An open approach to contextualising heterogeneous cultural heritage datasets

John McAuley, Dublin Institute of Technology
James D. Carswell, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Conference Paper

Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA2007); Berlin, Germany; April, 2-6, 2007


This paper describes a semantic museum application, which aims to present a holistic impression of the Etruscan civilisation. Through the use of a distributed computing paradigm and the CIDOC CRM ontology, the system presents a unified view of a fragmented heritage, while supporting browse and search at a semantic level. Within the cultural heritage world, however, much value is placed on ‘context’, both in describing and presenting heritage artefacts. From this perspective, a platform built upon the distributed search paradigm, although useful in many respects, does not convey how an artefact sits within a broader setting. Narrative concepts are proposed as a way of reconciling heritage artefacts with their original context. A community of domain experts (i.e. Etruscan archaeologists and heritage professionals) is supported in contributing their knowledge and interpretation through a comprehensive authoring process. Narrative content is then organised according to several broad, hierarchically structured topics known as the ‘Sphere of Knowledge’ and a domain ontology describing the artefacts and monument of the Etruscan people. Each artefact is consequently represented through the text and associated with broader topics from the ‘Sphere of Knowledge’. The artefact is therefore not presented in isolation or with lists of similar artefacts but rather discussed from a broader perspective. In our T.Arc.H.N.A system (Towards Archaeological Heritage New Accessibility), annotated narrative content, buttressed by references to real world artefacts, is disseminated to variety of platforms through a semantic web service. The entire approach is developed upon a multi-tiered architecture, allowing for the separation of functionality, yet supporting an open approach to interoperability.