A research team from Virginia Tech and Case Western Reserve University has received a National Science Foundation grant to develop a digital library for archaeology.
Edward Fox, professor of computer science, and Weiguo "Patrick" Fan, assistant professor of accounting and information systems, will serve as the technical sub-contractors on the project, which has received an initial one-year grant of about $56,000 from the NSF, with another $330,000 expected over the next two years.
Archaeological data are currently scattered across various intranet and web sites, and new information is constantly being unearthed from active excavation sites, says Fan. "It is quite a challenge for archaeologists to manage the process of archiving and disseminating data."
The proposed digital library, he says, "will, for the first time, enable archaeologists, humanists, and social scientists to gather, preserve, and publicize historical and real-time data for research, education, and public information in a timely and universally accessible fashion."
The library will focus on ancient Near Eastern studies and will have as its core components two electronic tools that the researchers will develop: DigKit and DigBase.
DigKit would be a field tool for collecting and recording data during surveys and excavations. Details from the primary records compiled on a site, for example, could be shared immediately among excavations via a laptop, says Fan. "It would turn any dig site into an open repository, part of a growing network of archaeological archives."
Data from various sources, whether excavation sites or web sites, would be collected and archived in DigBase. DigBase would be an enormous catalog, Fan says, with "one-stop shopping" services that would allow users to not only search and browse, but eventually to also query primary records, rate and review artifacts, and receive responses tailored to the user's particular interests, much like with consumer product web sites such as Amazon.com or Epinions.com.
Fox has led work over the last five years on the "5S" (societies, scenarios, spaces, structures, and streams) approach to developing digital libraries and other types of information systems. "Building upon a formal mathematical framework, this effort hopes to make it easy to construct powerful and usable systems that can handle a wide variety of applications," Fox says. "If 5S can help in the field of archaeology, with all its complexities, then certainly it should be of benefit for many, many other domains."
During development, the digital library will be housed in a server at Case Western Reserve's University Library, where Joanne Eustis, who holds a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, serves as director and James Flanagan, principal investigator for the grant, is professor emeritus. When completed, the digital library will move to Vanderbilt University's Electronic Tools and Ancient Near Eastern Archives, which is supported by an academic consortium that includes Virginia Tech. Fan, who will help design and implement the library's system architecture, says the library will make "real-time archaeology possible, allowing us to understand past lives and processes in a very timely fashion."
As the library will be open to the general public, not just scientists, he says, it may also foster the development of a larger and more diverse community of those interested in archaeology.