1. Introduction

This article is inspired by the actions and ambitions of the ARENA project. The ARENA project – Archaeological Records of Europe: Networked Access – was carried out with the support of the European Union through the Culture 2000 programme and had six partner organisations in Poland, Romania, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom. The lead partner in the project was the Archaeology Data Service, located at the Department of Archaeology at the University of York in the UK.

Issues raised over the last three years of ARENA activity are discussed. Links are also made from this paper to those contributed by the ARENA partners. Each paper takes a specific area investigated by the project, and by utilising Internet publication the reader is able to investigate particular issues in greater depth, returning to the original point in the narrative provided by this article.

The ARENA project was initially inspired by the potential of computer and information technologies to allow archaeologists to communicate and make data available throughout Europe. Contemporary information technologies mean that this is no longer a dream and ARENA set out to investigate and demonstrate the reality. This article considers the origins of the ARENA project that reach back to papers given at a conference in Leiden in 1992.

To realise the dream of Europe-wide access it was necessary to develop a common European infrastructure for archaeological information. The creation of such an infrastructure had particular resonance with the objectives of the European Union and this was emphasised in the design of the ARENA project. The Culture 2000 programme, under which the ARENA project was supported, is part of the Common European Research Framework and consequently is helping shape a particular vision of Europe.

This venture into the identity politics of carrying out a European project such as ARENA is discussed below but also finds examples in the work of the other ARENA authors. This article highlights the problems of linking project objectives too closely to European identity formation. It also emphasises the benefits of encouraging archaeologists and interested European citizens to think and work across national borders, many of which have been established in relatively recent history.

Making heritage data available to researchers and public alike was one main strand of the ARENA project, but the other key focus was upon digital preservation. Digital data is vulnerable to destruction or obsolescence, and ARENA also attempted to build upon the work undertaken in the UK by the Archaeology Data Service, sharing best practice, and building up a European network of excellence of those with expertise in the curation of digital data.


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