Modifying Archaeological Databases Towards Becoming Interactive

As I was sitting in my archaeology class I began to wonder why archaeological databases were designed more towards those who are in academia rather than the general public, as the sharing of information is so often necessary for  the research to be acknowledged and used. I also pondered upon how one might be able to change the formatting of the information so that it would better appeal to the public. The answer that I concluded was that adding interactive features to the archaeological databases could make the information about the excavation sites and artifacts more accessible, provide the opportunity to add new information, and allow the viewer to easily understand the material. So in this blog post I will be exploring the design and reasoning of current archaeological databases, and explore my ideas on why an integrative archaeological databases could help revolutionize the field of archaeology.

Archaeological databases online arose out of the need to share valuable information concerning artifacts, and also helped towards creating less of a messy paper trail. Integrated Archaeological Databases are created around the idea of cataloging, preserving, and sharing information on excavation sites and artifacts, yet has not progressed or changed significantly over the years alongside technology. By the databases not being adaptable to the changing technology it could prevent information from being widely shared and thus hinder the acknowledgment of the research done on archaeological sites. Some recent improvements on these databases are the inclusion of context recording sheets and the inclusion of associated metadata.

The modern databases are not often accessible to the general public because of the lack of standardization, the complexity of the structure, the monotony of the presentation, and the fact that most of the online databases are not user friendly. These issues prevent the sharing of information about the archaeological finds, because it is the general public who disperse information on a greater scale than those in academia would. By including interactive features to a spreadsheet database it would provide more accessibility for researchers, and those interested, to obtain various aspects of information about the artifacts excavated, provide opportunities to see the artifacts and the excavation site, allow for the ability to interact with the models of the artifacts and maps of the site, create a standardization for future databases, and display the information in a way that is easy to understand and  in a way that is also engaging.

The Day of Archaeology website had an interesting take on what could also be defined as a database. On their website they described in detail how they created their interactive maps and presented a collection of details on site excavation and archaeological work. It was a database not for the site, or the artifacts, but rather the process of the work. This type of database could also be included, perhaps, alongside the one containing the metadata and catalogues of information on an integrative online platform.

How would an interactive database be created? The first step would be to collect all the extensive information about the excavation site and artifacts and catalogue it into a digital spreadsheet. Due to the lack of standardization of categories or information needed concerning each artifact, the information in the spreadsheet will vary. Photos of the excavation site and various angles of the artifacts will be added to the spreadsheet or an accompanying digital collection. The interact features will be dependant upon the creator of the database skill set. A website could be created to have a platform to place all the information that is on the spreadsheet.

Clickable links could be placed to lead the user through the categories. An interactive map and 3D models of the artifacts could be placed on the website so that the user can navigate through where the artifact was excavated and analyze it in closer detail. Programs such as Agisoft could be used to create 3D models easily through the taking of several pictures of a structure and rendering them into the program. Once the 3D model is created it can be transferred into a program similar to Sketchfab and then shared or converted to another platform. 

CyArk is a great example of excavation sites and artifacts being put into interactive 3D models. The user can zoom in and explore the fine details of the structures and rotate them. Next to the model is a brief description of the structure. On the top of the page is the option to see an integrative map that has realistic imagery and the option to explore the information about the object more in depth. There is also options to see the photo gallery of the excavation site. Adding the option to see the full work of the archaeologists on the site, and an option to see the Integrated Archaeological Database could turn this website into an integrative archaeological database for example, as it is already user friendly and has options to explore the site and artifacts in an easy and engaging way that would be shared. It would also be interesting to be able to zoom into the maps and see a reconstruction of ancient cities with models of examples of  the people of those cities present. Animation could be used to have the models of the people move around. Videos could also be added as well within the online platform that the integrative archaeological database would be on.

Digital humanities has a public spirited aspect to it in which it concerns with how to make things better for humanity as a whole. In since archaeology is one of our only means of  “traveling” to the past and gaining insight from it, it is important to be constantly changing methods and employing new forms of technology to it. Archaeological databases are one means in which information is stored and shared, so revising it or making it interchangeable with today’s technology could alter how humanity receives information about the past. Integrative databases could be the next step in the direction towards that.



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