XML and Related Methods (Archaeology)

Recent convergence between relational database systems and XML related methods has led to increasing interest in using XML to publish data from database systems and for databases to be used to store and query XML data, often by handling queries issued over the Internet. Distributed databases increasingly need to talk to each other over the web and XML can be used as a standard exchange format for distributed query processing. The aggregation of data can lend economies of scale to information projects and could certainly diminish possibilities of projects duplicating effort. Developed by David Schloen at the University of Chicago, the Archaeological Markup Language (ArchaeoML) is a component part of a larger initiative called OCHRE (Online Cultural Heritage Research Environment)(http://ochre.lib.uchicago.edu/index.htm) which intends to be ‘an Internet Database System for research on cultural heritage in all its forms’, accommodating anthropological, linguistic and other inter-disciplinary textual data as well as archaeological documentation.

The ArchaeoML component of the system is based on twenty XML Schema definitions which define the formal specification of the data structure. The principle is to allow projects with diverse types of data to setup hierarchies with as many levels as necessary (using recursive nesting) to adequately represent that information, whilst keeping the number of element types to a minimum. This system is still in development at the time of writing and takes its place amongst a number of other XML related initiatives that are beginning to inform data management issues within the discipline. Kilbride has argued fairly recently (http://www.csanet.org/newsletter/winter05/nlw0502.html) that archaeologists appear to have demonstrated a reluctance to adopt XML related tools in relation to certain other disciplines and sets out the case for a more widespread uptake of this methodology to assist with the drive towards data integration and sustainability.

Other research relating to the use of XML in archaeology has focused on the use of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) document type definitions (DTD’s) which have been the focus of a collaborative worldwide effort to provide all researchers dealing with digital text with a standardised way of describing material. Developing work from her MSc dissertation in 2001, Meckseper investigates the use of TEI for archaeological fieldwork in an article for the Archaeology and XML newsletter (2004), in which she cites various other relevant initiatives and resources that she considered using, including the Geography Markup Language (GML), the Historical Event Markup and Linking (HEML) Project, and the MDA SPECTRUM documentation standard DTD. In an article in Internet Archaeology, Falkingham also looks at the use of the TEI guidelines for archaeological ‘grey’ literature , the same primary source material that, as mentioned previously, is the focus of the OASIS project .

OASIS is a major collaboration between academic and governmental agencies that provides a standard data capture form that is designed to allow local and national data managers who are responsible for site documentation to easily deposit data. This enables the OASIS system to provide an online index to a mass of previously inaccessible data and is delivered by means of the ARCHSearch (http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/) system, an impressive tool which allows graphical browsing by clicking on general and detailed maps of the UK, as well as providing advanced textual search options. The use of XML and its related methods underpins these activities and supports the theory that the use of XML can be an effective enabling strategy to support the management of large volumes of archaeological data.

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