Technical Overview

One purpose of this project is to make available to the largest audience possible archaeological information recovered from colonial period sites in the Potomac River valley. The downloadable databases found on this web site contain evidence about artifacts recovered from a variety of contexts. Much of this evidence was recovered under differing circumstances. In some cases, projects had to be completed within several months, while others represent longer-term programs. Once excavated, the assemblages included here were processed and catalogued at a variety of highly respected institutions, each with its own rules and procedures for organizing archaeological data. For the most part, we have accepted these original catalogs and performed no additional checking of the artifacts themselves.

Such an approach is not without problems. For example, we found that the level of detail captured in the electronic catalogs varied among institutions. Terminology also varies. Some electronic databases contained obvious—and therefore correctable—errors. Errors less evident, such as typographical ones (keying “0” when “9” was intended, for example), may not have been caught in the process of assembling these databases.

The structure of the electronic databases also differed from institution to institution. We made some effort to standardize structure in order to enhance comparability, but users of the data are cautioned that the individual site databases are not fully equivalent. To have made them so—by forcing them into a uniform template—would have risked the loss of potentially valuable information from certain collections. Users are strongly encouraged to peruse downloaded individual databases before subjecting them to additional analyses.

The Comprehensive Database

Because the databases from the individual sites were often very different, we realized that comparative analysis would benefit from a single, comprehensive database even if it necessarily altered some of the data and data structure significantly. Thus, we created a “comprehensive” artifact database in Microsoft Access, by carefully combining the individual site databases and matching, as much as possible, similar fields to one another. The original databases from which this combined database was assembled are still available for download in their original form.

Some final cross-checking was done in the comprehensive database, and a small number of coding errors were fixed. Nonetheless, users are encouraged to download the comprehensive database and alter it (including combining similar terms if desired) to serve these own purposes.


Finally, while every effort was made to insure the accuracy of the final databases and the analytic charts and maps presented here—including the use of at least two proofreaders for every database—we strongly urge users to contact collections managers at the individual repositories when questions arise, and to recognize that errors are probably present. We have provided contact information in the site summary section of the web page for this purpose.

Users are encouraged to report errors to us for correction. Please contact Julia A. King at (410.586.8551)

Further Technical Details

About the Project

A multi-year and multi-institution collaboration aimed at standardizing and synthesizing archaeological data for important sites in the Potomac River Valley during the period 1500-1720.

Technical Data

How we gathered and organized the data, details about the databases, information for those who want to download and work with the data.

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