Curing The Curation Problem

The Sustainable Archaeology project in Ontario, Canada, endeavors to preserve and share the province’s cultural heritage.

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A person wearing a virtual-reality headset can view this 3-D, sixteenth-century Iroquois longhouse created by SA Western. Credit: Michael Carter.
A person wearing a virtual-reality headset can view this 3-D, sixteenth-century Iroquois longhouse created by SA Western. Credit: Michael Carter.

SUMMER 2017: By Tom Koppel.

Tall white steel shelves are gradually filling up with green boxes in a new archaeological repository in Ontario, Canada. Each box is stuffed full of archival plastic bags containing artifacts, soil samples, animal bones, and other items from sites in the country’s most populous province. Many represent collections gathered decades ago. Radio frequency tags track the locations of boxes, so no box gets misplaced.

The repository has two facilities—one at McMaster University in Hamilton, and the other at Western University, in London—and together they can accommodate some 80,000 boxes, each box just over three-cubic feet in volume. With their labs and staff, the repositories are the heart of Sustainable Archaeology (SA), a project that is partnered with related initiatives like Digital Antiquity in the United States, Archaeological Data Service in the United Kingdom, and Ariadne in Europe.

SA aims at nothing less than a transformation in the practice and public face of archaeology in Ontario. By applying advanced technologies, its ultimate goal is to mine the archived collections for new kinds of information and to better disseminate that knowledge to the archaeological community and the public. SA Western specializes in digital imaging, including 3-D modeling and printing of artifacts, and x-ray-based CT scanning of object interiors, and virtual reconstructions of archaeological sites and structures. SA McMaster’s forte is microscopic work and analysis of excavated materials for chemical indicators like DNA or stable isotopes.

“The SA effort to pull together physical collections from past field work into centralized repositories at Western Ontario and McMaster is exemplary,” said Francis P. McManamon, the Executive Director/Research Professor for the Center for Digital Antiquity.  “The recognition by SA leadership of the necessity for proper care and curation of the digital data and information from these investigations is equally important.  We have appreciated very much his perspective and support.”

Excerpt.

Read More in our SUMMER 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: SUMMER 2017 . Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, SPRING 2017.

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