JiscMail Logo
Email discussion lists for the UK Education and Research communities

Help for BRITARCH Archives


BRITARCH Archives

BRITARCH Archives


BRITARCH@JISCMAIL.AC.UK


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

BRITARCH Home

BRITARCH Home

BRITARCH  July 2003

BRITARCH July 2003

Options

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password

Subject:

Databases in archaeology

From:

Paul Cripps <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 28 Jul 2003 13:51:44 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (51 lines)

Dear all,

this thread has just served to highlight one of the key issues in archaeology: There is a mixed level of understanding of the nature of data and databases. Database applications such as Access are really handy, but can also generate months of extra work if used inappropriately. 

The key thing to remember is to choose your tool to suit the job. For simple analysis of a simple dataset, a flat-file structure (single table) in a spreadsheet or stats package will generally suffice. For analysis of more complex datasets it is often essential, as Andrew Larcombe states, to use a more structured approach, something that excel, etc cannot handle at all. As Jenny Vaughan states, Access can be used to work with unstructured data stored in single tables and provides a number of tools not found in Excel, but then Excel is much better for moving blocks of data within tables as it has no concept of records simply rows and columns. Basically, it depends on what you're doing as to the way forward, but understanding the nature your data is key. 

The problem is that to get a structured (relational) database to work, you need to have at least a  basic understanding of data and data modelling techniques. Without this, the structure will generally not represent the data, but which MS Access wizards the user can use or how they like they forms to appear. This then results in a poorly designed system which cannot do what was intended in the first place, let alone provide a re-usable source of data. 

Jenny's suggestion to replicate a paper form is a good starting point, especially where only a single form is in use. It gets a bit more complex for multi-form datasets as there are fields on the form that are used to relate forms to each other or summarise other bits of data: Relationships should be stored as such and summaries should be dynamically generated from the data (ie total weight of pot by context should not be a field on the pottery table or the context table but a query definition based on the raw data tables).

Validation is a reason for using a database application such as Access over a spreadsheet or similar: If you want to control data entry using glossaries or the like, then a relational database is the way forward. Entering data into Excel then trying to import is fine as long as the users enter consistently valid data. 

And remember, principles are platform independent. Things that could be automated in dBase can certainly be automated using Access. Access is potentially the most flexible desktop database application on the market, with its support for Visual Basic, ActiveX objects and the like. Calling Access clunky, therefore, is unfair - a particular Access based application may be clunky due to poor design (I've seen plenty!!), but that's not the fault of the development environment, rather the developer. If you really want to criticise Access, pick on it's rather flaky multi-user support... (Again, right tool for the job - distributed system, choose of the big boys like SQL Server of Oracle).

Having said all that, I'd just like to add IT'S NOT THAT HARD OR COMPICATED!!! Most people, in my experience, do understand data issues once the basic concepts come to their attention. Successful data handling is all about modelling aspects of the real-world, something archaeologists do every day, which should make it easier, especially with the object/behaviour models of data which are becoming popular.

Paul's few basic database tips:
1. Keep your data atomic - if you can split a piece of data up into two bits of data (eg a phone number becomes an area code and a number) then it should be stored as two pieces of data not one. Remember, it's far easier to concatenate!

2. Use appropriate data types - use numerics where calculations are needed as you cannot perform calculations on strings. And don't use a string for a measurement field just so you can enter "1mm" or "0.5cm" - make a decision as to units of measurement and stick with it and keep numbers and strings separate! 

3. Try to build a data model that represents how the data actually is and enforce meaningful relationships (eg for context recording, use a Cuts table and a Deposits table to store data for cut and deposit type contexts and then relate them using their physical or stratigraphic relationships so we can say eg Cuts are filled with Deposits). 

3. Use look-up tables to control data entry wherever possible.

4. Try to avoid free-text fields apart from to support other fields. It is much easier to work with categorical data. For example, storing finds data in such a field (such as the ubiquitous 'comments' field)  makes the data virtually useless when it comes to plotting finds distributions.

5. Beware of memo objects. They are supported in varying ways by different applications, not always well (eg ArcView3.x).

Paul Cripps
GIS Specialist
English Heritage
Centre for Archaeology
Fort Cumberland
Fort Cumberland Road
Portsmouth, PO4 9LD
Tel: 02392 856765
Fax: 02392 856701
_________________________________________________________________
This e-mail is intended solely for the above-mentioned recipient
and it may contain confidential or privileged information. If you
have received it in error, please notify us immediately and delete
the e-mail. You must not copy, distribute, disclose or take any
action in reliance on it.

English Heritage
Telephone 020 7973 3000
Facsimile 020 7973 3001
www.english-heritage.org.uk
_________________________________________________________________

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

JiscMail Tools


RSS Feeds and Sharing


Advanced Options


Archives

September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
December 1998
November 1998
October 1998
September 1998
August 1998
July 1998
June 1998
May 1998


JiscMail is a Jisc service.

View our service policies at https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/policyandsecurity/ and Jisc's privacy policy at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/website/privacy-notice

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager