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Digital archaeological repository earns American Anthropological Association's endorsement

October 24, 2012

Tucked away on the fourth floor of Hayden Library, the Center for Digital Antiquity is a bit of a hidden gem to Arizona State University audiences. But its out-of-the-way location belies its expanding status in the international archaeological community.

Mounting awareness of the center is due in large part to its digital archive and repository, the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), which recently received a major endorsement from the American Anthropological Association.

The center’s executive director, Francis P. McManamon, explains that tDAR was created for a dual purpose and is rising to the task. “A critical challenge that the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology have at present is how to ensure that existing data from studies of humans and human cultures – both contemporary culture and those of past times – can be made accessible and used for education and research,” he says. “Another part of this challenge is ensuring that this information can be preserved so that it is available for use by future generations, as well. TDAR exists to meet this challenge.”

In its September 2012 issue of Anthropology News, the American Anthropological Association endorsed tDAR and encouraged archaeologists to use the digital repository for archiving archaeological data and related publications. The association is the largest organization in the world for people involved in anthropology, of which archaeology is a branch. McManamon calls the recommendation “terrific acknowledgement of the value of tDAR.”

Billed as “part international repository, part research tool and part public access tool,” tDAR has electronic holdings that number in the thousands and include everything from 3-D scans of artifacts to GIS files to detailed reports from archaeological investigations from the U.S. and abroad.

The team of archaeologists, information management experts and computer scientists behind tDAR designed the system to easily allow researchers, scholars and students to place data and documents into the repository. Easy retrieval was another goal.

Individuals can log in and search the contents of tDAR electronically, locating data, documents, images and other sources of information helpful to their investigations. The system also includes computing tools that allow users to compare and integrate the contents of data sets to conduct new research and create new interpretations and knowledge. 

Center staff members are dedicated to protecting the information stored in tDAR. They check the electronic files regularly and systematically to safeguard against deterioration or corruption. They maintain extra copies of the database at different locations to ensure that information is secure and can be replaced in the event of the loss of a copy. Procedures are also in place to guarantee that tDAR’s electronic files will be readable and useable by new versions of computer software that evolve over time.

McManamon points out that, while the Center for Digital Antiquity is a new type of organization, and the Digital Archaeological Record is a new kind of archaeological archive, their goals are part of a larger push by many disciplines: to preserve the results of past efforts and make them available for use by others now and in the future, allowing the knowledge base to be built upon with successive generations.

The Center for Digital Antiquity is associated with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Global Institute of Sustainability and the University Libraries.