Computers & Data Management in Archaeology

by Gregory “Chip” Marshall – Database Programming & Archaeological Lab Assistant

Data management is an important and potentially tedious task that computers are making easier including within archaeology and heritage resources. Previously, most data management was done in a physical format and stored and organized in filing cabinets. Now, computers are making these things much easier. Data can be broken down into three categories; they are stored, organized, and displayed/used.

With data being digitized and stored on servers, it is less susceptible to destruction or damage from environmental causes, such as fire, flood, or mold. Data can also easily be duplicated, reorganized, or manipulated. A prime example for data manipulation is querying. In a database, an inquiry is “run” in order to retrieve information. A query can isolate a subset of desired data from ‘all’ of the data. For example, perhaps someone wants to know where and at what stratigraphic level all the tableware that has transfer printed decoration was found? – No problem!

Transfer Printed Table Wares from the Type Collection for OCPP in NoVA

Transfer Printed Table Wares from the Type Collection at JLC

This ease of data organization also allows programs to interact with each other to make using and displaying data easier, faster, and more powerful. Now that all the data on the transfer print tableware is isolated, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programs can use that data to accurately plot the locations on a map—creating a visual aid for analytical purposes and to more easily disseminate results.

A Simple Query in Access 2010 isolating Transfer Printed Refined Earthenwares for OCPP

A Simple Query in Access 2010 isolating Transfer Printed Refined Earthenwares

While isolating the transfer print, it is also possible to run another query that calculates the total for each test unit. GIS can use the information to show where concentrations of that decoration type are. Based on the period of use for the decorated ceramic found within a site, yet a further query may provide the time period for a unit or an entire site.

Computer software will continue to be developed that will make managing data easier and even more impactful.


For more information on Geographical Information Systems at the Old Colchester Park & Preserve, read the Cartography of Colchester


About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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2 Responses to Computers & Data Management in Archaeology

  1. Pingback: Not an Individual Project | C.A.R.T. Archaeology

  2. Pingback: Archaeological Data: How can Artifacts “Say” Anything about the Past? | C.A.R.T. Archaeology

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