You are on page 1of 25

To be published as:

BRUGHMANS, T. 2010, in print: The online dissemination of archaeological data : the Palacio
III website. In García Sanjuán, L. and Wheatley, D. (eds.), The Palacio III Funerary Complex
(Almadén de la Plata, Sevilla, Spain). A New Approach to the Megalithic Phenomenon in
Southern Iberia, University of Southampton Series in Archaeology. (Southampton - Oxford,

The online dissemination of archaeological data: the Palacio

III website

Throughout the last two decades the World Wide Web (WWW) has embedded itself in university
buildings, workplaces and homes alike, supporting academic work as well as domestic activities.
Surpassing conventional social and professional boundaries, it allows its users to share
information over a network of machines to a large number of often very different people. These
days no one will argue against the idea of the WWW as an influential medium, and even its use
for disseminating archaeological information is becoming ever more recognized and commonly

As we will discuss in this chapter, however, the WWW like every other medium has its strengths
and its weaknesses. These become apparent when considering the variety of ways information
can be shared online. If archaeologists want to make use of online technologies for sharing their
data, they should be mindful of the complications involved and select an approach that best fits
their desired aims.

The archaeological research at Dolmen de Palacio III resulted in a large set of very diverse
archaeological information, collected to reach the project’s aims and improve our understanding
of the megalithic phenomenon of Southern Iberia. This dataset has great potential for sharing
detailed archaeological information with non-specialists, and it could prove to be a great resource
for academic discussions. However, a suitable online environment for the Palacio III project
could not be created without question. The nature of the available data and the framework in
which it was collected strongly influenced the selection of online tools as well as the specific
way in which they were applied. More than anything else, the creation of the Palacio III website
proved that disseminating archaeological data online is not a straightforward process, as it
requires up-to-date knowledge of internet technology and WWW services, a thorough
understanding of one's dataset, and specific data-sharing aims.

In this chapter some of the advantages and issues surrounding the online dissemination of
archaeological data will be discussed. A brief overview of techniques for the online
dissemination of diverse data types will be provided, with special attention to recent
developments in sharing spatial data online. In the second part of this chapter it will be illustrated
how such techniques can be used to create an online environment for sharing archaeological
data, using the example of the Palacio III website. The latter section will also describe the
structure and content of the Palacio III website, and how it complements the current monograph.

Archaeology and the World Wide Web: match or mismatch?

Dissemination techniques

Although in recent years the WWW increasingly grew into a more networked and dynamic Web
2.0 environment (O'Reilly 2007), among archaeologists static webpages are still the most
popular platform from which archaeological information is shared online. Commercial
archaeology units use homepages not only to lure potential customers, but also to give brief
overviews of excavation results.1 In addition, websites are used by academics,2 public
institutions3 and archaeology enthusiasts,4 with contents ranging from detailed research results to
a synthesis of the archaeological evidence from a specific region or time period. These static
pages are often complemented, however, with tools to increase the reach of the archaeological
information made available. Blogs, Newsfeeds and Podcasts are used to announce interesting
finds, the progress of an ongoing excavation and general events in the field of archaeology
(Heyworth 2003).5 Anyone interested can subscribe to such feeds using a Really Simple
Syndication (RSS) reader, which lists all available articles and highlights new ones.6 These short

1 See for example the Oxford Archaeology website’s tabs ‘Latest News’, ‘Publications’ and ‘Explore …’ :
2 E.g. the online monograph by C. Holtorf ‘Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany)’ : .
3 E.g. the ‘Explore’ tab on the British Museum website : .
4 E.g. the ‘Cyber Pursuits’ portal for archaeology : .
5 See for example the Wessex Archaeology website, which uses all of these new techniques:
6 E.g Google Reader :
news items are often supported by images, videos, and online reports, made possible by free
online media distribution services.7 Virtual reconstructions of ancient structures and the results of
spatial analyses can be visualized in a web browser thanks to VRML, X3D 8 and web mapping9
applications, the latter will be discussed in more detail below.

Most of the dissemination techniques described in the previous paragraph only provide
fragmentary or highly compacted and vulgarized information on excavation results, and
supplement more traditional media like the current Palacio III monograph or journal articles. An
increasingly popular trend, however, is the publication of archaeological information in online
journals and monographs. Indeed, the only thing that seems to prevent e-publication from
becoming the major medium for academic knowledge dissemination seems to be the institutional
and economic context of traditional and online publishers, and the academic credit awarded to
scholars publishing in prestigious journals and series (Aldenderfer 1999). Although some e-
journals and e-monographs are structured in the same linear way as on the printed page,10 a
number of authors stress the unique character of online texts: their ability to bind a wealth of
archaeological data together through links and to be updated as excavations or research continues
(Bodard 2008; Costopoulos 1999; Holtorf 1999; Holtorf 2004; Wheatley 2004a). These benefits
allow for excavation data to be published integrally in online journals11 or deposited in online
repositories (Kenny and Richards 2005)12. Although the benefits of online publishing are clear
and widely accepted (Aldenderfer 1999; Gaffney and Exon 1999; Hodder 1999), the influence of
publishing bodies (Aldenderfer 1999), the reading habits of scholars (Holtorf 2004; Costopoulos
1999) and the shifting of the hierarchical structures of knowledge (Hodder 1999) provoked
discussion, indicating that online and printed publications will probably exist side by side as
distinct but complementary media.

7 E.g. for images : ; for videos : ; for texts :
8 VRML has been superseded by the X3D format whose development as a webstandard is supervised by the Web
3D Consortium:
9 A number of free software packages for Webmapping are available, listed on the Open Source Geospatial
Foundation Website :
10 See for example Digital Medievalist : .
11 E.g. the integral publication of a Scottish Mesolithic site in Internet Archaeology 5 : Wickham-Jones and Dalland
12 See in particular the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) : ; and the European ARENA
project : .
Possibilities and threats

The overview of online dissemination techniques provided above clarifies their most obvious
advantages : the potentially great audience size and the apparent democratisation of
archaeological information. Academic knowledge of the past is no longer the sole property of
scholars who can afford expensive journals, or are part of university networks. Virtually anyone
can browse through the accurate and extensive excavation data provided by archaeologists on the
WWW. It therefore improves communication between and participation with archaeologists,
enthusiasts and the general public, making people aware of the historicity of their own
surroundings and the world at large.

The process of wide and diverse dissemination is not without its downside though. As Hodder
rightly stated : “there are dangers that the Internet will simply translate old forms of elite
knowledge into new forms” (Hodder 1999). The internet apparently implies a change from a
hierarchical network of archaeological knowledge towards data dissemination based on existing
social networks. Although the internet has a higher potential for data democratization, we should
not assume that our message reaches everyone interested or even prepared to listen. Small rural
communities near large-scale excavations, for example, might not have access to the internet, 13
and even leading archaeologists might not find their way into relevant social networks. The
archaeologist should therefore be aware that any medium implies a selection as well as an
exclusion of receivers, and should provide different modes of access for different groups
(Hodder 1999), making use of a variety of social networks.

This brings us to the second issue with online data dissemination : archaeologists provide data to
these different groups but in doing so lose the control over how the data is handled and
transformed. In their properly-named article ‘From order to chaos’ Gaffney and Exon provide an
assessment of this new threat posed by online data dissemination (Gaffney and Exon 1999).
Where, due to considerations of cost and readability, the emphasis of archaeological publishing
in the latter half of the twentieth century was on synthesis, publication on the web provides new
possibilities for publishing large masses of ‘raw-data’. Virtually anyone can use these data to
formulate their own interpretations of a site, which is not necessarily a bad thing; such evolutions
are even applauded and promoted by contextual archaeologists. The very nature of archaeology,

13 For an example of Catal Hüyük : Hodder 1999 :

being universally appealing and often personally experienced, combined with the social
networking power of the internet, however, provides special interest groups or amateur
archaeologists with data and tools for spreading their views of the past. Being exempt from the
peer-reviewing process, such views are often not based on a strong archaeological foundation
and are not shared by archaeologists, but might be more numerous and influential than the (often
not unified) voice of the academic world. As Gaffney and Exon put it: “the dangers of dubious,
misleading or downright inaccurate data cascading through the discipline is clearly present as
data becomes transferable”, and “in the current digital world, archaeology competes for hearts
and minds on an equal footing for the first time” (Gaffney and Exon 1999).

Although we agree with Gaffney and Exon’s opinion that this is an inevitable development to
which archaeologists should adapt and in which they have no influence other than the choice of
making their data available or not, we consider the context in which data is made available a
crucial and powerful tool at the disposal of archaeologists. In a digital age where a website’s
influence is determined by search engines, the scope of such contexts becomes an important
factor as well : the homepage of a local archaeological society will not be as rapidly detected by
Google as a national or international data repository, such as the ADS. Archaeological metadata
standards and XML-based approaches for data description are specifically crucial for being
located by search engines (Gray and Walford 1999), but again, these should be applied
consistently and on a sufficiently large scale. Another benefit of extensive e-archives is their
ability to store data on the long-term, keeping them consistent and updatable, and providing
guidelines for depositing and handling excavation data. 14

The above discussion of dissemination techniques and the possibilities and threats involved,
reveals that archaeologists have a wide range of tools at their disposal for sharing archaeological
data online. The selection of specific tools and how they are applied to reach the archaeologist's
aims will determine the effectiveness of the dissemination. Although providing archaeological
data online inevitably reduces the role archaeologists play in the process of reconstructing the
past, archaeologists still have a crucial advantage by selecting the way in which data is made
available. It is believed that large-scale online archaeological archives branching out into non-
archaeological data sharing networks is a particularly effective way for archaeologists to

14 E.g. the ADS ‘Guides to good practice’:

disseminate excavation data to a wide and diverse public, to inform them about the
archaeological method, and to maintain an influential (but not dominating) position in its

Online dissemination of spatial data

As the megalithic phenomenon of Southern Iberia is fundamentally regional, the archaeological
research on Dolmen de Palacio III aimed at seeing this site within a wider spatial context,
focusing on the surrounding landscape. For this purpose spatial data was collected on both the
site and landscape scales. To express the research interests of the project, the Palacio III website
needed to integrate this spatial aspect. However, discussions surrounding the online
dissemination of spatial data touch upon a number of issues that are quite distinct from the
dissemination of other types of information. In order to understand the decisions made in
providing spatial data on the Palacio III website, it is therefore crucial to briefly discuss current
trends in online spatial data dissemination and the problems surrounding it.

For many archaeologists nowadays geographical information systems (GIS) has become
synonymous to the acquisition, storage, interpretation and communication of spatial data.
Techniques for sharing spatial data online should therefore be seen in light of recent
developments in online GIS. Although most authors discussing online GIS acknowledge the
benefits of this new technology we should not make the assumption that the fusion of two great
tools, GIS and the WWW, will result in one super tool. They are both technologies coming from
a different background, developed to address distinct questions and include specific functionality
(Burrough 1986: 1-11; Conolly and lake 2006: 11-16). The earliest online GIS implementations
consisted of static maps, followed by interactive maps with pan, identify and zoom functionality
(Dragicevic 2004: 79). These are still the most common web mapping applications for various
reasons, not in the least because of the skill, time and budget required to provide additional
functionality. An online GIS in the ‘super tool’ sense of the word, however, would be a widely
disseminated and easily accessible means for advanced spatial data archiving, visualisation and
analysis. Although it has been more than ten years since the first steps in this direction were
taken (Hardie 1998) examples of ‘true’ online GIS are rare, spatial analysis functions in
particular are often unsatisfactory as will be illustrated below. Nevertheless, in the introduction
of a special issue on web-based GIS of the Journal of Geographical Systems, Dragicevic (2004:
80) states that :

“web-based GIS has enhanced the open use of GIS in three main directions: (1) spatial data
access and dissemination, (2) spatial data exploration and geovisualization, and (3) spatial data
processing, analysis and modeling”.

These three directions shall be explored in more detail below, highlighting the possibilities as
well as the issues surrounding current online GIS technologies and their archaeological

Online spatial data collection and management

The acquisition of large volumes of spatial data can often prove to be a time consuming but
crucial process, for which the WWW can provide some obvious advantages. Large quantities of
information from different sources can be merged in seamless fashion (Green and Bossomaier
2002: 9). This information is gathered from data servers using, most commonly, Web Map
Services (WMS) to send raster images over the web, or Web Feature Services (WFS) to return
feature data to the client (a description of lines, points and polygons in XML format, Mitchell
2005: 216-235). Anyone connected to the internet can easily obtain a customized map or spatial
data file by sending a URL request. In this way large datasets of specialized information can be
built up, stimulating data re-use, professional cooperation and limiting spatial data duplication.

There are, however, some issues that are immediately clear to anyone who has ever attempted to
collect spatial datasets, or indeed anyone familiar with the WWW: how do we know what data is
provided by certain services? How can we find these services? How can we be sure that the
requested data will in fact merge seamlessly with our own data? Underlying these questions is a
problem of trust (Kingston et al. 2000: 123-124), an issue not exclusive to spatial data but
strongly embedded within the internet’s user community. Virtually anyone has the opportunity to
provide their spatial data on the WWW, so the potential for misinformation and abuse by people
with different motives is omnipresent (Gaffney and Exon 1999). In addition, the seemingly
objective appearance of web maps and even the sheer visual appeal of cartographic data might
confuse end-users and make the identification of high-quality data increasingly difficult (Green
and Bossomaier 2002: 133).
Given the rapid growth of the internet and the resulting explosion of information, the above
issues emphasize the need for organization, stability, quality and standardization (Green and
Bossomaier 2002: 8). Fortunately, there are some successful and increasingly applied initiatives
that are particularly useful to online spatial data. The most obvious and generally recognized is
the urgent need for exhaustive metadata (Green and Bossomaier 2002). Although there is no
single universally accepted standard for spatial metadata, all attempts help in indexing online
spatial resources. For this purpose the META tag of an HTML document, self-describing XML
documents, Resource Description Framework (RDF)15 and Geography Markup Language
(GML)16 might be used.

All the efforts of providing metadata would, however, be useless if it could not be guaranteed
that spatial data could be combined independent of operating systems and local standards. This is
why the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)17 initiated web mapping interoperability initiatives
and specifications such as the Catalog Services, the WMS, GML, and WFS.18 Another most
promising specification is Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), a fully extensible vendor neutral
vector graphics standard that integrates vector graphics, raster graphics, text, scripting,
interactivity and animation (Neumann and Winter 2003)19. A combination of GML (to encode,
store and transport spatial data), SVG (for high-quality “intelligent” web-based spatial graphics)
and WFS (for querying and spatial data retrieval) results in a truly interoperable web mapping
service (Peng and Zhang 2004).

Finally, we need to address the problem of finding our way around the maze of spatial data
provided on the WWW. Users, whether they are academics or non-professionals, should be able
to easily find the data that best fits their requirements. As mentioned above, metadata and
indexes help in getting relevant results when using a search engine, but they often do not provide
any immediate indication of the quality of the spatial data. Thematic or national websites and
information networks (portals with links to individual websites) might provide this structuring
aspect, although there are limits to the amounts of spatial data a single agency can store and
maintain. An answer to this problem might be the notion of online distributed data warehouses,

introduced by William Inmon (1995) as an organized collection of databases and processes for
information retrieval, interpretation and display. Data warehouses are continuously updated
subject-oriented collections of data from various sources, providing the perfect environment for a
user interested in up-to-date information on a specific subject (Green and Bossomaier 2002: 167-
187). We already mentioned the potential of large-scale data-warehouses for the archaeological
discipline, giving the example of the ADS as a particularly successful initiative (although a bit
variable in the nature and quality of the data provided). However, we agree with D’Andrea et al.
(2001) that anglo-american research or organisational models cannot be imposed internationally
without question. The local needs, culture, tradition and “prejudices” should be taken into
account, in order for similar initiatives to be applied in different countries or to be successful on
an international scale (D’Andrea et al. 2001: 318). Moreover, we would like to stress that the
future of online spatial data dissemination for the archaeological discipline is not one of spatial
data repositories (although this might be the subject of the data warehouse). Archaeological web
maps would be more successful when integrated in a subject-specific context, where the benefits
of online GIS are combined with the strengths of other online technologies, like the ones
mentioned in the previous section. A promising example of such an integrated approach is the
Archaeological Recording Kit (ARK)20 (Eve and Hunt 2007) discussed in more detail below, or
the integrated archaeological database (IADB) used at the excavations of Late Roman
Silchester21. For the Palacio III website the construction of such an integrated archaeological
online environment has been attempted. It is hoped that this example will provoke discussions on
the way spatial data is made available.

Online spatial data communication

With the arrival of SVG, online maps have reached the same high visualisation quality as
traditional GIS. The role of a web map as a communication tool, however, surpasses that of GIS
as it is enhanced by the internet’s networking power (Kraak 2004). As mentioned above, the
internet makes spatial data accessible to a virtually unlimited number of users. Moreover,
through its user-friendly interface it provides GIS functionality without requiring specialised
software and knowledge, expanding the potential pool of GIS developers and users (Green and
Bossomaier 2002: 9-10). It therefore provides non-professionals with the means to evaluate

interpretations made by specialists, and propose their own interpretations (Evans et al. 2004: 85;
Kingston et al 2000: 124). Not only does it improve communication between specialists and the
general public, as many studies indicate online GIS are an ideal medium between professionals,
serving as a decision support tool (Dragicevic and Balram 2004; Manoharan et al. 2002;
Sakamoto and Fukui 2004). Through improved communication between professionals an
increasing number of specialised datasets become available online, eliminating data duplication
and distributing the workload of data collection; benefits that are acknowledge both inside
(D’Andrea et al. 2001; Häser and Schulz 2004; Hesse 2003; Salonia and Negri 2005; Sarris et al.
2002) and outside the archeological discipline (Green and Bossomaier 2002: 9). In this sense
online GIS could play an important role in Cultural Resource Management (CRM) as part of a
decision support mechanism, as in the Cretan FORTH (Sarris et al. 2002)22 or the ARKIS-NET
projects (Salonia and Negri 2005). Such initiatives provide archaeologists with a powerful tool
based on exhaustive and accurate data that can be easily integrated or even developed together
with environmental and urban planning bodies. We might even suggest that this type of online
GIS provides a less deterministic way of influencing building practices compared to predictive
modelling techniques (Wheatley 2004b). Moreover, making archaeological data openly available
might stimulate a general awareness of the historicity of people’s own environment. We believe
that such an open approach will help bring archaeological problems in the spotlight and enhance
future preservation efforts.

Although one could hardly argue against the communication possibilities offered by online GIS
for professionals, some issues could be raised concerning the participation of the public. It has
already been mentioned that the WWW is swamped with misleading and downright incorrect
data. Some fear that making accurate spatial data freely accessible and allowing for
reinterpretation leads to irrational decisions or opens the door to extremist groups, as the
majority of the general public might not be interested in participation (Evans et al. 2004 131).
We might, therefore, ask ourselves : do we have need for greater participation, and does the
public want to participate (Kingston et al. 2000: 124)? An experiment conducted by Evans et al.
(2004) shows, however, that when people are informed about problems and provided with the
tools to think of a solution themselves, they often make informed decisions based on the spatial
data they are given. Moreover, the experiment seemed to stimulate future participation. For the

archaeological discipline this issue has the added complication that archaeology is still regarded
as the treasure hunter’s profession by a large part of the general public. The idea of ancient
artefacts tends to have a very attractive aura surrounding it, forcing archaeologists to make
efforts in protecting sites from the public whose attention they struggle to obtain. Providing
everyone with the exact location of impressive finds might, then, sound a bit too tempting. The
same controversy surrounds the Portable Antiquities Scheme, an initiative that stimulates
members of the general public and archaeologists alike to report and thoroughly document
chance finds.23 The 2006 review of the project indicates, however, that the scheme is successfully
informing the general public and actively improving the preservation and documentation of finds
and sites.24 Although we recognise the dangers online archaeological maps introduce we believe
that these are greatly surpassed by the long term benefits, making online GIS a promising but as
yet insufficiently explored addition to CRM. In short, we agree with Kingston et al.’s (2000: 124)
statement that an informed public is better than an ignorant one.

Online spatial data analysis

As we already mentioned, online GIS bypass the need for advanced software and knowledge,
potentially making it an ideal tool for the dissemination of spatial analytical techniques to a
wider audience of users and developers (Anselin et al. 2004; Green and Bossomaier 2002: 9).
Most web maps provide pan, zoom, identify and query functions, which allows them to act as
tools for qualitative analysis in, for example, decision support (Manoharan et al. 2002). Rarely,
however, this basic functionality is expanded with tools for quantitative analysis. Most
commonly, such tools are programmed in Java script and combined in Java script libraries such
as Open Layers25 or Geotools.26 They allow the user to measure distances, draw vector features
over the map, insert text or create buffers around features. A study by Anselin et al. (2004)
indicates that it is possible to provide advanced quantitative spatial analysis tools online using
Java script, giving the example of extreme value maps, smoothed rate maps and Moran
scatterplot. They also mentioned, however, that download times become increasingly
problematic when including additional and more complex spatial analysis tools, and that Java

script as a language is not optimal for highly intensive numerical operations (Anselin et al. 2004:

As demonstrated by the work of Anselin et al., it is not the lack of technology or research interest
that holds back the development of online GIS as potent tools for advanced spatial analysis. We
believe that by including these tools, contradictions in the very nature of both WWW and GIS
technology start to surface. In order to keep an online GIS user-friendly and openly accessible to
a large number of users it should bypass the need for specialised software, but most importantly
knowledge of GIS functionality. In doing so, however, it greatly limits its potential as a tool for
advanced spatial analysis. For example, we might offer the user a possibility to perform a
cumulative viewshed analysis online at the click of a button, but if the user does not understand
the assumptions inherent in the formulae underlying the analysis, the structure of these
calculations, or even the way in which the data have influenced the analysis, any results will be
useless. We therefore believe that there will be a duality in the future of archaeological web
mapping: user- friendly archiving, documentation and dissemination of spatial data on the one
hand, and specialised services for advanced quantitative analysis on the other.

A Guide to the Palacio III website

Aims of the website

Within the framework of the Palacio III project a wealth of archaeological information was
collected. Careful analysis of this data by specialists culminated in the current monograph, which
aims at becoming a standard reference for future research in the megalithic phenomenon of
Southern Iberia. It is believed that the quality and diversity of the contributions in the current
volume will inevitably make it an invaluable contribution to research efforts in this field. Sadly,
however, sharing groundbreaking research with the world does not depend on quality alone. One
must acknowledge that an archaeological monograph is aimed at a specialist or at least
particularly interested audience, and that the accessibility of such an academical publication is
rather limited (often due to practical considerations like costs of purchase). It is believed,
however, that sharing the archaeological knowledge gained from Palacio III beyond this standard
academical audience has distinct benefits for future research as well as stimulating
archaeological awareness in- and outside the region of Southern Iberia. It was decided that the
monograph's publication would be complemented with a website containing accessible summary
information as well as the entire digital archive the analyses are based on. As we mentioned in
the first part of this chapter, we do realize that publishing a monograph and a website will not
enable us to reach all potentially interested people. Rather it is argued that the audiences of both
media combined will inevitably be larger and more diverse than publication through a single
medium. The following aims guided the creation of the Palacio III website :

 To disseminate the excavation’s results over a diverse and widespread audience.

 To provide open and easy access to the excavation’s primary data for a non-specialist

Website structure

As mentioned above, it has been argued that providing archaeological information online and
using the internet as an important medium in the archaeological discipline will just translate old
forms of elite knowledge into new ones (Hodder 1999), thus limiting the effects of this new
medium by excluding the unnetworked. So even when we use the internet, the dissemination of
the Palacio III data is only as widespread and diverse as we allow it to be. Part of this problem
has already been overcome by publishing this monograph as well as a website, addressing
potentially different audiences. To ensure a successful reach of the website, however, its
construction was founded on the concept of hypermedia. When a user browses through the
WWW, these days, he is not restricted to a single linear narrative like a traditional book is.
Rather, a range of links related to the user’s subject of interest are provided, leading to different
websites with new information. This interlinking of text introduces the term hypertext coined by
Ted Nelson in 1965, text which is not constrained to be linear (McAleese 1989). More broadly
and given the nature of the project’s data, the idea of hypertext was applied to a wide variety of
data types, known as hypermedia. Users visiting the website are allowed the freedom to navigate
between text, maps and the project's database in any order they choose; they can experience its
contents in a non-restrictive and personal way. The idea of hypermedia was applied to the
Palacio III website by creating a 'web of links'. In the first part of this chapter it was argued that
in order to guarantee a successful dissemination of archaeological data online, a website should
be rooted in popular existing archaeological and non-archaeological networks. To achieve this
aim the website's multimedia content was uploaded to popular data sharing platforms: Flickr 27 for
pictures, Scribd28 for text documents and the Google Earth forums29 for spatial data. Moreover,
the project's entire digital archive was submitted to the ADS. These platforms are more
successful than the project's homepage in being found by search engines. As such, a web of links
was created to and from the Palacio III website to improve chances of potentially interested
people stumbling upon the project’s website.

Secondly, once users have found the website they should not be scared off by complicated
content and structure. The user-friendliness and open accessibility of a website, especially one
containing such large amounts of specialized information as the Palacio III website, should be
ensured. To address this problem the idea of a layered content was introduced. Both introductory
and specialized information were made available, but they are structured so as to confront the
users with generalizing information first which gets progressively more detailed as they click
their way through the website. At the surface an introduction to all aspects of the project was
provided, while underlying the entire website is the database which documents individual finds
and contexts. It is, therefore, up to the users to decide how deep they dig into the volume of data
provided, based on their particular interests.

The implementation of this concept of layered information becomes immediately clear when
looking at the website structure (fig. 1). General information is provided on the top level,
including topics like megalithic Spain, the ‘Landscape of the Large Stones’ project and the
Palacio III excavations. It was ensured that these would be the pages one visited first by adding
them as buttons on the homepage and in the menu. Up to three levels of increasingly detailed
information follow this general layer, and the user’s location within this hierarchy is always
indicated by the links at the lower left corner of every page. These pages also mirror the structure
of the monograph’s chapters, providing a suitable guideline for academic users. The project’s
database is directly accessible from the main page but also from the specialized pages,
encouraging users to take the step towards the individual finds and contexts. As such the
database underlies the entire content of the website, forming the foundation of our hierarchy of

To emphasize the non-linear structure of the website, however, hyperlinks were made between
all layers of the hierarchy. These were included in the text as well as on the right hand side of
every page as ‘related topics’. Every page also contains a ‘website structure’ link in the lower
right corner, which leads to a page on which all other pages are listed in (what we like to believe
to be) a non-linear but structured way (fig. 1).


Archaeological research tends to assemble datasets consisting of diverse data types. Data
collected by the Palacio III project, for example, ranges from environmental samples and
excavation plans to human remains and pictures of small finds. In the above discussion of online
spatial data collection and management it was suggested that different types of archaeological
data are better expressed when made accessible in a subject-specific context. However, making
such heterogenous datasets accessible within an integrated online framework is not a
straightforward process and requires some thought. One must be aware of the limitations of each
data type and consider different ways of sharing it together with other data types within a
homogenous online environment. We decided to confront this problem by using the
Archaeological Recording Kit (ARK) for the online dissemination of the Palacio III dataset.

ARK is an open source toolkit developed by L-P: Archaeology for archaeological recording and
documentation. The description of ARK by its creators (Eve and Hunt 2008) makes clear why it
offers a suitable framework for disseminating the Palacio III dataset :

“In software terms, ARK is a collection of PHP pages, a MySQL back-end with some
Javascript/AJAX techniques used on some of the pages. But more importantly, in conceptual
terms, ARK is a loose collection of tools, a development framework that allows the recording of
any type of archaeological (and even non- archaeological) data from a simple image catalogue
to a complicated multi-relational, multi-site excavation database involving many specialist data-

Using integrative tools like ARK it becomes possible for archaeologists to combine most (if not
all) of their digital data in a single platform that is tailored for the purpose of the project in
question. Project members and visitors can browse through the archive in a non-restrictive way,
focusing on those aspects of its content that is of their particular interest.
Through the online interface provided by ARK the Palacio III digital archive can be accessed in a
number of ways. On the database pages some preset filters are given, allowing the user to view
lists of all sites, contexts, objects, samples or photographs. These lists show distinct summary
information about each entity in the database. A more exhaustive account of all data is provided
in the microview, which can be accessed by selecting the 'microview' tab at the top of each page
or by clicking the 'view' option after each entity in the lists. The microview page shows all
information that has been entered for one specific entity. In addition, it lists all other entities that
are related to the entity being viewed, as well as its exact location on a mini map. An object's
microview page, for example, might mention a description, measurements, context information,
an interpretation, and a short description of and link to the context and site it belongs to. ARK
allows for the convenient option of representing the contexts as a Harris Matrix, which allows for
easy navigation through a site's stratigraphy. Drawing such links through the entire database
allows one the freedom to browse through it without being restricted by a specific data type.

An alternative way of exploring the Palacio III data is offered by the query function under the
search tab. By Applying filters to the database, a list of the desired data is returned. Although the
standard filter options might prove a bit unclear at first (they seem to reflect the structure of an
ARK database more than anything else : filter by text, record type, attribute, site code or person),
it is possible to save and reuse filters to only be confronted with the data one is particularly
interested in.

ARK provides some additional functionality to those involved in the project. When logged in,
one can add and edit the database online through a user-friendly interface. Therefore, in addition
to its potential for the dissemination of archaeological data, ARK is a suitable tool for archiving
data. Moreover, the integration of diverse data types and the non-restrictive browsing indicate
that it provides an ideal framework for academical discussions.


When browsing through the Palacio III database one will notice that some of its entries are
accompanied by a mini map indicating their exact location, and that a general plan of the site is
provided on the 'map view' page. ARK does provide some tools for integrating spatial data with
the project's other data, but these are (for the moment) still very limited. It was therefore
considered more informative to provide some alternative ways of viewing the extensive spatial
datasets collected by the Palacio III project.

From the above discussion on the online dissemination of spatial data it became clear that the
collection, management and communication functions of online GIS were more commonly
applied than its analytical functions. We argued that this was because providing advanced
quantitative analytical functions would inevitably contradict with the accessibility that we are
trying to attain. As it was the project's aim to share the Palacio III data with as large an audience
as possible, the project's spatial data should be presented in an accessible and understandable
way as well. Although advanced quantitative analytical functionality was avoided for this reason,
tools for qualitative evaluation (such as a tool for drawing points lines and areas on maps) were
included in some of the web maps.

The site of Dolmen de Palacio III is part of a regional phenomenon, and should be seen in
interaction with surrounding sites and natural features. To allow for such a wider view a regional
map was added to the website showing known megalithic sites in northwestern Andalusia. The
archaeological information is shown in relation to satellite imagery of its modern surroundings,
using a free service provided by Google Maps 30. Although this regional map is a very clear way
of representing sites in a landscape, it is restrictive in its viewpoints and zooming. For this reason
another Google service was used : Google Earth. With the Google Earth API31 the Palacio III
spatial data can be explored on a 3D representation of the world within the Palacio III website
itself. In addition, it is possible for visitors to the website to add the project's spatial layers to
their desktop version of Google Earth, allowing for the comparison of the Palacio III data with
other archaeological and modern spatial datasets.

When we shift our attention from the regional to the local scale, we must recognize that there is a
larger amount of more diverse spatial data available about the site of Dolmen de Palacio III itself.
These consist of general site plans, topographic contour data, feature data and detailed sequences
of excavation plans. Although all this information could be combined as distinct layers in one
map, this will hardly result in a very clear and useful map. Instead, web maps should
communicate the distinct types of spatial data as good as possible. It was decided to make a
30 For more information on how to add Google Maps to a website, visit the Google Maps API homepage:
31 For more information on how to add Google Earth to a website, visit the Google Earth API homepage:
general site map that can be queried through clicking on features. In addition web maps showing
the excavation plans of the tholos, dolmen and cremation graves as distinct layers were created.
The latter maps allow one to see how the excavation progressed and how stratigraphic layers and
objects relate to each other.

Although users can explore the spatial data of the Palacio III project through the web maps
described above, these web maps do not allow for the data to be expanded with new knowledge,
compared with other datasets or submitted to quantitative analyses. Given the aims of the
website, the re-use of the Palacio III spatial data should be encouraged to allow for such
purposes. As mentioned in the section on online spatial data dissemination, the efforts of the
OGC and W3C to provide standard spatial data formats, resulted in truly interoperable web maps
that can be re-used by virtually anyone. Some of these formats have been applied to the Palacio
III spatial data to promote their re-use. The WFS GetCapabilities request will allow users to
download the spatial data as an XML file listing all features and metadata, and connect to this
feature data using desktop GIS software. The WMS GetCapabilities request will allow users to
add the project’s spatial data as an image layer to their GIS programs. The SVG will provide a
high quality vector-based image of the excavation, and the code it is made up of lists the
coordinates of every data point, line or polygon. The GeoRSS option lists every feature in an
easily understandable form and includes customized descriptions (the site images for example).
The real benefit of GeoRSS lies in its syndication function: users can subscribe to the project’s
GeoRSS feed, and use spatial data which will be automatically updated when new information is
added. Although the use of GeoRSS for an individual project might seem farfetched, we cannot
but stress its importance for the future of web mapping as it provides spatial data warehouses
with continually updated and inter-operable information. For users with a less technical
background, the site and regional plan are available for download in PDF format. In addition, full
metadata on every spatial file is provided on the downloads page.

It should be clear from this chapter that archaeologists have a large number of tools at their
disposal for disseminating a wide variety of data types online. Most of these tools are easy-to-use
free online services and some require a bit more computing knowledge to apply. However, one
should never ignore the issues involved in sharing archaeological data online. To some extent
archaeologists loose a dominating position in the interpretation of 'their' data, and risks of looting
or extremist interpretations are always present. In addition, making information available online
does not necessarily mean that we can reach all potentially interested people, but like more
traditional forms of publication it addresses a specific network of people using a certain
medium. Nevertheless, the potentially huge and diverse audience, and the ability to control
whether and how archaeological data is disseminated are great advantages at the archaeologist's
disposal. In order for archaeologists to apply such techniques, however, they should have a clear
idea of who they want to reach and what message they want to send, as well as having a
thorough understanding of the datasets and data types to be disseminated.

Although we believe that large subject-specific data warehouses would provide ideal long-term
repositories for archaeological data, it has to be said that archaeological data are better expressed
in context. Digital data warehouses and contextualized information are not mutually exclusive,
but some thought has to be given on how to disseminate different data types from the same
project in a contextual way. Online environments integrating different types of data (e.g. spatial
data, text, photos, ...) and drawing their information from large-scale repositories might prove to
be the general direction archaeologists should place their efforts in, and encouraging results from
initiatives like the LEAP project32 seem to indicate that such aims are not far off. For the Palacio
III project such an environment was created, in which the project's large and diverse dataset can
be explored in a non-restrictive way. Moreover, a web of links to and from popular web services
and data repositories was created to make the project's website more conspicuous. It is hoped
that sharing the experiences in creating the Palacio III website will spark discussion concerning
the online dissemination of archaeological data, and will encourage archaeologists to make use
of the free online tools at their (and indeed everyone's) disposal.

Aldenderfer, M. 1999: "Data, Digital Ephemera, and Dead Media: Digital Publishing and
Archaeological Practice". Internet Archaeology 6:

Anselin, L., Kim, Y. W. and Syabri, I. 2004: "Web-based analytical tools for the exploration of
spatial data". Journal of Geographical Systems 6: 197-218.
Bodard, G. 2008: "The Inscriptions of Aphrodisias as electronic publication: A user's perspective
and a proposed paradigm". digital medievalist 4:

Burrough, P. A. 1986: Principles of geographical information systems for land resources

assessment, Monographs on soil and resources survey 12. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Conolly, J. and Lake, M. 2006: Geographical information systems in archaeology. Cambridge

University Press, Cambridge ; New York.

Costopoulos, A. 1999: "The Electronic Dissertation: A less radical approach". Internet

Archaeology 6:

D’andrea, A., Niccolucci, F. and Crescioli, M. 2001: "Web acces to an archaeological GIS". IN
Stancic, Z. and Veljanovski, T. (Eds.) Computing archaeology for understanding the past,
CAA 2000. Computer applications and quantitative methods in archaeology, proceedings
of the 28th conference, Ljubljana, April 2000. Archaeopress, Oxford.

Dragicevic, S. 2004: "The potential of Web-based GIS". Journal of Geographical Systems 6: 79-

Dragicevic, S. and Balram, S. 2004: "A Web GIS collaborative framework to structure and
manage distributed planning processes". Journal of Geographical Systems 6: 133-153.

Evans, A. J., Kingston, R. and Carver, S. 2004: "Democratic input into the nuclear waste disposal
problem: The influence of geographical data on decision making examined through a
Web-based GIS". Journal of Geographical Systems 6: 117-132.

Eve, S. and Hunt., G. 2008: "ARK: a developmental framework for archaeological recording".
IN Posluschny, A., Lambers, K. and Herzog, I. (Eds.) Layers of Perception. Proceedings
of the 35th International Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative
Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Berlin, Germany, April 2-6, 2007. Bonn.

Gaffney, V. and Exon, S. 1999: "From Order to Chaos: Publication, Synthesis and the
Dissemination of Data in a Digital Age". Internet Archaeology 6:
Gray, J. and Walford, K. 1999: "One Good Site Deserves Another: Electronic Publishing in Field
Archaeology". Internet Archaeology 7:

Green, D. and Bossomaier, T. 2002: Online GIS and spatial metadata. Taylor & Francis, London.

Hardie, A. 1998: "The development and present state of Web-GIS". Cartography 27: 11-26.

Häser, J. and Schulz, A. 2004: "An internet-based geographical information system for
multidisciplinary research in Oman". [Enter the past] the E-way into the four dimensions
of cultural heritage. CAA 2003, computer applications and quantitative methods in
archaeology,proceedings of the 31st conference, Vienne, Austria, April 2003.
Archaeopress, Oxford, 367-370.

Hesse, S. 2003: "Webmapping and divided databases - Developments and perspectives of

present-day monument preservation in Germany (using the example of ADABweb)".
Archaologisches Nachrichtenblatt 8: 46-54.

Heyworth, M. 2003: "Feed the world: sharing knowledge via blogs and news feeds". Internet
Archaeology 14:

Hodder, I. 1999: "Archaeology and global information systems". Internet Archaeology 6:

Holtorf, C. 1999: "Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany)": .

Holtorf, C. 1999: "Is History going to be on my side? On the experience of writing and
submitting a hypermedia Ph.D. thesis". Internet Archaeology 6:

Holtorf, C. 2004: "The future of electronic scholarship". Internet Archaeology 15:

Inmon, W. H. 1995: "What is a data warehouse?". Prism 1.

Kenny, J. and Richards, J. D. 2005: "Pathways to a Shared European Information Infrastructure

for Cultural Heritage". Internet Archaeology 18:
Kingston, R., Carver, S., Evans, A. and Turton, I. 2000: "Web-based public participation
geographical information systems: an aid to local environmental decision-making".
Computers, Environment and Urban Systems 24: 109-125.

Kraak, M.-J. 2004: "The role of the map in a Web-GIS environment". Journal of Geographical
Systems 6: 83-93.

Manoharan, T., Taylor, H. and Gardiner, P. 2002: "A collaborative analysis tool for visualisation
and interaction with spatial data". Proceedings of the seventh international conference on
3D Web technology. ACM, Tempe, Arizona, USA.

Mcaleese, R. (Ed.) 1989: Hypertext: theory into practice. Oxford.

Mitchell, T. 2005: Web Mapping Illustrated. O’Reilly, California.

Neumann, A. and Winter, A. M. 2003: "Webmapping with Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG):
Delivering the promise of high quality and interactive web maps". In Peterson, M. P.
(Ed.) Maps and the internet. Elsevier.

O'reilly, T. 2007: " What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next
Generation of Software ". Communications and Strategies 65: 17-37.

Peng, Z.-R. and Zhang, C. 2004: "The roles of geography markup language (GML), scalable
vector graphics (SVG), and Web feature service (WFS) specifications in the development
of Internet geographic information systems (GIS)". Journal of Geographical Systems 6:

Sakamoto, A. and Fukui, H. 2004: "Development and application of a livable environment

evaluation support system using Web GIS". Journal of Geographical Systems 6: 175-195.

Salonia, P. and Negri, A. 2005: "ARKIS-NET: un web-GIS per il progetto di conservazione

assistito". Archeologia e Calcolatori 16: 167-176.

Sarris, A., Bichtam, K., Giasta, M., Giourou, A., E.Karimali, V.Kevgas, Margetousakis, K.,
Peraki, E., Soetens, S., Tzanetea, K., Topouzi, S. and Tripolitsiotis, A. 2002: "A web-
based archaeological map of Lasithi, E. Crete". IN Burenhult, G. and Arvidsson, J. (Eds.)
Archaeological informatics: pushing the envelope CAA 2001, Computer applications and
quantitative methods in archaeology, proceedings of the 29th conference, Gotland, April
2001. Archaeopress, Oxford, 309-323.

Wheatley, D. 2004a: "A comment to C. Holtorf "The future of Electronic scholarship"". Internet
Archaeology 15:

Wheatley, D. 2004b: "Making space for an archaeology of place". Internet Archaeology 15:

Websites cited

(all last visited 31-10-2009)

Archaeology Data Service :

ADS Guides to Good Practice :

Archaeological Recording Kit :

ARENA project :

British Museum :

Cretan FORTH project :

Cyber pursuits :

Digital Medievalist :

Flickr :

Geographical Markup Language standard :

Geotools :

Google Earth API :

Google Earth forum :

Google Maps API :

Google Reader :

Holtorf C. ‘Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in Mecklenburg-
Vorpommern (Germany)’ :

LEAP project :

Open Geospatial Consortium :

Open Geospatial Consortium standards :

Open Layers :

Open Source Geospatial Foundation :

Oxford Archaeology :

Portable Antiquities Scheme :

Portable Antiquities Scheme 2006 review :

Resource Description Framework standard :

Scalable Vector Graphics standard :

Scribd :

Silchester IADB :

Web 3D Consortium :

Wessex Archaeology :

Youtube :
Figure 1: structure of the Palacio III website