6. Future Prospects

Access to physical reference collections is still currently preferable for some fish bone research. However, even in its current configuration, the AFBI digital archive provides important advantages. The archive combines complementary key content from two physically distant reference collections in Canberra and Sydney and makes this accessible to users anywhere in the world over the internet. This already saves the cost and effort of transporting fragile and easily damaged archaeological fish bones to geographically remote reference collections for direct physical comparison, allows more people to access the reference collections and encourages people to share ideas and results.

It is possible to magnify images of small bones on-screen without need for microscopes or lenses for increased efficiency, even though the current user interface has only limited capacity to display and manipulate images. Images of different sized bones can be scaled up and down for direct visual comparison, removing the need for multiple-sized examples. Users can quickly search for and display images of fish bones in many changing combinations. Doing this with a physical collection is very time-consuming and often impractical, given storage, handling and space limitations.

Extending the current AFBI archive is dependent on funding but there are several obvious next steps. Gaps in ANU and University of Sydney fish collections identified in the process of defining fishes with particular significance for Sydney archaeology and history (Table 1) could be addressed by including images from other fish bone collections and the system could be extended to support fish bone research in other parts of Australia and elsewhere in the world. Collaborating organisations could combine resources, share costs and avoid duplication of effort.

A wiki-based system with a sophisticated user interface for manipulating and displaying images, which allows users to add their own content to extend the scope and depth of the image banks and interpretative information, would be ideal for fish bone identification. Bones of thousands of different fish species are found on archaeological sites across the world and comprehensive reference collections are rare beyond Europe and North America. Fish bones are also extremely variable in shape and size. Identification relies on direct visual comparison in two- and three-dimensional space. It would be extremely useful to be able quickly to compare multiple archaeological specimens against each other and against known reference examples for efficient and accurate identification, especially when archaeological specimens are often broken and eroded. Adding three-dimensional images for some key bones would also greatly improve functionality.

A future intelligent interface could guide users by capturing knowledge of which bones co-occur in the same skeleton or are commonly found together in archaeological contexts and which taxa occur in similar habitats or are commonly captured by the same fishing methods. Users could eliminate more obvious identifications before looking for less obvious answers, which would increase efficiency. This would build training in fish bone identification into the facility to improve and share expertise.

In conclusion, in addition to the fish bone images and metadata, the archive presented here also contains information about the historical, cultural and environmental significance of fishes (Tables 1 and 4) and their changing nomenclature (Tables 2 and 3). Being able to store such information in a format that offers potential to capture variable and changing future significance offers many advantages over a paper-based system. Because the archive is sustainable, it can preserve content on a long-term basis to support future growth and development and extend research knowledge.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s)
University of York legal statements | Terms and Conditions | File last updated: Tue Nov 2 2010