Vol. VII, No. 2

August, 1994

A Database About Databases

One common question about computer archives is whether an archive should be a real or virtual one, that is, whether the computer files should be physically housed in one place or in many different places with software providing the links. While the Archaeological Data Archive Project anticipates a substantial real archive, it is also clear that there will be files accessible through the Archive but not physically resident there. There may even be files of interest and value that are not available via network access at all.

A user of the Archive, as a result, will not be able simply to scan the available files to learn what is available. That would not be very efficient anyway. Users need first to know what is available in the system as a whole. Then they can begin to choose what they want to see or use. They need also to know many things about the available files. Are they files from a database or from a spreadsheet or from a CAD system or just text? Can they be downloaded or only examined on-line? Can they be used and cited?

Users will have many such questions, and they need a good index in order to answer them. Only then will they know what files are of interest, in a useful format, and likely to be helpful.

There are already enough valuable files available on the Internet, not to mention on computer disks unconnected to the Internet, that it is impossible for anyone to know what is available, much less how to find it all. WWW and gopher servers do an excellent job of directing people to information, but they do not provide the kinds of indices that would help scholars to know what is available in the first place. Their primary aim is to lead to information that is searchable on-line, not to data files that can be downloaded for further study and analysis.

This situation requires a database of databases, a database that can be consulted to find out about those files that are available, in whatever form, for scholars to examine or use. Such a database is a natural part of the Archive to be created as a part of the ADAP, but it is also something that is needed now, and plans have been made to prepare a database to serve as a guide and index to material currently available in computer form. Those scholars who may have computer data to share with others - whether on disk or mounted on a networked system are encouraged to write to the ADAP to explain what is available and how it may be accessed.

A database will be created and made available over the Internet (or on disk); it will be updated regularly. The database will provide basic information about computer files that are or may be available to archaeologists.

A preliminary list of information categories to be included follows. Please forward additional suggestions to ADAP Director, Harrison Eiteljorg, II.

For site files: site name, location (4 potential levels starting with country), principal investigator and address/telephone/e-mail address, computer system designer and address (or some other indication of who, if not the excavator, understands the files and can be contacted), secondary contact person and address (additional names may be stored as well), earliest date of site (by date and by period/culture), latest date (by date and by period/culture), site type, size, number of files, types of files (database, CAD, etc.), beginning date for the excavation, ending date for the excavation, state of completion of the excavation, state of completion of the files, institutional base for project, and availability/limits on use of the files.

For corpus files: artifact type, starting period/culture, ending period/culture, geographic area, principal investigator and address/telephone/e-mail address, data-base designer and address, secondary contact person and address, number of items included, number of files, types of files, state of completion, institutional base, and availability/limits on use of the files.

For text files: author and address/telephone/e-mail address, title, subject(s), paper publication information, length, illustrations (number and format), state of completion, and availability/limits on use of the files.

For every file, whether site, corpus, image, or text: file name, file type, file format, location, access procedures, limitations on use, and date of last alteration.

The compilation process has begun. When a reasonable number of items has been entered, the index will be made available, and an announcement will be made.

For further information on the ADAP project and the contents of its archives, please visit the ADAP homepage and the description of its archives. For other Newsletter articles concerning the ADAP or the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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