summer 2008, as the culmination of a Historic England (then English Heritage project) to catalogue carvings in the Northumberland region. Since then it has been added to, principally with records from the Beckensall archive that were previously stored with Newcastle University. The website itself is actually a fairly complex application, with an underlying spatial database and Java framework that allows the user to interrogate the database.

Since its launch, the ADS have continued to perform a wide range of updates, patches and migrations on the application to ensure it’s longevity. These have involved major rebuilds in 2011, 2015, and 2018. Despite this additional work, undertaken with no additional funding, some features have begun to creak and latterly break (such as the map interface). More recently, the framework as a whole has become outdated, being deemed at risk for the last 18 months, and is now at a point where a major rebuild/application migration is required. This is not only to retain functionality, but also for security.

We take security very seriously here, and as such and in consultation with our IT services have agreed that the application is now at its end of life, and sadly needs to be replaced. We don’t take such decisions lightly. We’re aware from access stats that Rock Art has on average 30 unique visits every month and has a core interest group that needs to access the data, so we’re currently taking steps to make sure the data in the Rock Art database is maintained and made publicly accessible in perpetuity.

What’s happening?

The data itself (i.e. the text and images used in the database) is being turned into a standard ADS public archive. This means the individual records (CSV) images (JPG/TIF) and VRML will be available to access download. This includes all the later additions such as the Beckensall archive.

This means, for example, that all the information on the page for an ERA record such as this one, will still be there, just not in the website format and perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing.

We’re hoping to have this done as soon as possible, and when ready the ERA URL will resolve to the new archive.

Further ahead, there are some advantages to bringing the ERA data into a standard archive. The metadata can be incorporated within our Collections Management System (CMS) and Object Management System (OMS), the latter of which is forming the basis of our plans to centralise and implement cross-searching of Objects (i.e. files), and also to benefit from technical developments for external sharing such as IIIF. Overall, the data will be better curated, access widened by bringing it ‘in-house’.

In addition, we have plans to devote staff time to build on the raw data to develop the archive into an ADS Special Collection which replicates the database and map-based experiences we know a lot of our users enjoy for example Roman Amphora or Roman Rural Settlement of Britain). This is being done as a staff training exercise, so timescale for completion is less certain but I would hope we have an Advanced interface ready in 2021.

We hope all our users will understand that this work is being undertaken as a practical response to a tricky problem that impacts all public ICT applications at some point. In this case, and because the resource was already held by ADS we’re happy the data are secure and will be made publicly accessible as soon as possible, and that where we can (and remember the ADS has no core funding) we will continue to enhance access to the data so that the legacy of the original project is continued.

ADS, xyzviewer and an open future

The following is a Guest Blog authored by Professor Stephen Todd, currently visiting Professor in the Dept of Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. We’re always interested in how people use our data, and indeed how they want to use or access our data. After preliminary discussions about enabling Cross-origin resource sharing (CORS) to provide direct access to ADS archived files for an xyzviewer, Stephen has been kind enough to write up his current work and wider thoughts for us as a case study.

This note discusses how xyziewer permits exploration/visualization of a subset of Star Carr data, and makes some points that arise on collaborative data and the relationship to the Archaeology Data Service, ADS. It is in two parts, the first outlines the capabilities of xyzviewer, and the second more diffuse arising thoughts.

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Archaeology on Furlow: attitudes and expectations to online resources

Image of Mark Zuckerberg in a room full of people using Augmented Reality (AR) glasses
“‘ #Cyberspace . A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…’ #Neuromancer , #WilliamGibson” by cyborglenin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This week my colleague (Teagan Zoldoske) flagged up the following report:

Wiseman, R., and Ronn, P. (2020). Archaeology on Furlough: Accessing Archaeological Information Online: A Survey of Volunteers’ Experiences. https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.54876

For those unfamiliar with the initiative, Archaeology on Furlough provides professional archaeologists in the UK with access to volunteer projects that can be done from home. This excellent report summarises the expectations and realities of using online resources for specific research needs. The ADS is cited frequently within, and I’m glad to see the overall positive response (see figures 2 + 3). The heavy use of the ADS Library, particularly unpublished reports, over Spring and early Summer 2020 is now partially explained!

Line chart of Access Statistics from the ADS Library
Export of Access statistics from the ADS Library (as of 31 October 2020) showing 103,464 downloads of articles and monographs, and 55,091 downloads of unpublished reports.
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Defining ‘Usefulness’

Guest post by Jamie Geddes

Recently, I have been on a work placement with the Archaeology Data Service, otherwise known as the ADS, situated within the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. This placement, which is a requirement for my MSc in Digital Archaeology in the Department, came along just as the world pandemic decided to force itself upon us. This meant I was unable to go into the work environment and physically work alongside members of staff. Lockdown meant we all had to stay at home. So, I hear you ask, what have you been doing since you can only work at home? Thanks to staff members Dr Tim Evans and Jenny O’Brien I have been given plenty of interesting and fun tasks to complete.

The main tasks that I have been asked to help with include cataloguing data, adding subject terms and amending and adding data to the ADS main website for the Berkshire Archaeological Journals and School of Archaeology Monograph Series by Oxford University. The cataloguing task involved tagging the collections with keywords and topics, as well as listing potential user groups I think will find each collection useful, or interesting, and giving each collection a rating as to how useful the collection  is. This collection review is aimed at being the first step towards a Cataloguing Policy, where cataloguing projects and processes can be prioritised based on specific collections assessment criteria.

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The exciting world of Metadata

Metadata.

Something extremely important to the long-term health and reuse of data and yet the mere mention of it can cause people to shut off and run away. So, what is it and how is it different from data?

Metadata is the data about data. I think that sums it up quite nicely, don’t you? Ok, let’s phrase it a different way. It’s essentially the documentation needed to make the data findable, understandable, and useable. It allows for verification of claims, reuse for future projects, and more.

Perhaps some visuals would help. Below is some data, 5 trench raster images in this case. In which English region was each photo taken?

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More ‘exam’ success! Certification and membership of the ISC- World Data System (WDS)

Earlier in the year we reported on a successful outcome from CoreTrustSeal (CSA) certification application, becoming the fifth repository in the UK to achieve this important standard. As an organisation, we are always pushing hard to ensure that our activities meet with good practice within the archaeological and heritage sectors, but also within the wider digital data communities. With this in mind, we are excited to announce acceptance as a regular member of the World Data System (WDS) and a certified Trusted Scientific Data Services.

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Data Mining with past publications from the ADS: The search for Neolithic crannogs

As part of a broader focus on the recently discovered Neolithic ‘crannogs’ – artificially-constructed islands – in Scotland, the Islands of Stone project has been conducting data mining on 148 volumes of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 5 volumes of Archaeologia Scotica and 71 volumes of Discovery and Excavation Scotland, which were kindly provided as a single download by the ADS.

Islands of Stone is an AHRC-funded collaboration between the University of Southampton, the University of Reading and Historic Environment Scotland investigating Neolithic ‘crannogs’ in the Outer Hebrides. The construction of crannogs, or artificial islands, in Scotland was generally thought to have emerged during the Early Iron Age (c. 800 BC); however, one artificial island in the Outer Hebrides known as Eilean Dohmnuill, or Donald’s Island, has demonstrated much earlier origins. Originally believed to be of Iron Age date, excavations by Ian Armit soon revealed large quantities of decorated Neolithic pottery which would ‘change the direction of the entire research programme’ (Armit 1991: 444-45).

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‘Accessioning Arch Camb’: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust Volunteer Engagement Project

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust volunteers have been researching digitised versions of Archaeologia Cambrensis, the Journal of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, as part of the ‘Accessioning Arch Camb’ project. Using journal volumes hosted on ADS and the National Library of Wales websites, the project is helping enhance the regional Historic Environment Record (HER) for north-west Wales.

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Summer Internship With the ADS: Heritage Open Days

The following is a blog written by Chloe Rushworth, who has recently completed a 4-week Voluntary Placement with the ADS. Chloe has been working with the Curatorial and Technical Team to investigate some new approaches to how we interact with data within the Archive. Below, she gives a run through on her huge contribution to creating a ‘Curated Collection’ collating data that relates to sites participating in Heritage Open Days. The aims of this project are for this collection to work as an educational tool, to both increase awareness and knowledge of the archaeological and historical importance of the sites that are taking part in the Heritage Open Days, and to show how the Archive can add to the experience of the Heritage Open Days themselves.

If you want to see the results, the Collection is now live. Over to Chloe!

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