Archaeological data and the digital dark age: strategies for management, preservation and re-use
The advent of ubiquitous computing has created a golden age for archaeological researchers and participating publics, but the price is a digital resource, which is now in jeopardy. The archaeological record, in digital form, is at risk not simply from obsolescence and media failure, but the domain is also unable to fully participate in Open Data. Without swift and informed consensus and intervention, Archaeology will lose the majority of its research data legacy and capacity to a digital Dark Age. It faces a number of challenges, distinct from those encountered in other domains:
- many forms of archaeological research (including excavation) destroy the cultural resource, and the recorded observations become the primary record, derived from non-repeatable documentation;
- archaeological data is often born digital, and there are no paper surrogates for the primary record derived, for example, from use of hand-held computers on site, geophysical surveys or logging of experimental data by analytical laboratory equipment;
- archaeological researchers are creative and innovative in their methodologies; adopting, adapting and developing novel techniques and approaches, requiring stewardship of a far greater variety of data formats than other cultural and scientific domains, along with more complex understandings of data re-use.
In addition to the practical challenges described above, equally pressing is the lack of equity of access across Europe. Because archaeology has been an early and enthusiastic adopter of a wide variety of digital methods, most archaeological data, the result of decades of research funding, is being lost due to a lack of appropriate persistent repositories with specialist knowledge in most European countries. Fewer than five EU countries have repositories with the required specialist knowledge and mechanisms in place to ensure archaeological data will be freely and openly available for re-use by future generations of researchers. Failure to address this inequality means Europe will be divided into countries and regions whose archaeological research legacy is preserved, and countries and regions where it is irrevocably lost.
This talk will touch on both the basic best practice in the preservation and open dissemination of archaeological data from the perspective of the Archaeology Data Service, the longest established domain-specific archive for archaeological data in the world, along the current trends in the preservation and dissemination, such as the FAIR Principles, the ARIADNE Portal for archaeological data, and the SEADDA COST Action network.