CAA-2014-S07: Keith May. To Boldly or Bravely Go? Experiences of using Semantic Technologies for Archaeological Resources

To Boldly or Bravely Go?

Experiences of using Semantic Technologies for Archaeological Resources

Keith MAY


Presentation held at the CAA2014, session Ontologies and Standards for improving Interoperability of Archaeological Data :


Abstract :

Research on the uses of Semantic Technologies for archaeological data presentation, search and reporting has advanced considerably in recent years. This has included developing the technologies for semantically enhanced cross-searching enabled by using the CIDOC CRM ontology with archaeological extensions such as the CRM-EH developed at English Heritage.

This work, in particular during the Semantic Technologies for Archaeological Resources project (STAR project, focused on some of the most common systems for archaeological recording in the UK, each using a version of the Single Context Recording methodology introduced by the Museum of London in the early 1990s. In addition this work was able to incorporate information in the semantic cross-search from free text descriptions derived from a corpus of archaeological reports ( that had been mapped to the same common ontologies, using Natural Language Processing techniques.

At a conceptual level much of the archaeological data recorded using the single context recording methodology are inter-related by identifying and documenting single units of stratigraphic material as recognised and interpreted by the record maker. Underlying the work of mapping ‘single context’ data from different archaeological database systems to a common ontology there may be even more fundamental questions about how to share data derived using different archaeological recording methodologies.

One of the associated issues that emerged from the STAR work was the need to improve the syntactic integrity of archaeological data sets to make best use of the semantic technologies for interoperability. Practical work in developing the use of the W3C SKOS standard for incorporating controlled terminologies with the CIDOC CRM in the STELLAR project ( and subsequent SENESCHAL project (, has led to the development of SKOS based versions of national heritage domain controlled vocabularies and the publishing of these as Linked Open Data via the web site (

This paper will be based upon practical experiences of modelling the single context recording system at English Heritage and mapping it to other ‘single context’ based systems. It will also present recent work on identifying conceptual commonalities that may exist in different archaeological recording methodologies, whether ‘single context recording’ or otherwise, along with practical challenges based on experiences of trying to integrate, or simply search across, data from different archaeological recording systems. In addition it will introduce the work to date on developing and suggest opportunities for sharing and aligning further archaeological vocabularies using SKOS and Linked Open Data technologies.

May Keith
English Heritage (& University of South Wales) (EH)

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