Exploring data and information management in archaeology

archive filesProfessor Isto Huvila of Uppsala University in Sweden made a trip to Edinburgh earlier this week. Isto has worked for the past 20 years with archaeologists, exploring their creation, use and management of data and information from an Information Science perspective.

As part of his visit to Scotland, Isto and I spent the afternoon of Tuesday 28th November with staff and associates of Historic Environment Scotland, the body that hosts both the national record and archive for the historic environment – including a growing digital archive – in Scotland. Here we discussed aspects of data/information management in archaeology.

The format of the ‘data workshop’ included a lunchtime presentation entitled Archaeological information and information work delivered by Isto, followed by a series of shorter talks.

Isto’s presentation is available on SlideShare and below.

Isto spoke first about the Archaeological Information in the Digital Society (ARKDIS) project. The broad aims of this project address the challenges and opportunities presented by the digitisation of both (a) information and (b) information work in the domain of archaeology and material cultural heritage. The project team members – two information scientists and four archaeologists – are engaged in a range of activities related to: landscape archaeology; the public presentation of archaeology; the repatriation of artefacts and their value to different audiences; geographical information systems and 3D documentation of excavations; report writing practices; and the digital presentation of artefacts. Their research considers the entire lifespan of archaeological information from the identification of objects in the field to their display in public collections. The wider information requirements of activities that support the discovery, identification and collection of archaeological artefacts, such as those related to the protection of archaeological sites during construction projects, are also considered in this project.

Isto also introduced the audience to ARKWORK. This is a European COST action that brings together around 100 people (mainly archaeologists, but also museologists, computer scientists and information scientists) who research practices related to the production and use of archaeological knowledge, and its impact. The ARKWORK network members also have a interest in the training of the next generation of researchers in the field, and associated stakeholders.

Isto concluded his talk by drawing attention to a number of publications that have been generated from the two projects, fuller details of which can be accessed from the links below:

Börjesson, L., Petersson, B., and Huvila, I. (2015). Information policy for (digital) information in archaeology: current state and suggestions for development. Internet Archaeology, 40.

Huvila, I. (2016). ‘If we just knew who should do it’, or the social organization of the archiving of archaeology in Sweden. Information Research, 21(2), paper 713.

Huvila, I. (2015). Awkwardness of becoming a boundary object: mangle and materialities of reports, documentation data, and archaeological work. The Information Society, 32(4), 280-297.

Huvila, I. (2017). Land developers and archaeological information. Open information science, 1(1), 71–90. 

Isto also highlighted Lisa Börjesson’s PhD thesis Resources for scholarly documentation in professional service organizations, which is due to be examined in early 2018.

The second part of the session was chaired by Alex Adamson, Manager at Historic Environment Scotland. Adam introduced five presentations by four speakers:

  1. Peter McKeague, Spatial Information Manager at Historic Environment Scotland: Peter introduced the main features of Canmore and discussed the opportunities of doing more with data.
  2. Hannah Smith, Digital Archives Manager at Historic Environment Scotland: Hannah highlighted current concerns around digital obsolescence, especially in respect of the future of long term archiving of digital records and assets: how do we address the dangers of a ‘digital dark age‘ when data is stored in legacy formats?
  3. James Hepher, Survey/spatial analyst at The Engine Shed in Stirling: James showed some fascinating graphics created as part of his role at this new facility (see the video from the opening of The Engine Shed)
  4. Simon Gilmour, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland: Simon spoke about the digital future for the Society, which runs Scotland’s Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF).

The afternoon provided an excellent opportunity to consider, and learn from, perspectives on archaeological information management in both Sweden and Scotland. There was a clear sense that those who participated are keen to continue the dialogue across geographical boundaries, irrespective of the current political context in Europe.

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