Vol. VII, No. 3

November, 1994

CSA Database Project

The CSA database project, which has been discussed in past issues of the Newsletter, was intended to result in a skeleton for database systems. The skeleton could be fleshed out to create a comprehensive database system for a specific excavation without requiring a database designer to start from scratch for each excavation. It was intended that the result would not be a standard design, but a framework for making designs according to the needs of individual projects and their directors.

The general approach had been worked out and tested on a small scale, but time had prevented more complete results.

It now seems that the tools offered by modern database systems may make this effort unnecessary. In particular, Mr. Eiteljorg has been working with FoxPro and has found it to be very flexible, making it possible to adjust easily from a standard core to a system with significant differences. Therefore, work on the skeleton system has been discontinued. However, CSA personnel remain ready to work with excavators on individual projects involving FoxPro.

Working to create a database system for a project involves some adaptations from other projects and some new design elements. There is not a single scheme that will work for all. Mr. Eiteljorg asserted that position at a conference in Washington, D.C., last September. After the paper had been delivered, Steve Stead, a consultant from Britain who was in the audience, argued that his experience suggested just the opposite - that we not only need to have standards; we need to enforce them. He cited the development of common standards for work in the United Kingdom, pointing out that excavators at 26 sites in the UK ". . . use the same software given to them by the same government department with the same set of guidelines to use it. They're all different databases. Not just in terms of authority lists and field names that they've used, but in terms of the fundamental concepts that underlie the data." (Thanks to the meeting organizer, Katherine Jones Garmil, for sending a tape of the session so the comments could be transcribed.) Different scholars used a common system so differently that there was still no uniformity as to what was recorded or how. That certainly seems to illustrate the difficulty of trying to make a single database system fit all. For each site and excavator the database system must reflect the manner of excavating and the conceptual framework applied. As two excavators do not dig alike, so they will not record their finds alike.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the CSA archives, consult the Subject index.

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