TRACCE no. 12 – by B. K. Swartz Jr., John P. Hale
Establishment of a Global Archive of Prehistoric Rock Art Photographs.
The Global Archive of Prehistoric Rock Art Photographs is a web-based depository for rock art images and associated information.
The Global Archive of Prehistoric Rock Art Photographs is a web-based depository for rock art images and associated information. The aim is to create a comprehensive rock art image archive through submissions by archaeologists, art historians, and other rock art enthusiasts.
It is anticipated that this archive will result in a worldwide database that can be searched and comparatively analyzed to further reconstruct rock art prehistory and explain rock art phenomena. The overall goal is to provide a permanent rich archive of images for research and study that will not be controlled by any special group.
With the recent technological breakthroughs that have made the moderate purchase price of digital cameras and their eventual widespread availability to the general public is at hand. The time is ripe to produce permanent high resolution digital images in a global archive accessible on the Internet. To generate such a photographic database it is necessary to have all interested persons transmit via satellite (i.e. directly from the field), telephone line or computer link, digitized images to this web site.
Not only photographs taken with digital cameras, but also digitized images from the current huge collections of conventional 35mm slide transparencies amassed over the last half-century and even photographic prints, can be assembled into the archive. As with the cost of digital cameras, the cost of digital scanners for both photographs and slides has fallen to the point that they are readily available at most colleges and universities. Existing photographs and slides can be quickly digitized in a short period of time.
There are major shortcomings to the traditional long-term physical storage and light projection utilization of color slides. By most estimates, 50 years is the practical limit for the storage of color slides. In addition color slides are extremely fragile, require strict storage conditions for optimal preservation, are difficult and expensive to duplicate and are accessible only on a limited basis and must be viewed in person. Current digital technology can and should replace the color slide as the means for storing and preserving images of rock art. The advantages of digital technology over color slides are that digital images can (1) be stored indefinitely without degradation of the image, (2) can be copied as many times as necessary, providing multiple backups for preservation, (3) can be manipulated electronically to bring out subtleties of contrast and detail that might otherwise go unnoticed on the original photograph, and (4) can be easily transmitted via the Internet, thereby creating a broad distribution network to an infinitely greater audience. Since rock art itself cannot be physically preserved on a comprehensive basis, it must be preserved by other means. These four advantages allow a feasible approach for the preservation of a fully exposed and fragile archaeological resource that is highly vulnerable. We believe that the archive we have put on line will preserve image data making it available for viewing, recording and analyzing.
The archive consists of three parts: an HTML-based web interface, a database containing the image record, and a connecting bridge to allow communication between the web interface and the image database. A simple, but operable, prototype has been developed. Further development of data submission screens, additional information screens to assist users in submitting and querying the archive, translation of web pages into as many foreign languages, and efforts to incorporate existing rock art image databases into our archive is underway. The submission form is to be revised to more closely conform to the Standard Rock Art Site Record File (RAS) used by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), ICOM (Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials), and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites).
At Ball State University we have (1) have facilitated the development of the Global Archive of Prehistoric Rock Art Photographs in the form of space on the web server, (2) developed of two prototypes, (3) provided a new machine dedicated to development of the archive with all attendant software necessary and (4) provided technical assistance from the University Computing Services for development.
We have designed our interface to be as simple as possible to allow quick and easy entry of information, but still providing a level of detail that will be useful for rock art research. In addition, we try to provide sufficient information about the contributor that he or she can be easily contacted for more detailed information about images, sites, and research conducted regarding rock art. To this end we encourage contributors to provide as much information as possible, including information about their own website and/or publications. We are hopeful that by utilizing the UNESCO RAS record format, we can more easily incorporate existing rock art databases by using an import filter to match fields between databases. In this way we could quickly and easily import data from other rock art image collections worldwide.
B. K. Swartz, Jr. and John P. Hale
Department of Anthropology Ball State University
Muncie, IN, U.S.A.
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