Toward a European Archaeology Web

By Martijn van Leusen, Sara Champion, Jonathan Lizee and Thomas Plunkett (University of Birmingham Field Archaeology Unit, University of Southampton Department of Adult Education, University of Connecticut Department of Anthropology)

Abstract

In the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists used computers as engines for the construction and analysis of large data sets. This trend continued into the 1990s but has been supplemented by the use of the Internet for the sharing of pooled data sets and collaborative research projects. Recent development of the World Wide Web (WWW) protocol, with its user-friendly interfaces, offers the potential for construction of dynamic and interactive data sets, hypermedia reports, and artifact type catalogues. This development offers the potential to increase the effectiveness of collaborative works between users at remote locations - taking archaeologists into the Global Village at last -, and it also offers a cost effective means for distributing large data sets and high resolution images which would not be possible using traditional print media.

In this paper, we will outline current uses of the World Wide Web and specific archaeological applications which have developed in the past year. These resources have the potential to enhance archaeological research through construction of large distributed data sets, visual databases, and interactive type catalogues. We will propose the setup of a European Archaeology Web (analogous to the ArchNet facility available from the University of Connecticut) which will bundle and promote initiatives currently emerging on institutional, regional, national, or international level in several European countries. Finally, we will outline the technical, financial, psychological and language barriers that such a network will have to overcome.


1 Introduction

Professional archaeology lives by communication. Information is both produced and consumed continually. This can range from personal contacts and discussion to formal departmental seminars, from a phone call to a colleague in another building to a foreign conference, from the presentation of a poster on recent research to the publication of a reference work, from flipping through the latest library acquisition list to performing a full bibliographic search on a topic of interest, from studying finds and environmental samples to getting a specialist to do it for you, from writing the odd excavation report to organising a major exhibition to designing next year's student curriculum. In fact, most archaeologists probably spend most of their time doing these things. And very often, they are hampered and frustrated by the delays and costs involved.

Delays Letters and phone calls have long been the media of choice in cases where direct contact between persons is inconvenient. But letters can take a long time to arrive and can linger undelivered in departmental offices. And you'll probably again take a long time in answering them. Phone calls are faster, but recent research shows that less than a third of calls to university workers is successful, so you may well have to spend considerable time trying to establish contact. In publication, there is a huge delay between the writing up of a piece of research and its eventual communication to the public. Even non-refereed publications (such as the proceedings of this conference) will take a year, while delays for articles in journals and for books are even longer.

Costs Financial restrictions are put upon working archaeologists all the time. They are allowed only one foreign trip (this one) per year, or must spend an inordinate amount of time applying for outside grants to cover the costs. They can buy all the books they need, provided they use their own money, because the library budget is too small. If they borrow books through a library interchange scheme, they still have to deal with costs and delays. Traditional publications are expensive and prohibit the presentation of color or high resolution images. Since most archaeological data is visual in nature, avenuse of traditional publication limit and seriously effect research by scholars who do not have direct access to artifact collections.

Internet access to information Most of the delays and costs mentioned in the previous section could be avoided if you have access to, and make use of, the computer communication structure called the Internet.
Many archaeologists, especially in northern and western Europe, Australia, and North America already have this facility at their disposal. The Internet is used for both communication services and reference services. The former encompasses both two-way real-time (talk, videoconferencing) and mail-based communication (e-mail, discussion and news groups), and one-way information services (publishing, education). The latter includes both archive functions (file transfer) and database functions (searchable indices, on-line catalogues).

E-mail based communication Communication, using facilities ranging from e-mail via news and discussion lists to videoconferencing and electronic publications, enables researchers and archaeological resource managers to profit from the knowledge and experience of others, without incurring the costs of traditional conferences or the delays of traditional publication. Many archaeologists already communicate by e-mail, and their messages arrive at their destinations all over the world within the hour. Recipients are warned of the arrival of electronic mail on login and the reply function ensures that a question is answered promptly. Mailing lists act as electronic bulletin boards. Correspondance is directed to a central "list" which redirects mail to a group of "subscribers". This is the easiest way to make contact with a wide audience worldwide to discuss research and debate current topics. Newsgroups are similar to listservers, but the correspondance is held at a central archive which is accessed by subscribers.

Reference Archaeologists connected to the Internet use FTP to swap documents, software and images. Instead of asking around in their office or going down to the library when they need a bibliographic reference, they telnet to the on-line searchable library catalogue and get full details immediately. Archive materials from field surveys, excavations, and museum collections to legal documents on heritage management are being made available through FTP and related services. On-line searches of worldwide bibliographic databases, including grey literature and journals, radiocarbon dating archives, and national archaeological databases have been made possible through the use of telnet and related services.

Integrated communication using Web browsers Listservers, FTP, and Gopher have been available for years. They do, however, require a certain amount of technical (and typing) skills and knowledge of the structure of different protocols, which tends to scare off some users, and a lot of persistence in finding your way to the contacts or information you are looking for, which scares off even more users. Several ways of dealing with these technical problems have been developed:
Browsers and search engines are two methods for navigating the Internet that present the user with a) an easy-to-understand interface to the technical side of Internet, and b) a keyword-based way of automatically finding resources of potential interest. Browsers such as the well-known Gopher software developed at the University of Minnesota provided a text- based interface to Internet resources, and have evolved into the current generation of hypermedia browsers based on the World Wide Web (WWW, developed by CERN in the late 80s) protocol. Hypermedia browsers use hyperlinks to access material from all Internet protocols and have become the global standard for navigating the Internet.The development of search engines has shown an identical evolution from relatively simple engines such as Veronica (searching titles in Gopher space) and Archie (searching FTP archives) through WAIS to the WWW Worm (key word search of indexed Web space) and the Web Crawler (document search). These are all based on string searches and conform to the WWW standard.
Internet Resource Guides are documents, produced by professionals working in the field, that locate and summarize the available resources. Such guides have generally become available only from early 1994, and they provide guidance and links to Internet resources of interest to archaeologists. Currently available resource guides include Peter Stott's Internet Resources for Heritage Conservation, Historic Preservation, and Archaeology, a very complete guide available from http://hpb1.hwc.ca:10002/Internet_Resource_Guide.html, Allen H Lutins' Network Resources of Interest to Anthropologists, a much briefer guide that is accessible via: http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk, Sara Champion's Internet Resources for Archaeologists, a good starters' level guide to (especially UK) resources (full references provided below).

ArchNet What if it were possible to combine browser, search engine, and resource guide into one application? The WWW protocol can do this, and is therefore radically changing the way people use the Internet as data providers and consumers. Resource guides written in hypertext format and accesses through a Web browser allow readers to jump immediately to a site of particular interest. Search engines, because they follow the WWW protocol, can also be accessed through a browsing interface. ArchNet, developed without funding by Thomas Plunkett and Jonathan Lizee at the University of Connecticut Department of Anthropology, sets out to do exactly that and has been available on the Internet since November 1993. One of its goals is to facilitate international data exchange. It provides easy access to archaeology resources on the net. In the words of its authors, it provides 'a road map to the information superhighway'. Since its inception, ArchNet has been accessed over one million times by users in 50 countries. ArchNet is a collaborative effort which provides links to all known archaeological data on the Internet and serves as the World Wide Web Virtual Library for Archaeology. ArchNet also provides technical assistance to archaeologists in constructing hypermedia presentations and setting up servers.
The World Wide Web allows for the transmission of large data sets of multiple media which include images, text, sound, and video in a seamless presentation. Hypermedia presentations are constructed using the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Current developments using HTML also allow for the construction of collaborative data sets using interactive forms for data input and querying. Research and teaching archaeologists, cultural resource managers and museum staff have seen the potential of the Web to provide attractive means of communication, data exchange, and presentation. The resources that they have developed can now be accessed using ArchNet.

A dearth of information Problems relating to access having been solved by World Wide Web technology. The question that remains is: Is there enough useful information available on Internet? Current communication resources often restrict themselves to basic (names, addresses), PR-oriented (expos), and general information provision (project descriptions aimed at a general rather than a professional public). Reference resources are largely restricted to bibliographic catalogues and a limited number of survey/site reports. In order for the Internet to fulfill its potential in both areas, a lot of effort must be put into opening up the many resources that are as yet only available through traditional means of communication and reference.
So what IS available in the way of resources for European archaeology? Taking connectivity into account it should come as no surprise to learn that current resources are largely restricted to those provided by professional communities in the British Isles, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries. In the next few sections we will present a sample of these and other European resources, followed by a proposal to provide organised access to existing and future resources by setting up a European WWW service modeled on ArchNet.

2 Toward a European Archaeology Web

A number of universities, museums, and government agencies in Europe have constructed archaeological resources that are available over the Internet, but little attempt has been made to construct nationwide or international access to resources yet, although ideas are clearly brewing. The current state of Internet Resources for European Archaeology is therefore best explored through the Europe page of ArchNet - http://spirit.lib.uconn.edu/ArchNet/Regions/Europe.html, although other servers are now becoming available in Europe. The demonstration WWW page that was created for this conference provides an idea of how a European Archaeology Web might look. It contains links to all the archaeological resources relating to or originating in Europe, that we could find. Examples of localised Web services can be found in many European countries, and http://www.bham.ac.uk/BUFAU/Projects/EAW provides an overview. The only example of nationally organised archaeological resources at present appears to be ArchWEB Netherlands at http://prehist.leidenuniv.nl/archweb_nl.html. Set up in late 1994, this server for Dutch archaeology, involving all organised professional and amateur groups, museum and heritage management staff, etc, has been part funded by the company that maintains the Dutch academic network infrastructure until late 1996, after which responsibility for its upkeep reverts to the ArchWeb-NL members.
At an international level no initiatives other than ArchNet have been succesful yet. In 1992 an attempt was made to start the process of setting up a European Archaeological Database (EUARCH). The initiative for this was taken in late 1991 by Dr Uwe Schoenfelder (Essen); it was discussed at the CAA conference in Aarhus, and a preliminary plan was produced by Anne Vikkula (Dept of Archaeology, University of Helsinki) and e-mailed to ARCH-L in July 1992. A good overview of these happenings, plus relevant references, is given by Hansen (1993). Two of EUARCH's aims were to:
Again in 1992, the European Association of Archaeologists was created. The aims of the EAA are to:
Clearly both EUARCH and EAA aims would be well served by the establishment of an appropriate networked communication structure.

Proposal to establish a European Archaeology Web We propose that access to, and use of, archaeological information resources in Europe be facilitated through the establishment of a European Archaeology Web service modeled on ArchNet and ArchWEB-NL. This service should cater to both providers and consumers of archaeological information at all levels. It should provide a forum for professional discussion and publication, promote public interest in and access to European Archaeological Heritage resources, and actively extend itself into areas that are currently poorly connected.
Although this proposed service could be set up using minimal resources (just pointing to locations on other servers), that would not be satisfactory in view of the fact that many sites do not have server capacity. We therefore envisage establishing one or more Web servers either dedicated entirely to archaeology or piggybacking on existing servers.
The information made available by this service should be organised both on a geographical and a thematical basis as is done by ArchNet, and by alphabetical index. In future, interactive access to visual databases and catalogues (Jakobs & Kleefeld 1994) and interfaces to major software packages (GIS, RDBMS) should be provided.

3 Potential for new developments

We see in the WWW a way to change radically the way in which archaeologists communicate the results of their work, both for the benefit of their fellow professionals and for the wider public.

Research For ongoing fieldwork projects, the annual or interim report has become a standard method of publication, with its associated time and financial burdens. In many cases such interim reports take up considerable space in august journals, take more than a year to appear, and are required to conform to standards more suitable for a final report - indeed, often the material thus published has to be repeated in the final report anyway. In other cases, a unit may produce a more popular document of its own, which can cost a considerable amount to print in any numbers.
In both cases, we see the WWW and a European server as an obvious way to present ongoing fieldwork, as the examples on the Southampton server demonstrate. Here a normal descriptive text is illustrated by plans, coloured contour plots and colour photographs, the last two of which would be difficult to justify on cost grounds in a standard interim report and which would be expensive to produce in a self-published format. Access to both types of publication is limited, while any number of people, both professional and members of the public, can access the material on the WWW. The amount of material included is quite enough and of a perfectly acceptable standard for an interim report.
Similarly, the interim results of ongoing research work, and the presentation of kite-flying new ideas, find an obvious home on the WWW, where they can be commented on and discussed, and replaced with further versions as they develop. Again, examples can be found on the Southampton server; it seems to us that this is an economic and accessible way in which to try out new ideas and to keep new research under review, without the necessity of cutting down trees to do it.
Until now, many in Europe would be prevented from taking part in such contact except when they could get to conferences. Even if they themselves do not have access to the WWW, they could file things on the European server, reach a much wider audience, and receive e- mailed or snailmailed comments. While some of these research ideas might find their home in moderated electronic journals, others could quite happily be presented as individual contributions - the WWW is infinitely more flexible than hard copy.

Education We also see great possibilities in the area of public education, and in the presentation of the heritage. Quite apart from public access to the above, the graphic and interactive potential of the WWW will allow the development of a wide range of resources associated with particular sites, localities and countries which can be linked to or placed on the server for the purpose of information and education. Already a small number of such resources exist, both in the form of museum exhibits, or as 'tours' round particular towns (for example, the clickable 3D map/drawing of Plzen, a historical/architectural resource). A further way to engage the European public would be the development of distance learning materials, which could be located on the server and whose introductory levels could be available for public browsing. Access to more detailed course materials could be by password after registration with whichever institution had developed the course, and credit could presumably be obtained on completing assignments and the payment of assessment and other fees. At a more junior level, the opportunity to develop an interest in and an understanding of the European heritage in children could perhaps be provided by the setting up of a European Archaeology Club, where not only basic educational materials could be produced by the Education Officers related to national heritage bodies, but where communication between children along the lines of the Kidlink project could be facilitated. Clearly, problems of language may be involved (see section 4), but these have not prevented tremendous success in the global Kidlink project.
Finally, all the above resources have the potential to also draw in people who would otherwise have difficulty in experiencing the European heritage at first hand - the disabled, elderly, sick and housebound.

4 Discussion of possible hurdles

The establishment of the proposed service will to some extent have to overcome a range of problems. These relate to access (connectivity to the Internet and legal access to information), costs (of establishing and maintaining the service), and language and psychological barriers.

Access The main technological problem will be to ensure that a high-capacity infrastructure to support large data streams (the Information Superhighway) is in place. Obviously archaeologists will need to have access to this infrastructure both in the sense of being connected and of knowing how to use it. At present practical access to the Internet is largely restricted to academic networks in western Europe. E-mail connectivity exists over most of the remainder of Europe, but hasn't been discovered yet by archaeologists.
Although these technological barriers are outside our competence, we would remark that generally developments in both hardware and software have been overtaking anything archaeologists did for the past 10 years. No doubt within a few years access to the Internet will have been extended to many more archaeologists all over Europe. For the moment, institutional connections by modem are quite affordable, the cost being comparable to that of an ordinary telephone connection. Public Domain software is available for both client and server sites and most platforms.
One of the major benefits provided by the establishment of EuArchWeb would be to enable access to filespace by European countries, institutions and individuals whose IT infrastructure is not able to support the development and maintenance of on-line information services. Museum catalogues, Sites and Monuments Records, excavation records, special exhibitions, research papers etc could be stored on or linked with the European server and be available for consultation and use as the owners/generators of those data wished. It would thus be possible for 'owners' to restrict access to certain datasets, such as sensitive information on the exact location of sites in a SMR, by the use of a password only given out to suitable people who wished to register with the 'owner' of that dataset. We would see this as an enabling device, allowing excavation units, local authority planning departments, museums and individual researchers to deposit and share their work.
It should be remembered that copyright issues currently play an important role in restricting the types of information that may be distributed over the Internet; the question of 'ownership' of information and knowledge is one which will have to be the subject of considerable debate, and may require radical new attitudes in the context of the wider potential access to material.

Costs In addition to the costs involved in the purchase of a server or in the rental of space on an existing server, the work of setting up and maintaining information services will take a certain amount of technicianís and specialist time. However, the benefits, compared with traditional print media, outweigh such costs. Exhibits can be mounted or "published" by their authors and submitted electronically. The availability of high resolution color images can be made available at little or no cost, which would enhance archaeological research.
The development of archaeological Internet resources, and the provision of access to these, have up till now been the work of dedicated individuals, who have neither been told nor paid to do this. Some have managed to acquire grants from various sources. It is to a large extent one of the strengths of the Internet that it allows and encourages this kind of initiative, and we think most of the work on European Archaeological resources should be done this way in future. It is only where the purchase of hardware and technical maintenance is concerned, that more permanent facilities should be set up. Cheapest alternative is to piggyback on an existing WWW server; costs might then be restricted to buying or renting filespace and a certain level of maintenance. All the work on designing the information structure and keeping it up to date could be done by a committee of interested archaeologists.

Language The language barrier, which has effectively kept the large anglophone community apart from smaller, eg francophone, communities on the Web, is surely the most important problem that any truly European resource must solve. There are three main areas where an appreciable language barrier would be fatal: a) in the Web navigation structure or road map; b) in the documents themselves (eg papers); and c) in discussion lists.
Any inability or difficulty in understanding the first of these will effectively bar one from using the Internet; the second, bar one from following news and developments in ones field; the third, bar one from understanding and taking part in discussions with colleagues in other language communities.
The Web navigation structure, with its main function of providing pointers to archaeological resources elsewhere on the Net, could be made multilingual with a relatively minor effort by volunteer translators. Texts and e-mail would be much more resistant to such translation because of the effort involved. Here perhaps abstracts in other languages point the way forward.
Any translations must also deal with the restrictions inherent in the standard ASCII character set - ISO-Latin is the logical next step but this will not provide for Greek or Cyrillic character sets.

Hierarchy Psychological problems crop up where the decentralised and co-operative structure of the Web (a network of networks) clashes with the centralised and often hierarchical structure of professional archaeology. We would like to expressly deny here that our proposal would in any way result in centralised control over sources of archaeological information. The psychological problem related to the non-hierarchical structure of the Internet is one which we hope will prove relatively minor in the end.
And finally, as we already mentioned earlier on, the absence of road maps for the quickly changing information structure on the Web will scare off a large group of potential users who are unaccustomed to modern information technology. A conscious effort will be necessary to construct such high quality road maps in order to entice these users.

Glossary


FTP
File Transfer Protocol, a set of rules that all software used to transport files over the Internet should adhere to.
Gopher
The predecessor of today's Internet browsers, this software allowed full browsing of the Internet but had no hypermedia capability. Gophers, being burrowing animals, represented the software's role of digging for information, besides punning on the word 'gofer' and on the fact that this animal symbolises the state of Minnesota, the home of the software developers.
HTML
HyperText Markup Language, the protocol for writing hypermedia documents.
HTTP
HyperText Tranfer Protocol
Hypermedia
The difference with multimedia is that the information is accessed through hypertext links in the documents themselves.
Hypertext
Text that contains active sites which, when clicked upon with the mouse, link the user to a new document.
Internet
The network of networks consisting of computers linked all over the world. Also known as the Web. Originally grown from the US Defense ArpaNet, it now consists of many publicly and some privately owned networks in most of the world's countries. It has no 'center' and no hierarchy.
Multimedia
Software that allows presentation of more than one type of medium. Commonly taken to include at a minimum text and images, this may also include sound, movies, and interactive access to various services.
TCP/IP
Transfer Control Protocol / Internet Protocol, a set of rules to govern the movement of data over the Internet.
Telnet
A program that gives users direct access to remote computers. The most common applications of Telnet are library catalogues.
URL
Universal Resource Location, the protocol for defining the type (text, gopher, ftp, html) and location (server, path and filename) of a resource.
WWW
World Wide Web, a protocol developed at CERN to access the Internet.
WWW browser
Any of a range of programs that provides a hypermedia interface to the Internet (eg lynx, mosaic, netscape).

Acknowledgments

The following people have helped us in assessing European archaeology connectivity and resources, for which we would like to express our gratitude: Kai Jakobs, Zoran Stancic, Joachim Rehmet.

References

Champion, ST (forthcoming)
Guide to Internet Resources for Archaeologists. In British Archaeology Yearbook 1994-1995. Council for British Archaeology, York.
Hansen, HJ, 1993
European Archaeological databases: problems and prospects. In Andresen, J., T.
Madsen & I. Scollar (editors), Computing the Past. Proceedings of the 1992 CAA conference, Aarhus University Press, Aarhus.
Jakobs, H and H Kleefeld, 1994
Multimedia Communication in Archaeology - Why and How . Paper presented at the CAA 1994 conference, Glasgow.
Plunkett, T and J Lizee 1995
Archnet and Archaeological Cyberspace. In Cultural Resource Management 18(3):5-7. US Department of the Interior/National Park Service.