EDNA & Ariadne
The Faculty of Archaeology has been one of the main initiators in the development of a digital data archive for Dutch archaeologists. Modern archaeological research results in a substantial amount of digital documents. This digital documentation ranges from simple text documents, through large databases to complex GIS workspaces. All these primary data is collected, ordered and used in the analyses. The publications are available in digital format via institutional repositories, but the primary data is not although these are very useful for (future) archaeologists too. A digital data archive, like the English Archaeology Data Service, was not available in the Netherlands until recently.
Over the years a number of related projects have been initiated by the section of Computer application in Archaeology. Together with various external partners and funding agencies the expertise, facilities and experience were brought together. A major improvement in the awareness of the necessity and research possibilities of a digital archive has been reached. By building online examples of a durable repository, for publications and archaeological reports as well as for datasets (collection of primary data in various formats and applications), the Dutch archaeologists got acquainted with a new way of knowledge sharing.
Five pilot projects – one with a former KNAW institute called NIWI, one as part of the SURF-DAREnet project, two with LUF/Gratama funding and one within the NWO Odyssey program - have been so successful that the Dutch archaeological organizations (both educational and commercial units) have agreed on a obligation to archive all digital output. The importance of long-term preservation of the digital documentation and the existence of an electronic archive is widely acknowledged. The State Service for Cultural Heritage (RCE) and the data archive DANS (Data Archiving and Network Service) have confirmed their commitment and joined into a partnership.
Prospects for an electronic archive for Dutch archaeology (EDNA) looked therefore very promising (www.edna.nl).
Due to a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) we were able to archive existing digital documentation from the recent past. Over the last 10 to 15 years much archaeological research was performed as a result of the Malta Treaty. Commercial archaeological field units and consultancy have been established and produced substantial amounts of reports and datasets. These reports, numbering over ten thousand, are printed in minor circulation and are hardly known to and accessible for researchers. All these “grey” literature reports were digitized if required, documented, archived and made accessible in this retrospective archiving project. At the same time the digital archive was enriched with a number of large datasets. Major infrastructural projects such as railroad development, reconstruction of rivers and road improvements have resulted in many sites and finds. A selection of these major projects, among which the well known “Betuweroute” (cargo railway to Germany), were made available integrally. The electronic archive for Dutch archaeology was not only filled with a substantial amount of content, it was also firmly embedded within DANS. The effort put into the EDNA project over the last eight years was well spend: a service for Dutch archaeologists was now into place.
The Faculty of Archaeology is currently still involved in a project directly related to EDNA. This time the focus on innovative research in Computer applications is much stronger. All the projects in the e-archive are documented with general metadata in order to allow researchers to discover these digital resources. Almost every dataset uses however an individual set of file types, data structure and terminology. Well documented, but impossible to cross search automatically. Linked Open Data (the Semantic web) seems to be able to fulfill this ultimate research requirement. Since it would allow researchers to find information about, for instance, wooden peddles from the Mesolithic, whatever name or code it was given in publications, databases, maps and photo collections. Within the European Ariadne project this new technology will be put to the test within the domain of Dutch archaeology. ARIADNE will provide online services, training opportunities, events and build a community of researchers involved in the integration of the fragmented archaeological resources across Europe.