3.1 The Silchester Project

Originally, this tool was designed under the auspices of VREs because of their potential usefulness in academic research. VREs are difficult to pin down, however, as there are multiple definitions and they are still an evolving idea (Anon. 2006a). It is worth mentioning what VREs can do, and in particular mention the Silchester Project which is producing a VRE within an archaeological context.

In the grandest of definitions, a VRE integrates the existing research infrastructure such as the Shibboleth access management service, portals, Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), and Grid computing facilities with subject-specific content and data stores to create a massive digital research environment. The foundation of a standard framework enables interoperability which gives VREs the potential to be profoundly multi-disciplinary in their use and development (Fraser 2005). Within an archaeological project, VREs could benefit any active researcher on the project, from the ceramics expert interested in pottery distributions or the geophysicist wanting to compare their results to that of the excavation findings.

The Silchester Project, funded under the JISC VRE programme, is an example of an archaeological project implementing a VRE. The project has compiled a complex and diverse data set including numismatic information, spatial site plans, matrix information, as well as find types and distributions. This data is housed in the Integrated Archaeological Database (IADB) in a server in Reading. The relevant experts on the project are scattered throughout the UK, physically removed from the site as well as the data. The IADB is web-based and therefore makes use and interrogation of the data possible for the dispersed project members. However, with an average excavation period of only 8 weeks, off-season analysis and interpretation must be done without direct contact with the other members. These conditions make 'the exchange of ideas and interpretations, which are critical to the research process, very cumbersome' (Anon. 2005). The project hopes to address these common issues among archaeological projects and create a digital solution in the form of a VRE. In particular, they hope to allow cross-server and cross-project access to other IADB servers located in York, Norwich, and Southampton as well as create data Views which bring together disparate data resources to address specific research questions (Rains et al. 2006). From papers given at the Computer Applications in Archaeology conference in York in February 2008, they appear to have a very sophisticated online application that allows project members to access, interrogate, create, and modify data related to the project. Additionally, they have adopted advanced and novel data collection methods in the field. The results of their project will be keenly anticipated.


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Last updated: Tue Mar 25 2008