Holly Wright



Originally from California, Holly had her first brush with archaeology as a kid at the USC Idyllwild Arts summer programme in the San Bernardino mountains.

Digging with her mother (and looking very serious).

This experience lay dormant for quite some time, and she went on to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz (go Slugs!), obtaining a BFA in Art (drawing and painting) and a BA in Art History (architectural history). After moving to Minnesota, she worked in the non-profit arts sector in a variety of creative and administrative roles for 12 years, including eight years at the innovative community arts centre Intermedia Arts; eventually drawing on her undergrad education in visual art, alongside a growing interest in computing, as the graphic design and IT manager.

While at Intermedia, she attended a conference about the art, architecture and archaeology of Albania, was exposed to archaeology once again, and caught the 'bug'. Having no formal training in archaeology, she did the equivalent of an undergrad degree in anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and gained as much fieldwork experience as possible, while continuing to work.

She went on to be operations manager at the Minnesota Alliance for Arts in Education for a further four years, and was then ready to combine her interests in the arts, archaeology and computing, coming to the University of York to pursue an MSc in Archaeological Information Systems in 2002. Graduating with distinction in 2003, her dissertation, titled Scalable Vector Graphics: An Exploration of Potential Archaeological Applications, was centred on archaeology and the use of SVG, which is the W3C recommendation for vector graphics. A distillation of this research can be found in Archaeological Vector Graphics and SVG: A case study from Cricklade in Internet Archaeology.

Returning to Minnesota, she worked for the Cultural Resource Management firm The 106 Group, as an archaeologist and graphics specialist. In 2005 she was awarded a EU Marie Curie CHIRON fellowship and returned to York to pursue a PhD, centred on archaeology and the Semantic Web, supervised by Prof Julian Richards. Upon completion of her Marie Curie fellowship, she was hired as Research Manager for the Department of Archaeology, where she used her non-profit administration experience to support external research funding efforts, in particular the European funding portfolio.

She completed her PhD in 2011, titled Seeing Triple: Archaeology, Field Drawing and the Semantic Web, and is delighted to be working as European Projects Manager for the Archaeology Data Service, allowing her to combine all her research and administrative interests and skills, and continue living and working in the beautiful and historic City of York.



Seeing Triple: Archaeology, Field Drawing and the Semantic Web

My PhD research centred on how archaeological field data, and in particular the spatial information held in field drawings can be made part of the Semantic Web. The World Wide Web has profoundly changed the way we acquire, use and share information. At the same time, the growth of the Web has been hampered by its structure, which is made up of a 'Web of Documents'. This Web of Documents has been described as being 'a mile wide, but an inch deep' and using the Web can be a chaotic, unfocussed (albeit sometimes serendipitous...or downright funny) trawl through vast amounts of information to get to anything useful. The development of the Semantic Web is an attempt to create a deeper, more meaningful Web, by changing the Web of Documents into a 'Web of Data'. Freeing data from the Web documents and traditional, proprietary databases allows it to be combined, manipulated and presented in new ways, thereby making it possible to ask new and different questions, across multiple heterogenous data sources. Spatial data presents particular challenges for Semantic Web developers, but these challenges will have to be addressed for archaeologists and others whose research has a large spatial component. 

This thesis explores the Semantic Web with relation to archaeology, and whether it is yet possible for non-specialist archaeologists to create, use and share their data using Semantic Web technologies and principles. It also considers whether spatial data derived from field drawings can be incorporated alongside textual data, to ensure a more complete archaeological record is represented on the Semantic Web. To determine if these two related questions can be answered, a practical application was undertaken, followed by a discussion of the results, and recommendations for future work.

Two archaeological datasets were chosen for the practical application. The first was an Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian site in the Yorkshire Wolds located near Burrow House Farm, Cottam, excavated by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. The second was from the Anglo-Scandinavian area of the multi-period Hungate site in the York city centre, excavated by the York Archaeological Trust. One of the primary tenets of the Semantic Web is interoperability of data, and the sites were chosen because they were related archaeologically, but differed technologically. Both datasets included field drawings from which data could be extracted, along with augmentory databases to enhance the demonstration. The data was carried through a complete workflow, from extraction, alignment to an ontology, translation into RDF, querying and visualisation within an RDF store, and through to publication as Linked Data.

This practical application was completed primarily using newly available generic tools, which required a minimal amount of specialist knowledge during most phases of the process. It demonstrated it is currently possible for non-specialist archaeologists to work with their data using Semantic Web technologies, including some data derived from field drawings. It showed how the Semantic Web allows archaeologists to use their data in new ways, and that it is a fruitful area for further work.


This thesis is available via White Rose eTheses: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/2194/


Scalable Vector Graphics: An Exploration of Potential Archaeological Applications

My MSc dissertation, Scalable Vector Graphics: An Exploration of Potential Archaeological Applications, was an analyses of SVG and its potential as a tool for bringing vector based archaeological information to the Web. It is an overview of the various ways archaeologists use vector graphics for the analysis, interpretation and communication of spatial data, and a discussion of the particular challenges associated with presenting that information on the Web. It outlines the characteristics and properties of SVG, including what it is, what it does and why it might be a useful tool for archaeologists. It also includes a discussion of future trends for SVG and its potential as a tool for archaeology. It explores not only how it is used for electronic publication on the Web, but also how it may be incorporated into excavation and post-excavation.

To demonstrate how SVG works, I created a practical implementation to illustrate how it might be used to publish vector-based archaeological information on the Web. Three plans and three section drawings were taken from Jeremy Haslam's Excavations at Cricklade, Wiltshire, 1975, which were published in Internet Archaeology (Issue 14, 2003), and digitized for online publication by Guy Hopkinson. The goal of the exercise was to take this set of images, created in AutoDesk's AutoCAD and Adobe Illustrator and interpret them online using SVG, whilst maintaining the same functionality built into them by Hopkinson. The case study includes an overview of the Cricklade project and information about the vector based plans and sections to be converted into SVG format. It also includes a discussion of the purpose, execution and findings of the demonstration.

A distillation of this research was published in 2006 as Archaeological Vector Graphics and SVG: A case study from Cricklade in Internet Archaeology (Issue 20).

Research group(s)


  • EU Marie-Curie CHIRON Research Fellow


Selected publications

  • “Explorations in Archaeological Visualisation: Using XML technologies for Visualising Anglo-Saxon settlement in the Northern England” in P. in S. Hermon and F. Niccolucci (eds) Communicating Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century, EPOCH, 41-51
  • “XML Based Visualisation in Archaeology” in J. T. Clark and E. M. Hagemeister (eds)Digital Discovery: Exploring New Frontiers in Human Heritage. Budapest: ARCHAEOLINGUA.




Module leader: Working on the Web

External activities


Editorial duties

Holly Wright working at the Cleveland Circle site in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

Contact details

Dr Holly Wright
Archaeology Data Service
Department of Archaeology
University of York
The King's Manor

Tel: (44) 1904 323967
Fax: (44) 1904 323939