FindSampo – a New Digital Tool for Archaeological Finds Under Development
In this paper we will offer two perspectives, a heritage manager and a researcher perspective, on a new find recording scheme, which is currently under development in Finland. FindSampo (in Finnish Löytösampo) is a concept for a digital web service for collecting information on archaeological finds made by the public, especially by hobbyist metal detectorists. The database is developed by The Finnish Archaeological Finds Recording Open Linked Database (SuALT) project, a four-year consortium funded by the Academy of Finland that started in 2017. The partners in the project are the Finnish Heritage Agency (FHA), the University of Helsinki and Aalto University. As a multidisciplinary research project, SuALT develops innovative solutions for reporting, collecting and managing archaeological finds, applying citizen science and semantic computing. In the end, the digital platform, FindSampo, will give the public, researchers and other scientists open access to study finds and its spatial information online globally.
In recent years, the growing flow of new archaeological finds made by metal-detectorists has given unprecedented challenges to cultural heritage managers, particularly in the Archaeological Collections of the FHA who are managing the finds data. One of the needs is to distribute the information of new metal-detected finds. During early 2010s, avocational metal detecting became more popular and the amount of finds reported has since then constantly increased. With new digital collection management the data from these new finds will be easily accessible for all in FindSampo. Finds data are also connected to existing databases nationally, for example, the open digital services of the FHA (www.kyppi.fi), and internationally to similar databases of archaeological finds made by the public, like the British PAS and the Danish DIME.
Ontologies and metadata models are needed to represent archaeological information as a digital resource for digital humanities research. For Archaeological Collections it is important that the self-recorded finds data made by the public is well-matched with the FHA’s collections management. The ontology infrastructure is needed for linked data so that it interoperates with other national and international databases. The concept-based ontology of archaeological object names, for example, that the FHA has developed, is essential when the recorded find information needs to be accurate and compatible. Using formal data structures, it is possible to share archaeological information for different user needs in versatile ways.
Different users and different user-needs
User experience research has been one of the key methods for assessing the needs of different user groups of FindSampo. We have focused on three major end-user groups for the database; the public, researchers and heritage managers. In early 2018 we launched an online questionnaire survey, where we asked different user groups to express their expectations, motivations and concerns about how the database would function. However, of the 178 received answers the majority came from the general public, especially metal detectorists and landowners. Hence we realized that we need to reach out to other end-user groups as well in order to collect more data. It was evident that we also needed to get the project more known within these groups. We therefore organized public outreach events, such as lectures and talks in different cities as well as active social media platforms. We also conducted a road trip throughout the country in order to get more detailed information regarding the future design and content of the database. These focus group meetings and interviews are currently being analysed and some preliminary findings can be presented.
The majority of the end-users have expressed enthusiasm towards FindSampo. The main motivations for using the database amongst detectorists has been the ability to report their finds in an easy way on-site but also being law obedient. Another motivation relates to find recording processes. Detectorists hope that by reporting finds online it will speed up the cataloguing process at the FHA. Another key element is that detectorists want feedback on their finds and they also want to engage more with professional archaeologists and heritage managers. However, the metadata needs to be in a form that suits the needs of a large audience. For example, researchers have expressed that they want to have an easy-to-use tool not only for browsing objects but also for doing e.g. in-depth spatial analyses of certain object types, typological and chronological studies and also for studying the materiality of objects.
Two major concerns have come up regarding FindSampo, both in the questionnaire but also during interviews, in all the end-user groups. Sharing the find information online, such as the exact location of the finds, is a concern that we must take seriously within the project because the sites are naturally vulnerable to looting. However, the ancient monuments, which are protected by law, are already publicly available online. It seems that the majority of end-users wants to keep this information embargoed, at least until these new sites have been studied by archaeologists, limited to heritage managers only. Another concern relates to the find validation process. While heritage managers are concerned about the possibility that they will be overwhelmed with all the new finds reports and the work related to that, detectorists, in turn, are worried that their finds won’t be processed quickly enough. There are several options for handling these obstacles: one being a functional ontology, which is currently underway at the FHA. Image recognition is another solution but it requires high-quality images. The best option would be to combine these with the input from a community of both experts and the public who would be able to contribute to the validation process. By doing so we can contribute to citizen science but also make sure that our cultural heritage is handled and studied in a democratic way.