Furthering Open Archaeology: Development of the CAP Digital Repository

Furthering Open Archaeology: Development of the CAP Digital Repository

In our previous blog, Jeff Bennett introduced the concept of Open Archaeology and some of the ways that Campus Archaeology (CAP) is maintaining and furthering our position within the framework of Open Archaeology. One of the ways in which we plan to further our efforts in Open Archaeology is to develop a digital repository for all CAP projects and artifacts. A digital repository is essentially a database for storing and managing digital data. Development of the digital repository will be a long-term project that requires cataloging artifacts housed in the CAP lab in a standardized way and importing a large amount of information in the repository. Our aim is to develop a public interface so that all of our data is freely available.

We have met with Dr. Ethan Watrall, Associate Director of the Matrix Lab, who is helping with the technical aspects in developing the repository. Matrix has created their own open-source content management system, known as KORA, with the intention of curating digital humanities projects. Two special features of KORA highlighted by Matrix are its ability to be accessed from a web browser and the flexibility in customizing the type and style of metadata associated with the objects. This means that CAP will be able to control how the public interacts with the data and, essentially, the narrative we would like tell about MSU’s history through our artifacts. KORA is currently undergoing updates with the intention of releasing KORA3 in the upcoming months. CAP is working closely with Dr. Watrall to learn the new system and we plan to begin developing the project as soon as the new version is released.

Currently, much of our data is stored in a series of excel files specific to each project. The CAP digital repository will create a central location for all data associated with past and present CAP projects, including site records (e.g. site forms, images, and maps) and artifacts. Further, by creating standardized forms for inputting data, we will create a completely standardized collection and a requirement for recording data in a standardized way in the future. This project will require that all artifacts be cataloged following standards set by the Society for Historical Archaeology so that all artifacts are being identified with the same terminology and have the same type of data recorded, such as weight and other measurements.

The way in which we structure the user interface is a critical component of the project. KORA projects are structured using a series of data entry levels, including the Project, Entity, and Record. The largest data level is Project, which contains all of the entities and records within it. The Project for our digital repository will simply be the “CAP Digital Repository”. This means that all of our data will be encompassed within this single project. Next, we will create the entities. The entities will be what we want to be the central focus of the repository. In this case, each CAP project, or site, will be an entity so that all data (site forms and artifacts) will be organized based on the site with which it is associated. Therefore, the entity would likely be a site report, such as “Saints Rest” or “Beal Street”. The final structure level is the most refined level of data known as records. Records are contained within entities. Our repository records will be any site forms and/or artifacts associated with a site, or entity. Records will have standardized forms with dropdown menus to select from a set list of terms in order to create an efficient and effective searchable database. We will also be able to link images and scanned documents with each record form so that users will be able to view the tangible record.

The CAP digital repository will create a central location of all data associated with CAP projects improving the overall quality of our collection and making future research easier as future CAP fellows, as well as public users, can easily search and view our entire collection. We believe that Open Archaeology is the future of archaeological science by creating complete transparency between archaeologists and the public, as well as between researchers and institutions. Having a digital presence will allow the public to explore MSU’s history in a unique fashion through tangible artifacts.

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