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GIS Guide to Good Practice
Section 4: Structuring, Organising, and Maintaining Information

4.3 Combining and integrating attribute databases

4.3.1 Data standards

Successful database integration relies on the implementation of data standards. These aim to facilitate the production of a common frame of reference for archaeologists, endorsed by the profession as a whole and implemented in a widely compatible national network of databases and digital archives.

Currently core data standards are being defined for many fields of archaeology, from portable items such as MDA Archaeological Object Thesaurus (MDA 1998) and the International Guidelines for Museum Object Information, produced by the International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC), to the draft data standards for SMRs and revisions of the RCHME Thesauri of Architectural Types, Monument Types, and Building Materials. Another useful resource is MIDAS (RCHME 1998). Outside of the profession, essential standards have been set for such data sets as British postal addresses (BS7666), and international naming conventions for countries (ISO3166). See Appendix 2 for a list of appropriate data standards.

The basic process involved in the integration of data from external databases relies on compatible field structure. This means that complementary fields in both the source and target databases must be of a compatible type (Integer, Floating Point, Date, a Character field of an appropriate length etc.) to avoid the loss of data during the integration process.

Some features of certain databases (e.g. DBASE memo fields) are difficult to export to other systems and may require specialist advice to avoid their loss. The new data should be date stamped digitally by the computer operator and a record kept of its source and ownership.

4.3.2 Integrating paper records

Data can be extracted from documents and typed manually into an existing database, or whole reports can be captured speedily using a commercially available optical character scanning suite. These convert scanned text into digital characters which can be saved into a variety of word processor formats. The character interpretation is never 100% effective and will require spell-checking and proof-reading before it is used, but this method can save a great deal of time, especially when capturing printed table data. Most often, the integration of paper-records will involve some form of manual input, often involving a number of separate individuals over a considerable period of time. Here the importance of adherence to existing standards and guidelines cannot be over-stressed. Such a process often involves a great number of decisions that directly affect the quality of the source data sets, as often very descriptive information is broken down into the discrete thematic field structure of the database. To ensure that the resultant database is usable it is important to record such decsisions and ensure that a degree of consistency is adopted throughout the process.


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Archaeology Data Service
© Mark Gillings, Peter Halls, Gary Lock, Paul Miller, Greg Phillips, Nick Ryan, David Wheatley, and Alicia Wise 1998

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