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Zooarchaeology of Neolithic Anatolia: Research Outcomes from Large-Scale Data Integration with Open Context

We are happy to report the publication of a paper synthesizing several integrated datasets documenting zooarchaeological specimens from Neolithic Anatolia. The open access journal PLOS ONE published the paper on Friday.

The paper presents results of a large-scale data sharing and integration study funded by a “Computable Data Challenge” award from the Encyclopedia of Life and by the National Endowment for the Humanities (see project description). Ben Arbuckle led the collaboration which involved over 30 zooarchaeologists who contributed data describing some 200,000 specimens from 15 archaeological sites.

The paper explored the spread of Neolithic economies westward across Anatolia toward Europe. It illustrated a great deal of complexity in how animal husbandry economies moved westward from the Near East. Instead of spreading as a single cohesive package, analysis of the aggregated data showed a great deal of regional variation and selectivity in how Neolithic communities adopted elements of animal husbandry economies.

The PLOS ONE article represents the second major research outcome for this EOL / NEH funded study. Earlier this year, we presented a paper describing data management, integration and publication methods that won the “Best Paper Award” at the IDCC Conference in San Francisco. That methods-focused paper will be published (open access) shortly in the International Journal of Digital Curation. A pre-print version is available here.

For convenient bulk download and for clear version control, this GitHub repository has all the data with links to related content and documentation in Open Context.

Posted in Data publications, Editorial Workflow, News, Publication.

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The DINAA project had a very successful reception at the 79th Annual Society for American Archaeology conference in Austin, TX last month. With several presentations spanning traditional conference papers, posters, and a lightning talk at the Digital Data Interest Group meeting, conference-goers were provided with no shortage of opportunities to learn about multiple aspects of the project and its implications for the future of archaeological research.


David G. Anderson (University of Tennessee) presented his paper, “Using CRM Data for ‘Big Picture’ Research,” detailing the importance of CRM research in the development of Archaeology over the last forty years. Giving credit to the hundreds of thousands of technical reports and other forms of archaeological data stemming from ever-increasing amounts of CRM research in the Southeast, Anderson says this is the basis on which big picture research can now be accomplished. As technology and storage have caught up with the massive scale of new archaeological questions, digital repositories like DINAA can be utilized as highly effective tools.

Joshua J. Wells (Indiana University South Bend) presented “Public Data for Public Archaeology: Developing Linked Open Data, Open-Source GIS, and Sensitive Data Standards for the Digital Index of north American Archaeology” on behalf of his co-authors (E. Kansa, S. Kansa, Yerka, Noack Myers, DeMuth and Bissett) discussing the relationships between archaeological linked open data and the very same “Big Data” discussed by Anderson. Intersecting with law, research, education, and ethics, the perspectives of anthropology, informatics and cybernetics accommodate a unique look at the broad scope of implications of this type of research and work to prevent disuse, misuse and abuse as we navigate new human vs. technological problems.


Eric Kansa took the lead on presenting “Navigating and Visualizing Archaeological Data on Vastly Different Scales” for coauthors Yerka, S. Kansa, Anderson, DeMuth and Wells. Archaeological research can focus closely on individual objects, or cover a broad span of time over multiple millennia and continents. Data indexing managed by Open Context for DINAA facilitates these types of multiscalar research, hierarchically nesting both temporal and geographic data with a simplified interface and spectacular visualization. Due to the practical aspects of air travel with a large poster, this poster was printed on fabric for easy packing (at, which came in very handy during informal chats in between sessions. When the question “what is DINAA?” came up in conversation, the poster could easily be retrieved from a pocket or briefcase.

Kelsey Noack Myers took the lead on discussing “The Anthropology of Archaeological Data Collection and Management” for coauthors DeMuth, Wells, Yerka, Bissett, Anderson, S. Kansa, and E. Kansa. This poster detailed the process of defining cultural terms based on published archaeological literature and delineating the ways in which archaeological data are organized based on the aspects that are held to be most pertinent. By demonstrating the differences in metadata terminology choices, the use and associations of words can be made more explicit.

R. Carl DeMuth was present digitally via video call on a tablet to accompany the poster on which he was the lead author, “Examining DINAA’s Potential To Reframe Our Archaeological Vocabulary,” along with Noack Myers, Bissett, Anderson, Wells, S. Kansa, E. Kansa and Yerka. This poster asks viewers to consider the terms used by State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) and the effects discordant vocabularies may have on the interoperability of database research between states, while highlighting DINAA’s translation abilities as a tool for approaching multi-state analyses.

Bryan Dull, a student at IU South Bend, was the lead author of “Archaeology and Open Source Learning: Uses of DINAA for University Courses in Culture Areas, GIS, Heritage Management, and Outreach,” with Wells, Yerka, E. Kansa, Anderson, S. Kansa, Noack Myers, DeMuth, and Bissett. Providing a look at the DINAA online tool available to the public, this poster demonstrated several examples of the applicability of DINAA to hands-on learning projects in several areas of learning that focus on real archaeological data sets.

DDIG Lightning Talk:

dinna-stickerSteven J. Yerka presented a three-minute talk summarizing the DINAA project and its goals, with an invitation to “Google it” and some swag in the form of “I heart DINAA” stickers that became quite popular with meeting attendants. Yerka discussed the fact that while the distribution of archaeological data is not mirrored by current state delineations, it must be managed that way due to the reality of resource management responsibilities. However, DINAA is not meant to be a “black hole” where all SHPO data will reside, but rather a way to translate multiple/all state databases and hundreds of thousands of sites into a useful and engaging system that can be used by professionals, educators, and resource stewards to achieve learning and management goals more easily.

Many shouts-out were also given to the DINAA project over the course of the conference in the Twitterverse, coinciding with the launch of the new DINAA Twitter account. Please follow us @dinaa_proj and share your thoughts on the project!

Posted in Conferences, Events, Presentations.

DINAA Poster Symposium Sneak Peek

DINAA-posterHere’s the first of several posters about the DINAA project that will be presented at the SAAs this week in Austin.

About the Poster: Yes, this poster is printed on fabric. With a tip from a colleague on Twitter, we discovered Spoonflower, a company that prints on fabric. What a result!! The fabric poster is on wrinkle-free material, the colors are accurate, and the printing is as sharp as if it were on paper. The poster folds up to the size of a wallet, so you can literally pack this thing inside a shoe in your luggage. And the best part about it is that it only cost $25 and arrived a week earlier than scheduled. Wow! Here is the blog post with simple instructions on how to make your own.

About the Research: The poster’s content is equally as exciting. The DINAA project publishes the most comprehensive record of settlement in North American spanning the Pleistocene through recent historical past. Site definitions and descriptions from project partner SHPOs are used as open government data to form a robust base layer of information. As of the spring 2014, our team has successfully integrated and published records created by state government officials documenting over 270,000 archaeological sites from eight states east of the Mississippi. The data include rich chronological, legal, and environmental metadata used by government officials and the research community alike. The poster discusses the challenges of integrating and visualizing data at vastly different scales—from the scale of continents to the scale of individual object records at a given site. It also presents how the project is dealing with visualizing both space and time, with time as a type of metadata that presents special complications in navigating and visualizing archaeological data.

Attending the SAA meeting? Come see more at the DINAA Poster Symposium [session 81]- Thursday, 24 April, 2-4 pm (Ballroom F)

Posted in Events, Projects.

Workshop Recap: State Site Files, DINAA, and Archaeology

We recently concluded a workshop for the DINAA project, held at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville Office of Research on March 19th and 20th. The workshop brought together more than 30 participants, including managers and researchers from universities and state and federal agencies across Eastern North America, as well as graduate students from UT and Indiana University.

workshop participants

Participants of the DINAA workshop on archaeological site file data management and sharing

The DINAA project aims to provide a foundation for distributed Linked Open Data initiatives in North American archaeology using securely-shared public data. The result will be a free and open framework of millions of pieces of never-before-compiled information documenting human settlement on the continent, and use that record to address questions of critical importance to our society’s future.

In time for the workshop, the DINAA team successfully integrated and published archaeological data from 8 states east of the Mississippi. DINAA has made publicly available over 270,000 of the anticipated half a million site records to be published by the conclusion of the grant. The data include rich chronological, legal, and environmental metadata used by government officials and the research community alike.

Here are some links to browse and visualize data published through DINAA:

  • Map based browsing of data through Open Context
  • Testing demo of an alternative “Heat Map” visualization of DINAA data. (Please note: this is just a proof-of-concept demonstrating how Open Context’s APIs can support alternative visualizations, it is not a fully functional interface)

Sharing Good Practices

Representatives from 9 states, museums, libraries and federal agencies attended the workshop and spent two days discussing the challenges of working with archaeological site files, and tools they’d like to develop to make their work more streamlined. They share common goals in working to make their content reach wider communities. For most participants, this was the first time they had met their peer site file managers from other states and had the opportunity to discuss data management. The participants were thrilled to have the chance to learn how their peers work and to get ideas for ways to improve their data documentation, presentation, and management. One of the key outcomes of the DINAA workshop was this cross-pollination of site management expertise across state-lines.

In addition, workshop participants explored a variety of methods and tools popular in open science and digital humanities applications. These ranged from linked data methods, ontologies, web mapping and GeoJSON, and most popular of all, OpenRefine’s data clean-up tools.

Sustaining a Commitment to the Public Good

Public funds (NSF grant, and partner university grants) support DINAA and all project outcomes are freely and publicly accessible without restrictions, but this is a short-term funding source. The workshop conversation discussed longer term sustainability concerns. A theme of the discussion focused on the need for independent financing to maintain DINAA’s orientation toward serving the public good. “Open data” are by no means anti-commercial. DINAA published data can be freely used not only by allied nonprofit efforts such as tDAR, but also by commercial entities and efforts aligned to particular industries (such as the GAPP initiative). Nevertheless, Josh Wells and Eric Kansa talked about how foundational information resources such as DINAA should not be dependent on commercial financing, which would necessarily privilege particular commercial agendas. Thus, alternative forms of governance and financing sustained by broader communities are needed.

Learn More

We also want to thank Ethan Watrall and Andrew White for their remote participation and presentations. We’ll soon share links to their slides and the resources they discussed. Additional results of the DINAA workshop will be presented at the upcoming SAA meeting in Austin, TX. A link to a pdf of the poster will be added to this post shortly.

Posted in Events, News, Projects, Uncategorized.

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Publish or Perish 2014, Resurrected Online

On February 13-14, the IFHA Project at UC Davis hosted the first Innovating Communication in Scholarship (ICIS) conference. The theme this year was Publish or Perish – the Future of Academic Publishing and Careers. Open Context’s Eric Kansa attended the conference as a panelist in the session “Beyond Journals & New Forms of Digital Publishing.” For those of us who couldn’t attend, the conference organizers have done a fantastic job of broadcasting the entire conference in a variety of ways. If you can find a few spare hours, here are some ways you can experience Publish or Perish 2014…

    Session Videos: On the main conference page you will find the agenda and links to over ten hours of videos from the six main panel sessions: The Changing Nature of the Journal; Beyond Journals & New Forms of Digital Publishing; Innovations in Peer Review; Changing the Value Proposition of Publishing; Altmerics: Do they Measure Anything Useful?; and Assessment.
    Tweets: You can also experience a snapshot of the two days of the conference through the sequence of tweets organized with Storify (Day 1 and Day 2). This was a highly-tweety crowd and the series of comments really shows the value of the 140-character tweet to highlight golden nuggets from events.

The ICIS project is made possible by an award from the Interdisciplinary Frontiers in the Humanities and Arts (IFHA) program at UC Davis.

Posted in Events, News.

Celebrating a Year of Open Data

2013 has been a really big year for open data. In February, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a new mandate for open access to peer-reviewed outcomes of federally-funded research, including publications and data. The various agencies have been exploring how they will enact this new policy, and have welcomed input from the public.

Beyond these developments on the federal level, many institutions have shifted gears to promote the free exchange of data. New developments in archaeology include the adoption of a data management policy by the Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, and special panel discussions relating to open access and publishing at the upcoming AIA and SAA meetings. On a broader scale, the Nature Publishing Group recently announced Scientific Data a new, open access, publication for descriptions datasets (they also provide an excellent video about data publishing). The tragic loss of open access advocate Aaron Swartz in January may well have galvanized a move toward more openness over the course of the year. His case cast a spotlight on the misalignment of scholarship and the exchange of ideas with the laws governing copyright and computer networks. His loss underscored some of the ethical stakes associated with access to knowledge.

We at Open Context have been vocal advocates for open data publishing for some time now. In short, we believe that open data publishing not only makes research more effective, but it better aligns archaeology with the public spirit. We’ve been promoting these perspectives through publications and presentations (see some examples here and here). Our most recent call for open access to research content appeared in The SAA Archaeological Record this fall (the article is available Open Access from SAA). This year also saw a White House honor for Open Context’s Program Director Eric Kansa as a Champion of Change for his contributions to Open Science (see the NEH announcement).

We’re also striving to practice what we preach. Open Context published 18 projects this year. Fourteen of these are already cited in conventional publications. A few examples:

As the ecosystem of open data grows, the various participants are finding innovative ways of leveraging the power of the Web. For instance, online publications like Internet Archaeology and the Journal of Open Archaeology Data are establishing extensive networks of partners to archive data that links to their publications. Open Context is listed by both services as a recommended system to host datasets related to their publications. The direction this is going is making sure the linking is two ways—a link from the dataset to the paper, and a link from the paper back to the dataset.

We are delighted to see data publishing catching on and look forward to what 2014 will bring!

Posted in Data publications, Policy, Projects, Publication, Reviews.

Florida and Georgia Site Files Launch DINAA Project

DINAA-logo-final-colorThe continent of North American has a long and rich history of human occupation spanning more than 13,000 years. The Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) is a multi-institutional project to help make the history of settlement in the Americas accessible to everyone. The two-year project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, began in September 2012. DINAA’s central task is to publish records of archaeological and historic sites compiled by State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) while keeping secure sensitive locational and ownership information about these properties. SHPOs do a tremendous public service by safeguarding our national heritage. They protect everything from historic battlefields to sites with evidence of how the first Americans explored and settled the continent over 13,000 years ago. DINAA provides greater access to cultural resource inventory data so that researchers, students, and the public can learn from our rich history.

DINAA uses advanced data management techniques to integrate site records together so that researchers and the public can get the “big picture” and explore where people lived across North America from the earliest times to the present. This is done in a way that accommodates large-scale research, while still protecting primary information. We are beginning public “beta testing” of the first two SHPO databases in the DINAA project- Florida and Georgia. These two states alone represent nearly 100,000 sites spanning some 10,000 years. Publication of these datasets involves significant user interface and visualization challenges. We welcome community feedback to improve how the data are presented and navigated.

Here are some starting points:

  • Faceted search of periods. On the left, different periods are listed as search options. The map shows sites in Georgia and Florida, with counts of sites visualized in geospatial tiles. The geospatial tiles are similar to those used by a variety of Web mapping systems to enable efficient indexing and retrieval of geospatial information at a variety of scales. We are using a QuadTree approach to define geospatial tiles and assign each archaeological site to a tile using the methods defined here. To reduce risks associated with sensitive location data, we limit the precision of the geospatial tiles. DINAA limits geospatial resolution to only 15 – 20 km squares.
  • Faceted search of Archaic sub-periods. The DINAA project annotates all data with a controlled vocabulary to facilitate data integration. The controlled vocabulary defines common concepts applied to each SHPO dataset and enables searching, browsing, and visualization across these datasets. Currently, the DINAA controlled vocabulary (“ontology” if you want to sound fancy) only covers major time periods / archaeological cultures. As the DINAA project continues, we will expand the controlled vocabulary to cover other important aspects of SHPO data.
  • Morrow Mountain Projectile Point / Knife. This displays a map of a diagnostic artifact type in Georgia.
  • Keyword search for the phrase “Chattahoochee Brushed”. This displays a map of another diagnostic artifact type in Florida and Georgia. The map is similar to this resource at the University of Georgia developed by Mark Williams, Victor Thompson and Llyod E. Schroder.

Posted in Data publications, News, Projects.

Recommendations on Ethics, Sustainability, and Open Access in Archaeology

In the article On Ethics, Sustainability, and Open Access in Archaeology available in the September 2013 issue of the SAA Archaeological Record, co-authors Eric Kansa, Sarah Whitcher Kansa, and Lynne Goldstein provide recommendations to the SAA for improving access to research results in archaeology.

The authors welcome comments on the following five recommendations:

  • Gain experience with Open Access.
    The SAA needs to better understand the opportunities and costs associated with Open Access. It needs to experiment and learn exactly how to run a sustainable peer-reviewed Open Access publishing service. This experience will give the SAA the needed understanding to better articulate policy recommendations to our financial backers. The SAA need not do this alone. It can partner with other societies, university library groups developing scholarly communications infrastructure, or other commercial or nonprofit Open Access publishers.
  • Refrain from lobbying against or weakening Open Access.
    Both the AAA and the AIA joined with monopolistic publishers like Elsevier in lobbying against Open Access (Kansa 2012). These actions debase these scholarly societies and put them into the camp of commercial giants that promote oppressive intellectual property laws that further commoditize knowledge; harm research, teaching, and free-expression; and endanger their own memberships.
  • Seek legal protections for researchers, students, and the public
    The SAA also can make a public statement calling for a more equitable and just balance in computer-security and copyright law and in the interpretation of such laws with regard to scholarly works. Legal frameworks governing publication need to better reflect our values and protect researchers, instructors, students, and other members of the public in accessing and using published research.
  • Encourage quality and prestige in Open Access archaeology.
    Even if the SAA does not launch its own Open Access titles, the SAA leadership should encourage greater professionalism and professional recognition for Open Access. The SAA should encourage senior scholars to join editorial boards of Open Access journals and should provide peer-review and other services to Open Access titles to increase their prestige, acceptance, and quality.
  • Publicly endorse Open Access as a goal to work toward.
    The SAA can issue a public statement that Open Access represents a goal for the organization, even if it is currently not financially feasible. The SAA needs to investigate funding and organizational requirements to sustain quality Open Access publishing and make it a goal to build the public support and financial resources needed to adopt publication models that better promote the common good of public knowledge. In other words, if we cannot finance Open Access with currently available funding, the SAA needs to make sustainable Open Access to peer-reviewed publications the goal of future fundraising and public policy campaigns.

Kansa, Eric. 2012. Openness and Archaeology’s Information Ecosystem. World Archaeology 44(4):498–520. DOI: (Open Access preprint:

Posted in Policy, Publication.

DINAA Project at Digital Humanities 2013: Open Context and North American Site Files


While Sarah and Eric Kansa are busy finishing up field work and “data wrangling” at Poggio Civitate, our colleagues and collaborators will discuss the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) project at the 2013 Digital Humanities Conference.

Josh Wells (PI) will take part in a session Current Research & Practice in Digital Archaeology (organized by Ethan Watrall) to give an overview of DINAA and our progress thus far. The DINAA presentation is titled: An Introduction to the Practices and Initial Findings of the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA).

We’ve made some good progress in enhancing Open Context to support map-based browsing of data. This will be an important feature for navigating and visualizing data compiled by the DINAA project. We’re testing (WARNING! NOT READY FOR PRIME-TIME) some of these map-based browsing features here:

  • Example 1: Counts of items classified as cattle (Bos taurus)
  • Example 2: Percentage of cattle (Bos taurus) at sites in the Near East compared to all items with a biological classification

Again, we’re still only in early stage testing now, and there are lots of interaction bugs and issues to solve to make this feature more useful and less frustrating. This feature uses Leaflet (and open-source Web mapping library) and GeoJSON (a very popular and open geospatial data format).

We should also note that GeoJSON has some of its roots in developments Sean Gillies made for the Pleiades gazetteer of ancient world places. GeoJSON is just one of the great outcomes of Pleiades, and a major contribution of the digital humanities toward Web technologies. With DINAA, we’re very excited to follow in these footsteps!

Posted in Events, News, Projects.

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Open Context Honored by White House as a Contribution to Open Science

We’re proud to announce that today the White House is recognizing Eric Kansa as a “Champion of Change” in Open Science. We are honored and gratified that the White House has chosen to recognize the research community in the humanities and social sciences, including archaeology, the discipline where we focus most of our efforts. We are also honored that the White House chose to recognize an “#AltAc” (alternative academic), a growing global community of scholars working outside of traditional academic career path.

“Openness” is still struggling to take root in many areas of the humanities and social sciences. Many of the models like PLoS or that have proved so effective in other areas of the sciences still need to be adapted to fit the funding and professional context of the humanities and social sciences. We hope this kind of recognition helps to further galvanize efforts to improve accessibility and equity in the humanities and social sciences, and we hope this helps to build bridges with other fields of research.

Over the past 10 years, we at the AAI have promoted data sharing in archaeology, and we have developed Open Context to that end. However, our efforts are not limited to Open Context. We have also worked to improve communication in archaeology and other areas of the humanities and social sciences, and have joined in a much larger community, rich with talent, humor, and energy to make research more accessible and ethical.

Eric joins 12 others at the White House today. The event can be viewed live here: A YouTube video will be available after the event. The White House press release is available here:

Posted in Events, News, Policy.