/ 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. Some of
the excavation projects were long-term and well-funded investigations, others
were done under severe time and money constraints. All of them had their own
research goals, and integrating them into a comprehensive database required a
variety of difficult simplifying steps intended to make the work of inter-site
comparison more efficient.
The assemblages included here were processed and catalogued at a variety of highly respected
institutions, each with its own established rules and procedures for organizing
archaeological data. We tried to avoid making significant changes in the archaeological
inventories, whether they were acquired in digital form or whether they were "transcribed"
using the standarized lexicon described below. We accepted the identification of specific
ware types, for example, without going back and looking at the artifacts themselves (an
approach that was completely impractical giving the great size of some of the collections
and the funding and staffing constraints of the Colonial Encounters project).
For the most part, we accepted the original catalogs and performed no additional
checking of the artifacts themselves, other than the small finds they were pulled
and more extensively catalogued by the projecct team.
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.
However, the basic structure of the electronic databases also differed from institution
to institution, and we had to deal with that in order to make a comprehensive and
searchable catalog. We made some effort to standardize structure in order
to enhance comparability, but users of the data are cautioned that the
some of the data from individual site databases have been "translated" more than others.
Users who are doing detailed inter-site comparisons, therefore, are warned and
are strongly encouraged to download and investigate the actual original artifact
inventories (linked on each individual site summary page) to check any conclusions
made using the comprehensive database.
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 their own purposes.
The Small Finds Data
As the project developed, many of the primary questions seemed to involve certain
types of artifacts that have been only sporadically studied in the area: beads,
buckles, "horse furniture," gun parts and gunflints, locks, knives, forks, and spoons,
and other types that have often been informally classed "small finds." Because the
artifact inventories sometimes had little detail, and because this formed a manageable
sub-universe, we choose to pull, photograph, and more fully describe this material.
The project team visited each institution, and with the kind assitance of various collection
managers, cataloged a variety of small finds into a separate but linked database (see the
Small Finds table in the Database Glossary). Even more
specific information was entered into some 37 specialized tables, one for each Small Finds
category (analysts should note that these tables include not only things like beads and
buckles, but also a few very specific "non-small find" objects that were more fully catalogued
as part of this project, including specific glassware and ceramics).
The objects that were pulled and catalogued as part of this project were also photographed, and
detailed artifact photos are available in the Artifact
Photo Galleries. Anyone who wishes to perform specific studies based on this material is
advised to download the full database on the Downloads page.
Finally, while every effort was made to insure the accuracy of the final
the use of at least two proofreaders for every site inventory that was
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (410.586.8551)
Further Technical Details