Sense of Humerus

Emily Streetman: Anthropology Doctoral Student

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Database brainstorm

Let’s suss this idea out in blog post format, shall we? The database my lab is currently working with for a bioarchaeology project has a very limited number of queries that do not currently function, possibly due to my user error, but even when functioning, the situation is less than ideal. One complete and one nearly complete dissertation have been written using this collection, and each author had to create her own database after entering all of her data in the lab’s database.

At face value, it seems a simple task, since so much data has been collected, for me to ask: How many adults were aged using the fourth rib (a standard method)? I would have to manually pull out and search 200-some adult folders containing 20 pages each and tally the ones who have this bit of data.

I would like to improve this system. The in-progress dissertation author just told me that she’d like to link excavation notes, digital copies of data sheets, and photographic images for each set of remains in this skeletal collection. This is a great idea. Assuming that some volunteer or intern-sourced manpower could be dedicated to data entry, here are some things I’d like researchers to be able to do with the data collected from 400-some medieval skeletons.

[Before the archaeologists in the room start asking about the associated material culture, we don’t have it, but excavation notes should mention its presence, so it can be included in the database. These Christian burials are largely devoid of grave goods, but there were a handful of jewelry items and a few extant pieces of shroud in the cemeteries.]

Input for each individual: pdfs of excavation notes, location of grave on cemetery schematic, pdfs of data entry sheets (with data re-coded or tagged?, to allow search by sex or age group), images and xrays of pathologies (tagged with limited number of disease or symptom tags to allow search for all, say, crania with cribra orbitalia), data collected by, data collected on date, cemetery, skeleton number.

Audience: this is to be an internal organizational system, with access limited at the discretion of the lab director. This would ostensibly include graduate and undergraduate students who have received permission to collect data or perform analysis on the collection.

Back end: volunteers and interns would input the data, using either a scanning xerox machine or a plate scanner and manual data entry.

Front end: the audience is not, in general, technologically inclined and is most familiar with SPSS and Excel to organize data and run statistics. Furthermore, these are the programs that will likely be used for analysis of New Database data, so I would like findings to be exportable. E.g., export the age/sex profile data of all adult females. I always picture these sorts of filters as similar to when I shop at Best Buy online. I’m looking for (male/female/either) (adult/subadult) (age range:0—–20 sliding scale) (with:right and left femurs).

How can I do this? Omeka and Kora are both database scaffoldings, but I’ve heard a variety of reviews about both and I don’t remember which is which.


Additional note: It might be possible to use one of the pre-existing excel sheets as a base for this.