Project Spotlight: Virtual Valdivia

Open Context Project Spotlight

by Hannah Lau

The Virtual Valdivia Project is directed by Sarah M. Rowe as part of the NEH-funded Institute of Digital Archaeology Methods and Practice at Michigan State University (#MSUDAI). The goal of the project is to produce an online database of ceramics from the Valdivia culture from coastal Ecuador (4400 – 1450 BCE), which is one of the earliest ceramic traditions in the Americas.

Dr. Rowe, a professor at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, developed the Virtual Valdivia data to become a central repository for ceramic forms from this cultural tradition. At present it contains over 400 records of ceramics from the site of Buen Sucesco from phases VI and VII. Each record within the database contains a wealth of information about the context and different attributes of the sherd. An example of these records can be seen here.

The Virtual Valdivia Project demonstrates how data involves much more than information sharing. Rowe not only published her data with Open Context, but thanks to the professional development opportunities offered by the #MSUDAI, she learned the fundamentals of Web development and programming with Javascript. These skills enabled Rowe to display dynamic “feeds” of data drawn from Open Context on her own web page. On her own web page, she customized the presentation of these data, including Spanish language translations. In effect, this shows how data-sharing can not only open new research opportunities, but it can also provide new ways to communicate archaeology globally, with multilingual audiences.

As Dr. Rowe notes, ceramic comparanda are often difficult to access due to barriers of language, publication distribution, or gray literature. This digital database addresses these issues, containing bilingual English-Spanish project descriptions, images, and a wide range of data on individual ceramic sherds. The goal of the project to become a repository for data from many Valdivia sites will help address regional questions of ceramic tradition, variation and social practice.

In completing this demonstration project, Rowe gained familiarity with key technologies and best-practices and will be able to incorporate this knowledge into her own teaching. Her project highlights how digital technologies are not only useful tools to solve specific research queries, but can impact future research design and engagement with archaeological data.

Check out the project here!

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