7. Conclusion

The Sikyon interactive image is a tool that certainly has the potential to benefit the Sikyon Project. The current version is only the beginning, as there is still much more spatial data that could be included. Integrating the project database with the interactive image will also be a useful and highly anticipated development. The Building a Virtual Research Environment for the Humanities (BVREH) survey found considerable enthusiasm for VREs and their potential to serve the needs of the humanities community (Kirkham and Pybus 2005, 10). While the Sikyon Project is not attempting to develop a VRE, we will be striving to integrate the various tools used by the project. The value of combining disparate tools is similar to the way in which a GIS works. GIS brings together two traditionally separate entities, databases and maps, to create a more useful application. The database or map alone are very functional tools; however, combining the map with a geospatial database makes GIS an indispensable tool to archaeologists. The integration of tools and resources in the Sikyon Project will hopefully aid its research.

The spatial nature of archaeological information, and particularly the Sikyon Project, made interactive images a natural first choice for a VRE style tool. The advantages of rendering archaeological images and maps with SVG has been well stated by Wright (2006); however, Sikyon is beginning to show some of the format's limitations. While the development of this tool has shown its usefulness, the issues with SVG and browser support have been somewhat discouraging.

Using Ajax not only provides slick user interfaces and greater usability, but also acts as a useful intermediary between applications and data. Data are often naturally separated from the tools that utilise them. The Sikyon interactive image could have easily been designed with the tract attribute data located in the SVG file and provided similar functionality. This would not have made much sense since if tract data needed to be modified or updated, a project member would have had to alter the SVG file. Also, due to the number of lines of code contained in the SVG file (over thirty-seven thousand lines), modifying small bits of attribute data becomes very time consuming. Instead, the XML file containing tract information is separated from the SVG image file, making modifications much easier. Multiple resources residing on a server can easily be accessed via Ajax for the various tools of a VRE.

However, in developing the Sikyon tool further some glaring issues became evident. The biggest issue is with the scalability of SVG. The Sikyon Survey Project has only produced data on a relatively small scale, yet it is becoming obvious that the format's limit is being approached. Many thousands of lines of code exist in the most recent SVG document of the Sikyon tool, and this large amount of code seemed to create problems when displaying the image in the browser. There were times when the browsers would actually stop responding and be forced to shut down, but this was irregular and couldn't be qualified. While creating the image dynamically helped lighten the processing load of the client, the browsers used still struggled with the additional data. It is becoming obvious from this exercise that SVG is better suited to display small site or area plans as opposed to emulating an entire site's GIS. Hopefully this is the result of an immature format or weak browser support, but only time will tell.

The other question raised was 'is this reinventing the wheel'? Mapserver offers an open source mapping framework which could quite easily do what the Sikyon tool does. Since this tool was originally designed with VREs in mind, it was decided that a bespoke system would be developed. However, with the above limitations, Mapserver should definitely be revisited as a possible solution.

None of this is to say that SVG is a poor format and hopefully some of the possibilities of SVG have been explained. There are many opportunities for a similar tool in archaeology, but it did become obvious that SVG should be used sensibly and only in certain circumstances. The first incarnation of the Sikyon tool was well served by using SVG as a format as well as in the recent extension of the tool. There was never any question of the potential of SVG, but the size of the data set for the Sikyon Survey Project appears to have become too much. Yet for smaller maps or plans, managing SVG and associated attribute data in a relational database provides a very dynamic solution. This coupled with Ajax can go even further and offer users incredibly sophisticated interfaces when using or viewing archaeological data on the Web. While some limitations exist with SVG and large-scale data sets, SVG and Ajax are a potent combination when displaying 2-D archaeological vector graphics on the Web.


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Last updated: Tue Mar 25 2008