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Digitising the Archaeological Process at the Swedish National Heritage Board: producing, managing and sharing archaeological information

Åsa M. Larsson *, Marcus Smith , Rikard Sohlenius and Tord Klafver

Swedish National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet), Box 5405, 114 84 Stockholm, Sweden.
*Corresponding author: asa.larsson@raa.se / marcus.smith@raa.se / Rikard.sohlenius@raa.se / tord.klafver@raa.se

Cite this as: Larsson, Å. M. 2017 Digitising the Archaeological Process at the Swedish National Heritage Board: producing, managing and sharing archaeological information, Internet Archaeology 43. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.43.6

The Digital Archaeological Process (DAP) programme was initiated by the Swedish National Heritage Board in order to create a more seamless process for storing and sharing digital information generated through archaeological surveys and excavations. The programme aims to increase the availability of digital data as well as the quality and usefulness of the information. The Cultural Environment Register is being developed, which will contain and/or link to information about where fieldwork has been done and what was found: archaeological sites, field documentation, finds, as well as the reports and publications. In addition to creating a new system for storing this information, a large amount of old digital projects previously kept by museums and archaeological contractors is being collected to be made publicly available. Our goal is to make heritage management more efficient, and in the process the information will also become more useful to researchers, museums and the general public.

This extended abstract is also available in hard copy in K. May (ed) 2017 Digital Archaeological Heritage, EAC Occasional Paper No.12, Archaeolingua, Budapest.

In 2014 The Swedish National Heritage Board initiated the Digital Archaeological Process (DAP) programme in order to create a more seamless digital process for information generated through archaeological surveys, excavations and site management. The main aims of the programme are to increase availability of digital data as well as the quality of the information. The overarching goal is to facilitate more effective heritage management for officials and archaeologists, as well as companies and government agencies working with development in general, and in the process make the information more available to researchers and the general public.

In Sweden development plans must be approved by the County Administrative Board. The administrators may order archaeological surveys and preliminary excavations before any sites are excavated and documented, and the developer must cover the cost of these. The results are presented in reports, a copy of which is to be sent to the National Heritage Board, and the original field documentation is to be delivered to a national archive. However, only analogue documentation can be archived in the current system while over the past 20 years field recording has become more and more digital and georeferenced. Information is therefore lost when it is transformed into publications and illustrations. Not only does this mean a loss of valuable information, but it also results in extra time and work for administrators and archaeologists when new projects are planned.

The National Heritage Board has previously digitised the entire national Sites and Monuments Register and published it online. However, it was clear that there needed to be a more comprehensive approach to the entire heritage management process wherein archaeological information is produced, used and archived, as it is involving the archaeological contractors, various government agencies and museums. There are five main areas of archaeological information that are connected in theory, but dispersed in practice:

In order to create a more comprehensive platform for retrieving all this information, DAP is developing the Cultural Environment Register (Kulturmiljöregistret – KMR). It will be an umbrella system containing both databases and links to information stored elsewhere. DAP will both improve on existing registers and develop new ones.

Site Register

The Sites and Monuments Register is maintained by the National Heritage Board. Newly discovered sites, and additional information about known sites, are registered after being reported by archaeological contractors and the County Administrative Boards. The process is time consuming, resulting in a Register that is not up to date. DAP is developing a new tool for archaeologists to register information directly into the Register, and for administrators at the County Boards to inspect and approve the registration before it is made public. The tool will also help to make sure that the reports by the archaeologists are correct and of comparative quality.

Project Register

A new Project Register is being developed, where all archaeological surveys and excavations will be visible on a map. The register will contain basic administrative information for each project and links to where publications, documentation and artefacts can be found, as well as to the sites that were affected by the project.

Publications and Field Documentation Register

Information on new fieldwork projects will be documented in KMR as a part of the digitised process that DAP aims to establish. However, another aspect of the programme involves the preservation and dissemination of existing digital fieldwork documentation. While analogue fieldwork records are deposited with national or regional archives, this has not historically been the case for digital records due to the lack of a digital preservation infrastructure within the sector. As part of DAP, digital fieldwork documentation and reports are now being collected from museums and archaeological contractors across the country. The reports and data will then be archived and published through a new long-term digital repository at the National Heritage Board and linked against their corresponding fieldwork records in the KMR. All of the data collected will be licensed under the Creative Commons: CC0 for the fieldwork documentation, and CC-BY for the written reports.

The data being collected spans some twenty years of archaeological fieldwork practice, and unsurprisingly this means that a variety of file formats are represented. Format migration is a necessary part of digital preservation and dissemination, and so in order to ensure that the data we publish is as broadly accessible as possible, DAP is working with the Archaeology Data Service in York towards a common, platform-independent format for our digital fieldwork data.

Process also means people

The DAP programme involves more than just developing new technical solutions and e-services. The new system will also lead to new guidelines and regulations and new ways for people to perform their jobs, whether at the National Heritage Board, museums, County Administrative Boards and other government agencies, or for the archaeological contractors. In order to make the new system functional in reality as well as in theory, the programme is continuously in communication with representatives from these groups, involving them in the decision making and in the testing of the products. To make sure the correct standards are used and quality goals met, educational tools and courses are also being developed. We do not underestimate the fact that a more streamlined archaeological process, with better quality and efficient sharing of information, is ultimately dependent on the people actually contributing to and using it.

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