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Section 3: Introducing the eXtensible Markup Language and Related Technologies

3.6 Current uses of XML in archaeology

Despite the wide acclaim that XML has had within the world of computing and information technology, until recently there has been surprisingly limited and slow take up of XML among the archaeological community. Richards (2003), for example, commented on the omission of XML as a discussion topic at the 2003 Computer Applications in Archaeology conference in Austria. Many of the projects led by the Archaeology Data Service at the University of York employ XML behind the scenes to support intelligent interaction between systems. XML is used to index excavation archives in the ARENA project, to tag data in the OASIS Project fieldwork data collection forms and to deliver data from the Web portal HEIRPORT (Richards 2003).

Interest in XML technology is on the increase. One of the earliest applications of XML in archaeology was the Mobile Computing in a Fieldwork Environment project at the University of Kent (Ryan 1999). A number of recent Masters' dissertations from 2002 and 2003 in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York have looked at XML and XML-related themes. Sugimoto (2002a; 2002b), has demonstrated how specific data can be retrieved from an XML aerial photographic image database and embedded into a particular position within an XML text document. Smith (2003) has examined ways of encoding and storing data on runic inscriptions and created the RunML language for a Manx Runic Text Database that can be queried by a Perl script via a search form. Wright (2003) has explored potential archaeological applications of SVG. In 2003, Mark Bell of ArchWeb started an Archaeology and XML Newsletter, which publicises news about projects utilising XML technology.

In the museum world, XML is widely used in SPECTRUM, which now has an XML DTD, and in the CIDOC CRM. Other applications include the generation and use of RSS/RDF news feeds, such as the CBA Archaeoblog, Internet Archaeology newsfeed and British Archaeological Jobs Resource RSS feed (Miller 2003). A system for the dissemination of Listed Building data, to local authorities and National Amenity groups, is being developed by English Heritage. This will entail the provision of initial data and incremental updates in XML format.

English Heritage is also supporting the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) in the ongoing development by Oxford ArchDigital of the FISH Interoperability Toolkit, including the Historic Environment Exchange Protocol (HEEP) and MIDAS XML schemata first released in September 2004 (Lee 2004). This project is raising awareness of XML technology and promoting its wider use. 'The HEEP Web service will standardise the manner in which historic environment resources are queried by client applications, and the format in which the requested data is delivered' (Lee 2004). The Toolkit will help facilitate the import and export of data for the benefit of HERs and other projects; FISH XML will be used as a carrier for the data. This is of particular relevance to the potential scenario identified in Section 4, whereby relevant data may be extracted from grey literature reports and moved around the heritage sector for a variety of purposes. English Heritage (2004) has recently produced an information sheet (Adobe .pdf file) for the heritage comunity to raise awareness and understanding of XML.

In relation to Historic Environment Records, the latest release of exeGesIS Spatial Data Management Ltd's HBSMR (version 3) allows for the export of data in XML format. The exports can contain any subset of the HBSMR relational data structure, and are fully configurable so that different exports can be used for different purposes. The data may also be viewed as HTML, the display and content of which can be customised by modifying the associated XSL stylesheets used in the export process. Data in XML format may also be imported into any other XML-compliant database, including recent versions of Microsoft Access (2002 or later) (C. Flower, pers. comm. January 2005).

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Last updated: Wed Apr 6 2005