3.6 Digital documentation frameworks

One of the most prominent examples of a UK recording system, which also had its beginning in the 1980s, is the Integrated Archaeological Database (IADB), originally developed by Stead and Clark at the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust (Stead 1988). The development was later taken up by Rains who brought it to the York Archaeological Trust in the late 1990s. With the retirement of Rains its future is uncertain, but it is currently in use by many universities and commercial units. What made IADB special was its integrated capabilities, allowing for dynamically creating vector excavation plans alongside the textual classification.

Another example is Framework Archaeology, a collaboration between Oxford Archaeology and Wessex Archaeology, aimed at handling the documentation from the excavations at Heathrow and Stansted. The project-focus of how people inhabited landscapes places great emphasis on interpretation in addition to recording, and develops a historical narrative as the site is excavated (Andrews et al. 2000). The project includes a Framework Free Viewer for Windows computers, which allows users to investigate and browse through the archaeological documentation deposited at the Archaeology Data Service (Framework Archaeology 2009), as well as through a Web GIS interface (Framework Archaeology 2011; 2014).

The ARK Archaeological Recording Kit by LP Archaeology differs by being entirely web-based, and does not require anything but a web-browser and network connection, and in addition can be easily customised through its open source architecture (PHP). Building on a spatially enabled database (MySQL) and data management for many kinds of data, such as images, GIS data, 3D reconstructions, sound and video, ARK is also aimed at readily sharing and publishing archaeological data to the web (Eve and Hunt 2008).

These, in addition to other projects, illustrate the level of development of different recording frameworks characteristic of UK archaeology. Not that such development is in any way limited to the UK. One Scandinavian example is the IntraSIS Intrasite Information System developed by the National Historical Museums in Sweden. Built as an extension of the capabilities of the ESRI ArcGIS product suite, it is designed to manage and structure geographical as well as textual data, and is now in use by almost all major archaeological institutions in Sweden, as well as the Copenhagen Museum and Historic England. Its strong impact in Sweden and endorsement by Historic England for one thing demonstrates an increasing tendency towards uniformity and homogeneity in the documentation technologies applied.

Common to both UK and Danish archaeology is the appearance of field manuals that aim to ensure comparable and consistent recordings, such as the Archaeological Site Manual (Museum of London Archaeology Service 1994) and the Danish Felthåndbogen/The Field Manual (Schou Jørgensen et al. 1980), a now-discontinued subscription service to individual papers on methodological and technical field practice topics. In Denmark, the privately run MUD-organisation has come to play a significant role in its efforts to develop and maintain a central database as well as define standards and structure for archaeological data, textual and spatial (MUD 2014).

When it comes to digital spatial data, MUD issues general guidelines for Danish archaeology, but they are limited to structuring and organising GIS data, primarily how to handle the vast amounts of GPS-data in a file system. The lack of central management of spatial data is, however, an area of real concern. The SARA project, led by the Agency for Culture, is expected to include some degree of GIS capabilities in a new central cultural-historical database scheduled for implementation in 2016 (Slots- og Kulturstyrelsen 2015), which may address some of these issues.

In the UK, the establishment of the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) in 1996 has played a significant role in the development of archiving solutions for digital data, ensuring its durability and availability (Huggett 2006). But even more so have the series of Guides to Good Practice produced by ADS and Digital Antiquity actually influenced and formalised standards in digital recording of archaeology (Archaeology Data Service and Digital Antiquity 2015).

At an international level, it is worth noting the European initiatives within the ARIADNE framework and the INSPIRE protocol, which support the development of infrastructure between distributed datasets and provide guides for best practices as well as technical specifications for interoperability of archaeological data, including spatial information (McKeague et al. 2012; INSPIRE; ARIADNE).


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