All posts by Tim Evans

OASIS V is here

Image of the painting Basque Celebration (dance at El Antiguo, San Sebastián) . Santiago Espona Bequest, 1958
Basque Celebration (dance at El Antiguo, San Sebastián) . Santiago Espona Bequest, 1958. CC BY-NC-ND

We’re happy to annouce that after much work, with the support of funders Historic England and Historic Environment Scotland, we have a new OASIS system coming online!

This is the fifth iteration of the OASIS form; it began life as a pilot/concept in 2001 and was last updated in 2007 when OASIS was expanded to cover Scotland and a further module
to record fine detail of geophysical surveys (OASIS IV). The latest redevelopment introduces a myriad of improvements and features requested by all the user community and which we sincerely hope will make it easier to use. As a component of HIAS in England, Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy, and facilitating reporting to Archaeology Scotland’s Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, OASIS will also play a pivotal role in facilitating the sharing and access of information from all parts of the sector.

Since its formal rollout in England in Spring 2004 OASIS has collected the
details of over 90,000 records from England, Scotland, and the maritime region of Wales, and made the unpublished reports of 50,000 of these freely available in the Library of the ADS. It’s also an intensively used system, with over 1400 registered organisations, and hundreds of edits and new records made every week. Managing the move over to the new system is thus an intensive and careful piece of work. As OASIS V is also very new, users will also need to be supported with as much Training and Guidance as possible.

What’s Happening Now?

Image of a Fresco depicting Janus - Roman god of transition
Fresco of Janus: the the Roman god of beginnings and transitions
Fresko N.N., Foto Maurizio Fabre, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As of ‘now’ when you go to the OASIS website the landing page will look different! There is a link to the current system users are familiar with, and the brand new one (OASIS V).

In England we’re beginning to move Level 1 (Researchers, by which we mean anyone that creates records) and Level 2 (HERs) users across to the new system. We’re doing this in an orderly, piecemeal fashion. All Level 1 and Level 2 users should have been emailed with instructions on what to do to verify their accounts, and further information relevant to their role and organisation. If you’re reading this, and your organisation has not received an email then please contact It’s important to say that please do not try and login to OASIS V until you’ve heard directly from us that your account is in place, users verified, records migrated. In the interim, please continue to use OASIS IV as normal.

In Scotland, we’re looking at a slightly different timescale. We’re still due to finish a few Scottish-specific features that facilitate reporting to Archaeology Scotland’s Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. Level 1 and Level 2 users are being emailed as well in due course, but we expect rollout to begin in the New Year (2021) and with a suite of training materials specifically for the Scottish workflow (see below). As with England, please do not try and login to OASIS V until you’ve heard directly from us that your account is in place, users verified, records migrated. In the interim, please continue to use OASIS IV as normal.

An important part of OASIS V is linking to documentary, physical and digital archives. As such, a completely new feature is repositories themselves being added into OASIS as what we’re calling a Level 3 Reviewer. This enables researchers to see which archives cover their project, and what the status and requirements of the repository is. Conversely, it will allow Museums and Archives staff to see “what’s coming their way”, and to be able to lead on ensuring requirements are followed. As this is completely new, and that we’re aware most Musuems and Archives staff have had little historic involvement, we’re spending a bit more time getting these users set up. We’ve already contacted a few users, and are sending out alerts via colleagues in SMA. However, if you work for a Museum and Archive and are reading this and haven’t received any other information but would like to know more, then get in touch with and we’ll be happy to help.

What Help, Training and Support is available?

There is Help Text throughout the form, and a designated Help page which links out to a new Manual. There are also a number of Videos to guide you through particular workflows and technologies. These are being added to all the time, and are available on a designated OASIS Training Video Channel. Users of these will note that they’re a mix of narrated and unnarrated – this is deliberate and a consequence of the frequent lack of quiet space over lockdown!

For those working in England, there’s a series of online workshops being organised by MSDS Marine in partnership with Ashtree Heritage. You’ll also see more details being added on the OASIS blog, and we’ll do as much as possible to publicise further events in the future. As noted above there’ll be Scottish specific training arriving in the New Year.

As iterated above, if you have any problems or queries about this process then please get in touch with us at This is the OASIS redevelopment project account so emailing that will mean your query gets escalated and resolved as soon as possible

London HER officer, Stuart Cakebread, discusses his OASIS experience

I have to confess that the London HER has not really engaged that much with OASIS; there has always been something else to do rather than validate new records, and as a result we’ve left this in the capable hands of Mark Barrett (thanks to Mark for his hard work) and tried to get on with dealing with our report backlog, and the hundreds of data requests we get each year. A couple of things this year, however, have made me think that we should really take the time to properly record OASIS records in our HER database (by this I mean the OASIS references). As I said, we get an awful lot of data requests each year, and we’ve been looking at how we can improve our service to our customers. One idea we had would be to supply pdf reports along with our standard database, and GIS data, as we had our entire report library scanned a couple of years ago. One obvious problem with this is copyright, and so we have been working with our legal team to draw up a copyright agreement we can send out to organisations who have deposited reports with us over the years. Now given the number of reports we hold, just over 12,000, this is going to take a long time, so is unlikely to happen very soon. At this point I can imagine someone, Jo, or some people, Jo and Catherine, shouting, ‘What about the ADS grey literature library? You could link to that!’ Well we had thought about it, and linking to units who have their reports online, but we’d have to do this individually, and we don’t have the resources to do that. Then, back in June, Catherine gave a talk to the ALGAO-HER Steering Committee during which she mentioned DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers). These are a rather neat way of referencing information such as reports on the ADS website (for more about DOIs have a look at their website, or have a word with Jo and Catherine). After a quick chat with Jo, she was able to send me a spreadsheet (thanks to Jo for getting me the data) of all the reports the ADS holds for London, giving the title, unit, NGR, project code, OASIS reference, the DOI, and importantly for us, the site code (this is the code for the project given, in our case, by the London Archaeological Archive Resource Centre). As we record the site code in our HER database, we use HBSMR, it meant that I could then link the ADS records to our ‘Source’ and ‘Event’ Records. Now our Source records have the ADS DOI link, our Event Records have OASIS reference numbers, and project codes, and both are linked from the database to the ADS grey literature library.

I should at this point confess that I still had to do some manual checking; not all of the ADS records had site codes, and some had duplicate site codes so I did have to check back through the HER. Also I’m trying to figure out how to get the DOI to show up in our data search html reports so that users can click and view reports, so this has all taken a bit longer than I had initially thought, but it has been worth doing. We are now nearly up to date with linking to our OASIS records, and so shortly will able to provide a better customer service. Also, the ADS spreadsheet threw up a number of reports that, for some reason, we never received, so improving our data, and the list of reports that we’ll still need to get copyright permission, as they are not on the ADS website, is much smaller. So, would I recommend others doing this? Well yes. If you do record the OASIS references in your HER, or you assign site code numbers, then it would be a fairly straight forward thing to do, but even if you don’t, then it would be worthwhile, as you could compare ADS reports, by running a spatial GIS query. So why not contact Jo, and giving it a go!

So, what’s the difference between OASIS and ADS easy????

As the popularity of depositing small archives via our new online deposition system ADS-easy has risen, we have come across a couple of examples where depositors have eschewed OASIS in favour of uploading a report to the ADS archive via ADS-easy.
In terms of just depositing data with the ADS that is fine but not really the best practice, and more costly for depositors too!

So how should it work?

If you just have a ‘grey literature’ report for fieldwork undertaken in England or Scotland we would recommend that you use OASIS for three really good reasons:

  1.  By using OASIS you also connect with the local HER and the NMR who are made aware of your work. In contrast to this the primary relationship with ADS-easy is between you, the depositor, and us the ADS.
  2. By using OASIS to upload the report it is subject to the same archiving procedure as depositing the report by and other means and still ends up in the Grey Literature Library
  3. Using OASIS is free to upload a single report, ADS-easy is not!

So the message is, always use OASIS; this helps get your fieldwork recorded by the right people in the right places and allows for the free upload of a single grey literature report.
Even if you have additional archive (images, CAD files, spreadsheets etc) and are required or want to deposit it with the ADS via the ADS-easy system, then you should still use OASIS for recording the event. Once you start to use ADS-easy you can insert the OASIS id for the project’s field work record and it will help populate ADS-easy so you work is not wasted or duplicated .

Put simply:

  • OASIS lets people know about your fieldwork and you can upload one report for free.
  • ADS-easy is for the rest of the digital archive and is a paid-for service.

Results of the OASIS redevelopment surveys start to become available

Over the summer holiday period we’ve continued to work away at trying to make sense of the results of the range of surveys we undertook earlier in the year. While completion of the reports is still a work in progress we wanted to give you a sneak preview into the results and the way in which it was forming out ideas about a new model for OASIS. The survey results have reinforced a few things that we already suspected.

We definitely:

  • need to maintain a consistent and continuing level of communication, engagement and training surrounding the system.
  • need a range of work-flows to suit different people.
  • need to provide for different levels of interaction with the system, from a light touch to a comprehensive reporting system.
  • need to encourage the archiving and dissemination of grey literature.
  • need to include the museum curators in the process.
  • need to include the ability to record specialist data when and where appropriate.
  • need to work with data consumers to make import and export systems that are simple to use.

So our initial thinking, as yet not set in stone by any means, was to have a fairly open system, so you will still need to register and login to a system which is not ‘public’, but the process of creating records will be a lot less rigid. It might be something like this…

HERALDstructureFor those HERs who primarily value the services provided by the ADS Grey Literature Library , we will have a limited number of fields and simple report upload facility that could be used by either the HER or the unit. A second option may better serve those who want to take data from OASIS to form a basic event record, much as it does now. And we could also look at a range of additional specialist modules to be used when appropriate.

We are still open to all good ideas; so let us know if you have a brainwave!


Recent workshop in Edinburgh

Jo and I recently went to Edinburgh to run a workshop about the redevelopment of the OASIS form and find out the sort of things we would have to take into account to accommodate our users ‘north of the border’. We were really pleased with the outcomes of the day and the level of engagement from those who came, so thank you to both the Royal Commission for hosting the day and all those who attended for making it such a worthwhile event.

We bit the bullet and asked attendees what they most loved, and hated, about OASIS… and despite our worst fears we were encouraged by the response. Most people were very supportive of the concept behind OASIS, that of record once and use many times, and they liked the fact that the system provides easy access to the relevant data set. They also appreciated the easy access to the Grey Literature that the system afforded in addition to the fact that from the system could be derived a basic HER or Canmore record.

On the minus side of the equation, most of the comments which came under the ‘could do better’ category and seemed to focus on the function, look and feel of the form itself, which, we have known for some time, is clunky at best. Importantly though, we also received several comments that their was a perception of an extra burden imposed on hard pressed staff by the use of the form and some frustration expressed that, where it was a requirement, there was no enforcement of its use.

We also had a productive session on the work flow and the scope of the form. We came away from the workshop thinking that we need something much more sophisticated; the general consensus of the workshop attendees was that it would be good to add in the museums sector into the form to record and ‘track’ the deposition of archives. In England this would be a little less of a challenge as we do not have the Finds Allocation Panel; but while we will obviously have to consult them closely, we don’t feel this is an insurmountable problem.

The other main concern, which has been highlighted in OASIS Board meetings with some regularity, is about communication and promotion of the form in the sector… we know that, despite our best efforts, this has always been an issue… Answers on a postcard please!

And the winner is……

We were very pleased that the winner of the Goggle Nexus tablet came from the archaeological consultancy sector. From our perspective this is a part of the sector that we sometimes find it difficult to reach and as a result, difficult to assess their requirements, when much of the work in initiating OASIS records falls upon them.

So we were thrilled to find from our winner’s responses that she had a UK wide remit, concentrating on working in the marine environment, and used OASIS to record and report the majority of the projects with which she is involved. It was equally heartening to find that the inclusion of fieldwork reports in the ADS Grey Literature Library was a highly valued outcome and that she had an interest in investigating how OASIS could help in the deposition of both physical and digital archive. Continue reading And the winner is……

Excitement mounts as the OASIS survey closes and the prize is drawn….

With the exception of a couple of late comers we have closed the OASIS user survey. Very many thanks to all of you who took the time to fill in the questionnaire and a special thank you to those who have participated or are going to participate in telephone interviews. One of the things we will be doing early next week is holding the draw to identify the lucky winner of either a Google Nexus tablet or (my favourite) lots of Pizza Express vouchers.


Even the preliminary look at the survey results are providing both interesting and useful for our redevelopment plans. We have had 515 responses in total and the breakdown of those responses can be seen below. When we have had a chance to delve into the questionnaires in more details and analyse them we should be able to start to identify how each of the sectors within the profession interact with OASIS or would wish to interact with it in the future.

Continue reading Excitement mounts as the OASIS survey closes and the prize is drawn….

OASIS: A ‘back to basics’ reminder

With the HERALD questionnaire being sent out to all sections of the community this week the OASIS team here at the ADS thought it would be timely to give you all a potted history of the OASIS system and try and dispel some popular myths.

The OASIS system first came into being in about 2000, but it’s genesis really dates from 1998 when a concordance exercise tried to ensure that the English heritage excavation Index  was as complete and comprehensive as possible, giving a clear national overview of  excavation work. After this concordance had been completed the OASIS form was produced to provide data to continuously update an on line index to the mass of archaeological grey literature that has been produced as a result of the advent of large-scale developer funded fieldwork and a similar increase in fieldwork undertaken by volunteers. So the OASIS system was all about the data contained within the fields of the form. Continue reading OASIS: A ‘back to basics’ reminder

Community Groups: Do they ever use OASIS?

We are often asked if Community Groups ever use OASIS and whether if they don’t, then should they? Well, the simple answer is that they definately should, and can, and they definately do!

When we first launched OASIS and tried to establish its use primarily within the development control arena, focusing on use of the form by commercial contracting units. However, there was never any reason why other archaeologists, whether working in a community group or in an academic department shouldn’t use the form. Indeed, it is often this sort of work, lying outside the planning process, which is not routinely reported to the HER, so it becomes even more important to encourage the use of OASIS by those working in this part of the sector. Continue reading Community Groups: Do they ever use OASIS?

Why does it take so long for a report uploaded to OASIS to make its way into the library?

The Grey Literature Library is one of the ADS’ most popular resources, and as shown by projects such as the Roman Rural Landscape, one that is of massive research value. The library is constantly growing, with most reports coming from the OASIS system. In 2013 alone, there were 3891 reports submitted. Feedback from all levels of the archaeological community makes it clear that the hosting of openly accessible digital grey literature is a boon. However, one of the questions we are most commonly asked is “why does it take so long for a report uploaded to OASIS to make its way into the library?”. This is perfectly understandable; people who have completed an OASIS record to share the results of their fieldwork want to make sure this effort is not in vain. Rest assured it isn’t, here’s a small insight into what’s going on underneath the workings of the library. Continue reading Why does it take so long for a report uploaded to OASIS to make its way into the library?