Vol. XV, No. 2
CSA Newsletter Logo
Fall, 2002

The Archaeological Data Archive Project Ceases Operation

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

In the Fall, 2001 (Vol. XIV, no. 2) issue of the CSA Newsletter there was an announcement ( "Archaeological Data Archive Pilot Project") of a pilot project involving the Archaeological Data Archive Project and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT). That project promised to provide valuable new information about archival costs and procedures, though it would not create a large body of archived material at the ADAP. It was truly a pilot project, designed to answer important questions and to achieve limited goals.

Unfortunately, budget cuts affecting the NCPTT resulted in the elimination of this grant. The news of that decision reverberated in unexpected ways, impacting the ADAP very strongly. Efforts to obtain copies of digital archaeological materials for archival storage had not been very successful, and the CSA board had already been concerned about the long-term viability of the project. Thus, the elimination of the funding forced a thorough reconsideration of the future of the project.

Another potential federal funding agency was found, one that might have been willing to fund the pilot project that had already been defined in cooperation with NCPTT. The CSA board and I then had to try to determine what such funding -- admittedly tenuous and some distance in the future at best -- might mean for the future of the ADAP. I was, to say the least, indecisive, changing my mind and my recommendation to the board more than once as I tried to do two contradictory things: preserve the ADAP and provide defensible predictions about the potential of the ADAP to become self-sufficient.

At that time (last spring), the ADAP had been under way for nearly a decade, but the number of files in the archive was very small. Only a handful of scholars had taken advantage of the opportunity to archive their computer files -- scholars who, in my opinion, should be lauded for their foresight.1 Furthermore, the range of subject matter was so broad that there were only isolated islands of information, leaving the utility of the archive was still unproved.

Those who had contributed, though few in number, had paid nothing for the costs associated with the archival process.

In the end, my most optimistic view of the future of the ADAP was that it might be possible for it to thrive in ten to fifteen years; that is, the ADAP seemed no closer to becoming self-sustaining than it was at its inception, when I had thought that it might take a decade to achieve some permanence. As a result, the CSA board and I determined that the Archaeological Data Archive Project should not continue, and early in August I sent the following announcement to a variety of Internet lists that serve the archaeological community:

Announcing the termination of the Archaeological Data Archive Project.

The Board of Directors of CSA has determined the Archaeological Data Archive Project should cease operation, effective immediately. Potential users are urged to contact the Archaeological Research Institute at Arizona State University (http://archaeology.asu.edu/).

After nearly a decade, the quantity of materials received and stored in the Archaeological Data Archive remains very small, and all files will be returned to the owners in current forms so that they can see to their proper care and preservation elsewhere.

There appear to be two insurmountable problems with the archives. One is the absence of any real possibility for assembling a large enough body of material to be truly useful within a reasonable time. This reflects primarily the unwillingness of scholars to deposit materials in the archive, though that resistance has been passive, since the need for archival care is obvious. In addition, many projects with digital records have not concluded and therefore are not yet concerned with archival storage of those digital records.

The second is the inability of the Archaeological Data Archive to become self-sufficient within the next decade or so. This problem is common throughout the academic world and is generally seen as a major impediment to the creation of digital archives. Data depositors may be willing to pay for deposit and long-term preservation, but there has been no evidence of that for the near term. Nor has there been any evidence that sufficient data will be deposited within the next decade or so to create a truly useful archive that might be funded by users or grants. This is all the more cogent because the history of the discipline does not offer many examples of prompt sharing of information from excavation or survey. Archaeologists have too often treated their objects and their data as privately owned.

The termination of the operations of the ADAP does not change the need for appropriate repositories for digital data from archaeological research. Nor does it reduce the ethical requirement to preserve the data. It does highlight the problems associated with this archival work.

Archaeology is hardly alone in finding it impossible to fund an archives for digital data. Archaeologists will, however, be taken to task more strongly than many scholars because their data cannot be recreated, once lost. Their experiments cannot be replicated.

Harrison Eiteljorg, II, Director, CSA

That announcement prompted a response from Dr. James T. Clark, Director of the Archaeology Technologies Laboratory at North Dakota State University, reminding scholars that the Digital Archive Network for Anthropology (DANA) project also stands ready to archive archaeological data. Mr. Clark may be reached at Jeffrey.Clark@ndsu.nodak.edu.

The ADAP web pages will remain available on the Web; some of the guidance for archival processes should still be of value, and there may be historical interest in some of the materials. The archival files will not remain on the site. The archival files will be returned to their original owners/depositors.

It is obvious that the cessation of the ADAP is a blow to me. I had spent a great deal of time and energy on the archival work since the inception of the project following the 1992 annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, and I believe strongly in the need for archival preservation of digital records. I remain convinced that there will be archaeological data archives prepared to accept virtually any digital file relating to the discipline. The question is not if archival preservation will become standard, but when. The unfortunate additional question is how much digital data will have perished between now and then.

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

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1. These scholars should be named. They deserve to be known. They are, in alphabetic order: Michael A. Adler; Thomas Braun; James C. Wright and Mary Dabney; Michael Cosmopoulos; Jack Davis; R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr., Patrick C. Livingood, H. Trawick Ward, and Vincas P. Stepanitis, Harold Dibble, Jeremy B. Rutter; Geoffrey Sommers. Not all the files from these scholars had been archived, but each had contributed files to the archive. In addition, both John J. Dobbins and Timothy E. Gregory had indicated their intention to archive files. Return to body of text.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the ADAP, consult the Subject index.

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