Vol. XVI, No. 1
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Spring, 2003

Europe's Digital Inheritance: ARENA Archives Launched

Jon Kenny and William Kilbride

The ARENA project has been running for over a year now so it's time to update you on progress so far. The project, described in the Fall Issue of the CSA Newsletter, , "Networked Access to Digital Archaeological Archives in the European Arena," by Jon Kenny and William Kilbride, Vol. XV.2 (Fall, 2002), (http://csanet.org/newsletter/fall02/nlf0202.html), is funded by the European Commission to promote awareness of digital preservation among European archaeologists. In doing this, the project partners are looking at the practicalities of digital preservation in their own local contexts, presenting a set of archives which act as exemplars for future development, both in their own home countries and across Europe.

As is typical with European-funded projects, the project brings together a diverse group of experts from different countries, and with different expertise. The project is led by the Archaeology Data Service in York, U.K. (ADS), with partners from Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Poland and Romania. One of the interesting aspects of the project has been the recognition that archaeology is organised very differently in each member country; the partners have differing, though complementary organisational objectives, with different user communities and needs. In consequence, there is probably not a single "one-size-fits-all" mode of management and preservation for our shared digital heritage. That diversity is not a weakness. The partners are responding to the characteristics of local needs and expectations, while still fitting into a wider framework of standards and good practice. Though on a vastly different scale, this is precisely the model of digital preservation upon which the ADS was originally founded.

The partners have met on five occasions now at Heraklion, Copenhagen, Thessaloniki, Poznan and Vienna. Two of these meetings have also included workshop sessions at the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) and Computer Applications in Archaeology (CAA) conferences. In addition to spreading the word about common European information architecture and the preservation of digital data, the partners have also been working to prepare archives for the ARENA project.

Partners have all made available at least one archaeological archive that can be accessed via the ARENA website (http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/arena). The archives were launched at a workshop in April this year in Vienna.

Each archive represents the nature of the organisation that supplied it. ADS, the Danish Agency for Cultural Heritage, and the Institute for Archaeology in Iceland have all made available excavation archives in the style pioneered by ADS. They give background and bibliographic information and allow users to download archaeological archives for their own use. These excavation archives represent some key sites: Vorbasse, Hjelme and Dankirke from Denmark, Hofstaðir from Iceland and Cottam from the ADS. The ADS has also made available data from Martin Millet's Ager Tarraconensis field survey (the precursor to Ave Valley) and will soon be adding the Danebury archive. These archives include digital images, data files of context records and small finds catalogues, field survey records, digital mapping and plans. The archives vary from project to project, depending partly on the nature of the fieldwork itself, and partly on what is available. They also reflect the nature of the organisations that have created them, so the archives also include indexes to digitised texts, and inventories of antiquarian research.

The diversity of the ARENA project partners is reflected in the other archives made available. The Institute for Cultural Memory from Romania (cIMeC) have made available the annual catalogue of excavations carried out in Romania since 1983 and will be adding the Archaeological Repertory of Romania. The latter is a digitisation project making available an antiquarian card index record of archaeological activity in Romania. This includes a wide variety of maps, plans, and watercolours of finds. The Poznan Archaeological Museum has made available an on-line version of the Kowalewko cemetery excavation report. To this they also hope to add an archive of images from the excavations at Biskupin in the 1930s. Lastly, the Museums Project in Norway has taken a landscape approach, utilising their archives of documentary sources for groups of farms. They have taken as their subject area the sites in and around Hegge and Egge in the Trondheim fjord in Central Norway.

The ARENA archives are available on the Internet at http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/arena/archindex.cfm; so they only require a web interface to be downloaded to the user. But, given the multi-national nature of ARENA, the archives are prefaced by multi-lingual Abstracts which make them accessible to a much wider European audience. ARENA is a key resource, however, and just as ADS receives many 'hits' from educational establishments around the UK, the ARENA archives are reported to be in action as a teaching aid in Iceland already. The ARENA project is a "path finding" project. Preparing archives for use is obviously an important task for a project of this nature, since there is relatively little practical experience in digital preservation in European Archaeology. Perhaps the most interesting "path finding" yet to be done is to investigate and understand how people use these archives. This is the next item on the agenda for the partners. The next ARENA meeting, at the European Association of Archaeologists Meeting in St Petersburg in September, will focus specifically on how these archives can be used and why. Experience suggests that different modes of use can be detected -- and that the same user may employ different types of behaviour at different times. The diverse nature of the archives will encourage different types of engagement.

The archives have now been completed - but the work is only just beginning.

-- Jon Kenny
   : William Kilbride

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