From Library to Laboratory: Developing Tools to Enhance the Use of Digital Archaeological and Other Humanities Collections

Project: Research project

Project Details


Archaeologists and other humanities scholars are increasingly devoting resources towards creating
digital collections that are ultimately stored in digital repositories. Now, with a few clicks or keystrokes,
it is possible to access an incredible array of information including photographs of objects and related
data such as date, material, and provenience. We propose moving this marvelous capability to the next
level, which will make it possible to do on-line analysis and research with the newfound wealth of
information. We are requesting funds to create a series of digital tools to take this important step.
Using funding assured from other means, we will also create K-12 and higher education programs that
utilize these tools.
Data repositories currently serve primarily as digital libraries, in that users can browse to see what files
are available and download them. However, the repositories currently have few tools that help users
study and analyze the contents of a dataset. We propose to create tools for searching within on-line
datasets, thus creating digital laboratories that will enhance the use of digital archaeological and other
cultural heritage resources.
Our work will be done in the context of a large established digital repository known as the Digital
Archaeological Record (tDAR), developed and maintained by the Center for Digital Antiquity at Arizona
State University. tDAR currently houses hundreds of thousands of archaeological documents, images,
datasets, and other kinds of files from across the globe, and it is rapidly growing as archaeologists
increasingly deposit their research data and finished work in digital repositories. Worldwide, tDAR is an
essential repository for and source of archaeological data. Access to tDAR is free and (with the
exception of some sensitive information) open to the public.
As a testbed, we will utilize the Mimbres Pottery Images Digital Database (MimPIDD), a large (>10,500)
collection of archaeological pottery images from the Mimbres region of the US Southwest. Currently,
while it is possible to download MimPIDD data, it is not possible to analyze the data and images
together, thus making it an ideal context for the proposed tool development.
Specifically, we will develop a series of web pages that allow users to search based on a variety of search
criteria, and to see the results of their searches as both lists of data and galleries of images. These tools
will greatly facilitate research by archaeologists and advanced students, and they will open doors to a
wider range of users including educators, younger students, and the general public. We will ensure this
broad usage is possible by linking the development of these technical tools to the development of
curricula for K-12 schools and college and university students. Our results will be immediately applicable
to other datasets in tDAR and will establish procedures useful for other digital repositories. Thus, our
work will be broadly extensible because of the far reach of tDAR and the general need for such tools and
concepts in similar repositories worldwide.
Effective start/end date1/1/1812/31/19


  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): $73,524.00


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