The Nautical Archaeology Digital Library

Archaeology is public or it is nothing! It does not make sense to do archaeology if the main purpose of a project is not to share the knowledge acquired with both the specialized and the general public.  Archaeologists destroy the sites they dig and documenting everything, and disseminating the results – including sharing the primary data – are the archaeologists’ main responsibility.

We are developing a digital library of artifacts gathered in the domain of Nautical Archaeology and will use it to examine tools and their application in the day-to-day scholarly practice in the area. Started in 2006 and supported by a NSF grant (IIS-0534314), the specific goal of this project is to design, implement, and evaluate a framework that will:

  1. efficiently catalog, store, and manage artifacts, and ship remains, along its associated data and information produced by an underwater archaeological excavation;
  2. integrate heterogeneous data sources from different media to facilitate research work and handle uncertainty in data and structure;
  3. incorporate historic sources to help in the study of current artifacts;
  4. develop visualization tools to help researchers manipulate, observe, study, and analyze artifacts and their relationships;
  5. develop algorithm and visualization based mechanisms for ship reconstruction, i.e., to determine where recovered pieces and fragments fit in a whole;
  6. develop visualization tools to share our scholarly work to a as wide as possible audience.

This project is a collaborative effort of researchers in Texas A&M University’s Center for the Study of Digital Libraries (CSDL) and the J. Richard Steffy Ship Reconstruction Laboratory (ShipLAB). It draws its materials from the extensive collection of artifacts gathered from a shipwreck in Portugal, as well as the extensive archives collected at the ShipLAB during field studies over the past two decades.

As mentioned above, this material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0534314 (2006-2009). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Sharing primary data before the work is over

Some archaeologists live in fear that their excavations might be published by somebody else, should their colleagues come across their primary data. Most archaeologists, however, don’t even publish their own excavations. It is difficult to imagine why anybody, unwilling or incapable of publishing their own work, would publish a colleague’s excavation. Other archaeologists live in …

Standardizing the publication of wooden hull structures

As we work on our shipbuilding databases it becomes increasing evident that we must standardize the description of wooden hull structures, in the same way biologists standardized the description of insects. Many wooden remains of ancient ships are only partially published and some are not published at all. Some archaeologists are notoriously slow  in publishing …


Texas A&M University
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Email: csdl@tamu.edu