Open Context is a free, open-access online database resource for archaeology and related fields. It is a highly-generalized tool that pools and integrates individual researcher datasets and museum collections. Funding for the development of Open Context came from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Open Context has a variety of demonstration datasets now available for exploration and testing. These include field archaeology contextual records and finds registers, geo-archaeological samples, and a variety of zooarchaeological analyses. We are also adding museum and reference collection datasets. Some projects have rich image collections and narrative material, and others are of primary interest for specialist comparative analyses.
To help make sense of this widely varying body of material, we have developed a user folksonomy system. Individual users can add value to the pooled content by identifying and annotating items of interest using a tagging system. The folksonomy system also enables community members to establish and share meaningful links between items from different projects and collections (even if these projects use different recording systems). We think the folksonomy system can be a powerful tool for semantic data integration.
We believe Open Context represents some significant achievements, but still requires further development. We are working toward interoperability with other systems and developing partnerships to assist in OAI standards compliance and support from institutional repositories. We are also working with the Science Commons to find “some rights reserved” frameworks that create incentives for sharing primary data.
We would also like to see some of this framework incorporated into institutionally-backed digital repository systems. Thus, we are eager to partner with other related initiatives. We already have an established a partnership with the University of Chicago OCHRE project. The data structures underlying Open Context are based on the pioneering efforts this group. Open Context uses a subset of the global schema described in OCHRE’s “Archaeological Markup Language” (ArchaeoML). Because of this, data imported into Open Context is fully compatible with the OCHRE system. Besides OCHRE, there are several other initiatives looking to create digital resources for archaeology, and we would like to broaden the scope of our collaborations.