ARIADNE delivered data management workshops in Vienna and Ljubljana in January of this year.
One of the venues – ZRC SAZU’s main building at Ljubljana’s Novi Trg on the left, in the distance left National and University Library of Slovenia building at sunrise. Photo: B. Štular.
Institute for Archaeology
ZRC SAZU – Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
OREA – Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Archaeology Data Service
Department of Archaeology
University of York
VAST-Lab, PIN Scri
2Culture Associates Ltd
How it came about:
Firstly, this was not one of those things that are set in stone by being a part of a project’s DOW. My colleague Mateja Belak and the Institute for Archaeology at ZRC SAZU had to make an effort, and especially Kate Fernie and Holly Wright went (quite literally so) out of their way to make this happen.
It all began at the Research Infrastructures and e-Infrastructures for Cultural Heritage event in Rome event back in late 2014. Anthony Corns from Discovery Programme Ireland and I were asked by ARIADNE coordinator Franco Nicolucci to prepare the “Impressions from the ARIADNE community” presentation for an ARIADNE event. We decided to make a comparison between Slovenia and Ireland with regard to digital data archives. Three conclusions emerged from this. Firstly, there are two kinds of countries in Europe; on the one hand there are countries–UK, Holland, Sweden and Germany–that have a digital data archive, and on the other hand there are the majority that do not have it. Secondly, in order to prevent a disastrous loss of digital born data, the have-nots must do something and be quick about it. Thirdly, the latter can only happen by the have-nots learning fast from the haves; and ARIADNE currently presents the best possible opportunity for this to happen. Surely, it took a year of scheduling, but the data archive workshop is in my view a key event in this process.
In preparation for the event, we did our usual publicising. In a few days it was obvious that there is quite a lot of interest in the archaeological community. Mind you, on the surface there are few things in archaeology with less boredom appeal than digital data archiving. This means that the community has already been aware of the existing problem. It was therefore no surprise then that the turn out was excellent, with representatives from the Ministry of Culture, National Museum of Slovenia, National Archive of Slovenia, Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, several local museums and, obviously, several of my colleagues from ZRC SAZU. People even stayed after office hours
When I started working on the ARIADNE project for OREA/OEAW Austrian Academy of Sciences, it became obvious to me very quickly that all the work we were doing in the project only makes sense if there are mechanisms in place that will preserve the data in the long-term. Otherwise this is all just window dressing. The extent to which data is actually threatened–even in the short-term–through technical and conceptual problems was part of many early workshops within ARIADNE. It was eye-opening to me to learn how fragile the basis of most of our research actually is. In the case of archaeology, data loss also means loss of information about our cultural heritage.
Like Slovenia, Austria belongs to the have-not countries. However, the ARIADNE project provides the opportunity to work with partners from archaeological data archives which have a lot of professional experience, as well as partners who are just starting with archaeological data archiving, or are in the process to do so. It was interesting to see what the ‘first steps’ may look like. The diversity across Europe is also reflected by the papers of the ARIADNE session on What is an archaeological research infrastructure and why do we need it? organised by Guntram Geser of Salzburg Research and myself at the CHNT 2014 Conferencein Vienna. It was actually after this session, when I first exchanged ideas with other partners from have-not countries, and started to think that it would really make sense to start a movement for data archives in our countries.
Luckily, early in 2015, the new Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities (ACDH) kicked off at the ÖAW (Austrian Academy of Sciences) and together we organised a workshop on digital repositories later in the year called Save the data! I was happy to welcome representatives from archaeological archives–ADS and DANS–as well as Felix Schäfer, from the IANUS project, currently in the process of setting up a data archive for archaeology for the DAI in Germany. In our presentation, Anja Masur and I tried to find a repository where it would be possible to archive the data of my post-doc project. We looked at policies and costs of international archaeological data archives.
As Benjamin already said, the ARIADNE data management workshop was the logical next step: the response to the workshop among my Austrian colleagues was great and the workshop was well attended by archaeologists across all institutions–Universities of Vienna and Graz, the Austrian Archaeological Institute (ÖAI), from the Austrian Federal Monuments Office (BDA) –and of course from my colleagues at the OEAW. We also had ARIADNE partners from Hungary in attendance. The many questions raised during the workshop showed that data management is a pressing issue! Many thanks to Holly Wright and Kate Fernie for answering our questions and for making the workshop such a satisfying experience.
I can only speak for my self, but the workshop really made a difference for me. I knew a lot of the data beforehand, and obviously, the missing information is always just a touch (well, several and then some, but the point stands) of a keyboard away. However, no amount of information can replace an excellently structured workshop that is, in words of W. S. Churchill, ‘long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest’.
Everything I knew suddenly fell into a place. Doing archaeology that produces vast amounts of digital-born data, and not having a systematically maintained digital data repository is, it struck me, similar to harvesting a field of wheat with a combine harvester and not providing a silo to store the grain. The field will never be the same after it is harvested. The driver cannot go back and re-harvest after a wrong turn. There is only one chance to get it right and all of the spoils are perishable goods!
To get the excitement down a notch, it is not that I know how to build the digital data archive from scratch just by attending the workshop. That was never the intention. But I have gained the necessary tools: a critical overview, direct links to most important data and, most importantly, direct links to knowledgeable people that are willing to help.
Well said Benjamin. There is nothing to add–the comparison with the harvester really makes the point!
It’s been a week or two since the event so I can be a bit reflective. As I said, the realisation that things are in desperate need of attention both at the level of my institution and at the national level happened more than a year ago. So one might say we came well prepared to the workshop: highly motivated and hungry for the how-tos.
Since the workshop things at my institution are moving fast. We created a workgroup, made the plan of action, created the top-level archive structure and collected the information on types and size of the data each individual has in the span of two weeks. This means that everybody is already involved! We expect to create the lower-level archive structure tailored to the existing data in a week’s time.
How did we decide to go about it? As most institutions in Europe we are in the position where archiving the data is an additional workload to the already overstretched resources. Therefore, we decided to be pragmatic about it: it is better to have a digital data archive with a loose, low-level structure (thus sacrificing some of the searchability) populated with data, than to have an excellent archive structure, period. We fear that the workload for archiving a decade and more worth of existing data in a strictly structured manner is just not feasible. That being said, during the next stage, and after populating the data and doing some in-depth analyses, we will be able to create best possible structure for future data and all will be well again. 🙂
At the OEAW we have started to take the case study approach to this. Research data policies in Austria are in the process of changing, and the funding body Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has started to push towards open research data and data preservation, although at the moment, it is all still recommendations, and nothing is compulsory. Calls for funding of digitisation and long-term data preservation projects were published last year, and we secured funding for A Puzzle in 4D. The aim of the project is the long-term preservation of legacy data from excavations at Tell el Daba, Egypt. The Puzzle in 4D project will be the case study for us to start developing a data archive for archaeological excavation–and research data at the ÖAW ACDH. It is early days, but we are compiling test data and working on the data model–the process has begun!
I have been skyping with Benjamin about our data models, and it was interesting to see that we share some basic ideas about how to order our archaeological data. We have to keep talking, Benjamin–and with other partners, and exchange our ideas and experiences.
It was an absolute privilege to be invited to participate in these workshops, represent the Archaeology Data Service, and meet so many people who are motivated to help save archaeological knowledge in Austria, Hungary and Slovenia from the so-called ‘digital dark age’. As ADS was the first archive to be established for archaeological data (we are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year) one of the primary things we have learned over the years is that there is no one, correct solution. Rather, there are standards to help implement informed, pragmatic solutions; that archaeologists need to be at the heart of determining what is best for their data; and that we need to work together. ADS has always had close working relationships with our sister archives, both in Europe and America, and building those ties have comprised an important component of our success. Implementing good archiving practice at a national or international level is extremely challenging, even in the most conducive environments, and it has been invigorating to meet and work with so many new people who can help build this critical collaboration further!
Well said Holly! It was a privilege for me also to be invited to participate in these workshops, representing PIN and 2Culture Associates and to meet so many new colleagues and archaeologists.
The workshops have also sparked interest within ARIADNE and beyond in current practice with regard to preserving digital archaeological data across Europe and internationally, and in the re-use of archaeological datasets. There will surely be archivists or archaeologists in other countries wanting to be part of the conversation! We will be at CAA 2016 in Oslo where we are organising a session Supporting researchers in the use and re-use of archaeological data: continuing the ARIADNE thread and at CHNT in Vienna, 16-18 November 2016 where we helped organise the session Preservation and Re-Use of Digital Archaeological Research Data with Open Archival Information Systems.
Please do join if you can!