ArkData - through the eyes of the archaeologist

ArkData is a computer programme developed by Odense City Museums archaeological department. The programme is used to derive electronic reports from archaeological subjects, from minor inspections to large-scale, complicated excavations. In order to create a programme with such close connections to archaeology's day-to-day reality, from fieldwork through to archive, storage, conservation and exhibition, all members of Odense City Museum's archaeology staff have been involved in the development of the programme.

Odense City Museums have had two primary aims in the development of ArkData. The first is to create a standardized electronic tool which will ensure homogeneous archaeological reports of high quality. The second is to make such archaeological reports generally available on the internet. The system has been in use at Odense City Museums since the beginning of 2000 and after a trial period the first reports were put on the internet on June 1st 2001. ArkData combines three programmes - Word97, MapInfo and Access. The aim has been to combine a desire for a marked improvement in quality and efficiency of report writing with a corresponding increase in accessibility - democratization, perhaps- of archaeological data. At the same time one of the requirements from the start of the project has been to root ArkData in the real world of archaeological life as it takes place at a museum with archaeological responsibilities. In order to avoid the so-called `Amanda' problem - which brought administrative chaos due to lack of adequate trials - the developmental phase has been characterized by a running dialogue between the technical side (especially system developers and surveyors) on the one side and users, namely the excavating archaeologist, on the other. Or, to put it another way, the development of the programme has quite literally taken place with earthprints on the keyboard. Since the programmes used - Word97 and Access - are generally familiar and user-friendly, no special knowledge or training is needed to write a report in ArkData. Furthermore, DKC (National Museum in Copenhagen) and the standards used in it - in relation to dating, for example - have been included in the work. In its trial period here at Odense City Museums, there have been several occasions when 8-10 people have simultaneously been writing reports using the system. Today ArkData has attained a technical level where submitting a report electronically with text, plans, and photos to DKC - may that become a reality in the near future! - is just a matter of course. However, reality being as it still is, it is equally possible to print out a completed report in the traditional manner. Odense City Museums perform between 40 and 60 excavations annually. On top of this come the viewings, minor investigations, registrations of private collections and so on. Over the past five years Odense City Museums (Archaeological section) has undertaken a survey, review and reordering of archive and stored material, a process which has added weight to the need for greater efficiency and standardization in the collection of archaeological data. During the same period, increasing site activity has brought with it the need for a gradual restructuring of the ways in which archaeological cases are handled, with more and more moving in the direction of voluntary agreements with private owners, especially regarding initial surveys for the purpose of clarification. In reality what we seem to have here is a form of `false start' on these conditions, which with the principal that `he who occasions the loss pays' will become an important part of the new museum directive. A natural consequence of the private home-owners financing of archaeological studies is a perfectly understandable demand to see what the money is being used for - and, almost as important, what overall archaeological framework that home-owner's `own' excavation forms part of. An important motivating force behind the development of ArkData has been to be at the forefront of developments by taking this need into consideration.

ArkData is, then, a tool for the electronic registration of site material, and one which is grounded in practical reality. With consideration for archaeological tradition, the programme delivers a finished product which both accommodates the present (reports printed on paper) and is tailored to the future (availability via the internet and delivery of reports in all details in electronic form). The programme has a good year's trial period behind it and has proved itself to be practicable in all the contexts in which Odense City Museums has made use of it, whether it be in the realm of pre-history or of the Middle Ages. Odense City Museums (Archaeological section) will only accept reports written in ArkData. ArkData is completely ready for use in the delivery of reports to DKC. At the same time other functions relating to other databases can be added. For example, Odense City Museums (Archaeological section) print and submit conservation orders direct from ArkData. At the moment, of course, Odense City Museums are alone in using ArkData, but the programme is constructed in such a way that the internet part could consist of contributions from, in principle, all other museums in the country with archaeological areas of responsibility.

ArkData - GIS (Geographical Information System)

The definition of GIS: A system for the collection, storing, selection, analysis and geographical presentation of data. A fundamental principle of ArkData is that it has been developed to be a very user-friendly system for the collection and storing of archaeological data. This has naturally been carried further to the structure of our digital drawings so that the relation between the two primary elements of the GIS system (ArkData and MapInfo) are as simple as possible.

The various layers of the lay-out drawing are then only to be found under Field, Site, Find number and Measuring point number respectively. The remaining layers (Elevation and Section) are only related geographically and Profile drawings are linked to ArkData directly through Site specification.

Once all data have been entered and the drawings linked, certain simple selections and analyses can be made by using the `search' function in ArkData and these can then be represented by means of the `Show on map' command.

It is moreover possible that in time a function will be able to be implemented allowing whole cases or selected quantities of data to be downloaded direct to Mapinfo in order to provide a more professional analysis and presentation.

ArkData - through the eyes of the technician

ArkData is a relational database system with a firm data structure built with a view to the computation, presentation and archiving of archaeological reports. Over and above that, the system has a set of inbuilt functions to perform automatically various administrative processes in relation to archaeological investigations.

Backend database

All the data in the system is stored in a SQL server database. From here a number of scheduled processes can be carried out, such as the delivery of data to the internet.

Frontend application

All input of data into the system is performed from here, and processes such as the automatic generation of report documents, submission of conservation orders and attachment of photo and cartographic material (MapInfo) are controlled from here. This application is designed to function on a LAN internally at the museum so that editing of data can only be undertaken from there. After the final version of a file has been entered, one can choose to publish it on the internet, whereupon the file will be uploaded to an internet server and made accessible for all internet users in a `read only' version. If at a later date one wishes to make alterations in the file, this has to be undertaken from the publishing museum's internal system. The search potential of this part of the system is very limited since these functions have to be carried out from the intra- or internet.

Frontend applications are developed in Access.

Web application

The web part of the system has been developed with a view to presenting our data to as wide a spectrum of the public as possible and to making use of the internet's potential for presenting large quantities of data in a way that is easy to manage and which requires minimal preparatory introduction to the workings of the system. Furthermore, the internet provides the opportunity to link together a large number of different media so that we can present text, photo and digital map in a unified and uniform manner without making special demands of the software that is installed on our client's computer.

In this part, too, can be found the system's search functions and functions allowing a selection of data to be displayed on a map and the setting up of that data selection to be determined geographically. From a purely technical point of view, the web application has been developed primarily by using ASP technology while cartographic material is processed by MapXtreme.


Over and above these elements, the system consists of an administration module, which provides chosen users with the opportunity to edit and extend the reference lists that the system contains, as well as a series of simple analysis functions as an aid in the administration of reference lists.


The system is built so that it can easily be adapted to function at other museums, provided, of course, that there already exists an efficient IT infrastructure, in particular as regards local networking and a stable access to the internet. Moreover, ArkData is planned in such a way that it can easily be adapted to run on smaller computer systems, where one might want to use a less powerful product than SQL server, - Access, for instance, - as backend and where there is no permanent access to the internet.

On the internet server data is sent using FTP since this system, unlike products such as the integrated SQL server replication, makes no special demands as regards to the system from which it can be delivered. All processes on this common server are divided up so that they are driven in `boxes' controlled by Win2000 and the SQL server's access control. In this way, if a number of museums upload data to this server, the data will be processed individually before being collected at the end in one large database, which is the product the user will be able to work with.

Furthermore, the system is constructed in such a way that the opportunity is there for some tailoring of data structures among the individual museums. This would, though, naturally enough lead to a higher cost for the administration and development of the system as a whole.

Finally it must be emphasized that the system is still in the process of development.


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© 2005 Pathways to Cultural Landscapes

With the support of the Culture 2000 programme of the European Union