Transitioning from Data Storage to Data Curation: The Challenges Facing an Archaeological Institution

By Simbulan, Maria Sagrario R. | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Transitioning from Data Storage to Data Curation: The Challenges Facing an Archaeological Institution


Simbulan, Maria Sagrario R., Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

Archaeological activities, whether in the field or in the laboratory, generate significant amounts of data. To cope with the ever-expanding amounts of data, archaeological institutions need to carefully manage their information resources for historical (and bureaucratic) purposes as well as to organize data for easy retrieval, allowing data to be shared with colleagues and the interested public, and to be used for research and publication.

This makes it imperative for any institution engaged in archaeological investigations to carefully manage its information resources. An equally important responsibility is to ensure that data collected during any of the institution's projects remain live for extended periods of time or be archived in a manner that ensures quick access should there be any need for the archived data (Greene, 1995; Lock, 2003; Ryan, n.d.).

Written from the perspective of an IT professional with over twenty-five years of experience in programming and in systems analysis and design who is currently training to become a professional archaeologist, this paper explores what a fifteen year old archaeological institution with rather fragmented information resources (in that project-related information are personally curated by individual archaeologists) needs to do to transition to a more centrally organized, institutionally curated approach to manage its information resources.

Beyond its expected academic and research functions, part of this institution's mandate is to be the leading archaeological research institution in the country. Given the current budgetary and manpower constraints that affect practically all academic and research organizations around the world, finding ways to effectively manage its information resources and still deliver on its mandate is a top priority of this institution's administrators.

This paper is not about the whole process of scientific archaeological inquiry but is only concerned with what happens to the primary data gathered in the field during digs as well as to the data generated as a result of analytical techniques and procedures employed in archaeological laboratories post-dig. After an archaeological project or season ends and all the accessioning-related and analytical activities are completed, all those artifacts are stored away in shelves, boxes and crates, and the associated archaeological data will be stored as digital files and in file folders. Beyond reports and inventories submitted to the National Museum and funding institutions, the public gets to learn about these discoveries and research results through published reports, news features, or through museum exhibits. There are two critical questions: In a time of downsized organizations and shrinking budgets, how can the archaeological data and related scientific information pertaining to each of these archaeological projects be preserved and made available to other researchers? How do we make sure that future generations are able to access these information resources?

I ask these questions as a relative newcomer to archaeology. This paper is a quest to understand how archaeological institutions can transition from an individually curated, per project/per season information gathering and data storage approach to a centralized information resource management approach known as institutional data curation. Specifically, this paper will look at the challenges that archaeological institutions face as they attempt to shift from narrowly-focused project-related data storage concerns to a broader and long-term focus on the management of the archaeological information resources of the entire institution.

Discussion

The Nature of Archaeological Data

Archaeological data consists of observations about artifacts and their contexts. Archaeological sites, especially those which present clear evidence of past human activity and occupation, are investigated over many years. …

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