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jd's Journal: Open Source Archaeology

Journal by jd
This is an interesting (to me) piece of work that I've been asked to do. Using open-source software to analyze data from both ground-penetrating radar and magnetometers, open-source GIS software for tracking archaeological finds, open-source modeling software to produce archaeologically and technically sound reconstructions, and then use a mix of open-source virtual reality software and open-source web technology to provide both the raw and the visually interpreted data in a form that is of practical use to experts and non-experts alike.

If that sounds like a complex task, it is. The site is extremely convoluted, there is a wealth of data that is currently in a highly unusable form, and what is meaningful to an expert is not necessarily the least bit useful or usable to a non-expert (and vice versa). Currently, there is a lot of skepticism by The Powers That Be that such a project would even be possible. My first task, then, is to produce an example. My impossible mission is to convert the few scraps of information published on medieval aisled halls, along with the very limited archaeological finds from the site in question, into the dual format of raw information and virtual reality.

On the one hand, the limited information means that the first part is relatively easy. An online archaeological GIS-enabled database may not be trivial, but all the software needed can - at least - be found on Freshmeat and the amount of data entry is relatively small. The second part is tougher. Again, open-source VR software does exist, but it is one thing to enter known values that can be verified into a database, it is entirely another to derive values that are implied and logically required but for which there is no direct evidence at all.

There is a catch. Virtual reality is great for producing models you can walk through, but it's generally pretty lousy at telling you if said model violates the laws of physics. Given that I can hardly build my own medieval aisled hall, I know of no other method besides hand-cranking through the numbers for validating the predicted structure. Suggestions would be extremely welcome, as would any idea on how I could either use the open-source approach for the hall design, or how I could use something like BOINC to automate the validation of a virtual landscape.

Technically, this is fun - I'm getting to do some reasonably original work - but original work is necessarily far more demanding in terms of research and application than run-of-the-mill work. Mind you, I only have myself to blame - the archaeologists have been satisfied so far with producing a web-based diary of major finds, plus entering the data on a completely unusable regional database. Such are the hazards of pointing out that you can do better! :)

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Open Source Archaeology

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