We have some news about recent publications and talks relating to our work in archaeological data publishing. These all share common themes about how to make archaeological data more useful and easier to reuse.
Article in PNAS
The first publication, an article in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) by Eric Kansa and Sarah Whitcher Kansa, emphasizes how good practices with identifiers can play a key role in promoting the “contextual integrity” of data. Identifiers name things. If you’re not careful when you create and reuse identifiers, you can make it very difficult to relate your data with data created by others.
For example, if I record my observations on a ceramic sherd and I label the sherd “DT-236” after the site (Domuztepe) and the sherd number in a running count of potsherds, and at the same site the faunal analyst records a bone specimen as “DT-236” in her own isolated recording strategy, we end up with two very different objects that may have nothing to do with each other recorded with the same identifier!
In contrast, good identifier practices make data easier to link together to inform new studies. Let’s go back to the example above. Good identifier practices would mean the faunal analyst and I would coordinate our naming practices with each other and the broader excavation project. Such coordination would make sure we agree on naming systems and make sure we consistently identify context information so our data can be understood by others and linked together. Good identifier practices also promote ethics because they help maintain associations between individual people and communities (including Indigenous peoples and other stakeholders) with interests in data.
Article in the Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter
The second publication (“The Great Digital Lost and Found: Challenges and Possibilities in Managing Cultural Heritage Data” available here) presents a less technical and more accessible discussion about how data management plays a fundamental role in cultural heritage conservation. The article (by Eric as the sole author) outlines how cultural heritage conservation organizations can better meet their preservation and public engagement goals through a variety of good data practices (including good use of identifiers!)
Finally, Eric recently gave a talk for a virtual ASOR audience about the significance of data management in the practice of archaeology, and why it’s an integral aspect of archaeological method and theory. Sarah and Eric will touch on these themes together with a retrospective about sustainability concerns later this week in Boston at the in person ASOR conference in a talk called “Digital Archaeology and Software Sustainability: Lessons Learned from Open Context’s Sixteen Years”.
Promoting Good Practice
At the same conference, Leigh Lieberman will co-chair a session with Tiffany Earley Spadoni that showcases the work of early career researchers. These researchers took part in the year-long experimental professional development program, Digging Up Data: Turning an Idea into Digital Scholarship . That program, led by Leigh and Tiffany, supported participants as they developed their own projects and expertise in the digital humanities.
* Database geeks often call identifiers “keys”. That’s why the title is punny! A column of keys in one database table often relates to data in another table that also has a column of keys with shared values. The relationships expressed with those shared keys make a “relational database” relational. Without shared keys, a database only contains a collection of isolated tables.