Why metadata matters in archaeology

Alicia Wise1 and Paul Miller2

1 Data Coordinator, Archaeology Data Service, The King's Manor, University of York, York YO1 2EP, Tel: (01904) 433 954, Fax: (01904) 433 939.
2 Collections Manager. Archaeology Data Service, The King's Manor, University of York, York YO1 2EP. Tel: (01904) 433 954, Fax: (01904) 433 939.

Cite this as: Wise, A., & Miller, P. (1997). Why metadata matters in archaeology. Internet Archaeology, (2). https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.2.5


Metadata means 'data about data' or 'information about information'. It is a technique for cataloging the contents of information files, whether digital or paper-based, so related resources can be more easily linked and so potential users can decide quickly and easily whether to spend time exploring the file contents in detail. In our digital age with ever-increasing quantities of archaeological data being collected, stored, and distributed in computer-readable forms, interconnection of information is becoming essential.

In this paper we provide a general background to metadata especially for archaeologists. Three of the major types of metadata (the Dublin Core, Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), and Direct Interchange Format (DIF) are discussed in order to provide an overview for the variety of metadata approaches which exist. The Dublin Core seems the most useful metadata system for the majority of archaeologists as it provides an easy and concise 15 element core designed to describe any type of information. Though much more complicated, both FGDC and DIF are useful to archaeologists who work with more specialized categories of information (e.g. satellite images and palaeoenvironmental data). An archaeological example of Dublin Core style metadata in action is included.

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Last updated: Wed Apr 30 1997