Archive report: Çatalhöyük Archive Report 2007

As the Çatalhöyük Archive Report 2007 is online as a large PDF, I've copied my report below [update – and added the PDF to Humanities Commons at]. In 2007 I'd worked with the team during the off-season (i.e. when people aren't on site digging) and on-site. Being on site meant providing general IT and network support (and dealing with occasional oddities like a spontaneously combusting monitor) while working on requirements analysis and database development in the lab. I also contributed to the Çatalhöyük blog during the 2007 season.

My Flickr album of photos from 2007 on site (and other bits around Turkey)

Blog posts from 2007:

Clay Databases Development Archive Report 2007 Part 2 – Mia Ridge, Çatalhöyük Research Project

The clay databases at Çatalhöyük are designed to implement a shared recording system allowing a unified view of related finds. It provides common value lists for use when it is supported by the attributes of the fabrics and the artefacts whilst allowing flexible recording where the fabrics and attributes differ. The extensible design will enable comparison of artefacts across specialisms on representational as well as material aspects. One of the goals was to record to a level of detail and on characteristics supported by the artefact rather than forcing it into a universal system, while providing enough consistency to ensure accurate counts of each type of find. An underlying goal is to manage the data entry interfaces and processes and the integration of previously recorded data to ensure that negative evidence is as reliable as positive evidence.

The requirements for the shared clay database application were reassessed this season in light of factors including: changing requirements as the infrastructure is embedded in practice; the time constraints teams face when recording on site; discussion of the portability of the ware code and fabric descriptions, and the ability to record technical material data consistently across teams, labs, languages and specialisms. The work by Chris Doherty and other teams on understanding the raw materials in the surrounding area, which has implications for the intentionality represented by the presence of various inclusions and for the basic understanding of fabrics for different types of artefacts, is also an on-going influence on the application design.

I reconfigured the recording model accordingly so that it follows a concept of 'observation, not interpretation'. This conceptual model provides a practical method for dealing with different levels of technical expertise and for different research interests across teams. The database schema and forms can be extended as we find out more about the raw materials around the site and to support different types of technical analysis.

This change particularly affects the recording of colour variations and inclusions or temper. For example, recording can range from basic observations of the dominant and variant colours, the probable type of heat exposure and the recorder's certainty about their interpretation, to a detailed analysis and interpretation of the reasons for colour variation. Conjecture about the cause of colour variation, whether a factor of fabric, manufacture, use, or post-depositional events, can be saved until technical can be performed. This analysis might also include research about the natural variations in the fabrics found in the region or experiments with firing and exposure to other heat to examine how the materials change over time or with exposure to different heating events. This model also allows the presence of inclusions to be recorded without requiring speculation about the natural or cultural origin of those inclusions.

This season the mapping the cleaning and normalising of ceramics data, and issues around recording bulk, grouped or individual sherds, were finalised. I worked closely with Nurcan Yalman and Duygu Tarkan to devise the best solutions for their recording requirements and constraints, with the added challenge that other teams will be using versions of the ceramics databases. Our aim is to have fabrics recorded consistently across the database, regardless of the recording method (which is often the result of post-depositional or use events that affect the size and condition of the sherd) to the extent that the material and physical aspects of the artefact permit.

Work included analysis of the portability requirements for off-line analysis, the use of images and review of existing structures to remove redundancies and data cleaning. Some data cleaning included the removal of non-figural objects such as clay balls and geoshapes so that the recording structures can be tailored for the confirmed figural objects that remain. The non-figural objects can be exported and integrated into the appropriate specialist database.

The Figurines database uses HTML forms to provide a cross-platform application for centralised data entry. It also uses SQL views to provide equivalents to the 'repeating fields' used in FileMaker Pro. These tables are also available for use in user-created queries.

Integration with Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
While on site I explored the requirements for, and created some test data structures to link excavation and find data into the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software that could serve as a 'proof of concept' for user-friendly methods of importing central database records into GIS software.

I experimented with linking X Finds recorded in the central database with views of the spaces, features and units in Building 51. A comparative experiment attempting to display the location of skeletal remains according to the age at the time of death, burial position and alignment, using records from the Human Remains database and human remains information from the excavation database, showed the benefit of highly structured data for pre-defined searches based on particular criteria. However, free form and subjective data is useful in contextualising the finds once a set of records has been selected according to criteria and displayed in the GIS application. This experiment showed why it is important to plan and digitise properly; and demonstrated that team members cannot analyse data points that have not been recorded individually and consistently.

However, it is impossible to anticipate all research questions so extensibility is also very important. Trials this season might point to a need for summaries of specialist data created for use by people from other teams or members of the public who do not have the same ability to review, interpret and update specialist data into a highly structured schema suitable for querying in GIS. These summaries could be recorded in supplementary data structures when initial specialist data is recorded or after a survey of the collection of objects for interesting possible points of analysis.

The use of geographical information system (GIS) could have exciting implications for the on-going work on clay artefacts and geological materials around the site. By using GIS in conjunction with the central database, we might be able to relate artefacts to the location of their source material, effectively re-populating the landscape with objects made from local materials.

Documentation and training
This season I ran an informal workshop on 'database querying'. This was very useful as those who attended were able to construct their own queries and reports, resolving some of their on-going questions; it also helped us understand how people query the database and where we can make improvements.

I also created tables ('Database_Documentation_Table', for example) to store documentation so that it is accessible at the point of use in the AllTables database. The AllTables database was created in 2005 to allow team members to use the Microsoft Access visual interface and 'wizards' to create their own queries.

Mellaart numbers
It is worth recording the decision to create a pseudo unit to allow with finds with Mellaart numbers to use the 'GID' or common object identifier in use for all finds recorded in the current system. This will require some additional search functionality, including an equivalency table to link the new GID with the previous Mellaart identifier. This table would serve as a central register, handing out new Find Numbers in sequence.

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