Tennessee Archaeology in Continental Perspective: Using DINAA to Examine Site Distributions by Time Period Across Eastern North America

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology 2016, Day 2

David G. Anderson, Stephen J. Yerka, Eric Kansa, Sarah Whitcher Kansa, Kelsey Noack Myers, R. Carl. DeMuth, and Joshua J. Wells

Tennessee is one of many states participating in a project to integrate archaeological site file data over large areas for use in big picture research. The Digital Index of North American Archaeology, or DINAA project, is funded by the National Science Foundation (initially in 2012 and again in 2016) and by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (starting in 2016). To date DINAA has integrated information on ca. 500,000 archaeological sites, and linked it with information in a range of data repositories using site number as a common identifier. The first phase of the project, from 2012 to 2015, involved data from 16 states in the eastern United States. The second phase of the project has just begun, and over the next three years we hope to add in many more states, with an ultimate goal of reaching all 49 states in the continental United States, and eventually include other countries in North America as well. To date, every state agency maintaining archaeological site file data has been contacted, and expansion is proceeding rapidly. We are also initiating consultation with tribal nations across the country.

TCPA 2016 Anderson et al. Figure 1

DINAA partnerships as of August 2016 with dot density plot showing distribution of cultural resources at low resolution within states whose data has been received thus far. Dots do not refer to exact site locations, but to groups of five sites whose position has been randomly distributed within 20×20 km grid cells. Ohio data is at county-level resolution.

Continental scale databases are a comparatively new development in archaeology, but are increasingly feasible to develop and maintain given advances in digital technology. DINAA’s Linked Open Data cross-references distributed collections on the Web, enabling users to find and access relevant data in systems currently or considering undergoing integration like Archaeology Southwest, the Paleoindian Database of the Americas (PIDBA), the Eastern Woodlands Household Archaeology Database Project (EWHADP), the Canadian Archaeological Radiocarbon Database (CARD), the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), the Chaco Research Archive (CRA), and The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR).

TCPA 2016 Anderson et al. Figure 2

DINAA permits links to information in a wide range of online data repositories, using site numbers as the common denominator. DINAA directs users to these outlets, but access and content control remains on their systems. (Black arrows indicate existing linkages, white arrows indicate linkages to be effected in later stages of work)

The Paleoindian Database of the Americas is an early example of a continental scale database, and provides information on the occurrence of Paleoindian projectile point and other data over much of the continent (see map, below). DINAA will be able to provide similar maps for archaeological site and artifact data by time period. The site also includes a series of postings discussing recent applications. You can also explore a 2015 draft release of the data that will allow you to generate site distributions by time period across large areas of Eastern North America. Tennessee is at the geographic heart of this region, and site data from the state will be integrated over the next few months into the online maps. It will soon be possible to examine site occurrence from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes and, in a few years, across the country and hopefully the continent.

Since the security of archaeological sites must be protected for ethical as well as legal reasons DINAA does not maintain coordinate information or other precise locational data in its online system. Instead, site location data in DINAA output is presented at a reduced level of geographic precision, at the county level or randomly placed within a 20 km grid. The exact spatial resolution used for public data is negotiated with the data providers, which include both State- and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs &THPOs) and site file managers. Thus far, 20 states have agreed to DINAA’s default ~20km grid, and two others provide data at a county level of detail. PIDBA has successfully implemented similar security strategies for 25 years. Appropriate agency contact information is provided with each data record to enable qualified researchers to obtain higher resolution spatial data from appropriate governmental officials. This is necessary because DINAA does not provide the higher resolution data that these agencies maintain, nor does DINAA serve as a substitute for legally mandated review and compliance.

TCPA 2016 Anderson et al. Figure 3

Distribution of Clovis culture projectile points, ca. 13,000 cal yr BP. The map shows the location of Clovis and Clovis Variants, plus points designated as ‘fluted’ in Paleoindian artifact recording projects but not yet assigned to a specific type in PIDBA, the Paleoindian Database of the Americas (from Anderson et al. 2010:71).

DINAA partners are developing linkages with many online sources of archaeological data, including records, publications, and collections information. Integrating archaeological data at a continental scale with other paleoenvironmental, chronometric, and paleoclimate datasets is also underway, and the combined datasets will open powerful new research opportunities to explore the dynamic relationships between human and natural systems. The integration of site file data at a continental scale is currently in its infancy in American archaeology, but DINAA has demonstrated its feasibility, and promises to enrich that potential with Linked Open Data strategies. Archaeological data integrated in the manner described here will continue to grow in volume and transform the practice of our profession.

The DINAA project protocols and technical products are available online and are shared with the public and the scientific community alike, offering a platform for emulation, growth, and use, while promoting the best practices of open science. The project team members are active in communicating the goals, procedures, and technical and research results of this work, and will continue to present this work at professional conferences and in peer-reviewed technical journals covering archaeology and informatics topics. Tennessee has been, and will continue to be, at the very heart of this effort, and we thank the staff of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology for their help and support, as well as those in similar roles in the many states now participating.



Anderson, David G., D. Shane Miller, Stephen J. Yerka, J. Christopher Gillam, Erik N. Johanson, Derek T. Anderson, Albert C. Goodyear, and Ashley M. Smallwood.
2010    PIDBA (Paleoindian Database of the Americas) 2010: Current Status and Findings. Archaeology of Eastern North America 38:63-90.

DINAA (Digital Index of North American Archaeology)
2016    Project Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) Publication and integration of North American archaeological site file records. http://ux.opencontext.org/archaeology-site-data/  (Accessed 30 August 2016).

Wells, Joshua J., Eric C. Kansa, Sarah Whitcher Kansa, Stephen J. Yerka, David G. Anderson, Kelsey Noack Myers, R. Carl DeMuth, and Thaddeus G. Bissett.
2014    Web-Based Discovery and Integration of Archaeological Historic Properties Inventory Data: The Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA). Literary and Linguistic Computing 29(3):349–360.