Preface: Digital Dissemination and Archiving

David Miles *

Cite this as: Miles, D. 2004 Preface: Digital Dissemination and Archiving, Internet Archaeology 15.

Although often described as an information technology revolution, it took something like twenty years for the technology of the Gutenburg printing press to reach England. The world-wide spread of new printing methods and the production of printed books was by no means an overnight transformation but rather a more gradual permeation, over many years, of the new media. Gradually more and more people became aware of the advantages of printed texts and, as the technology improved, printed books became more widely available. "The parallels between the dispersal of the products of this new technology in the early sixteenth century and our own experience of technological change in the twentieth century are striking." (Rhodes and Sawday 2000, 7).

As printing technology spread there followed a gradual development, again over many years, of different types of publication. More people embraced the new media and developed it, the technology was adapted and improved resulting in a speeding up of the process and, as a result, an even greater growth in the numbers and types of books available. Archaeological publications, in their variety of forms today, exist within this tradition.

The news of innovation, and the growing awareness that 'a new way of doing things exists' can be identified as a strong driver for change within society, and one that invariably spreads faster than the technology itself. In this way the latest innovations of today's Information Technology can easily be likened to other technological innovations such as writing on clay tablets, or more recently the invention of radio, or the telephone. It is not hard to envisage a time when the introduction of such communication technologies was still talked about as something that would change forever the way people lived, but without necessarily being able to predict explicitly all the potential changes, for better or worse, that might ensue.

In this way, if on a different scale, most of the archaeological discipline can already appreciate the potential advantages to the archaeological profession of new ways of disseminating integrated publications and archives. What is currently harder to identify is precisely the form that all such integrated publications might take. Internet Archaeology (IA) has already provided a number of examples of integrated publications, although the authors are often the first to admit that their articles are "just one imperfect model of what a fully interactive e-publication and e-archive might look like" (Richards 2001, preface).

English Heritage recognises the importance of continuing to support the further development of integrated digital publications and is keen to highlight examples of best practice that can be adopted and advanced by the rest of the discipline. It is for this reason that English Heritage has contributed to this 'Informatics' volume of IA and has supported and contributed to a number of key initiatives in recent years.

English Heritage initiatives

In the spring and summer of 1998 the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) was commissioned by English Heritage, together with equivalent bodies from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, to carry out a survey of the creation, archiving, use and re-use of digital data in archaeology. The results from this survey (Condron et al. 2000), although by no means comprehensive, highlighted a number of growing issues for the wider archaeological discipline.

At around the same time the Publication User Needs Survey (PUNS) was also commissioned from the CBA, to inform the future requirements for archaeological publications in a fast changing world of newly emerging digital publication technologies (Jones et al. 2001 and 2003).

Aware of the growing issues raised about digital archiving and digital publication, English Heritage commissioned a further project with the ADS to advance the development of models for digital archiving and dissemination, while informing the creation of specifications for digital storage and digital archiving standards. The Digital Archiving Pilot Project: Excavation Records (DAPPER) investigated the practicalities of creating online archives for two different types of project, the Oxford Archaeology Unit project, Eynsham Abbey and the Museum of London Archaeology Service, Royal Opera House archive.

As a result of the findings from the DAPPER project English Heritage now requires the adequate provision of digital archiving as one of the conditions of the grants offered for Archaeology Commissions projects. This aims to ensure that future projects deposit a digital archive that is both securely maintained, but also accessible to researchers via online resources such as the OASIS index of archaeological investigations and the Archaeology Data Service Catalogue. It is a primary concern that any material that is published only in digital format should also be guaranteed a secure long-term future by the provision of an adequate digital archiving provision.

In setting such requirements English Heritage acknowledges in particular the recommendations of the PUNS report that "archives be made available on the Internet" (Jones et al. 2001, 73) and recognises that fieldwork publications in particular can be used for many different reasons and therefore that "multiple forms and media of dissemination should be used as appropriate for a given project" (Jones et al. 2001, 70).

In supporting this volume of Internet Archaeology, English Heritage seeks to promote the development of the use of appropriate new media for archaeological publication, particularly in ways that serve to provide wider and easier access to the archaeological material. The PUNS report found that the majority of the discipline considers "the primary purpose of publication to be the provision of information to facilitate research, and the dissemination of knowledge for public benefit" (Jones et al. 2003). A number of current English Heritage funded projects are developing publication strategies that use a range of publication media following the integrated dissemination and archive approach and we look forward to adding their outputs to the growing body of literature that seeks to establish best practice and exemplars for others to follow.

But there is clearly still work to be done with regard to better integration of fieldwork and publication, "publication is less an output of fieldwork than something which is interwoven with it. It follows that changes in publication policy and practice may impact upon, and indeed require changes to, practice in the field." (Jones et al. 2001, 66). One continuing requirement is that the eventual means of publication, be it on paper or digitally, or increasingly some combination of the two, is decided by a project team and planned for as early in the archaeological process as possible. When the aim is to publish digitally, a project team should recognise the requirement for good levels of documentation of digital data and a well-planned publication strategy which includes all the printed and/or digital publication elements.

The need to plan for digital publication at the point of data capture in the field is one of the key considerations in the current work of the Revelation project being carried out by the English Heritage Centre for Archaeology (CfA). The aim is to redesign and update the CfA's archaeological information systems to improve the flow of information through the whole process, from excavation and analysis into dissemination and archive. This work is not intended to produce a design for a system for national implementation. What already seems clear from the PUNS report and other work carried out is that any attempt to enforce a single 'template for archaeological publication' would be a mistake and most likely doomed to failure. Rather what are needed are new models for archaeological publication. Such models are not likely to be developed overnight, and still less likely to be adopted instantaneously throughout the discipline, any more than the invention of Gutenberg's press automatically defined the shape of printed archaeological reports to come.


Condron, F., Richards, J., Robinson, D. and Wise, A. 1999 Strategies for Digital Data - A Survey of User Needs. ADS, York. Available

Jones, S., MacSween, A., Jeffrey, S., Morris, R. and Heyworth, M. 2001 From The Ground Up. The Publication of Archaeological Projects, a user needs survey. Council for British Archaeology.

Jones, S., MacSween, A., Jeffrey, S., Morris, R. and Heyworth, M. 2003 'Overall conclusions: The functions of publication'. From The Ground Up. The Publication of Archaeological Projects, a user needs survey. A summary. Internet Archaeology 14. Overall Conclusions.

Rhodes, N. and Sawday, J. 2000 'Paperworlds: Imagining the Renaissance computer' in N. Rhodes and J. Sawday (eds) 2000 The Renaissance Computer. London, 1-17.

Richards, J. 2001 'Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian Cottam: linking digital publication and archive'. Internet Archaeology 10.

David Miles
Chief Archaeologist
English Heritage
23 Savile Row

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Last updated: Wed Jan 28 2004