Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 873–893 | Cite as

A Minimalist Approach to Archaeological Data Management Design

  • Simon J. HoldawayEmail author
  • Joshua Emmitt
  • Rebecca Phillipps
  • Sina Masoud-Ansari


If archaeology is to deal with the “big questions” of the human past, large datasets are required with common data structures that allow for comparison of data derived from markedly different times and places. However, archaeological comparisons using datasets consisting of lots of detailed records remain elusive. Large archaeological datasets are difficult to integrate because it is often functional and therefore interpretative categories that are recorded rather than the phenomena upon which these interpretations are based. Here, we describe a system that maintains a structural separation between recording a simple set of archaeological phenomena, and the functional, behavioral meanings, and temporal associations of these phenomena. Rather than construct a schema that integrates the description of high-level units and relationships, we consider what minimum data entities that might be needed to integrate datasets in relation to archaeological phenomena while still offering the flexibility needed to allow for regional variability in unit construction. We describe the implementation of this system to field recording on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island), New Zealand, and consider examples of comparative analyses of material recorded using this system from our projects in Australia and Egypt.


Data management Fieldwork recording Data ontology Big data 



Work on Ahuahu/Great Mercury Island is supported by the Fay and Richwhite families, particularly Sir Michael Fay, the Auckland Museum, and the University of Auckland. We acknowledge the support of Ngāti Hei, who provide manawhenua cultural support, and Heritage New Zealand. Permission to work on the Fayum material was provided by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and the Ministry of State for Antiquities. We are grateful to Aboriginal Traditional Owners of country in our western NSW study areas for their permission to conduct the research, and their assistance with fieldwork. Thanks to Shannon McPherron for comments on a draft of the paper.

Funding information

The Egyptian work was supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand through a Marsden grant (UOA1106), by the National Geographic Society, and by the University of Auckland. The Australian research was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant (DP0557439), Macquarie, and University of Auckland research grants.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology, School of Social SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Centre for eResearch, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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