Project Spotlight: The Gabii Project

The most recent data publication in Open Context features 3D models of archaeological features and objects. The Gabii Project features digital content from excavations at the ancient Latin city of Gabii, a neighboring and rival city-state to Rome in the 1st millennium BCE. Rachel Opitz, a collaborator on the project, which is led by Nicola Terrenato and the University of Michigan, shared the news on Facebook and described how this data publication is situated in the Gabii project’s goals:

“Earlier this year the Gabii Project published its first digital volume, A mid-Republican House from Gabii with the University of Michigan Press. The volume integrates text, interactive 3D content, and the data and media collected during excavation. The data and media are made available open access on the publication website and is connected directly to the publication, creating a rich digital resource for the study of Gabii. We’re now publishing the same data with Open Context. Why reproduce the published data? One of our aims is to make our data more discoverable. By including our data in Open Context, we hope researchers undertaking comparative and thematic studies will readily find our data. Second, because we know ‘lots of copies keeps stuff safe’ and we see reproducing our data across multiple archives as a way to ensure it will remain available. Finally, the Open Context collection represents our first foray into the world of linked open data. Gabii’s database is a relational database in part because we feel this architecture well supports our current data collection workflow, and in part because linked open data wasn’t on our radar in 2009 when the recording system was designed nor in 2011 when we moved to a web-based platform. We’re excited to be moving our published data out into the wider world of LOD and seeing how this format might facilitate further research using our data.”

The Open Context data publishing process involves not only organizing and validating datasets, but also annotating data with relevant Linked Open Data concepts. This annotation makes the data more accessible and intelligible because it can be discovered and linked to related content from across the web. For example, some of the Gabii content is related to content from the nearby Etruscan site of Poggio Civitate (Murlo). The Open Context team works with data authors to relate terminologies in a given dataset to more widely shared standards. We linked some object types at both Poggio Civitate and Gabii  to the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), a controlled vocabulary widely used by museums and other cultural institutions. The examples below show how reference to the AAT promotes discovery of related comparative materials from these two excavations:

  • Spindle Whorls: These are used in textile production.
  • Bucchero: This is a specific type of dark and glossy pottery common to Etruscan ceramic production.

The Gabii data publication is the first project to display 3D models in Open Context. Excavations increasingly are documenting their work in 3D, so Technology Director Eric Kansa collaborated with Rachel Opitz (an archaeologist with the Gabii team and an expert in photogrammetry, GIS, and other forms of digital documentation) to make the Gabii 3D models usable through common web-browsers. Open Context integrated the open-source X3DOM framework to render these models, so users can interact with them with a mouse or touch screen without needing to install any additional plugins or software. They are best accessed with fast internet connections because the models have large file sizes. Finally, use of widely supported open standards for the models should help improve longevity of the data. Check out a few examples from the Gabii Project:

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