Clinical research informatics infrastructure development

SemanticDB - a semantically enabled content repository

Archaeological data sharing


I love data. As a child I recorded the air temperature on the thermometer outside our house before going to school each day for a couple of years so that I could play with the data, make graphs, and explore patterns in daily and seasonal fluctuations. Later, as I became involved in archaeology, I began to realize that one could generate truly massive amounts of data, which would require more than a spiral-bound notebook to manage. Initially, we used edge-punched cards to record the attributes of archaeological sites and their settings. These were large paper cards with equally spaced holes punched just inside the entire perimeter. Each hole corresponded to a specific attribute, and if a site had that attribute, you would remove the slender strip of paper between the hole and the edge of the card. By inserting a stylus into a given hole in a properly aligned stack of cards, one could sort the sites based on the presence or absence of a single attribute. Those cards that fell off the stylus had the attribute while those that remained stuck on the stylus did not. This worked reasonably well for simple sorting, but was cumbersome and tedious if you wanted to sort on multiple attributes simultaneously, and was subject to error if a hole was inadvertently torn.

Computers were starting to be more readily available at this time, but also required punched cards to feed in data and an programming expert to create cards that would instruct the large mainframe computer to perform the required analysis. Because I did not have this expertise, I generally avoided computers and large scale data manipulation until the 1980s. I had been hired by Cynthis Irwin-Williams to help run the Archaic Oshara Project through the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada. This project involved conducting surface surveys in the Arroyo Cuervo region of New Mexico during the summer, and, during the rest of the year, analyzing the artifacts collected from the surveys and from excavations of the Oshara Tradition type sites conducted by Cynthia years earlier. We generated lots of data, and needed a more sophisticated approach to managing it. Fortunately, Steve Durand joined our team in 1983 bringing a wealth of knowledge and experiece with computers. We purchased some desktop PCs and and software, including dBase, an early database management application.Th