As the discipline of archaeology continues to expand and evolve, we should exploit new technologies which allow for a cost-effective means of pooling information, and foster international collaboration in a timely manner. Scholars in a variety of disciplines have found that resources offered by the Internet provide a means of sharing and distributing information of many different kinds (sound, video, graphics, and text) in many different ways. In this paper we outline some of the shortcomings of traditional techniques for the sharing and presentation of data and ideas, describe current Internet resources being developed by archaeologists, and conclude with a proposal for the establishment of a European network of archaeological information services accessible via the Internet.
Communication via the computer, using facilities ranging from e-mail via news and discussion lists to video conferencing 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 on a regular basis, 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 a reply function facilitates prompt answering of questions. Mailing lists act as electronic bulletin boards in that correspondence is directed to a central list address which redirects mail to a group of "subscribers". This is the easiest way to make contact with a world wide audience and peer group, to discuss research and debate current topics. Newsgroups are similar to list servers, but the correspondence is held at a central archive which is accessed by the subscribers.
Reference services by computer are also being used by many archaeologists who, if they are connected to the Internet, may regularly use a file transfer protocol (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 such as the Gopher browser developed at the University of Minnesota. On-line searches of world wide 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.
Several ways of dealing with these technical problems, all now rapidly converging on the World Wide Web (WWW or W3) architecture developed by the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in the late 80s, have emerged (2):
Is there enough useful information available on Internet? With user-friendly access insured by World Wide Web technology, we quickly arrive at an information bottleneck: the limited number of information providers that serve the fast growing legion of information consumers. Current archaeological communication services often restrict themselves to providing basic (names, addresses) and/or general information (exhibits, 'tours', brief project descriptions) aimed at a large rather than a professional public. Current reference services are largely restricted to bibliographic catalogues and a limited number of survey and site reports. Archaeologists might well be justified in not bothering to explore the Internet if the available resources are few and of low quality. In order for the Internet to fulfil its potential in both of these 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? Overviews, admittedly skewed heavily in favour of hypermedia resources, are being maintained in the Europe page of ArchNet and in a page especially compiled by the authors for the 1995 CAA conference (ArchNet — Europe). The latter page provides some idea of how a European Archaeological Heritage Web might look. It contains links to all the archaeological resources relating to or originating in Europe, that the authors have been able to locate so far. The majority of resources consists of academic departmental information, museum exhibits, and project descriptions. These are all localised initiatives, and little attempt seems to have been made to construct nation-wide or international access to archaeological resources. Examples of such localised Web services are the University of Southampton's Archaeology server, the Cagl iari National Archaeological Museum exhibit, and the French Ministry of Culture archaeology pages.
The only example of a nationally organised archaeology server at present appears to be ArchWEB Netherlands Set up in late 1994, this server for Dutch archaeology, involving most of the professional and amateur archaeological community, museum and heritage management staff, etc., has received funding for an initial period of 1.5 years by the company that maintains the Dutch academic network infrastructure, after which responsibility for its upkeep reverts to the ArchWEB-NL members. No transnational archaeological information services other than ArchNet, the global discussion lists, newsgroups, and some electronic journals could be identified.
Yet interest in such services appears to be large and growing rapidly. For example, 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 Uwe Schoenfelder (Essen, DE); it was discussed at the 1992 CAA conference in Aarhus (DK), and a preliminary plan was produced by Anne Vikkula (Department of Archaeology, University of Helsinki, FI) and mailed to the ARCH-L discussion list in July 1992 (Hansen 1993). Two of EUARCH's aims were to:
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.
We are fully aware that many aspects of our proposal will need to be more fully explored, and our discussion of its problems and potential in the next two sections accordingly is not meant to be exhaustive.
Luckily, we need not worry about such technological hurdles. Given the speed of current developments, 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 for most computer platforms.
One of the major benefits provided by the establishment of a European Archaeological Heritage Web would be to enable access to filespace by European countries, institutions and individuals whose IT infrastructure is not currently able to support the development and maintenance of on-line information services for archaeology. 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 data sets, such as sensitive information on the exact location of sites, by the use of a password only given out to suitable people who wished to register with the 'owner' of that data set. 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.
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. The 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. Any work on the design and upkeep of the information access structure could be done by a small group of interested archaeologists and librarians.
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. Although it is the user's own responsibility to learn any language that she may need, the EAHW should in no way add to her problems. 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 the path taken by traditional publications - abstracts in other languages - points the way forward.
Any translations must also deal with the restrictions inherent in the standard ASCII character set - ISO-Latin is the current standard for Web documents, but this will not provide for Greek or Cyrillic character sets, a problem currently under research.
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. Moderated electronic journals, with articles subject to peer review and simultaneous comment, are already beginning to appear (e.g. On-line Archaeology and Electronic Antiquity). Such journals have been developed in other scientific disciplines since 1990 (Harnad 1990, 1995; see also Harnad's Web pages).
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 'snail-mailed' 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.
Another development with a considerable research potential concerns the creation of Web browser interfaces to existing softwares. Current work includes research into interactive access to visual databases and catalogues (Jakobs & Kleefeld 1994) and to major software packages (GIS, RDBMS).
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 made 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 global Kidlink project could be facilitated. Clearly, problems of language may be involved (see section 3.3), but these have not prevented tremendous success in this particular 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, housebound and geographically isolated.
In addition, the intention is to improve access to such resources and information by non-specialists, through the construction of user-friendly interfaces to the data in order to enhance leisure-based experiences, and through the development of more formal educational packages for both children and adult learners.
The decentralised and co-operative structure of the Web (a network of networks) contrasts with the centralised and often hierarchical structure of professional archaeology, and in seeking these improvements in communication, we are aware that we tread a potentially difficult middle path. We do not wish to exercise any central control over sources of archaeological information, nor their content; but we would like to encourage specialists to provide more open access to their material by assisting with the construction of links from such resources to the European Archaeological Heritage Web.
We also wish to encourage the use of such a central distribution point by thousands of potential users, many of them currently unfamiliar with modern information technology, or navigation procedures on the World Wide Web, by constructing attractive and easily negotiable pathways to the information available.
We thus see the role of the European Archaeological Heritage Web as a facilitator for communication between archaeologists and heritage professionals, the archaeological data which they generate, and the wider community of Europe.
|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 Mark-up Language, the protocol for writing hypermedia documents.|
|HTTP||HyperText Transfer Protocol|
|Hypermedia||Software that accesses multimedia information through hypertext links in the documents themselves.|
|Hypertext||Text that contains 'active sites' — words or images — which, when clicked upon with the mouse, link the user to a new document. The actual process by which such documents, which may be located anywhere on the Internet, are accessed is hidden from the user.|
|Internet||The network of networks consisting of computers linked all over the world. Also known as the Web. Originally grown from the US Defence ArpaNet, it now consists of many publicly and some privately owned networks in most of the world's countries. It has no 'centre' 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||Software that gives users login access to remote computers. A common application of Telnet is accessing library catalogues.|
|URL||Universal Resource Locator, the protocol for defining both the document type (plain text, image, hypertext), the location (server name, path and filename) and the server type (FTP, gopher, http, file, news) for a resource.|
|WAIS||Wide Area Information Server. Searches the indexed contents of Internet documents.|
|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 (e.g. Lynx, Mosaic, Netscape).|
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cultural heritage, Malta, 16–17 January 1992.
HANSEN, H.J. 1993. 'European Archaeological databases: problems and
prospects', in: Andresen, J., Madsen, T. & Scollar, I., (eds.),
Computing the Past. Proceedings of the 1992 CAA conference,
pp. 229–237. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus.
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Council for British Archaeology, York.
1 As this paper is published in traditional manner in the CAA proceedings,
and will not be available until April 1996, most if not all of our description
of the current state of Internet resources for archaeology will be out of date
by then. We feel that this will not affect the thrust of the paper, and may add
a note of historic interest to it.
2 The World Wide Web protocol allows for the transmission of large data sets of multiple media which include images, text, sound, and video in a seamless presentation. Hypermedia presentations, constructed using the HyperText Mark-up Language (HTML), also allow for the construction of collaborative data sets using interactive forms for data input and querying.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE 1992. European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (revised). Explanatory report, 3rd European Conference of Ministers responsible for the cultural heritage, Malta, 16–17 January 1992.
HANSEN, H.J. 1993. 'European Archaeological databases: problems and prospects', in: Andresen, J., Madsen, T. & Scollar, I., (eds.), Computing the Past. Proceedings of the 1992 CAA conference, pp. 229–237. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus.
HARNAD, S. 1990. 'Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry', in Psychological Science 1:342– 343. Reprinted in Current Contents 45:9–13 (November 11, 1991).
HARNAD, S. 1995. 'The PostGutenberg Galaxy: how to get there from here', in Times Higher Education Supplement 12.5.95.
HOLLEDGE, S. 1994. Archaeology on the Net: an Internet resource list. Wessex International Archaeology.
JAKOBS, H. & H. KLEEFELD 1995. 'Multimedia Communication in Archaeology — Why and How', in Huggett, J. & N. Ryan (eds.), Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology 1994, British Archaeological Reports, International Series 600: 43-45. Oxford: Tempus Reparatum.
LUTINS, A.H. 1994. 'Network Resources of Interest to Anthropologists'. URL: nn.
PLUNKETT, T. & J. LIZEE 1995. 'ArchNet and Archaeological Cyberspace', in: Cultural Resource Management 18(3):5–7. US Department of the Interior/National Park Service.
STOTT, P. 1994. 'Internet Resources for Heritage Conservation, Historic Preservation, and Archaeology'. URL: http://hpb1.hwc.ca:10002/Internet_Resource_Guide.html.