Come see us at the Society for American Archaeology’s 76th Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California from March 30 – April 3, 2011. Digital Antiquity will be at Booth 126 in the Exhibition hall. Additionally, members of the Digital Antiquity staff will be participating or chairing several fora:

  • Planning for Archaeological Digital Data Management: Digital Antiquity and Open Context have organized a forum for archaeologists to discuss planning for access to and preservation of  digital archaeological data and documents.  Last year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) mandated that proposals include a “data management plan” in order to be considered for funding.  The objective of this requirement is to ensure that NSF-generated data be more accessible and preserved for future uses.  The ultimate goal is to broaden research opportunities by making access to NSF-generated data easier.  The requirement represents a challenge to grant seekers not familiar with the conceptual and technical issues of data sharing and long-term preservation.  To help SAA members better understand NSF’s requirement and how to address it, this forum will introduce guides to best practice in digital data management and two archaeological digital data management systems, the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), maintained by Digital Antiquity and Open Context, maintained by the Alexandria Archive.
  • Using the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR) for Management and Research: Increasingly archaeological information about archaeological resources exists in digital formats.  Digital data present both opportunities and challenges.  If effectively archived, digital data are more easily accessed, searched, and shared than paper records.  Yet digital data are more fragile and frequently treated as paper documents, making them completely inaccessible and easily destroyed or forgotten.  There are efforts underway to improve such situations.  Presenters will provide summaries of archival projects, examples of comparative studies using digital data integration tools, the state of digital data access and preservation, copyright and intellectual property issues, and general guidelines about digital data access and preservation.
  • Mortuary Practices in the American Southwest: The study of prehistoric mortuary practices in the American Southwest is undergoing tremendous change in the new millennium. The challenges (and opportunities) of NAGPRA implementation, declines in the number of large samples being excavated, and loss of data from previously excavated samples have altered mortuary archaeology in the region. Given this state of affairs, the development of an integrated regional database of prehistoric mortuary practices is imperative. This session at the 76th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Sacramento, CA is devoted to the first stages of creating such a data set. Participants in the session will develop the frameworks and structures for building a regional mortuary database. The database that is developed will expand the potential for research with existing and future burial samples.

To learn more about the Digital Antiquity forums and other events at the 76th Annual SAA Meeting, read the collection of abstracts. A list of other sessions related to digital archaeology and data is available on the Digging Digitally blog.

We hope to see you there!  Visit the Digital Antiquity exhibit and say “hello.”

In December, the Arizona Archaeological Council (AAC) Board of Directors and two archaeologists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) praised Digital Antiquity and its central project, the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), noting their importance to the future of archaeology.

After a December meeting, during which Digital Antiquity representatives Keith Kintigh and Francis P. McManamon highlighted tDAR’s user-friendly interface and some of its features, the AAC Board of Directors recommended that “members become familiar with tDAR and Digital Antiquity and make use of the repository to share and preserve the digital results of their archaeological projects.” This recommendation, coupled with a planned workshop on tDAR for the AAC’s broader membership, expresses an important endorsement of the efficient management of digital archaeological data.

Responding to the first issue of the Digital Antiquity eNews, Linda Cordell, distinguished Southwest archaeologist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, called tDAR “…the most important contribution made to archaeology since radiocarbon dating.” Patty Jo Watson, 2010 recipient of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) Lifetime Achievement Award and member of the National Academy of Sciences, shared her thoughts, noting that “the potential of tDAR is truly dazzling!”

These endorsements, by a professional organization and giants in the field of archaeology, speak to the importance of providing better access to digital data and ensuring its long-term preservation.

During the summer of 2010, staff at Digital Antiquity added over two hundred new digital documents to the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR) repository.  These documents, plus others contributed by registered users, has increased the number of documents available in tDAR to over 630.

Included in the repository are archaeological overviews, survey reports, detailed excavation and artifact analysis reports, as well as historical documents and studies related to archaeological resources.  The documents cover research on both ancient and historic period archaeological resources and are international in geographic scope.  Readers are encouraged to explore the tDAR repository using the Search function to see the variety of documents and data sets available to tDAR users.

Among the new entries is a report series of over 100 documents, Publications in Anthropology, published by the National Park Service’s Western Archeological and Conservation Center between 1975 and 2008.  These reports range from 3 to 852 pages, with most reports ranging between 200 and 400 pages.  The repository now contains many interesting and informative studies in this series, among them are:

These reports are only a few among the hundreds of documents about American archaeology that users can find in the tDAR repository.

Principle investigators Keith Kintigh and K. Selçuk Candan recently secured a NSF Information Integration and Informatics small project grant for their proposal, “One Size Does Not Fit All: Empowering the User with User-Driven Integration.” Responding to the inefficiency of current schemes, which sacrifice possible data uses in order to produce early integration, User-Driven Integration (UDI) is an approach that takes advantage of expert opinions from the users of integrated data. Scientists and decision-makers have different needs and expectations from data integration operations, and their input will improve data management in complex systems.

UDI also benefits students: undergraduate Honors capstone projects and graduate computer science courses will be formed to test and improve the approach. tDAR data structure is in line with the UDI approach, which values user feedback over structured data, integrating dynamic and variable data sets which may mesh in a variety of ways.

Digital Antiquity continuously works to update tDAR software as a part of its mission to improve digital data preservation and storage. The Cadaster Release, from Winter 2010-2011, focused primarily on supporting the ingest of National Archaeological Database (NADB) metadata as well as enhancement of existing user workflows. Increasing usability is a crucial method to improving the overall efficiency of data entry and management. Key changes to the software include:

  • Previously, the relationship between a record and the project it was filed into required the record to automatically copy all of the data from the project to each record in that project.  With this release, this action is now both explicit, and optional, allowing selective “inheritance” section-by-section within a tDAR record.  Added support for institutional authorship in addition to the existing personal authorship
  • Added the ability to record notes and identifiers (such as contract number) to the schema and data entry forms
  • Redesigned the search results display to allow for easier review of records and to enable sorting
  • Enabled tDAR to make better use of geospatial data specified by the user including automatic assignment of geographic keywords based on the site coordinates specified
  • Developed tools and infrastructure to bulk import XML records into tDAR
  • Added visualization tool for ontologies
  • Introduced display of thumbnails for PDFs and images stored within tDAR
  • Enabled easy replacement of Datasets, Ontologies, and Coding Sheets within tDAR without forcing the user to entirely remap data records
  • Enhanced keyword searching to index and search general terms as well as specific ones, i.e., “Paleo-Indian” would be indexed in addition to the terms “Clovis” or “Folsom”.
  • Support for synonyms and Display Labels in tDAR ontologies
  • Significant performance enhancements throughout the system using NADB metadata records to test
  • Support for the TAG (Transatlantic Archaeological Gateway), a SOAP-based interface used by the UK Archaeological Data Service (ADS) released in Beta form

Digital Antiquity is developing a grants program to support the archiving of digital archaeological data and documents in tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record), a new international digital repository.  Reports and data shared through tDAR are made accessible to the public on the web and their long-term preservation is ensured.

CRM firms, public agencies, individuals, universities, colleges, and other organizations are invited to submit brief proposals explaining the value of the information to be contributed.  A wide array of projects will be considered, such as individual projects, regional archives, and thematic research.  Grants will be awarded in two categories:  up to $ 2,000, and up to $ 10,000.  We anticipate making approximately 40 awards.  Rapid review of proposals will begin on 25 February 2011 and continue until until funds are committed.

Specific criteria and instructions will be made available by mid-December at http//digitalantiquity.org/grants.

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Digital Antiquity is continually committed to improving digital archaeological data preservation. The Balk release of tDAR (Fall 2010) was focused on file storage and management.  It was designed primarily around the need to store and manage images within the tDAR repository. Improvements and additions to the software include:

  • Migrated the internal filestore to a PairTree model (based on the CDL spec).  This model allows for a clear organization of the tDAR file-store and grouping of related materials.
  • Enabled versioning of files within tDAR
  • Migrated deleted records from actual deletion to a “flag” to allow for preservation of files and metadata for deleted items; also enabled the ability to save records in draft form before publishing.
  • Enabled a generic file processing workflow that supports handling of archival, working, and temporary files
  • Used above infrastructure to develop support for processing images within tDAR
  • Enabled searching within the contents of PDFs
  • Added support for processing files on a separate server, if needed
  • Redesigned the user’s main page within tDAR to list recent actions
  • Enhanced searching to support multi-lingual terms
  • Redesigned the main tDAR page to show a map of records, as well as a graph of records by type
  • Redesigned the data-integration process to simplify common user workflows
  • Performed a review of the support of embargoed and confidential data, added additional enhancements including the automatic obfuscation of site coordinates that may be too specific
  • Implemented additional auto-complete services throughout the integration process to improve performance and simplify data entry.

Since 2004, a national team of faunal analysts has worked together to use and improve the data integration tools of the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR). The North American Faunal Working Group (FWG), led by Kate Spielmann, met in at the School of  Human Evolution and Social Change, ASU in Tempe this October to discuss their ongoing work. The FWG is divided provisionally into two parts: the Eastern and Southwestern regional groups. Each group currently is involved in separate pilot studies integrating faunal data sets in tDAR.  The Eastern group suggested several improvements to the tDAR integration tool itself, while the Southwestern group raised a range of challenges to be overcome regarding the coding of faunal data and the importance of their archaeological contexts. The workshop members also are drafting a new National Science Foundation funding proposal to move ahead with synthetic research—integrating faunal data sets from the Eastern and Southwestern regions—using tDAR.

See Kate Spielmann’s profile.

In August the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social and Behavioral Sciences Issued a call for white papers on future research directions as a part of its SBE 2020 Project. Keith Kintigh, Francis P. McManamon and Katherine Spielmann responded to this call with their submission entitled, “Synthesis and Cyberinfrastructure for SBE Research.” Their essay argues for the vital need to invest in social science data digital infrastructure by the NSF. The authors cite vast improvements in synthetic natural science research as the result of massive NSF investment in its infrastructure and synthesis. They note that social sciences have not yet made a similar investment and cannot simply adopt extant natural and physical science infrastructures. Due to the nature of the data, research is needed on appropriate forms of metadata, data integration and synthesis for different types of social, behavioral and economic science data sets.

Get specific! See Kintigh, McManamon and Spielmann’s recommendations here.

Digital Antiquity continually works to improve preservation and management of digital archaeological data. This commitment was instantiated in the first tDAR software release during the Summer of 2010. This initial release, Azimuth, was focused primarily on infrastructure and  data entry issues. Major accomplishments included:

  • Setting up a predictable development and test environment.
  • Developing a Digital Antiquity and tDAR website
  • Unifying the look and feel of the tDAR application and the tDAR website
  • Reviewing the data dictionary for tDAR and simplifying the model
  • Enhancing the data entry screens to optimize a user’s productivity
  • Enabling public access to tDAR metadata without requiring a user to login
  • Consistently displaying all metadata for records to users including metadata inherited from parent projects
  • Adding context-sensitive help to the data entry screens
  • Adding auto-entry (auto-complete) for Authors, Editors, and other personal relationships within tDAR
  • Enhancing general performance
  • Developed auto-suggestion model for mapping ontologies to values within tDAR