RT3 The whole is other than the sum of its parts: where is the spatial data infrastructure for cultural heritage?

Peter McKeague, Stefano Campana

“It has been said: The whole is more than the sum of its parts. It is more correct to say that the whole is something else than the sum of its parts, because summing up is a meaningless procedure, whereas the whole-part relationship is meaningful” Kurt Koffka, 1935

Through the INSPIRE Directive national Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDIs) have been established across Europe to share environmentally related datasets across public organisations within their own country and in neighbouring European countries. The Directive addresses 34 spatial themes needed for environmental policies, and policies or activities which may have an impact on the environment.

Despite the environmental focus of INSPIRE, datasets about Europe’s cultural heritage and historic environment are largely underrepresented with limited engagement from data curators. In part, there is genuine ambiguity in how the Directive applies to cultural heritage data.  For instance, some data has been released through the Protected Sites theme but are Protected Sites only those formally designated or do they also include sites managed through legal or other effective means?  Where does primary data created through a range of fieldwork techniques, from remote sensing through to excavation, sit within the Directive?  INSPIRE is about public sector data so how can data created through developer funded or privately sponsored fieldwork be accommodated?

Although cultural heritage data often has a strong spatial component, the full potential of the geographies created through discovery, recording and analysis is far from being realised.  Approaches to documenting fieldwork remain project focused ignoring the bigger picture. There is a lack of standardisation, or metadata, about work undertaken.  Data gathered in the course of fieldwork is subsequently forgotten about on completion of the project.  Spatial information is locked into published plans in reports or buried in the megabytes of digital data that may, or may not be formally preserved as part of a project archive. It is not easily discoverable or usable.  As a result we have a partial picture of the historic environment based on selective availability of spatial datasets often reduced to locational point data rather than describing the spatial extent of investigations. A thematic SDI should revolutionise in how we handle spatial information in archaeology – unlocking the potential of individual datasets across the discipline through the consistent creation, management and sharing of project data –to build something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

This round table session seeks to build a case for developing a thematic SDI but is thematic SDI even necessary with existing digital infrastructure initiatives – Archaeolandscapes (Arcland), ARIADNE and Europeana – in place?  Where are the current initiatives and exemplar projects, particularly for data created through fieldwork and scientific analysis, for harmonising spatial data?

Koffka, Kurt (1935) Principles of Gestalt Psychology, London, Lund Humphries.

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