Archaeological Map of the Czech Republic. Current state and future visions of virtual research tools in the Czech Republic

Martin Kuna , David Novák *, Jan Hasil and Dana Křivánková

*Corresponding author: / / /
Institute of Archaeology CAS, Prague, v.v.i. (Letenská 123/4, Prague 1, 118 01), Czech Republic

Cite this as: Kuna, M., Novák, D., Hasil, J. and Křivánková, D. 2017 Archaeological Map of the Czech Republic. Current state and future visions of virtual research tools in the Czech Republic, Internet Archaeology 43.

The Archaeological Map of the Czech Republic (AMCR) project will soon be finished and one chapter of building digital infrastructures in the Czech Republic will be closed. It is a natural occasion to evaluate national state-of-the-art in dealing with Digital Culture Heritage, particularly archaeological data. It is a also good time to summarise our knowledge about using digital tools and to outline prospects of development for the coming years. What are the key points? The AMCR represents both an administrative system of field archaeology management and a kind of 'sites and monuments records' for the territory of the CR. Its fundamental underlying principles are interoperability, standardisation, data re-use, crowdsourcing and networking. However, a reasonable question should also concern the theoretical background to the process of digitisation of the archaeological world. Infrastructures should every time stay on the level of service for the community of researchers and every digital tool has to fulfil real needs in the fields of both archaeological theory and practice. On the other hand, the application of this virtual research environment is inseparable from archaeological legislation and institutional management.

This extended abstract is also available in hard copy in K. May (ed) 2017 Digital Archaeological Heritage, EAC Occasional Paper No.12, Archaeolingua, Budapest.

The task of creating a record system of archaeological fieldwork and finds has emerged from the long-term history of the Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), Prague, which was established in 1919. Historical circumstances have determined not only the need to create the system precisely in this institution but also some of its characteristics. It has been necessary (and this obligation still remains) to respect the organisational structure of the discipline, while certain parallel attempts to structure the information flow in Czech archaeology by other institutions (previous data models but mainly the legal framework of Czech archaeology) exist. The key problem of archaeological heritage recordkeeping in the Czech Republic (CR) results from the very fact that this task has never been required by law, nobody has been directly charged with it recently and, last but not least, nobody has been directly financed to create and maintain such a record system. The Institutes of Archaeology CAS record archaeological fieldwork as part of their research activities, albeit without effectively enforcing the supply of information.

While the Archaeological Map of the Czech Republic (AMCR) project has been influenced by the above-mentioned conditions, it has also partially anticipated new legal provisions that may, in this respect, improve the current situation. At the same time, the AMCR project benefits from the fact that it is created at a research institution and aims to perceive archaeological heritage recordkeeping as part of the complex research infrastructure.

The AMCR information system has been conceived as a backbone infrastructure of Czech archaeology. It combines a branch administrative application designed for archaeological fieldwork management with the comprehensive administration of the knowledge about their results, including retrospective archaeological data collected since the late 19th century. The AMCR system works with a dynamic model of archaeological knowledge formation and is designed to hold the evidence from various phases of fieldwork activities: from research project articulation through the description of archaeological fieldwork to the analysis of their results and their linking metadata to field documentation.

The AMCR contains a register of planned archaeological interventions and follows their progress through to results in the excavation report. It creates an authority file of 'fieldwork events' and assigns unique and persistent identifiers, on which additional information can be bound, e.g. field documentation, bibliographic entries or even finds in museum collections. Links between authority records of various contents produce a complex network of specialized information.

Besides its administrative function, the AMCR also aspires to play the role of a 'national' archaeological database. With this intention in mind, the re-examination of the majority of existing data was carried out within the framework of the AMCR project, and these data were included in the authority list of fieldwork events and 'sites'. Records that have not been revised thus far and records of events that have not yet appeared in the database can be entered and edited by users in the future. Today, this form of crowdsourcing seems to be the only viable way to sort out the huge amount of data that have been collected (but not revised and gathered in one place) in the course of the 150 years of Czech archaeology. While the volume of data grows each year, data continues to be unnecessarily lost if not properly registered, structured and stored within an information system. Among other positive effects, co-operation in the creation and management of the common information system could reinforce integration in the Czech archaeological community.

Archaeological research infrastructures therefore must be developed with a vision of the future needs of the professional public. It is crucial to systemize access to archaeological knowledge at the central level and to involve users directly in the process of data creation. The development of archaeological information sources in the CR should aim at the integration of departmental information systems both in terms of data connectivity and user interfaces in order to design and deliver this data with common heuristic and analytic tools. Emphasis has to be placed on the importance of a suitable legal framework and institutional cooperation, the advantages of Open Access, Open Source and data standardization. Currently, the Institutes of Archaeology CAS represent the only institutions that have the potential to deal with this task. Activities in this field are the part of the ongoing project (Archaeological Information System of the Czech Republic, AIS CR), whose goals are to anchor archaeological e- infrastructures in professional environment and to build branch virtual research environment for the public use.

The significance of this development largely surpasses the sphere of electronic sources in archaeology. For several years, archaeology has been increasingly searching for relevant and at the same time solvable topics of theoretical research. More and more frequently, archaeology has to work with large sets of data derived from numerous sites and fieldwork projects and thus it has to deal with problems of accessibility and data comprehensibility. Quite frequently, information about archaeological fieldwork is missing, submitted excavation reports fall short of the recommended standards, reports written by various specialists are not being delivered to archaeological archives, data are not standardised, etc. Among archaeologists, the processing of field documentation is traditionally regarded as a burden and an obstacle to theoretical work. However, in the long term, only archaeological communities who process extensive electronic infrastructures will be able to advance towards opening and solving new theoretical topics.

A qualitative shift can occur in Czech archaeology only if the approach to processing primary data is fundamentally changed. Furthermore, the quantity of commonly processed data should also increase along with their accessibility; the variety of analytical procedures and tools should expand and, last but not least, fundamental theoretical and methodological concepts should be codified. It is of the utmost importance to take an imaginary 'step back' (as many would, albeit falsely, feel it) and to conclude the creation of basic branch infrastructures as a more efficient service for theoretical research and for the public in the future.

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