A Note from the Architects (Ellis and Wackerman)

In the Fall 2013 semester, Dr. Selden approached us with an idea for a digital collection that would document and showcase his work, and that of others, on Caddo ceramics and aspects of Texas archaeology and history. At the time, we were members of the East Texas Research Center (now with the Center for Digital Scholarship), and this collection would reside in the department’s digital archives. Work on the collection, eventually named CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY, began in October 2013, developed slowly, and is now one of our primary priorities.

Almost every aspect of the work that we have done with CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY has been unique for us, professionals who prior to working with Dr. Selden had created numerous digital collections ranging over many subject areas. The work on CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY would be, in our opinion, likely unique to any other digital archives and archivists as well and there are several reasons supporting this. And, of course, if the work is unique then the product will probably be unique as well. For us, being in a service-oriented profession, it is this latter aspect of the project which is most significant. We would then like to describe some of our work on this project, in the process highlighting some of the unique aspects of the collection.

Metadata

In the context of any digital archives, one of the more unique aspects of CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY is the descriptive information supplied in CONTENTdm. Referred to as metadata, this information in its most basic form is a set comprised of a field, for example Site Name, and a value, for example Vanderpool. On average, 10 to 15 fields are used by most collections. Prior to CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY, the highest number of fields used by one of our collections was around thirty. CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY uses fifty-four fields, of which Dr. Selden created more than thirty-five.

Although impressive, the number of fields alone isn’t the only determiner of uniqueness. Generally, the fields used for digital collections of cultural heritage objects are similar: Title, Subject, Description, Date(s), Format and a few others. CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY has these fields, but it also has discipline-specific fields that up to this point have probably been little used in other digital collections. Some of these fields include Interior and Exterior Surface Treatment, Orifice Diameter (cm.), Pigment Use/Location and Base Shape.

On one hand, the metadata used in CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY is significant in that it presents to users a novel set of resources. Yet, considering that these users are most likely professionals – let’s just say archaeologists in general – the significance can be more measured. Through CONTENTdm’s Advanced Search features, users are allowed to sort and group items within a collection based on a number of selected metadata fields: a user could limit a search result to only display items that possess metadata values “A” and “B”, “A” or “B”, etc. For example, within the CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY database a user could limit the results to only display those items that are 5 cm. in height and that were also found at the Vanderpool site. For a researcher, such a search method can allow patterns in the information to more easily develop, perhaps providing a combination of values previously unrecognized.

Website

In planning and developing what would become the webpage for CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY, there were several examples – existing within the department’s digital archives and on external sites – which were referenced. The external examples were essentially CSS templates (openly distributed CSS files accompanied for display via HTML files), with the examples found in the department being modifications of similar templates.

Eventually, an external template was chosen from templatemo (www.templatemo.com). Using a pre-designed template did allow for the application of a rather complex design which would have otherwise either been difficult or required quite a lot of time to create. But, as alluded to above, modifications were necessary. With any such template, there are various features that must be edited, namely text and images. The amount of time taken to complete these changes was, though, relatively small, as all that was needed was a rudimentary knowledge of HTML and information provided by Dr. Selden. Yet, for the CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY webpage, there were several other changes that required much more effort and time. One of these surrounded an image carousel that was included in the original design template. This carousel displayed one image at a time, cycling through five or more. To move and control the cycle of the images, the template included a section of javascript, which also regulated the speed and interval of each image cycle.

During the process of creating the web page, we noticed that certain areas of the CONTENTdm database were not functioning properly. The issues were only present on the database associated with CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY – each collection having a singular relation to the database – so it was apparent that the source of these would be found somewhere in the template code. After a week spent reviewing the HTML and CSS, with minor edits and tweaks during that time, the problem that was causing these issues could not be found. As a last resort, we dismantled the entire site structure – at that point, the main page and four secondary pages were essentially complete, with text, images and active links throughout. When we did this and reloaded the database, the issues were corrected.

We then reconstructed the site, piece by piece, refreshing the database at each step and checking for any problems. This strategy worked, as we found, when embedding the code for the image carousel, that the database issues reappeared. The source of the problem was the javascript used for the carousel. With that section of code removed, and with the accompanying HTML and CSS left intact, the database issues were not present. Yet, without this javascript the carousel could not work. There were many other carousel options which could have been chosen at that point, but it was decided to use a simple, static header: simplicity in design has been a focus for CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY since the beginning.

3D Models

One aspect of CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY as a project for which we have not achieved the desired level of success is the capture and display of 3D models of Caddo pottery. As any reader of this blog knows, such models occupy a significant part of Dr. Selden’s work, and the display was, in fact – if our memory is correct – one of the initial discussion points during the introductory period of this project. At the time, while we could not find a comparable content management system, such as CONTENTdm, that successfully displayed 3D models of any type (although, several institutions did claim to have 3D galleries or collection, but in reality these were 2D images of 3D representations), we were confident that we could find a solution of some type.

There were at least three ways in which we could have displayed the 3D models: within the CONTENTdm database; within a CONTENTdm web page; within a third party viewer. The listing follows order of preference, as the second and third methods of display would not provide immediate access: for both, the user would have to navigate through a set of links to arrive at a model. As these models would be accompanied by 2D representations, metadata and other relevant information and files, separating access was thought of as not being ideal.

The first method, displaying models within the CONTENTdm database, did not work. There were several reasons for this but the main was that the image/object viewer used within the database would not support the common – or any at all – 3D file formats. Within the second method there are two sub-methods: displaying a model through HTML or through a third-party viewer. The first sub-method was somewhat of an attempt at a work-around of the first method. This was possible, at least in theory, as although the viewer used by CONTENTdm does not support 3D file formats, the database will accept and allow the upload of any format. The process, then, would be to embed the 3D file in a CONTENTdm web page by means of HTML tags. For the second sub-method, everything would be the same except for the use of a third-party viewer. Ultimately, these sub-methods did not work, and while the reason is not entirely clear it likely had something to do with the manner in which the file was accessed by the code or the viewer. The third method, displaying a model via a third-party viewer, with the file residing in that site’s database, also has two sub-methods: link from CONTENTdm to the site on which the third-party viewer resides, or embed the third-party viewer in a CONTENTdm page. There are some similarities between this and the second method, with one main difference: the files are also hosted by the third-party. These methods did technically work, but there were issues concerning file integrity and sharing and so neither were used.

So, there were many attempts but not one met everyone’s expectations. These did not though completely rule out the inclusion of 3D models, just the display: for some of the objects within the CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY database a 3D model has been included. These models were created by Dr. Selden in the usual manner, and the files do reside in CONTENTdm, but the eventual output format, instead of OBJ, ICF or any other, is PDF. In the CONTENTdm database, these PDF 3D models appear as 2D representations – the 3D functions, such as zoom and rotate are not accessible. Yet, the user can download these files and, after loading them into a 3D image viewer, interact with a functional 3D model. Although this method does provide some functionality, other ways in which to display 3D models for CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY are still being explored.

Work still continues on CRHR:ARCHAEOLOGY within the Center for Digital Scholarship. At this point, a major task is quality control: identifying and removing inconsistencies or inaccuracies found in the database and the web page. Yet, at the same time, we are continually looking to further develop the project to more fully realize the goals of Dr. Selden.

About the Authors

Ann Ellis is the Metadata Librarian in the Center for Digital Scholarship at SFASU (aellis@sfasu.edu)

Dillon Wackerman is the Digital Archivist in the Center for Digital Scholarship at SFASU (wackermad@sfasu.edu)

Selden3DTagline

Written by zselden

Selden (PhD, Texas A&M University, 2013) is a US Marine Corps veteran, cyclist, kayaker, backpacker, hiker, climber, fisherman and general all-around outdoor enthusiast. His research is focused at the confluence of archaeological methods and digital technology, and he is particularly interested in the application of 3D technologies to archaeological problems, geometric morphometrics, network analyses, predictive modeling, archaeological theory, and archaeological science.

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