30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 26
Paige Silcox and Satin Platt
Tennessee Division of Archaeology
One of the primary functions of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA) is to maintain the state’s Archaeological Site File, the official repository for information about archaeological sites in the state of Tennessee. We determine what constitutes an archaeological site, assign state site numbers, and record information about the sites on documents called Site Survey Records, also known as site forms. We maintain an archive of site forms, both paper and electronic and manage a geospatial database of site data and survey information. We currently have over 26,000 recorded archaeological sites in Tennessee adding, on average, about 300 new sites each year.
For the last year, we at the TDOA Site File have been working closely with a development team to create an updated system for recording and archiving archaeological site data. This new system will allow us to collect site data from archaeologists via a web application, import approved data directly into our database, and automatically produce a standardized Site Survey Record from the recorded data.
A new method of data collection necessarily involved revising the site form and creating a new database. This was an exciting opportunity to reevaluate the data we collect and how we structure it. We went into that process with three main goals in mind:
- to maintain a secure, functional site database with each record tied directly to a geographic location, which we already had but we certainly didn’t want to diminish that functionality while making “improvements,”
- to integrate our site database with other TDOA work processes such as archaeological permitting, collections management, and the report library, and
- to look toward expanding the potential research value of the archaeological database.
And now, finally, all our hard work is about to pay off as we are nearly ready to launch our new web-based site record submission process!
For the general public, the process of reporting a potential archaeological site will remain the same: contact one of the site file curators at email@example.com and we will assess whether an official state site number is warranted. But for our frequent flyers; private contract archaeologists, state and federal agency archaeologists, and academic archaeologists, we are excited to give a sneak peek at the new system we hope to be using for years to come.
To begin the process, each individual site reporter will register as a user on the TDEC dashboard. This dashboard will allow them to access the site record submission form as well as a personalized table listing the site records they’ve submitted and each record’s status in the review and approval process (Figure 1).
A custom-designed web form was created for our reporters to use when submitting site records for either new or previously-recorded sites. Each of the form’s seven pages collects a specific set of data; for example site location, cultural affiliation and site type, or site conditions. If a submission is not completed in one sitting it can be saved and returned to via the dashboard at any time.
Some of the changes on the new site form may appear to be minor, but will have significant impacts on the site data entry and site form production workflows. For example, the reporter will enter basic location info, such as county, quad name, and Lat/Long coordinates, which were previously entered by site file curators (Figure 2). They will also report whether the site is located on state-owned or state-controlled land and, if so, a permit number will be required before the site record can be submitted. This will allow us to eventually connect the site record database with the archaeological permitting database.
We’ve made a number of changes to the way we collect cultural affiliation and site type data and the expected result will be an improvement in the accuracy and research potential of our site data. Rather than site file curators assigning site types, site reporters will now select them from expandable menus under four main categories: Pleistocene Fauna, Prehistoric, Protohistoric/Contact Period Native American, and Historic (Figure 3). Storing site type data in these nested sets will eventually allow for queries at varying levels of specificity.
Many historic archaeologists will be happy to learn that we have added a new historic date range selection and will now record historic sites with likely occupations dating to between 1933 and 1950. Other data points added to facilitate specific research questions include the Military Era field (i.e., Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, etc) and an optional text field in which Ethnic Heritage can be associated with a site.
From the site file curators’ perspective one of the most exciting aspects of the new process is that to a large degree the data entry and site form production will be automated. This streamlined process will not only be more efficient, it will significantly decrease the potential for error. Submissions will be reviewed and site numbers will be assigned more quickly and a final site form will be available at the click of a button (Figure 4).So yes indeed, we’ve been busy in the site file lately. In addition to creating a web-based site record submission process from the ground up, we’ve recorded 230 new archaeological sites so far this year, and nearly three quarters of those in the last three months alone! But change is on the horizon and we are so excited to see it finally come to fruition. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for an email from us announcing that our new site record submission process is online and ready to go.
Acknowledgements: Mike Moore and Jennifer Barnett for being supportive through the process, the TDEC IT team for making it happen (current status: 99% awesome), retired site file curator Suzanne Hoyal for setting us up for success, and huge thanks to our beta-testers Heidi de Gregory, Hannah Guidry, and Chris Nelson for taking time out to make sure this thing actually works and for providing valuable feedback.