Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory Archaeometric Archives

Many of you may not know this, but I've been working at the Archaeometry Laboratory at the University of Missouri Research Reactor to preserve the data and records of other laboratories as they begin closing their doors. Though our lab has always had an open-door policy for storing other labs' data, these efforts really took off in 2007 with the publication of a special issue of Archaeometry (v. 49, 2) commemorating fifty years of neutron activation analysis.

The first database posted on-line was generated at the University of Manchester in England. The Web page I created was intended to complement a table in G.W.A. Newton's discussion of the archaeometry program at Manchester, particularly since Dr. Newton died during preparation of this manuscript. While working on the Manchester Web page, the lab was contacted by Frank Asaro at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He was cleaning out his office and laboratory space, and asked if we would be interested in preserving the archives from that archaeometry program.

Since that time, I have been overseeing the slow digitization of the Berkeley data so that it may be viewed and manipulated on modern computers. The absolute amount of data in the Berkeley archive is overwhelming! Elemental abundance data for 10,000+ specimens, at least two photographs of each specimen, notebooks, loose-leaf papers, sample powders, XRF planchettes, surplus sherds, and lots of microfiche.

In 2009 I presented a status update for our work on the Manchester and Berkeley databases at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Since that time we have made significant progress with the Berkeley database, and so I recently submitted a second update for publication in the SAS Bulletin. With a small grant from Digital Antiquity, we have been able to make all of the data that has been digitized to this point, as well as complementary photographs and scanned images of all of the Berkeley lab's papers and notes publicly available through the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR). You can connect directly to the Berkeley Project using this link.

I encourage all of the SAS membership to take a look at the Berkeley archives. I can imagine a host of reasons to use these data, including as comparative material for active research projects, data sources for teaching and evaluating statistical methods, and even for researching the history of archaeological sciences.

We aren't done yet, though! Data for about 3000 specimens remain to be digitized. I am hopeful that these will be completed at some point this summer, so keep an eye out here for future announcements concerning the Berkeley archives.


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