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
Aligning the Academy with the Cultural Heritage Sector through the CIDOC CRM and Semantic Web technology
Presentations held at the CAA2014, session Ontologies and Standards for improving Interoperability of Archaeological Data :
- Part 1: Sebastian Rahtz. The Claros Project, Oxford University
- Part 2: Dominic Oldman. ResearchSpace Project, British Museum
CLAROS (http://www.clarosnet.org) is a research initiative led by the University of Oxford’s e-Research Centre, and funded by a small grant from Oxford’s Fell Fund, that demonstrates the aggregation of nine European datasets, largely relating to Greek and Roman antiquity, by building a semantic web implementation based on use of the CIDOC CRM ontology. The aim of CLAROS was to provide a platform for experimentation with interfaces for world art, innovative searching techniques such as shape analysis, and testing RDF databases.
The ResearchSpace (http://www.researchspace.org/) project is based at the British Museum, London and is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Its aim is to create a shared infrastructure and service that supports collaborative research. This includes the development of communication and research tools, access to digital methods, and the harmonisation of data to create a knowledge environment akin to a modern day Digital Wunderkammer, transforming individual institutional knowledge into a network of connections and meanings that extend the questions that we can ask and the research directions that are available. Much of this data is likely to be available for general reuse as Linked Open Data.
The CLAROS project established the credentials of the CIDOC CRM standard as a semantic framework that can harmonise data from many different institutions while providing a richer environment (when compared to its digital sources) in which to explore and research cultural heritage data. Together with the ResearchSpace project this initial work is set to expand to include broader and denser datasets and crucially provide greater interactivity to support sophisticated research methods. With improvements in semantic database technology, greater cooperation between the academy and the cultural heritage sector and the maturity of the CIDOC CRM ontology, a more effective realisation of the research paradigm can be established. This can align discovery, argument and belief generated by research projects with the information systems of cultural heritage institutions for the benefit of future research, improved institutional knowledge resources and a radical improvement of engagement with the public using rich contextual information. This dynamic improves the relevancy of both Hhumanities research and the cultural heritage sector as a whole.
The software already developed in the CLAROS and the ResearchSpace initiatives can be used as demonstrators of the potential of the CIDOC CRM and provide important reference points for engaging both academic research and cultural heritage communities. By showing how the boundaries of computer interpretation and data modelling are being pushed by semantic technology and intelligent ontology, a cross disciplinary dialogue can be established with a range of experts including archaeologists, anthropologists and art historians, to generate new ideas for the collaborative exploitation of this technology.
Dominic Oldman – British Museum (BM)
Sebastian Rahtz – Academic IT (Research), Oxford University