The Drudgery of Data

While Scott Moore and Mara Horowitz, ably assisted by Michael “Bolton” Brown and Brandon Olson, produce more data by reading the artifacts collected during the 2007 field season, I have spent today processing artifacts analyzed during 2006.  In particular, I’ve been relabeling the near 2000 digital photos taken last year.  This is merely a prelude before checking them against the data in our data base.  With the advent of digital photography, photographing huge quantities of artifact is no longer a prohibitive expense.  We have produced close to 10,000 digital photographs of the site and of artifacts over the last 5 years almost all of them in high resolution digital formats.  They all need to be labeled in a standard way and linked, somehow, to attribute data produced by the field teams and the ceramicist.  I also worked on developing our new database for the excavation which will allow us to record systematically our descriptions of stratigraphy (that is the layers of soil that form the context for all cultural material) and the features in the trenches as well as trench photographs, top plans, and sections. 


Dimitri Nakassis and I (together we are filling in for my wife, Susan, as registrar at the museum) experienced another aspect of this data drudgery earlier in the day when we visited remote warehouse for the Larnaka District Archaeological Museum looking for five crates of pottery from our site that were stored remotely last year.  The Larnaka Museum houses the material from the entire Larnaka district as well as material from various other excavated sites that are now in the occupied northern half of the island.  The amount of finds from these sites is as immense as any district in the Mediterranean basin.  The remote warehouse reflects this in its vast size.  Three or four warehouse buildings flank an industrial yard strewn with all the elements necessary for the proper excavation and maintenance of an archaeological site: chain fence, wood planks, scaffolding, cement footings, roof tiles, et c.  The industrial metal doors of the warehouse slid aside to reveal several huge rooms with 12 foot ceilings, lined with glass cases which were filled with trays labeled by site.  The rows upon rows of neatly stored and labeled material evoked the shelves of a research library.  The finds, broken, mundane, and magnificent, bore the names of the major sites in the area: Kition, Halla Sultan Tekke, the sites of the Kalavassos and Maroni Valleys, along with trays inscribed with legendary words like Enkomi. 

Archaeology produces data — intellectual, material, ceramic, paper, and digital — and this data requires constant maintenance.  The work is tedious.  The scale, even for a small project, can seem colossal.  Good practices, however, are essential to the continued vitality of the field and the ability for future generations of scholars to revisit and restudy the results.

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