Digital curation of archaeological knowledge – the 2016 summer school

The Digital Curation Unit of the Athena Research Centre hosted an ARIADNE summer school in Athens on legacy datasets and the digital curation of archaeological knowledge from 12-17 June.   

Group of participants listening to Ioannis Poulios at the ice breaker session

Icebreaking session lead by Dr Ioannis Poulios, Hellenic Open University, Open University of Cyprus & UNESCO School on Sustainable Energy Governance in World Heritage Sites

Participants at the school included early stage researchers, experienced archaeologists and experts in digital curation from Lithuania, Italy, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Bulgaria, Greece and Canada.

The summer school began on Sunday evening with an icebreaking session.  Participants were invited to discuss some of the challenges of interpreting, communicating and preserving the archaeological heritage.  A collaborative making activity was lots of fun and led to some great discussion. 

The first session of the summer school focussed on curating archaeological knowledge (such as data from legacy fieldwork projects, museum archaeological collections, commercial and community archaeology, and of emerging digital practices) and making it accessible to archaeologists and scholars through registries and repository services.  Costis Dallas began the session by introducing the principles, methods and concepts for organizing archaeological resources.  

Christos Papatheodorou and Dimitris Gavrilis followed with an introduction to the ARIADNE portal and registry and the services offered for appraising, ingesting, curating and accessing information on archaeological datasets, controlled vocabularies and other resources. 

Participants listening to the presentations

TNA scholars presenting their case studies: Rimvydas Lauzikas, Ilenia Gallucio, Pavla Drapelova, Priscilla Ulguim, Federico Nurra and Eleni Gaddou

After lunch, six of the TNA scholars presented their case studies and the challenges that they are facing in working with legacy archaeology datasets.  The scholars presented a really interesting set of projects covering numismatics, ceramics, cremation burials, place names and the web of maps, conceptual modelling and integrating the fieldwork legacy of hundreds of field teams.

Participants at the school discussed the case studies in a series of sprints!   Participants were divided into groups to focus in depth on particular case studies with the TNA scholars presenting their projects in more detail.  Each group worked together on the particular issues faced in the project and some lively discussion followed.  The goal of the sprint sessions was to work together to develop a “solution space” or plan to meet the challenges, presented by the scholars on day four.

The afternoon of day two focussed on metadata and semantics.  Kate Fernie started the session by presenting work carried out under the CARARE project to integrate archaeological and architectural heritage inventories.  Panos Constantoupolos then presented ways of representing archaeological knowledge semantically using the CIDOC CRM; this provided an in-depth walk-through of the CIDOC CRM, which was much appreciated by participants.

Group of participants discussing

Negotiating data transfer during the summer school

On day three, after the morning sprint sessions, Seamus Ross of Toronto University presented the key challenges and approaches to digital curation for the archaeological record.  During a breakout session participants were divided in teams to negotiate the transfer of archaeology data from a field unit to a repository.

Neal Ferris of the Department of Anthropology, University of Western Ontario & Sustainable Archaeology followed by talking about the experience of “Sustainable Archaeology” in working with local communities and first nation peoples in Western Ontario.   Ferris said "technologies are inherently political" in relation to community, talking about the trade-offs and contradictions between open access and cultural protocols.  He stressed the importance of involving all the communities within the archaeological heritage (heritage, developers, archaeologists, government, public and indigenous/descendent peoples) in planning digitisation and access projects.

Day 4 began with the TNA scholars presenting the results of their sprint groups.  Jeremy Huggett of the University of Glasgow commented on the challenges and opening the discussion to the experts in the audience.  A whole set of issues were raised relating to users of archaeological data – who, when, where and how different groups can be involved.   Another area discussed was innovation – archaeologists need innovative ways of thinking outside the box.  This may go against data standardization during some research stages but the challenge is then when to apply standards. 

Expert forum

The second module of the summer school comprised of an expert forum, which explored the future of archaeological curation based on the legacy of data and resources from past (and future) projects.  Costis Dallas began the session by asking 'is archaeology in serious trouble or does it stand on the threshold of new advances?'  The forum then focussed on some of the challenges and advances that can be foreseen for the discipline.  

Panos Constantoupolos and Seamus Ross discussed challenges and advances in knowledge representation.  For Constantopoulos, the grand challenges to come are bridging the gap between big data and knowledge, developing knowledge bases that capture scientific knowledge and contributing to STEM education.  Ross focussed on the challenges of managing vast quantities of digital material for long-term preservation and the need to find automated methods to cope with the scale of the task.  In the long term, Ross suggested the existence of smart digital objects; self aware, self-contextualized and even self-managed. 

George Papaioannou, Agiatis Bernardou and Michael Carter discussed some challenges and advances in the field of communication and visualisation.  For Bernadou, communication means collaboration across disciplines, enrichment of data, even funding, communication means impact!' Carter noted that in the networked world archaeologists no longer control the dissemination or consumption of archaeological outputs.  Visualization is not communication, but new ways of representing and understanding.  A lively discussion followed!

Neal Ferris and Lorna Richardson listening to Jeremy Huggett speak.

Jeremy Huggett, University of Glasgow begins the session on sustainability and openness

Next Jeremy Huggett, Neal Ferris and Lorna Richardson discussed the challenges and opportunities for sustainability and openness in archaeology.  Jeremy Huggett noted that re-use of digital archaeological data hasn’t really taken off yet.  Ferris noted that priorities were changing – twenty years ago the priority was the unprecedented loss of archaeology as a result of development, while today the priority is managing the unprecedented accumulation of the digital archaeological record and grappling with new knowledge systems.  Richardson’s focus was on exploring public archaeology in the digital age and social media.

The final day commenced with another sprint!  In this session participants were divided into four groups to discuss scenarios for archaeological digital curation infrastructures of the future (2021-2026).  Each group came up with a vision and built up a scenario, which was later presented to the whole group.

The summer school stimulated a lot of lively discussion and stimulated new ideas.   In the words of one participant:  “Thanks for a great week, going home full of digital ideas”



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