5 The Tensions

This paper has so far summarised the work of the ARENA project in preserving and presenting excavation archives. This section comments on some aspects of the work that the author sees as important in considering the practice of presenting excavation archives online. Three tensions that exist in the process of presenting online excavation archives are examined.

The title of this paper is intended to be provocative. There is a tendency to think when discussing web content that it is essentially about replacing traditional forms of publication in favour of e-publication (i.e. the recent debate at CAA on the digital publication of conference proceedings). As suggested by the title there is a sense that online publication, as a form of archive, can replace the traditional monograph. The extent, however, that archaeologists are ready or willing to have their data scrutinised is a major concern. Do archaeologists have an obligation to their funding bodies, for example, to provide this level of access? The tension between traditional publication and digital is in many ways misleading. It is not a question of the digital publication ever replacing the monograph – they can and should very much complement each other. Digital publication should be seen in a positive light, particularly in helping the traditional monograph rather than hindering it and vice versa.

In creating online archives we are developing several areas of common interest for both the archive and the publication. Firstly, enhancing the traditional monograph with additional visual content or further explanation is an important part of communicating effectively and ensuring the information is well understood and not misinterpreted or misused. Secondly, the data associated with publication can be made available online, thus reducing publication costs and providing data in an amenable and analytical form, perhaps prior to full publication. In this way, thirdly, the online archive can create a marketing opportunity for traditional publication by allowing the evolution of data created for the publication available as snippets online.

ARENA provides us with an example; in its investigative role a partnership between UK, Denmark and Iceland is developing a Dublin Core Layered Metadata tool that allows cross searching between the different archives (See Kenny and Richards, this edition). The layered Metadata approach uses three different data levels: the overarching project data, the middle interpretative level and the raw data including interpretative expressions such as phases and features. Some of the ARENA archives are not compatible with this approach because of their content. Archives indexed using layered metadata, however, allow the user who is interested in methodology or theoretical perspectives of archaeological practice to make comparisons and contrasts between different types of research.


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