Collaborative Research: cyberSW: A Data Synthesis and Knowledge Discovery System for Long-term Interdisciplinary Research on Southwest Social Change

Project: Research project

Project Details


Archaeology can provide a 'deep time' perspective on issues of contemporary relevance--including human
demography, social inequality, migration, the evolution of social identities, diffusion of ideas and
technologies, and spread of social movements--to a variety of research communities. A major challenge
in using archaeological data to address these domains, however, is that most information collected by
archaeologists is not digitally curated or synthesized beyond individual projects. A number of recent
synthesis projects in the U.S. Southwest show the great potential of these data for addressing big
questions in the social sciences. The proposed project will accelerate the cumulative research potential of
these efforts through the creation of cyberSW, an integrated cyberinfrastructure that will (1) merge
several existing synthetic databases from the U.S. Southwest into one scalable, networked database; (2)
collect additional data from archives, reports, museum collections, and limited fieldwork to fill in spatial,
temporal, and material culture gaps in the new database; (3) analyze those data and create user-friendly
online tools for data analysis and display based in network science and other quantitative methods; and
(4) establish a web portal for data display, analysis, and sharing that is accessible to both professional
researchers and the general public.
Intellectual Merit:
The archaeological record of the U.S. Southwest is one of the most intensively studied in the world and is
often at the cutting edge of archaeology with respect to method and theory. This project builds on several
prior NSF-funded projects in this area that have already produced large, synthetic databases that focus on
specific areas and time periods. As part of this project, we will integrate these into a single research
database of unprecedented scale. But cyberSW will be more than a database; it will be an integrated
knowledge delivery system allowing users at different levels of expertise to view, analyze, and extract
data for other analyses. Protocols for data standardization and synthesis have already been established for
most classes of artifacts and architecture, and we will build on these as we expand our coverage to new
areas of the Southwest. Additional data will be collected that will allow researchers to address social
science issues of contemporary relevance from the deep time perspective unique to archaeology,
including demography, density, diversity, and connectivity. An innovative part of our project is the use of
a graph database that is both scalable and open source, which can be used as a model for other large-scale
research projects.
Broader Impacts:
CyberSW will result in the data integration of millions of objects from tens of thousands of settlements
spread across the U.S. Southwest that were inhabited between ca. A.D. 800 to 1550, making it one of the
largest archaeological databases in the world. By merging existing databases and creating a single,
networked database that provides the infrastructure for research by a variety of constituencies on several
big questions in the social sciences, including: How and why does social inequality emerge? What is the
relationship of demographic scale to social connectivity? Why do some societies fail? And how does
migration alter social relationships and identities? Many of the archaeological sites to be incorporated
into cyberSW are well-known and of great interest to the general public because they are on federally
managed lands, including National Parks and Monuments. Making these data available to researchers and
to the public fulfills an ethical responsibility to make the findings of archaeological research accessible
and interpretable. The online analytical tools will allow a wide range of individuals to conduct their own
analyses, whether these be tribal members interested in their history, students learning data manipulation
and display, or social scientists grappling with the long-term questions about the human past. The Citizen
Science component for registered volunteers will allow a much bigger community to participate in
transformative science.
Effective start/end date8/1/177/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $146,051.00


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