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The Digital Imprint Project:

Standards for Digital Publishing in Archaeology

Louise Krasniewicz

While many archaeologists have adopted personal computers for their data processing and writing, the use of digital media to actually present research findings to both professional colleagues and the public is still uncharted territory. There have been some valuable forays into the digital publishing of archaeological research in the past few years, including Excavating Occaneechi Town: Archaeology of an 18th-Century Indian Village in North Carolina (1998, R. P. S. Davis Jr., P. C. Livingood, H. T. Ward, and V. P. Steponaitis, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C.); Combe Capelle on CD-ROM, (1995, H. Dibble and S. McPherron, University Museum Press, Philadelphia); and Zoom-In to Madisonville (1998, P. B. Drooker, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, Ann Arbor, Michigan). Each of these is an effort to utilize the potential of a medium that offers extraordinary opportunities for organizing, accessing, and presenting the vast array of media generated by an archaeological project.

The potential for archaeological research is significantfor the first time, many more scholars could have access to primary data, providing opportunities for multiple analyses of datasets. Digital publishing can facilitate multidisciplinary analyses by making primary data more widely and easily available. It also can help archaeologists meet their professional responsibility of publishing their work in a timely manner and for multiple audiences, from professional colleagues to the general public.

While the value of digital publishing is beginning to be widely recognized, several factors have prevented it from becoming commonplace. Certainly access to trained personnel and the appropriate production equipment are still not widely available to all researchers and the cost of original productions is still high. But a new generation of computer-savvy students and faculty, as well as the wider availability of powerful desktop systems, makes these obstacles increasingly easier to overcome.

What more significantly has not been available in archaeology is a coordinated effort to establish guidelines for archaeologists who want to present their primary research in digital form. A digital monograph may include interpretive essays, interactive databases, thousands of illustrations and photographs, animations, virtual reality, interactive panoramas, and curricular materials. Standards for organizing and presenting research in digital form are necessary to ensure that digital publications are professional, cross platform, consistent, and easy to use.

The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) ( has been working for two years on a project to develop standards for the digital publication of archaeological monographs. Funded by the Ahmanson Foundation and conducted in the institute's Digital Archaeology Lab ( ), this "Digital Imprint" project was initiated in response to this need to coordinate the efforts of archaeologists who are exploring digital publishing. The Digital Imprint project ( ) hopes to encourage the development of standards that will be utilized, not only in its own projects, but also by archaeologists nationwide. As archaeologists explore digital formats for disseminating site reports or sharing databases, images, typologies, maps or interpretive materials, guidelines for digital formats become essential, especially for those who do not have the expertise or resources to explore all the possible permutations of a digital project on their own.

The Digital Archaeology Lab

The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA established the Digital Archaeology Lab in 1996 to examine the different ways to translate the research of the institute's faculty and staff into various digital media forms including commercial CD-ROMs, K-12 curricular materials, sites on the World Wide Web, and professional field reports published in hybrid disk/Web formats.

One of the lab's projects, called the "Virtual Archaeologist" ( ), provides the experience of visiting an archaeological excavation with a UCLA researcher. Utilizing a 3D field lab as its interface, the "Virtual Archaeologist" series enables the visitor to conduct lab experiments, analyze artifacts, explore real databases, and take virtual reality tours of real archaeological sites where ruins can be excavated, measured, and recorded. The programs, on both CD-ROM and the Web, are to be used in California's mandated K-12 curriculum on ancient cultures. The Virtual Archaeologist will be a component of the "Portals to the Past" Website, also being developed in the lab. This Website provides teaching resources for the institute's outreach program to K-12 teachers who must implement the new state curriculum in the social sciences.

Other projects in the lab involve creating interactive panoramas and object movies (commonly known as QuickTime VR) for UCLA archaeological projects; designing 3D representations of archaeological sites; generating 3D models of artifacts; and instructing faculty, students, staff, and research associates in digital production.


In addition to serving the research and outreach needs of the institute, all the projects developed in the lab are used as a testing ground for the standards, protocols, and templates being developed for the Digital Imprint project. This provides an ideal laboratory to test out the feasibility of the Digital Lab's activities for other facilities and individuals. It should result in production standards for digital work that are workable, flexible, and easy to implement and modify.

Workable standards are agreed-upon rules, formats, and procedures that are designed to make shared information reliable, accessible, and consistent. Information standards are designed to protect the investment of time and money required for assembling and designing information storage and retrieval systems. Utilizing standards helps to ensure the long-term value of data which can be shared across systems, times, and even cultures, especially in the context of continually evolving technologies.

Technical, organizational, and design standards, which address different aspects of the construction of digital publications, will all be developed in the Digital Imprint project and utilized in its own productions. Technical standards guide the choice of file formats, operating systems, and multimedia players, most of which are defined by the computer industry but have to be selected by end-users like archaeologists. The Digital Imprint project has explored technical standards and will include recommendations in this area in the standards guidelines.

Organizational standards suggest how information needs to be authored, organized, updated, and verified in a publication. This is the behind-the-scenes work of the computer specialists, involving database design, asset management, interactivity, programming, and navigation tools. The how-to production manual developed in the Digital Imprint project will provide step-by-step instructions on most of the important aspects of production.

Design standards guide the development of interfaces and navigational tools for accessing data. While the concept of design may seem unnecessary for a professional publication, all information presentations are in fact heavily dependent on design elements. The position of paragraphs on a page, the choice of fonts for titles, color and shading for emphasis, the size and position of illustrationsall these affect how information is accessed and interpreted. The Digital Imprint project will provide templates that include a selection of these design elements for use in any archaeologist's digital publication.

Standards need to build on already common practices in a community. Thus, a standard cannot demand a dramatic shift in a user's understanding (for example, requiring all archaeologists to learn high-end computer programming). Nor does a good standard shift traditional practices so dramatically that they are intimidating (e.g., requiring all archaeologists to define "pot" in the same way). The Digital Imprint project keeps these important considerations in mind as it explores digital standards.

The Digital Imprint Project

The Digital Imprint project has four primary goals associated with the development and dissemination of digital publishing standards:

(1) to develop, in consultation with archaeologists, publishers, museums, libraries, and the major professional organizations, a set of guidelines specifically for the digital publication of primary archaeological research;

(2) to design dynamic templates that will be distributed free of charge to any archaeologist who wants to incorporate these guidelines into his or her own digital publication;

(3) to develop a production manual that will provide a step-by-step guide through the details of digital publishing; and

(4) to publish the first digital monograph in the Digital Imprint monograph series under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology.

The development of standards is ideally a communal process that solicits ideas, opinions, and experiences from those who will both create and use the standards. In digital publishing, especially in archaeology, the publisher and end-user often can be the same. To this end, the Digital Imprint project formed the Working Group on Digital Publishing in Archaeology. The working group first met in Los Angeles in January 1999 to begin exploring the issues of both digital publishing and standards.

Represented at the meeting were the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology Data Service; the Center for the Study of Architecture; the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; the Council for British Archaeology; the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Getty Trust; Learning Sites, Inc.; the National Center for Preservation and Technological Training; the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; the Oriental Institute; the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University; the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; the Society for American Archaeology; and Statistical Research, Inc. Academic presses at the meeting included the American School of Classical Studies, Internet Archaeology, the University of Arizona, UCLA, and the University of Pennsylvania. Universities included Arizona State, California (Los Angeles and Santa Barbara), Cambridge, Chicago, Fort Lewis College, North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and Pennsylvania.

This first meeting focused on the following issues:

The discussions of the working group suggest that digital publishing standards must balance economy, timeliness, professionalism, accessibility, and ease-of-use. Some of the guidelines being developed will ensure that digital archaeology publications are peer-reviewed, multilingual, and cross platform (Mac and PC); have exportable and searchable databases; incorporate multiple media formats (video, audio, 3D, etc.); have a consistent and practical graphical interface; have standardized navigation and reference cues; are affordable to produce; require no licensing fees for users; can be regularly and easily updated and supplemented; and have print-out capabilities.

Instead of designing a system from scratch, the Digital Imprint project has been examining off-the-shelf software and low-end hardware that incorporates all these suggestions. Commercially available systems already have an established base of millions of users and it would be impossible or prohibitively expensive to attempt to match this with proprietary software or unique hardware delivery systems. Using off-the-shelf software in innovative ways rather than designing new software from scratch results in consistent, cost-effective, and cross-disciplinary publications. This move results in publications that highlight the research questions important to archaeologists rather than focusing attention on the technology used to deliver that information. In addition, it is important to keep the hardware requirements at the lower end of the computer spectrum to accommodate as many users and producers as possible.

The result of the project's experimentations has been a Web-browser and database combination that meets all the requirements for quality digital production and wide-ranging access to production as well as the final product. Specifically, the project is developing a template using Filemaker Pro® and Internet Explorer 4.x® with the Web browser presenting the graphical interface and the database program presenting entire datasets that can be searched, downloaded, and analyzed. The programs work seamlessly together; the browser is free and updates are easily accessible by every Internet user. Filemaker Pro® is inexpensive, especially for academics, versatile, and easy to use. Both the browser and database program are cross platform in both development and delivery.

Digital Templates and the Production Manual

These standards will be disseminated and implemented through both widely distributed templates and a production manual. The production manual will guide publishers in the details of digital production, from scanning and image processing to file formats, navigation design, naming protocols, file management techniques and all the other details required for a successful publication. The template will be a ready-to-use program that just requires the insertion of content. Both the production manual and a publication template should be available in printed form and online by January 2000.

The template will be flexible and modular with the goal of providing multiple routes of access to the data of the publication. Currently, the template enables direct access to the data of a project through five different routes: the text, databases, research themes, a tour, and M.A.P.S. (models, animations, panoramas, and schematic maps). A user can choose to take a linear path through the text section, linking to databases or illustrations as needed. Or a user can start with the complete and original databases and from there connect to other forms of data including the illustrations, research methods, or interpretive essays that relate to each database.

A 3D model of the site can be navigated to find the particular region of interest or traditional maps can have links to successively more detailed layers of information. Research themes and the tour enable a summarized version of the most significant features of the research. These capabilities are built into the distributed template and can be implemented as the author requires.

The production manual will enable novice producers to avoid the pitfalls of digital production which can be expensive, time consuming, and frustrating if tackled without guidance. It will document the results of the Digital Imprint project's experiments with innumerable interface designs, technical components, software and hardware combinations, and visual and organizational metaphors.

Details on the Working Group on Digital Publishing in Archaeology as well as the standards, production manual, and template will be available at

The Portals to the Past teacher's outreach Website will be available at Additional information can be requested from Louise Krasniewicz at ·

Louise Krasniewicz is director of the Digital Archaeology Lab, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, at University of California-Los Angeles.

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