8. Conclusions and Future Work

We presented the Faceted Query Engine: a powerful, flexible platform for archaeology research. Our tool makes novel Database Systems techniques available to the archaeological community, which is in line with the objectives of the E-science Scoping Study by the Arts and Humanities Data Service (E-science). The system implements faceted classification and querying of archaeological data. The data are fully cross-referenced to allow intuitive navigation. In addition to browsing and navigation, our system supports sophisticated data analysis through its graphical user interface, and does not require SQL proficiency from its users.

The Faceted Query Engine enables the user to analyse and correlate heterogeneous sets of archaeological objects, based both on object attributes and on relationships that exist among the objects. As an example, with just a few clicks, the user can correlate finds based on context, time period, physical properties, or any other features defined by the schema. Results of such analysis can be saved for future reference and for use in subsequent queries.

The Faceted Query Engine combines many of the features present in the emerging generation of archaeology research tools: the system supports faceted search and navigation, is fully cross-referenced, offers a simple but general data model, and an expressive query language. However, the most important feature of our system, one that sets it apart from other efforts in archaeological informatics, is our use of faceted, and not monolithic, hierarchies. Our choice of faceted data representation is fundamental to our system, and goes far beyond a theoretical data management advantage. Faceted schemas do not suffer from arbitrary classification bias. A single properly designed faceted schema allows multiple users to express different points of view simultaneously, and consider different interpretations of the data.

Our inter-disciplinary team includes several archaeologists, and the Faceted Query Engine was designed in collaboration with them. According to one of the in-house users of our system:

The Faceted Query Engine has been successful on several different levels. In terms of flexibility, we were able to transition smoothly between two distinct sites and groups of specialists. The system has also proved to be a powerful research tool. The ability to combine and save queries allows for deep investigation of objects and their contexts over time. In this way one may interrogate a group of objects in terms of their distinct properties while also charting their relationship to other entities (excavated finds, ecological remains, contexts, site features, and so on) within the system. The Faceted Query Engine then has the potential to provide broader contextual information to what has been in the past the primarily quantitative side of archaeological research.

The initial feedback from the users has been encouraging, and we are currently working on applying our ideas to the domain of biological data management. We are experimenting with expanding the expressive power of the model, and plan to support hierarchies on attributes. Additionally, we are working on the annotation and publishing functionality that would allow users to share their interpretation of the data with the community.

Our system is available for download at We welcome your feedback!


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Last updated: Mon April 30 2007