Website Review: DAACS

Full Name: Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery


Content: 100,000s of artifacts as well as excavated contexts from about 20 archaeological sites in the Chesapeake region, South Carolina and Jamaica, dating back to the 17th-19th century

Authorship: Department of Archaeology, Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Charlottesville, VA

Host/Maintenance: Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (Thomas Jefferson Foundation); ditto; frequency of updates unknown but, according to the news section, the last archaeological site was added in September 2006

daacs1entry page

Permanence/Archiving: Nothing mentioned

Licensing: The Thomas Jefferson Foundation holds All Rights Reserved copyright to “DAACS website content,” though it is not clear what all this covers; the contents of the database are freely available for research uses, but like fair use in general, this suffers from ambiguity (for example, what are the copyright issues that would arise from combining some of the DAACS data with other online data?); the site would benefit from the use of a standard Creative Commons license so that terms of reuse would be clearer; a separate page provides copyright and citation guidelines, even for data structures, query results, etc.; a contact is provided for commercial use and the like

Usefulness: By making readily available a large and expanding corpus of well-organized data, conforming to a single standard, DAACS seeks to catalyze inter-site comparative analysis that was previously impossible; archaeologists of the regions and periods covered have joined in to make it as comprehensive as possible

daacs22nd screen in an artifact attribute by category query: step 3 can’t be skipped even though it requires detailed knowledge of a site

Ease of Use: The system allows for basic inventory searches, which provide a useful overview of the system’s collections; to get more information, the detailed inventory tool must be used, and it is not really easy to use, clearly meant specifically for archaeologists familiar with remains from this region and period; detailed queries require different steps and knowledge of individual site characteristics; general, cross-site requests are disallowed: how does this square with facilitating comparative research?; a handy glossary is provided

Appeal: The database is designed with a MS-SQL server back end, an Access front end and VBA customization to expedite data entry; it is a nice, professional-looking website

Accessibility: A web search for the project, even only by the acronym, is highly successful: no. 1; for “comparative slavery” it comes out on no. 3; however, individual finds don’t seem to be indexed by web search engines (i.e., a search for a specific item in the database is unsuccessful).

daacs3example of an artifact attributes by artifact category query result

Credibility: The site is professional with contributors from many respected institutions; the data are detailed and useful

Reuse: Query data can easily be exported in related or concatenated data format (see next figure)

daacs4example of an artifact attributes by artifact category query result: downloaded concatenated file

This is an eminent initiative with great promise. A nice feature is the Query Bucket, allowing the reader to manage his/her query results while exploring the database. At any time, a reader may preview, download, or delete query results saved to the Query Bucket. This is particularly helpful if he/she is running multiple queries. However, there are still some problems. User-friendliness could be improved, esp. for people who are not professional US historical archaeologists. Finally, post-2007 plans for DAACS are not addressed which doesn’t bode well.

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