Vol. II, No. 3
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November, 1989

Preliminary Proposals For Archaeological Layering Convention

A CADD model may be likened to a scale model of a complex object -- except that the CADD model cannot be touched, but only seen from any angle or viewing distance. An accurate scale model may be disassembled and each piece examined separately, examined along with any number of other pieces, or examined with all the pieces; similarly, a CADD model consists of a number of individual parts which may be examined separately, with any number of other parts, or with all the parts. When combined, the parts of the CADD model -- called layers (the term has no relationship to an excavation layer) -- make up the complete model; separately each layer may contain any portion of the overall model. The selection of material for a given layer is at the discretion of the draftsman and may be entirely arbitrary. However, the creator of a model invariably uses a scheme of some kind to determine what is placed on each layer and to name his layers so that he can better remember the contents of each (there may be hundreds of layers for a complex model). Names must be meaningful, but they will be difficult to use if they are too long. Therefore, in any complex layering scheme, there must be a compromise between length and obviousness; an extremely complex scheme will inevitably become almost totally abstract.

A good naming convention must also make it possible to search for groups of layers easily (all of a given date range or all pertaining to a certain structure, for example). That, after all, is one of the features of CADD which makes it most helpful for scholars. Computer searching schemes, as used by most CADD programs, permit users to search for layers efficiently only if each letter in the layer name designates its information according to its position as well as the letter itself; for instance, an architect's building plan might have two positions at the start of each layer name so that a two-digit number would begin each name, with the number indicating the floor of the building to which the layer pertains, and the next letter might indicate that the layer contained walls, plumbing plans, heating and air conditioning schemes, or some other subsystem. With such a scheme, one could select only those layers relating to any floor or only the heating and air conditioning plans, etc., but to provide such assistance, a naming system must be carefully crafted.

Layer names which are both reasonably short and properly constructed will provide important benefits to any CADD user, but to meet the needs of the archaeological community a standard naming convention is more critical, indeed it is essential, if scholars are to be able to examine models with which they are unfamiliar. CSA is undertaking an effort to establish a layer-naming convention which can be used widely. Please send your thoughts, comments, or suggestions about this to Dr. Eiteljorg at CSA. (This will be an important part of the workshop meeting at the AIA annual meeting in Boston.)

To assist in crystallizing your thoughts about layer names, the following scheme may be taken as a "stalking horse." It is intended to provide a thorough scheme for naming and grouping layers and for some flexibility to meet the needs of the individual scholar, but its primary purpose is to attract comments, suggestions, and criticisms so that a better and more comprehensive scheme may emerge.

The length of the names of the layers has been kept to a minimum -- 9 characters plus dates or excavation trench and stratum; this makes the system necessarily abstract, with single letters carrying complex meanings. The suggested scheme permits the letters of the alphabet, the numerals 1 through 9 (not 0), and the dash or minus sign (not the underline); in the date positions only the numerals 0 through 9 and the minus sign may be used. The specifics of the proposal are as follows:

The fourth and fifth, sixth and seventh, and eighth and ninth characters would be used in pairs to provide combined general (first character of the pair) and specific (second character) information about three categories -- the area of the find, its usage, and the material.

An advantage of the two-character pairs is that, if necessary, an individual scholar could adapt the second character of any (or all) of the pairs to the needs of a specific site or building without fatally compromising the entire scheme. For instance, an excavator in Rome might wish to have a very specific list of building stones for use in category nine to specify individual quarries. He could still use the basic scheme; although the specific choices for building materials would be "non-standard," they could be explained in information accompanying the data file. Scholars would not need to know the specific materials if they only wanted to see the structure, since they could call up all the layers of building stone without regard to the specific stone used. Scholars interested in the quarry information, on the other hand, could still have access to it.

It should be noted some material may exist on more than one layer. For instance, a triglyph found in a disturbed area would be drawn in its findspot on a layer identified by its findspot, usage, material, the dates applied to its excavation level, and so on. It could also be drawn on a layer identified by the date of the structure from which it is thought to have come, its use in that structure, and its material -- and located where it would originally have been. That layer would, however, be identified as hypothetical.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the applications of CAD in archaeology and architectural history or the "CSA CAD Layer Naming Convention," consult the Subject index.

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