Archaeological Data in the GIS Portal of the National Heritage Board of Poland

Agnieszka Oniszczuk * and Agnieszka Makowska

Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa, National Heritage Board of Poland, ul. Kopernika 36/40, 00-924 Warszawa, Poland.
*Corresponding author: /

Cite this as: Oniszczuk, A. and Makowska, A. 2017 Archaeological Data in the GIS Portal of the National Heritage Board of Poland, Internet Archaeology 43.

The National Heritage Board of Poland is responsible for implementation of the INSPIRE directive in the field of cultural heritage (Protected Sites). The implementation was not only about digitising almost 80,000 listed monuments (including over 7700 archaeological sites), but also about change of approach to data by adopting the yes/no mode instead of "about" and "probably". After having built the data model, created thesauri and digitised paper documentation we felt that the visual result compliant with the INSPIRE specification would be highly unsatisfactory with regard to the data and the amount of work. Improved presentation available on our map portal was created in cooperation with Warsaw University of Technology. The paper discusses the scope of the visible data, reasons behind the visual classification, the pros and cons, current possibilities of the use of the data and prospective development of the portal.

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 INSPIRE directive was the starting point for the creation of a monuments database and the map portal of the National Heritage Board of Poland. The Directive 2007/2/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2007 establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) came into force in May 2007. According to its provisions, the spatial data infrastructure is to enable environmental spatial information to be shared among public sector organisations and facilitateare t public access to this information across Europe. The extensive data are to help in informed policy-making across boundaries. The directive is all about efficiency and compatibility of the data. The information should be collected on many levels of detail, and its scope as well as conditions of the data re-use, should be explicitly formulated and easy to find (INSPIRE, About INSPIRE). On a national level, in Poland the directive was followed by the Act of 4 March 2010 on spatial data infrastructure. According to its provisions, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage is responsible for protected sites in the part referring to immovable monuments (Rada Ministrów 2010, Art 3, par. 7, pt c). In 2010 the implementation task was assigned to the National Heritage Board of Poland.

The entire cultural heritage sector in Poland, at least as far as various public bodies are concerned, generally lags behind with digital technologies. It is enough to say that binding regulation on the register of monuments, issued in 2011, specifies which colour of ink has to be used to separate entries in the book of the register (black) and to cross them out (red). The use of green and blue is also provided but, needless to say, a digital version of the register is not. In 2010 our organisation was no different and a large-scale digitisation was regarded as an earthquake. The implementation of the INSPIRE directive was not only about digitising thousands of documents but also about the change in our approach to archives, including the archaeological ones. Until then, access to the documents in our possession was mainly limited to archaeologists (including archaeology students), professionals involved in spatial planning and public developments, and landowners, which was justified with the need to protect archaeological heritage against detectorists. Their number is estimated at about 50,000 people across the country, and the overwhelming majority operates illegally (Makowska et al. 2016). On the other hand, however, there never was any straightforward legal backup to enforce such limitations.

The digitisation project began with the identification of the datasets we should deliver within INSPIRE. From among the four forms of the legal protection of monuments we chose monuments entered in the national register of monuments and recognised by the President of Poland as Monuments of History as we kept the record of these two categories. We also decided to deliver data on world heritage sites in Poland. The register includes over 70,000 immovable monuments (buildings, historic urban and rural layouts, parks and gardens) and the current number of registered archaeological sites is 7743. However, the archives of the National Heritage Board of Poland also include the documentation of over 455,000 archaeological sites recorded within the fieldwalking projects of Polish Archaeological Record. The Record, being the main source of information for archaeological heritage management in Poland, is not mentioned as one of the legal forms of monument protection, which is why at first we decided not to digitise the archive within INSPIRE.

The register of monuments is particularly relevant to archaeological heritage. First entries of archaeological sites into the register were made in 1929, soon after the introduction of the first legal regulations. Thus, the register of archaeological monuments has been created by several generations of monuments protection officers, working under changing laws and changing administrative division of the country. In the absence of national guidelines and policies, different, sometimes personal, criteria for the assessment of the value of monuments have been used. The register was also influenced by political reality. In the 1960s and 1970s the work of Voivodeship Monuments Protection Officers was centrally controlled and the number of administrative decisions on the entry of monuments into the register was one of the main quantitative indicators. As a result, over these two decades, just over 30% of the sites were inscribed in the register each December, which raises doubts as to the actual value of those sites.

Having defined the resources to be digitised, we, the NHBP archaeologists, approached the project with two basic premises. INSPIRE 'forced' us to digitise according to very precise demands but we wanted to create a database adjusted to our needs. We were to present only the register of archaeological monuments, but we would prepare tools for the eventual presentation of the entire Polish Archaeological Record. To summarise, archaeological heritage management must have come first.

The rest of the paper describes the process of building the database and the creation of the data model and thesauri, always from an archaeological perspective. We show the challenges that we have had to overcome on the way, resulting from the state of the archive and the necessity to adjust Polish archaeological archives to the INSPIRE data model. We present the visualisation of our spatial data in the GIS portal of the National Heritage Board of Poland (, created in cooperation with Warsaw University of Technology. We then discuss the scope of the visible data, reasons behind the visual classification, the pros and cons, and conclude with the prospective developments of the database and the GIS portal.

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