Legacy Data

I might be giving a paper at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January on legacy data. Because of that, I’m trying to be particularly reflective when working with legacy data here at Polis on Cyprus. Over the past ten years (yikes!), I’ve been working with notebooks from the Princeton Cyprus Expedition and working with some colleagues to understand the architecture, stratigraphy, and artifacts from the site.

The notebooks qualify as legacy “data” inasmuch as they document the excavations, and we couple this data with some freshly minted data based on our analysis of the finds and time at the site. We’ve been tempted to ask for permission to excavate a bit more, but never have. At its heart, our project seeks to produce meaningful analysis from what already exists.

This summer, for example, we’ve started to work on pulling together all the basic information prepared in the past for the analysis of the Hellenistic to Late Roman lamps at the site. Most of the original notes on the lamps are in notebooks written between 1997 and 2004. There are some photographs dating to those years and earlier as well as some taken in 2012 and 2013. This information is particularly significant because many of the lamps were stolen when the project’s storeroom was burglarized in 2013. The proxy data – notes, photos, database entries, and archaeological context – are all that remains.

IMG 3767Legacy data with dried apricots for scale 

The first day working on a project like this always causes me anxiety as the tasks of recoding data, linking photographs, and interpreting someone else’s notes makes me fear that new knowledge isn’t possible. At the same time, there is something vaguely liberating in being able to reflow this information in different ways without the burdensome material affordances of the objects themselves (although to be fair enough still exist to pass judgement).   

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