Posted on 10 February 2000
It is a cliche that archaeologists destroy their important primary evidence: a properly managed excavation leaves no stone unturned. So, when archaeologists from Newham Museum Archaeological Services, the Passmore Edwards Museum and the Manor Farm Museum worked on almost 180 sites in North East London, all that remained of their sites were the archives preserved in the vaults of local museums. The archives included data from a large number of unpublished excavations, with very impressive Bronze Age material from the banks of the Thames. But, when the Newham Museum Archaeological Service was closed, the sites had to be rescued all over again - this time, from the obsolete technology in which the data was preserved.
Archaeologist Keith Westcott of the Archaeology Data Service explained, "The formats of computer files change rapidly: a file created in state-of-the-art software one year becomes obsolete the next, as the software is updated. Old disks are useless when the hardware is no longer available to read them. Then there is the problem that magnetic disks and tapes can become corrupted.
"If these files contain the only record of a site that has been destroyed, then it is very important that we take every possible step to preserve the data."
Using the latest computer technology, Dr Westcott and colleagues at the University of York, have rescued and preserved over 7,000 files containing some 120 megabytes of data that would otherwise have been lost for good. 'Ancient' software and 'archaic' formats have been uncovered, and the data in them moved to modern standards.
This is all that remains of almost ten years of field work and analysis all round north east London, by a variety of field units. The archive includes data from a series of unpublished excavations which together combines to provide important Bronze Age Thames wetlands information. It also includes data on excavations at Tilbury Fort, Stratford, Langthorne Abbey and Barking Abbey.
Prominent London archaeologist, Clive Orton responded to the news with delight. "This work has rescued from oblivion the work of many dedicated archaeologists over many years, and has restored an important part of their past to millions of Londoners."
In addition to preserving the data, the ADS's comprehensive web server means that the data is now available to anyone who is connected to the Internet. The online catalogue holds easily accessed information on over 350,000 archaeological sites in the UK.