University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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ARCA: creating and integrating archaeological databases.
Maria del Carmen Moreno Escobar

Last modified: 2012-10-24


Sharing data is becoming increasingly important in a world where the optimization of resources is one of the main concerns. This is also true for Archaeology, where initiatives such as Open Context ( are trying to develop tools for the publication, dissemination and reuse of data within this discipline. In Spain, SIPHA ( is a catalogue that collects information about the Andalusian archaeological heritage, which provides archaeologists working in the region with data.

A similar initiative is currently being developed in the context of my PhD-scholarship and the ATLAS research group, leading to the creation of ARCA. ARCA, a Spanish acronym meaning Archive of Archaeological Contexts, is a relational database built in MySQL accessible online through a Web application built in PHP language. It can store highly diverse information about archaeological sites, such as a history of interventions on each site, their chronology and functional typology, material remains within these sites, amongst others, but most importantly, their spatial location. However, ARCA is more than a data structure. It constitutes a solid compilation of archaeological knowledge about Andalusia and Extremadura:  it already contains information of more than 2200 sites, from Paleolithic to the Late Middle Ages, collected previously by members of the ATLAS and GIEST research groups and it is  currently used as a data source in a number of projects (such as my doctoral research about the process of Romanisation of Baetica through the analysis of its territorial transformations).

The creation of this database has been complex. Plenty of decisions—very diverse in nature—had to be taken about issues such as (1) the definition of its structure (taking into account the organisation of data in the original databases), (2) the standardisation of the chronological and functional categories employed in the original databases (for which a controlled vocabulary was created) and (3) the creation of different levels of access (and editor privileges) to the information contained in ARCA, part of which has been considered sensible data, such as the spatial location of a large number of unearthed sites. Thus, this communication will focus mainly on the set of decisions and processes leading to the current form and state of ARCA, in order to provide researchers with knowledge about the creation of a large spatial database from a subset of personal databases, and with an idea about its possibilities for future projects. 


database; Spain; archaeological sites; thesaurus; spatial reference; standardisation