4.5 Database design

Archive: An archaeological database of higher-order settlements on the Italian peninsula (350 BCE to 300 CE)

Establishing the structure of a database and its data-fields at the outset of a project is common practice, but this approach carries methodological problems. This is because one is always wiser after all the data are assembled. There is always the risk that once the process of collating data is underway, it becomes apparent that the database's structure should be amended in order to remove superfluous fields or incorporate new ones (see for example, Cougle 2008). As a result, it can become necessary to re-examine sources already consulted. For this project, particular challenges lay in the regional and chronological diversity of settlement forms and in the qualitative and quantitative variation of the archaeological evidence. At the bottom of the scale there are some higher-order settlements known only from names attested on coins and, at the top of the scale, Pompeii; in between there is vast and fascinating variety. The full spectrum was inevitably only going to become apparent as the research progressed.

In order to address this problem, a two-stage process was implemented. A draft database design was outlined, describing the fields and data types. With this structure in mind, data were initially entered into the text fields of a reference-management programme (Citavi) in the same abbreviated form intended for the analytical database. The Citavi text fields were also structured to mimic the database design: on a site-by-site basis, with the same stipulated data-categories. Any further information considered relevant to the research questions was also recorded in Citavi, initially as notes. This additional information was the key, because it often stimulated reconsideration of the final database design. Yet as the design existed only in draft form, it was easily amended. Through intermittent re-evaluation, the design developed alongside the process of data collation. The analytical database was populated from Citavi only after data collection was complete and the final database format had been determined. Another benefit of using reference management software in this way is that it facilitated the creation of a full bibliography, structured on a site-by-site basis, and also deposited with the Archaeology Data Service.