linkedARC.net: addressing the standards question in archaeological digital data management using Linked Open Data
Presentation held at the CAA2014, session Ontologies and Standards for improving Interoperability of Archaeological Data :
The employment of standards by the archaeological digital data management community is by no means the logical and uncontentious design decision that it might at first appear. Whether one chooses to side with the pro or anti standards camps says a lot about their fundamental beliefs on how archaeology should be practiced. On the pro side, standards promise to greatly ease the load of the archaeologist who seeks out broad-ranging generalities and patterns within the material record of the past. For this group, the archaeological method exists within the positivist scientific space; data is fed into processes and truths are produced at the other end. On the other side of the argument, advocates of the postmodernist archaeological method eschew the very constraint and simplicity that the pro-standards camp craves. Insight, for this second group, can only be arrived at through a process of informed contextual and specific analysis; what works for one material-set by definition cannot explain and provide structure for the material of another point in space or time. Therefore, the standard for the postprocessualist is a potentially deterministic methodological tool that is not to be trusted and one that should be avoided as much as is practically possible.
As an archaeologist, I have struggled with the implications of this methodological reality since entering the discipline. At a philosophical level, I see myself as a hermeneutic archaeologist of the Hodder-Shanks-Tilley school of thought and yet as an every-day practitioner of archaeological digital data management, I am drawn to the structure and clarity that the standard promises, and I would suspect that this internal dilemma is not unique to myself. This paper presents a summary of my digital data management investigations over the last number of years within the context of this debate. Specifically, I am interested in how the principles of Linked Open Data might be implemented to alleviate some of these tensions.
linkedARC.net is a LOD-compliant server architecture that I have designed to implement the theoretical positions generated by my research. Data is housed within a relational database core and is exposed to the digital world as a part of the greater data mesh that we know as the Semantic Web. linkedARC.net’s data is semantically transparent, being structured by public ontologies. A web app frontend consumes and contributes to the data housed within the linkedARC.net core. The test dataset for the project comes from the excavation and post-excavation records from Priniatikos Pyrgos, a highly complex multi-period site in East Crete. The challenge of designing the web app and the underlying server architecture has been manifest in the provision of a level of structure that the complexity of the data necessitates, while also allowing for the interpretive scope demanded by the researchers active on the project. As such, it is a very practical example of an implementation of cutting edge LOD technology within archaeology that has required a constant attention to the philosophical questions that surround this space.
Trinity College, Dublin