Day of DH for Bones Don’t Lie

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 8.21.03 AMHappy Day of Digital Humanities! Last year I celebrated by sharing what I did for the day in tweets and posting– primarily as part of Campus Archaeology. You can follow along with all the Day of DH 2014 posts at their website, and on twitter using #DayofDH. You can also check out my personal website here.

I use a wide variety of digital tools in my daily life. My dissertation is strongly based on the use of geographic information systems, and an open access digital repository called KORA. I am a strong advocate and user of Twitter for networking, I’m co-authoring papers collaboratively through Google Drive, and as you know- I am a huge fan of blogging as a form of public engagement.

Today what I want to share is a side project I’ve been working on as part of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative Fellowship program. As a fellow, we learn how to use technology to solve cultural heritage problems, and over the course of the year we need to develop a project. My project is something that is very dear to me, and will hopefully solve an issue I’ve been dealing with recently. First, here’s some background to the project.

Robert and Mays (2010), two leading bioarchaeologists, found that of the over 250 articles written on bioarchaeology in Britain from the top four journals, 79% of them were based on collections from only 5 locations. While this uneven use of skeletal collections can be attributed to a number of reasons, the one that they highlight is the availability and knowledge of collections. The same is true for archaeological sites. The ones that are easily accessible on Archaeology Data Service or through other digital resources are more readily used and studied than those that reside only in analog format.

During my own research on Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, one of the issues I have run into is that there is no central database for learning about what sites exist, who excavated and interpreted them, and within which university or museum they are currently held. However, examining other texts and dissertations has shown me that not only has this work already been done, but also it has been done repeatedly by a variety of scholars. The lack of a central location for knowledge about archaeological material causes loss of time due to each scholar having to search through grey material and primary sources to dig up the original data. While this is a good exercise in research, and independent study of original sources is useful- we need to start working together to create open digital resources that increase our productivity. (Taken from my original CHI post here).

My goal was to create a database of early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries that could be used by archaeologist and anglo-saxonists to learn more about where skeletal collections are located, find the original citations for each cemetery, and download spatial data on where all these cemeteries are located. In the end, I created ieldran, which means ancestors in Old English. While the site is no where near complete, we have launched an early version of it. You can see it here: ieldran. This is a collaborative project with Matt Austin over at Darkageology; he supplied most of the primary site data for the project.

I hope to add a section where people can contribute their own data to the map, add more information about museums and links, and allow downloads of data- however these are things that all require a deeper technical knowledge and I’m still working on it.

I would love feedback at this stage on whether you think this is useful and how to improve it! You can also read more about the project at my CHI blog page located here: Katy Meyers, CHI Returning Fellow

Works Cited

Roberts and Mays 2011. “Study and restudy of curated skeletal collections in bioarchaeology: A perspective on the UK and the implications for future curation of human remains”. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 21.5 (2011), pp. 626-630