University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Archaeology and Technology: Towards Collaborative Decipherment of Non-Verbal Markings
Barbara Rita Barricelli, Stefano Valtolina

Last modified: 2011-12-20


Nowadays, technology has become an integral part of almost every area of applied research. Archaeology and Cultural Heritage are two of the fields where technology is making great strides. It is no longer used only for management purposes but also for the creation of powerful software tools in support of advanced research. 

Our research focuses on the study of methods and tools for supporting the users of interactive systems in evolving from being passive consumers to active producer of information and knowledge. This paradigm shift is at the base of the successful development of collaborative activities, especially when the users involved are domain experts, i.e. people who are experts in a specific professional domain – not in software development – who generally use software systems to perform their daily tasks.  To support both the evolution of the users’ role and their collaboration, it is needed to provide them with tools that allow the creation and management of shared knowledge bases.

To this aim, our approach is addressed to design a knowledge management system offering a set of multimedia information retrieval strategies able to catch data from different information sources. A system for supporting the communication among all the users forming a community of experts able to put together and combining their researches, ideas and experiences. Communication is in fact one of the main key aspects in a collaborative activity, mostly if it is computer-mediated.

In this paper, we present our approach to collaborative management of knowledge for supporting archaeologists in non-verbal markings decipherment. Based on their experiences, archeologists analyze the markings placed on supports such as findings or monuments discovered on the diggings to identify and infer information about their nature and their possible meaning in respect to the function and role of their support. The archeologist's experience is able to support her/him to discover particular features of markings or a particular combination of them, leading to formulate specific interpretations. Our approach and its implementation are aimed at supporting the exploitation of archeologists’ knowledge and practice in a semi-automatic way; this means that computers and software system should not be considered as a replacement of human activity, but a help for the archaeologists in order to perform easily their research tasks. 

The paper is organized as follows. First, the current trends in the application of computer science and technology to archaeology are presented. Then, the concept of non-verbal marking is presented and the challenges that arise from the research on this topic are briefly illustrated. Our approach to knowledge management in archaeology is then presented, as a model implemented to support archeologists in their analysis and collaboration activities and to integrate different databases. Its implementation – i.e. IESP System – is then described in details. Finally, the annotation tool as support for the collaborative decipherment is described. Conclusions and future developments conclude the paper.


Cultural Heritage; Knowledge Management; Ontology-Based Model; Collaboration