Down amongst the dead men – The Bedern Group, digital preservation and the historic environment

Posted on June 9, 2017


Another session we filmed at the CIfA conference- this one on digital preservation.

Session Details

Digital technologies play a central role in documenting our heritage and provide a vital resource for creative, cultural and commercial activities in archaeology and beyond. Yet, without long-term commitment to active preservation and access, this resource is under threat from loss, fragmentation and obsolescence and will ultimately be lost. Digital preservation requires effective management, meaningful access and reliable, verifiable research to ensure the potential of data is realised. Collaboration between data creators and curators is key to preservation management and ensures data remains accessible for posterity. Convened under the auspices of the Digital Preservation Coalition, the Bedern Group ( is an alliance of key agencies concerned with the long term preservation of the intellectual record of the historic environment of the UK. The papers for this session come from data creators and curators addressing issues such as awareness, training, collecting and charging policies, data standards and accessibility.

Peter McKeague, Historic Environment Scotland; Louisa Matthews, Archaeology Data Service; Kirsty Lingstadt and Emily Nimmo, Historic Environment Scotland; Chair: William Kilbride, Digital Preservation Coalition

The Bedern Charter: digital preservation and the historic environment William Kilbride, Digital Preservation Coalition

Under the auspices of the Digital Preservation Coalition, The Bedern Group is an alliance of key agencies concerned with the preservation of the intellectual record of the historic environment of the UK. Archives in general perform an essential if somewhat undervalued role in documenting the past. In providing a safe repository for the vast range of unique information created through research and other fieldwork they require a specific commitment to the preservation of the intellectual heritage for this and future generations. In previous centuries this record accumulated slowly through the collection of archives and publications. Such documents are stable and have a long shelf life if properly managed.
Digital data faces a number of challenges from the volume and complexity of the datasets curated to the challenges posed by technological obsolescence. Significantly, these challenges are not only different from conventional preservation but they need to come much earlier in the lifecycle of creation and use and require a collaborative approach between data creators and curators. Successful digital curation can deliver opportunities for research, teaching and management far beyond the purpose the datasets were originally created for. To do so requires proper management ensuring that the data can be easily rediscovered, accessed and reused for future generations. It is our shared view that digital preservation is an essential function for the protection of the historic environment, ensuring effective management, meaningful access and reliable, verifiable research. The challenges are greater than any one agency and the opportunity for mutual support and learning are great. As well as improving our preservation services, mutually supportive policies will help ensure the clarity of approach and expectations among the many stakeholders with an interest in our work to resolve issues of policy or practice in the preservation of digital resources such as training, collecting policies, standards for deposition of archives, and advocacy in the sector.

RCAHMW guidelines for digital archaeological archives – a sustainable approach to digital preservation Gareth Edwards, Head of Knowledge and Understanding, RCAHMW

The RCAHMW’s National Monuments Record is Wales’s public archive of records relating to the historic environment, and is the national home for digital archaeological archives. Accordingly, it is developing its digital archiving facilities and procedures to comply with international standards, namely the Open Archival Information System reference model – OAIS (ISO 14721). To make compliance effective and viable, it intends to adopt an industry standard digital archive package, produced by Preservica, as part of its current data platform. This will allow OAIS-compliant workflows, active preservation of digital content, and public access to digital records. In order to ensure that the reception and ingest of digital accessions into this system is as efficient as possible, and sustainable with a limited staff capacity, RCAHMW has created digital archive guidelines. These set out the organisation, description and format of digital archaeological archives required from data producers in the sector who intend to deposit records with the NMR. The guidelines are intended to be used from a project’s inception and are included as an appendix to the forthcoming National Standards for Wales for Collecting and Depositing Archaeological Archives. They will also be promulgated through the planning consent regime. The talk will give an overview of the requirements of the OAIS reference model and how RCAHMW undertakes to comply with this. It will explain the general requirements in the guidelines in this context, with emphasis on the need for well-structured data, with adequate descriptive metadata to allow for digital preservation, and most importantly, continued access and use of the archive by data consumers.

Joining up… digital archiving and UK archaeology Jo Gilham and Louisa Matthews, Archaeology Data Service

The ADS have been working on several long-running, collaborative projects. These have looked at maximising the benefits of
digital archiving with increasing open access to digital data and the joining up of online resources to increase the speed and
efficiency of retrieval for end users. Of principal concern to UK practitioners has been the transfer of information and data in the
form of archaeological grey literature, via the redesign of the existing OASIS system, but also bibliographic data and published
material through the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography and ADS Library. Collectively these initiatives are referred to
as the HERALD project. HERALD work has encompassed the bringing together of workflows and data management traditions
from England, Wales and Scotland, under three separate planning systems, national heritage organisations, and different archive
allocation procedures. This has presented a number of challenges, as has the variability within each country – each type of
user (contractors, volunteer groups, and HERs) having different needs and working patterns, and requiring different levels of
participation or interaction with OASIS. The HERALD project has therefore been an exercise in ‘joining up’ – in terms of identifying
similarities and differences between key stakeholders, but also in encouraging participation from those who have previously not
been engaged. This talk will review work on the HERALD project to date and discuss future directions and benefits that might be
realised for HERs, professionals and researchers alike.

Where and when have they been hiding those dead bodies? Improving access to better preserved heritage data through the Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS) Keith May, Historic England; Sarah Poppy, Historic England; Ben Wallace, Warwickshire County Council

One of the key principles for the Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS) is that heritage data and information ‘should not be at risk of loss, fragmentation, inundation (in data), or system obsolescence’. We need to have broad agreement across the sector on what the implications of that principle are. To help with that, the HIAS is planning a suite of activities, as part of improving access to historic environment information, and this presentation will explain more about those. Within the HIAS programme there are work packages to address the often interrelated issues of reference data standards along with data sharing and rights management, which are key to providing the right access to the right users in the way that they need it. Collaboration between data creators and curators on how best to manage, share and ensure long-term preservation of such data is vital to the success of the HIAS programme. We also know that for HIAS there is as much work to be done in raising awareness and supporting the training needs for key skills in the sector as there is to resolve the technical challenges for data preservation, data integration and data interoperability.

ADAPt or perish: developing a life-cycle approach to data management Hugh Corley and Claire Tsang, Historic England

Creating and saving digital material are everyday tasks for all archaeologists, and like most organisations, the Historic England Excavation & Analysis team are collecting more and more digital data that are increasingly complex. This paper will discuss how we went about evaluating the types of data our colleagues collect and create, the best way to manage these data and most importantly how to ensure that they take greater responsibility for data management. Through new procedures and training we were able to demonstrate how caring for the data through the complete lifecycle not only helps in archiving but also in the successful running and management of research. We will provide a summary of the different elements of our data management toolkit as well as examples of how it can be used to better understand, manage and archive your data. Going forward our toolkit will allow us to evaluate how to effectively manage and archive newer methods of data collection and creation that have yet to be incorporated or developed. Through collaboration between data creators and archivists we believe that we have been able to create better, more comprehensible datasets that are easier to use and will be easier to archive.

A toolkit in your pocket: data creation with the CITiZAN coastal archaeology app Stephanie Ostrich and Andy Sherman, CITiZAN

Archaeology in the intertidal zone is at risk from erosion, extreme storm events and climate change. The national community archaeology project CITiZAN (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) was set up in response to these threats, to raise awareness of at-risk archaeology in England and to train volunteers to recognise and record archaeological features. In order to quickly record fragile threatened features, some of which may only be visible for one tidal cycle and may be destroyed soon after being seen in this dynamic environment, we rely on CITiZAN’s web-based and smart phone app recording system; volunteers can record, geo-locate, photograph and carry out condition surveys of observed archaeological features, or note when these features are no longer visible. This paper will discuss CITiZAN’s training methodologies for the smart phone app and the quality assurance controls put in place to help volunteers to record coastal and intertidal heritage, investigate who these intrepid volunteers are and discuss how they are using the app in practice.

Davy Jones’ locker: Historic Environment Data Centres and MEDIN (Marine Environmental Data and Information Network) Peter McKeague, Historic Environment Scotland

Published in 2007 by the Maritime Affairs Group of the Institute for Field Archaeology, Slipping through the Net: Maritime Archaeological Archives in policy and practice painted a bleak future for Maritime archaeological archives. It identified that few, if any, public repositories have the remit or capacity to collect archive material from the marine zone, alongside a lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities and a tendency for those collections that are not split or sold to remain uncurated and inaccessible. Whilst many of these problems persist, the issue of the long-term preservation of digital data is being addressed through the formation of federated Historic Environment Data Archive Centres (DACs) within MEDIN. Marine datasets are expensive to collect and always unique in relation to time and geographical position. There are wide benefits to be gained from working together to share and properly manage these datasets under the principle of ‘measure once, use many times’. MEDIN promotes the sharing of, and improved access to, these datasets through a network of accredited data archive centres (DACs) for the marine sector. The networks provide long-term storage and access to a range of marine data as well as opportunities to promote the historic environment amongst the other DACs and the wider marine industry. The Archaeology Data Service, Historic Environment Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales are part of the federated Data Archive Centre for the Historic Environment. Whilst the DAC partners take on responsibility for the long-term archiving of digital data, success of the DAC is dependent on the collaboration with those undertaking fieldwork and research in the marine historic environment.

Archiving digital publication: preserving two decades of digital content in Internet Archaeology Judith Winters, Internet Archaeology

Internet Archaeology has been publishing on the web for 20 years. As editor for 18 of these, I’ve published archaeological content that has gone far beyond text and static images, ranging from GIS and VR to datasets and RTI. Thanks to the journal’s close relationship with the Archaeology Data Service, I’m more closely involved in the digital preservation process than most other publishers might ever encounter, and some ‘behind the scenes’ efficiencies have been possible due to our shared infrastructure. It’s fair to say that there are some challenges and issues to share. Our collaborations have also extended to the nature of the digital content itself and the opportunities they represent for the discipline more broadly. We have long worked together on projects that explored the linkage between digital archives and publications and I will summarise these, but I will also outline a more recent manifestation via the ‘data paper’ – a short journal publication used to ‘signpost’ quality related datasets in a digital archive and giving an indication of that data’s potential for reuse. We have also started to use ‘open badges’ on articles to show where further data is available. The practice of data sharing is still a work in progress. There is still a gap between the expectation and the reality of seamlessly sharing data alongside publications. I will summarise Internet Archaeology’s small but decisive steps.


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