cultural heritage

Mitch Allen, a publisher that I greatly respect, commented on my blog posts about Aaron Swartz and scholarly communications in archaeology. His comments got me thinking again about the issue in some depth, and I want to take the opportunity to write about it in preparation for the SAA conference in Hawaii.

Allen thought I was probably overstating the legal issues associated with sharing logins and sharing files to get scholarly publications. Sadly, I don’t think my statements were hyperbole:

  • Sharing logins to gain access to university library systems can involve grave legal risks. It violates the same sort of violations of terms-of-service that made Aaron Swartz face 50 years in prison. For instance, JSTOR’s terms of service (that Swartz allegedly violated in his felony charges) specifically prohibited actions like sharing logins.
  • Sharing papers (mainly in email, but also social networking sites) also carries risks, mainly in civil and not criminal law (but that could change if something like SOPA passes). Mass copyright lawsuits with financially ruinous penalties happen- even involving 100,000 people at a time, including children.
  • Litigiousness has entered the scholarly domain. University presses are suing universities over e-reserves to curtail “fair-use” (limitations in copyright law to allow research, instruction, critique, free speech).
  • Law Prof. John Tehranian published a study where he calculated a jaw-dropping $4.5 billion in potential copyright liability involved in routine academic research and instructional activities over the course of a single year.

I think the evidence is clear that current intellectual property rules carry significant legal risks for everyone. It’s worse for researchers at the margins of the profession who lack their own institutional logins.

Normative Publishing Practices and Antiquities Trading

Network security laws and copyright laws are unjust because they carry such disproportionate penalties. Huge commercial scientific publishers like Elsevier push to further strengthen these draconian laws. Elsevier lobbied in favor of SOPA, a bill that would have made even non-commercial infringement a felony offense. That would have put many routine library activities at risk. Copyright has expanded in scope into a more or less absolute and perpetual property right. No US copyrighted works entered into the public domain last year.

Like it or not (and I don’t), this legal context shapes academic communication and shapes its ethics. Regarding my point about the antiquities trade, yes, that was purposeful polemic to highlight these ethical issues. To expand on this point, if archaeologists only communicate their results as all-rights-reserved intellectual property, they’re clearly engaged in a form of appropriation. The (more or less) absolute (no fair use) and perpetual (de facto unlimited copyright terms) nature of these property rights increasingly excludes all uses, save commercial transactions. Doesn’t that reduce the scholarly record of the past into commodities?

Status quo publishing practices also carry similar destructive externalities as the antiquities trade. In the antiquities trade, only beautiful or rare objects get valued and contextual information is neglected and destroyed because it has no market value. How different is Academia then, when researchers think that only the final polished article or monograph has any value? What happens to all of that rich contextual information that can’t be squeezed into a 10 page paper? While researchers have very different and much more pro-social goals than antiquities traders, publishing incentives and practices clearly need to better align to those goals.

Open Access and Commerce

Lastly, the open access and open data movements are not anti-commercial. The public good that comes from public financing of research means making information resources that can be used commercially. The normative definitions of “Open Data” explicitly allow for commercial uses, as do open access publishers like PLoS. With Open Context, we happily work with commercial publishers to try to build incentives for the better treatment of primary data.

While Open Data and Open Access are not (usually) anti-commercial, these movements are anti-monopoly. They grew in response to the increasing absurdities of global intellectual property regimes that perpetuate monopolies of big media conglomerates. My objection to the status quo is not that publishing involves commerce, I object to fact that we’re largely failing to make any public goods (despite public funding), since the vast majority of academic communication happens in a monopolistic and exclusionary way.

Getting Past the Dysfunctional Status Quo

Something is obviously very screwed-up when university presses sue universities over e-reserves and many researchers lack the means to legally participate in their discipline’s communications. I don’t think the current situation works to anyone’s interest, except for large conglomerates like Elsevier. It certainly doesn’t help small publishers like Left Coast Press, since the cost escalations of the big commercial science publishers mean less budget to buy humanities and social science books (as eloquently noted by Cathy Davidson). It is self-defeating for archaeology’s professional societies to fight (or avoid) open access, since they are simply helping to perpetuate cost-escalations in the areas of scientific publishing (chemistry, biology, computer science) that university administrators prioritize over the humanities and social sciences. Our professional societies need to consider this larger economic reality when determining their positions on open access.

The work of publishers like Mitch Allen are important to the health of archaeology. His efforts add value and quality to archaeological communications. I am very open to debate about what constitutes the right balance between public and private in archaeology’s information resources and also a debate about how we finance quality publishing. However, I stand by my point that our current policy of investing almost nothing in public (open) information resources hurts our discipline and puts many of its practitioners in legal jeopardy.


Lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation just posted a piece about the issues of felony violations of terms of service. Look at Point 4, substitute Pandora with JSTOR or a university library and you’ll see how all this applies to scholarship. See also this discussion of library licensing terms, since:

It is, however, very clear that licensing terms, which govern an increasingly large proportion of our collections, are a fundamental issue in the present and future usability of library resources by our campus populations.



Again, thanks to everyone for the thoughtful comments and discussion on my prior post here and elsewhere. I also want to thank Fred Limp, President of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) for taking the time to share his thoughts on the topic, including posting them on this blog. Below are the comments he emailed to me (with permissions to post):


Thank you for calling to my attention your thoughtful post at

All of us have been terribly saddened by this event. There are many others much more capable than I who have already spoken to the many issues and injustices that this personal tragedy has brought into stark and public focus. I do want, however, to speak to some of the specific points that you raise as the issue of open access relates to archaeology.

I need to clarify three points at the outset. Articles from the SAA journals, American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity, are available in Jstor two years after their first publication. Members of the SAA who do not have access to Jstor through other sources can access all of these back issues of both journals  for a $25 annual fee –or just  $5 per year for members living in Latin America and a number of other countries. Starting in the early part of 2012 online access to the contents of these two journals became available to all members of the SAA as soon as the articles are published. The contents of the SAA’s Archaeological Record are available electronically at no cost to everyone. The society is initiating a new journal,  Advances in Archaeological Practice, in 2013. It will be available electronically to all members of the society who select it as their journal. Also in 2013 the Society will initiate Current Research Online.  The contents of Current Research Online will be available to everyone at no cost. However, only members of the Society may enter research project information into the system.

I provide this information as background to the following discussion about the relationship of the Society and the open access initiative. The SAA’s Board has given considerable thought to the issue of open access. It is important, I think, to make some distinctions about the nature and variation of open access. The first distinction is the significance of open access discovery. By this I mean that individuals can determine whether relevant information may (or may not) be available using search engines and other methods. All of the SAAs journal publications have this capability. The second element, of course, is whether the content itself is available. All of the last two years of the journal content for both American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity is available to any member. It is not available, obviously, to the general public. The question then becomes what is the larger good that is served if these journals were open access to the general public – beyond the membership – versus their current situation. As you know many journals have subscription fees of many thousands of dollars. That is not the case for the Society. These journals are available to members as part of their standard membership fee, which is $140 per year. It is $65 per year for members living in Latin America and a number of other countries. If you wish to take both journals the second is $60 (or $38 for members living in the Latin America and other counties).

Clearly $140 (or $200 for two journals) is not free. Can it be justified, is it appropriate? The Society has conducted a number of studies of the membership, their interests and their perception about various Society programs. The complete reports are available on the SAA webpage. In all of these the most significant reasons people give for joining the Society, the overwhelming reason, is to attend the annual meetings and to receive the journal. While there are many other important functions, for most of our members the Society exists to serve these two purposes. The revenues generated by the modest membership fee and the modest meeting registration fee generates all of the revenue necessary to accomplish these goals. So the simple question becomes this – if the journal were available freely would the society’s membership shrink to the degree that there would not be adequate revenue to publish the journal? It might be possible to provide the journals at no cost to the public by increasing substantially the membership fees for those who remain members. Should members subvent the costs for others? Remember the SAA does NOT charge page fees or use other publication subvention costs – as many journals do with funds paid by grants or other sources. There is modest advertising revenue but it is a very minor fraction of the journals’ production costs.

So it’s a difficult question, and one the Society continues to address. What is in the best interests of not just the Society for American Archaeology but for archaeology generally? Do the benefits that would be achieved by making the journals open access overwhelm the negative implications of less resources to produce these same journals? Are the modest membership fees a significant barrier to an individual who is not an archaeologist? And a basic question should be asked – at the end of the day – if you are an archaeologist is it not reasonable to expect that you may want to (or perhaps even should be) a member of the very society that, in many ways, makes your profession viable?

While I respectfully disagree with this position, I want to thank Fred for his comments and for taking the issue of Open Access seriously. His comments reflect some of the discussion of the recent Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) meeting noted in Doug’s Archaeology.


I’m looking forward to further, productive, and collaborative discussion on the topic. Perhaps professional societies can find some productive ways forward on the Open Access issue and do more to seek additional public support to help make Open Access financially (more?) feasible. We’ve long taken it for granted that public support only gets cut. Perhaps it is time to see this issue as a way for our field (and other sciences) to make a stronger case for public support by more directly contributing to the common good of public knowledge.


Now that I’m back from lunch, I can digest this further. Fred’s comments reflect his perspective with regard to SAA publications. However, the SAA is but one publisher. Even if its publication costs are relatively low, archaeological discourse takes place across many, many titles, typically managed by expensive commercial publishers. Legally accessing these requires institutional affiliations to get e-Journals, JSTOR and all the rest. Though you may get a few titles with your SAA membership, researchers lacking academic affiliations are still cut-off from the great majority of scholarly discourse. Most of them are stuck with extra-legal workarounds, putting these researchers in dire legal jeopardy. While I can understand Fred’s concern over financing SAA publications (and motivating membership), accepting the dysfunctions and legal dangers of pay-walls and strong intellectual property does not advance the interests of archaeologists or archaeology.

I don’t post to this blog as much as I used to, but every once in a while there are some developments in the world of data sharing and scholarly communications that I think worthwhile discussing with respect to archaeology. This blog post is an attempt to gather my thoughts on the issue of Open Access in advance of a forum on the subject that will be held at the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) annual meeting in Honolulu in April.

Yesterday, I learned that Aaron Swartz committed suicide at age 26. Aaron Swartz was active and prominent in many “open knowledge” efforts.  I had no real personal connection with him, and only remember meeting him once at a party thrown by Creative Commons in 2006 or so. I had no idea he was so young. His tragic death is reverberating around a community of activists that value sharing of knowledge and a free and open internet.

What does all this have to do with archaeology?

The story of Swartz’s death involves JSTOR. Most archaeologists have some familiarity with JSTOR, the online journal repository. JSTOR was originally funded by the Mellon Foundation. In some ways it is a resounding success, as it serves many, many scholars worldwide, including many archaeologists. Unlike many digital scholarly communications initiatives, JSTOR is also financially “sustainable.” It is held up as a model for how to do digital scholarship right. It serves a large community and does not have to come back year after year begging for more grant money. JSTOR’s revenues come largely from subscriptions. If you don’t have an affiliation with a subscribing institution to JSTOR, you don’t get access to the vast majority of its resources. In other words, JSTOR sustains itself by setting up a “pay wall.”  That pay wall blocks some 150 million attempts to access JSTOR every year.

Here’s where this ties back to Aaron Swartz. Swartz was caught attempting a mass download of some 4.8 million articles from the JSTOR repository via MIT’s network. To JSTOR’s great credit, it did not pursue charges against Swartz. However, MIT and the US Dept of Justice come out looking far worse. US prosecutors charged Swartz with criminal hacking, and he faced 35(!) years in federal prison. Essentially, US prosecutors charged Swartz with terrorism (see Lessig’s excellent account), all for downloading academic articles in a manner that did not damage MIT’s network or JSTOR (see this expert witness). According to Swartz’s family, this legal hounding directly (and understandably) motivated his suicide.

This is obviously a tragic case, and another sad example of routine abuse of the legal system with regard to intellectual property and computer crime. JSTOR did not want to threaten Swartz with 35 years of prison for downloading articles. But, in the end, that did not matter. He still faced a draconian prison term, roughly equivalent to the punishment for 2nd degree murder, because he violated network rules and barriers JSTOR put into place around research materials.

And that’s the crux of the problem, and why Open Access is  one of the key ethical issues now faced by archaeology. Pay walls and intellectual property barriers carry real, and clearly very oppressive, legal force. I doubt, the SAA, the Archaeological Institute for America (AIA), or the American Anthropological Association (AAA) would want to press for felony charges or long prison terms if someone illegally downloaded a journal article from one of their servers. Nevertheless, Swartz’s case demonstrates that such barriers clearly carry dire legal implications.

There are many excellent reasons to promote Open Access in archaeology, summarized in this recent issue of World Archaeology dedicated to the subject. But the Swartz case helps to highlight another. Professional society reluctance (in the case of the SAA) or outright opposition against Open Access (AIA, AAA) puts many researchers at risk. Many researchers, particularly our colleagues in public, CRM, and contract archaeology or our colleagues struggling as adjunct faculty, either totally lack or regularly lose affiliations with institutions that subscribe to pay-wall resources like JSTOR. Many of these people beg logins from their friends and colleagues lucky enough to have access. Similarly, file-sharing of copyright protected articles is routine. Email lists and other networks regularly see circulation of papers, all under legally dubious circumstances. Essentially, we have a (nearly?) criminalized underclass of researchers who bend and break rules in order to participate in their professional community. It is a perverse travesty that we’ve relegated essential professional communications to an quasi-legal/illegal underground, when we’re supposedly a community dedicated to advancing the public good through the creation of knowledge about the past.

We have to remember, we, as a discipline work in the public interest. Public funding directly (grants) or indirectly (heritage management laws) supports, permits, and regulates our efforts. Doesn’t it make more sense to remove barriers to scholarship and remove harsh legal threats to sharing research?

Of course, many would say this is utopian and not financially sustainable, and that the only way to finance high-quality publication in archaeology is through pay walls and the commoditization of our discipline’s intellectual property. But commoditization has its costs. We have a model for totally privatized and commoditized archaeology that is “financially sustainable” in that it does not require any input of public or philanthropic funding. It’s called the antiquities trade. And it is ugly and destructive.

It’s time we also start seeing the ugliness in the current dissemination status quo, where the information outputs of archaeology become privatized, commoditized, intellectual property. This status quo carries the baggage of a legally oppressive system of copyright control, surveillance, and draconian punishments. Rather than dismissing Open Access off-hand, we have an ethical obligation to at least try to find financially sustainable modes of Open Access publication (see Lake 2012,  Kansa 2012 [pay-wall][open-access pre-print]).

Swartz’s tragic case demonstrates that some models of financial sustainability are not worth the cost.


Thanks for all the retweets, comments, and discussion. Please constantly pressure professional societies, universities, an government to make research dissemination more just. Also, I was wrong about the severity of Swartz’s threatened punishment. It would have been better for him to have been accused of murder, selling slaves, or helping terrorists build a nuclear bomb.  A complete travesty of justice that taints Academia.

If you haven’t noticed yet, the Wikipedia is blacked out, Google has blacked out its logo, and thousands of other sites are taking similar action to protest SOPA and PIPA. These bills in the House and Senate respectively threaten the open foundation of the Web, and the open dissemination of knowledge not just by the Wikipedia, but also by libraries and archives. The Research Works Act, subject of a previous blog post, would further damage the cause of open science and scholarship by making it much more difficult to promote open access to peer-review literature based on publicly financed research.

For open archaeology, Open Context has also joined in protesting these bills.


Sean Gillies, lead developer of Pleiades, has a beautifully rendered blackout page on his blog.

Update 2:

Jon Voss, a leading advocate for Linked Open Data for cultural heritage wrote a great discussion on why SOPA is so dangerous.

Update 3:

More anti-SOPA / anti-PIPA action from archaeologists here:

I’m happy to join with a fantastic team, led by Tom Eliot, Sebstian Heath, and John Muccigrosso on an NEH-funded “institute” called LAWDI (Linked Ancient World Data Institute). I promise it will have plenty of the enthusiasm and fervor implied by its acronym. To help spread the word, I’m reusing some of Tom Eliot’s text that he circulated on the Antiquist email list:

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University will host the Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI) from May 31st to June 2nd, 2012 in New York City. Applications are due 17 February 2012.

LAWDI, funded by the Office of Digital Humanities of the National Endowment for Humanities, will bring together an international faculty of practitioners working in the field of Linked Data with twenty attendees who are implementing or planning the creation of digital resources.

More information, including a list of faculty and application instructions, are available at the LAWDI page on the Digital
Classicist wiki:

DDIG members may be interested in learning more about Omeka, a simple and open source collections / content management application developed at George Mason University. I took part in using Omeka as the basis of the “Modern Art Iraq Archive” (MAIA). In this particular case, we used Omeka to publish a collection of modern art lost, looted, or destroyed during the US invasion. The same software can be very useful to publish small archaeological collections, particularly since Omeka has an active user and developer community that continually makes new enhancements to the application.

For a bit of background, MAIA started as the result of a long-term effort to document and preserve the modern artistic works from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, most of which were lost and damaged in the fires and looting during the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. As the site shows, very little is known about many of the works, including their current whereabouts and their original location in the Museum. The lack of documents about modern Iraqi art prompted the growth of the project to include supporting text. The site makes the works of art available as an open access database in order to raise public awareness of the many lost works and to encourage interested individuals to participate in helping to document the museum’s original
and/or lost holdings.

The MAIA site is the culmination of seven years of work by Project Director Nada Shabout, a professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas. Since 2003, Shabout has been collecting any and all information on the lost works through intensive research, interviews with artists, museum personnel, and art gallery owners. Shabout received two fellowships from the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) in 2006 and 2007 to conduct the first phase of data collection. In 2009, she teamed with colleagues at the Alexandria Archive Institute, a California-based non-profit organization (and maintainer of this blog!) dedicated to opening up global cultural heritage for research, education, and creative works.

The team won a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities to develop MAIA.

DDIG member Ethan Watrall (Asst. Professor of Anthropology @ MSU) sends us the following information about his upcoming Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) field school, which is part of the CHI Initiative at Michigan State University.

Excerpts quoted. For full details, please see this PDF LINK.

Site Link:<>

We are extremely happy to officially announce the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool (ANP491: Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics). Taking place from May 31st to July 1st (2011) on the campus of Michigan State University, the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will introduce students to the tools and techniques required to creatively apply information and computing technologies to cultural heritage materials and questions.

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is a unique experience that uses the model of an archaeological fieldschool (in which students come together for a period of 5 or 6 weeks to work on an archaeological site in order to learn how to do archaeology). Instead of working on an archaeological site, however, students in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will come together to collaboratively work on several cultural heritage informatics projects. In the process they will learn a great deal about what it takes to build applications and digital user experiences that serve the domain of cultural heritage – skills such as programming, user experience design, media design, project management, user centered design, digital storytelling, etc. …

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is open to both graduate students and undergraduates. There are no prerequisites (beyond an interest in the topic). Students from a wide variety of departments, programs, and disciplines are welcome. students are required to enroll for both sections 301 (3 credits) and 631 (3 credits) of ANP 491 (Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics).

Admission to the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is by application only.

To apply, please fill out the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool Application Form <>. Applications are due no later than 5pm on March 14th. Students will be notified as to whether they have been accepted by March 25th.

WikiLeaks is all the rage nowadays—that is, if you can actually reach it online. One good thing, the term “wiki” is now surely well known if probably still not really understood by the general public. I hoped that the cache of documents dealing with the Iraq War might provide some insights regarding the plight of the archaeological heritage of Iraq and esp. the way US and Iraqi authorities and law enforcement might have dealt with it. The search function on the site though seems disabled, I guess the denial-of-service attacks are taking their toll. Fortunately, some people were able to get some relevant information before the DoS attack:

  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”Wikileaks Provides Evidence Linking Illicit Iraqi Antiquities to Weapons Sales,” in The Punching Bag blog:

More proof, on top of what Matthew Bogdanos has reported, that looted antiquities were part of the revenue stream for the same folks that were/are supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq: (FRIENDLY ACTION) RAID RPT : ___ INJ/DAM

The actual text of that document is:


  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”More from Wikileaks on Looted Antiquities Recovered in Operations Against Insurgents,” in The Punching Bag blog:
… there are 1020 documents in the WarLogs that mention smuggling (and many of these are duplicate reports, so the actual number of anti-smuggling operations is probably closer to 500); that is out of a total of almost 392,000 total reports posted to WarLogs. The total number of reports in which antiquities are reported found together with weapons, then, is very low, in the neighborhood of 1-2% (only 6 or so out of something like 500 smuggling incidents).
… the WarLogs do not contain all reports made during the war; missing are reports of smuggling of any kind before 1/1/2004.
2004-10-28 23:40:00  —  … The INFO-OPS, which started yesterday, carried out by Task force MSU joint with provincial archaeological local guard in , , %%% and %%% (located north west of ( %%%)) ended this morning. The op. Aim was to oppose and repress the illegal trade of archaeological stolen finds in %%% province. As result of the op. several vases, statues and tools dated %%% bc. All finds were given to archaeological authority of %%%.
  • Owen Jarus, “Statues, Vases and 120 mm Rounds – Wikileaks documents tell harrowing stories of Iraq’s antiquities,” in Heritage Key:
The documents indicate that the Iraqis took great risks to protect their past. On November 2, 2008 officers from Iraq’s “Antiquities Protection” service participated in a dangerous operation in Karbala. Working with the “Establishment Protection” service, they “found and cleared” a weapons cache containing an astounding amount of firepower.
One of the documents reveals that on February 19, 2004 an entire missile was found at an archaeological site. …

I was able to access one more document not yet mentioned, for what it is worth:


Others mused on the topic and related issues touching on archaeological research:

  • Colleen Morgan (UC Berkeley), ”Wikileaks, Radical Transparency, and Archaeology,” in the Middle Savagery blog:

Sadly, [my students'] eagerness to interact with these past materials is often met with serious resistance from the local archives. While the individual archivists may be sympathetic, the archive often has stipulations that the materials cannot be shared. At all. This mystifies and frustrates the students, and this makes me both sympathetic (I have been through this constantly during my tenure at UC Berkeley) and grimly determined. I truly believe that institutions that house collections need to make these collections available to the public that pays for them. Period. The students can sense this and it leads to a process of negotiation in the classroom.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? The Getty museum is talking about destroying their collection of 100,000 study slides. Why? Because when they decided to digitize them several years ago, they discovered that the original vendors who sold them the slides made the Getty promise to never scan them. They don’t have slide projectors anymore and the last time a slide was checked out was a year ago. The only thing they can do is trash them. They will probably do it.

Finally, here’s one more article referencing one of the documents from the diplomatic cables cache on WikiLeaks that has archaeological importance:

  • Giles Tremlett, “WikiLeaks cables: Art looted by Nazis, Spanish gold and an embassy offer. Spain rejected attempt to tie together claim on coins found by US firm and row over painting in Madrid museum, cables show,” in The Guardian:

In a conversation with the Spanish culture minister, César Antonio Molina, the US ambassador in Madrid, Eduardo Aguirre, sought to tie the treasure found off the Iberian peninsula by Odyssey together with attempts by an American citizen, Claude Cassirer, to recover a painting by Camille Pisarro that hangs in a Madrid museum. ”The ambassador noted also that while the Odyssey and Cassirer claim were on separate legal tracks, it was in both governments’ interest to avail themselves of whatever margin for manouevre they had, consistent with their legal obligations, to resolve both matters in a way that favoured the bilateral relationship,” the embassy reported in a cable on 2 July 2008. The offer was made after the Spanish government claimed ownership of half a million gold and silver coins found on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean by Odyssey’s underwater robots. The company had provoked Spanish fury by landing the treasure at Gibraltar and flying it straight to the US. … Molina refused to tie the Odyssey case to the Pisarro painting, …

Spain claims that the Black Swan treasure find comes from a Spanish galleon, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank off Portugal’s Algarve coast in 1804. The vessel had just returned from Montevideo when it was attacked by four Royal Navy ships, and was carrying half a million coins that had been minted in Peru. Descendants of the 249 Spanish sailors who went down with the ship joined the Spanish government’s case against Odyssey in a court in Altanta, Georgia. The court ruled that the cargo belonged to Spain; Odyssey has appealed.

The leaked cables reveal that the US embassy had the previous year handed over to Spanish authorities the customs documents filed by Odyssey when it flew its hoard of coins into the US in mid-2007.

Sebastian Heath has an interesting discussion about museum identifiers. This is part of his ongoing project to document museum and online archaeological-collections identification schemes. Sebastian referenced a discussion circulated by Martin Doerr of the Center for Cultural Informatics on Crete (and of CIDOC fame) about aligning Web identifiers in museums toward some common design standards.

For instance, the Rosetta Stone has the PRN number: YCA62958, hence the “official” URI of the Rosetta stone is: . This URI should never become direct address of a document.

I absolutely agree with Sebastian on his points about getting human readable pages and avoiding divisions between the semantic and the “plain web” (contra the second sentence in the quote above).

Beyond those architecture issues however, I think the politics of naming and identifying cultural heritage will be a very interesting problem for semantic web approaches. Custody over the Rosetta Stone is in some dispute. The Elgin marbles are even more contested. I’m sure that some people in Greece would have a problem with “” in the internationally recognized / official / canonical  URI(s) for the Elgin marbles. In other words, naming and identifying things can be somewhat political and that will work against attempts to harmonize. I’m sure there will always be a need for third-parties to cross-reference identifiers.

I suspect issues like this will pose big problems to attempts to rationalize identifiers. That’s part of the reason why some digital library folks favor opaque identifiers. Of course, this digital library perspective is not universally shared.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion unfolds in cultural heritage applications.

Updated (Nov. 2):

  1. Also I should note that the “Museums and the machine-processable web wiki” (a fantastic resource and community hub!!) has some excellent discussion of these issues.
  2. Sebastian continued the discussion in this post.

Among Anglo-Saxons, tonight is Halloween, a rather frivolous holiday with some serious undertones. American movies and TV have propagated the holiday to such an extent however, that the lowest common denominator of the event is relatively well known across the world: small—and big—kids dressing up and collecting candy (“trick-or-treating”). Here’s a pic of my kids six years ago:

Halloween 2004, copyright F. Deblauwe

Of course, the connection with  superstitions about the Undead is easy to spot, be they disguised as the All Souls Christian holiday or el Día de los Muertos in Mexico. As a child in Belgium, we didn’t celebrate Halloween but I did make a scary-face lantern around this time of the year albeit not using a pumpkin but a sugar beet. If I remember correctly, popular lore somehow connected the lanterns with St. Maarten (St. Martin), a saint that actually in some regions of my home province of West Flanders even substituted for Sint Niklaas (St. Nicholas, i.e., Santa) in his gift-giving-to-kids role.

This is primarily an archaeological blog though. So what are the connections between digging up the past and zombies, witches and other scary critters and dark practices? Here are a few choice links:

Archaeology is a famously ghoulish pursuit whose practitioners are always on the look-out for dead bodies to gloat over. If we can’t find a grave, then at least we’ll try to get hold of animal bones from kitchen middens and sacrificial deposits. I’ve seen desperate Mesolithic researchers cackle with funereal glee over the toe bones of long-dead seals. Osteologists are of course the worst necrophiliacs of the lot. But nobody’s immune. There’s an anecdote going around about my old favourite teacher, where he lifts a pelvis out of a Middle Neolithic grave, licks his lips while turning the charnel thing over in his hands, and exclaims, “Now this was a very beautiful woman!”.

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