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Designing the York System

User requirements

Before designing the York System, a list of user requirements was established. These were then addressed as fully as possible. These were:

  1. Ease of use: a help file has been included to guide users (particularly students) through the recording process; both the database and the help file are fairly intuitive and quick to use, based on trials of students and professionals
  2. Error handling: the system limits the opportunities for error that are inherent in older code-based systems by using logical text rather than numeric codes, and by using lookup tables to give the user immediate feedback
  3. Flexibility: within York's recording methodology, users are able to customise the system to their requirements, including entering additional species, elements and recording variables (for example, extra colours can be added if burning is of importance to the analysis of the assemblage)
  4. Comprehensive: the system includes all classes of animals, including fish, reptiles and amphibians, that are common archaeological finds in Britain and Northern Europe; these were often not included in earlier systems
  5. Use of graphics: this can provide visual guidance in the choice of zones or tooth wear stages, making recording much quicker
  6. Data are easily viewed as well as recorded, thus providing reassurance to the user
  7. Output in usable form: once entered, the data can exit the system easily and be ready for use in the simplest and most accessible form possible (simple text files)
  8. Use widely available and 'trusted' software, thus allowing a large number of people to access the system: Microsoft's Access 2000 was chosen, as it is widespread and integrates with Excel, Word, SPSS, Quattro Pro, etc.
  9. Ease of updating: the software chosen should not become obsolete, and Microsoft products are easily updated to later versions (the system works normally in Access 2002)
  10. Effective archiving: the recorded data should be easily archived; the Archaeology Data Service has kindly provided electronic archival space

It can be said that there are as many recording systems as there are zooarchaeologists, or zooarchaeology institutions. Each method can differ from others, either widely (as represented by the differences between the 'specimen' and 'context' approaches), or in more subtle ways concerning the use of attributes and variables. Even the process of intermeshing the two main protocols that formed the basis of the York System required alterations to the ways in which preservation information was recorded; the EAU protocol favoured context-level recording, while Fish 1.1 preferred specimen-level recording. In keeping with requirements of flexibility and choice, this problem was resolved by keeping both levels of recording in place.

The York System does not intend to force users to record variables and attributes that they feel are of no use. Users therefore have the option to customise many aspects of the system, or leave fields blank if desired. At the same time, the system aims to provide a widely acceptable recording standard, albeit within a flexible structure. For example, the diagnostic zone images cannot be altered.

The York System contains a number of labour-saving devices that permit quick recording. For example, once familiar with the system, users can navigate entirely using the keyboard. Context, sample, recovery level and species are all copied from record to record, also saving time. Cross-referencing with diagnostic zone or tooth wear manuals on paper is no longer required, again reducing time and errors. That said, on slower, older computers diagnostic zone images may take up to a few seconds to load.


The following illustration shows the basic structure of the database tables, excluding the numerous lookup and measurement tables.

Diagram showing relationships in the database
Figure 3: Simple relationships diagram

The user does not have to access any of the tables shown above directly (although they may do so if they choose), as the entire recording system is based on forms. The following flowchart illustrates the forms used in the recording process:

Diagram showing the forms used in the database
Figure 4: Forms used in the York System

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Last updated: Thu Mar 13 2003