Robert and Mays (2010), two leading bioarchaeologists, found that of the over 250 articles written on bioarchaeology in Britain from the top four journals, 79% of them were based on collections from only 5 locations. While this uneven use of skeletal collections can be attributed to a number of reasons, the one that they highlight is the availability and knowledge of collections. The same is true for archaeological sites. The ones that are easily accessible on Archaeology Data Service or through other digital resources are more readily used and studied than those that reside only in analog format.
During my own research on Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, one of the issues I have run into is that there is no central database for learning about what sites exist, who excavated and interpreted them, and within which university or museum they are currently held. However, examining other texts and dissertations has shown me that not only has this work already been done, but also it has been done repeatedly by a variety of scholars. The lack of a central location for knowledge about archaeological material causes loss of time due to each scholar having to search through grey material and primary sources to dig up the original data. While this is a good exercise in research, and independent study of original sources is useful- we need to start working together to create open digital resources that increase our productivity.
I propose to create a community sourced digital map and database of Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. The project is currently being known as “ieldran”, meaning ‘ancestors’ in Old English, though this is potentially something that will change as the project progresses. The primary feature will be a map that shows locations of cemeteries in England dating from the mid-4th to late 7th century CE. Each site can be clicked on to reveal more information about the cemetery, the burials, associated artifacts, references for books and journal articles written about the cemetery, and where the original excavation materials, human remains, and artifacts are kept. Hopefully the site will also include elements such as a way for others to add their site to the map, a list of references for this period, updates about the project, and links to other digital resources.
Currently I am deciding which programs to use or this project. The map base will likely be Leaflet based, and the site itself will probably be WordPress.org- however I am open to suggestions since the project is only in the ‘ideas’ phase, and no actual development has occurred. Currently I’m loving the Center for Planning Excellence’s website as a template, since it has a focal map that changes lower content when clicked. This site is based on WordPress.org and a Google Maps API. I also really love the design and function of Pinterest’s new “Place Boards”, a good example is the Pure Michigan “Unusual Attractions” Board. While this is a drastically different design, I like that the links on the side can be used or the links on the map, and that the two portions are responsive. Then, when you pick a pin, it goes to the larger more explanatory site.
Roberts and Mays 2011. “Study and restudy of curated skeletal collections in bioarchaeology: A perspective on the UK and the implications for future curation of human remains”. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 21.5 (2011), pp. 626-630