1.2 Conceptual framework – the CIDOC CRM and CRM-EH

CIDOC - the documentation committee of the International Council of Museums - has produced a Conceptual Reference Model (CRM), which is the broad conceptual framework integrating the different database structures and the metadata automatically generated from the OASIS reports. This framework allows, for example, context finds, identified in different ways by each database, to be related to the same underlying conceptual entity. The CRM is a core ontology and ISO Standard (ISO 21127:2006) applicable to the realm of cultural heritage generally (Doerr 2003). It deals with high-level entities, such as physical object, place, time-span, event, and is intended to be specialised, as appropriate, for specific domains. The CRM has been extended by EH to encompass key elements of the archaeological excavation recording and analysis process. The CRM-EH includes elements for archaeological contexts, interpretative groupings, finds and samples (May et al. forthcoming). This allows semantic interoperability at the deeper level of specificity, relevant for archaeological enquiry (e.g. context find), while allowing the potential of interoperability at a more general level (e.g. physical object), if that were required in more general cultural heritage applications.

The main aim of the original EH ontological modelling project was to model its archaeological processes, in order to inform the design and acquisition of future recording systems. However, it was envisaged that the model would have more general relevance for other archaeological organisations involved in fieldwork recording, analysis and reporting. The Ontological Modelling Report (Cripps et al. 2004, 23) outlines the rationale, which corresponds closely with STAR's general aims:

'Most systems relate the recording of objects found within the deposits to the contextual record and need to record information about the condition of the finds and any interpretive assessment of their dating. The process of grouping contexts together to make interpretive analysis of events such as construction, use and disuse and the combination of different elements of the site into distinct phases is also a common conceptual process. Many separate activities during excavation and analysis involve taking samples or sub-samples of different materials and subjecting them to a series of observational and measurement events carried out by specific individuals in various expert roles.
These basic elements form the “core” of the conceptual model of the CfA's archaeological work as mapped to the CRM. At this conceptual level, it should be possible for other archaeologists to map similar entities within their information systems to this conceptual framework - be they paper-based or digital.
In this way a common conceptual framework for archaeological processes can be developed that will enable cross-searching between data from different archaeological recording systems. This should make it possible to conduct meaningful searches for common conceptual entities across data sets held by different organisations.'

The then current version of the CRM (v4.2 RDFS) was adopted and the project implemented a machine-readable RDF version of the CRM-EH extension, hitherto published only as text. This is freely available via the STAR website. Section 4 of this article discusses cost-benefit issues concerned with the granularity of detail in the model and STAR's focus on inter-site cross search.


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