Open Context

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= Open Archeology Open Access resource for the electronic publication of primary field research from archaeology and related disciplines



"a free, Open Access resource for the electronic publication of primary field research from archaeology and related disciplines. Open Context provides an integrated framework for users to search, explore, analyze, compare and tag items from diverse field projects and collections."


Open Context enables researchers to publish their primary field data, notes, and media (images, maps, drawings, videos) on the World Wide Web. It provides an easy to use, yet powerful, online database for exploring, searching, and analyzing multiple excavation results, survey datasets, and museum collections. These diverse datasets can be explored by browsing through a map or through different search options. Open Context is built with standard but powerful Web technologies (MySQL and PHP), making it easy to integrate with a host of other Web services, including weblogs, e-journals, and commercial search engines. Search engine discovery is becoming an increasingly significant factor in determining the impact and uptake of research (Jensen 2005; Vaughan and Shaw 2005).

Open Context is best suited for publishing large bodies of complex archaeological documentation. All content is linked together in an integrated and cohesive resource. The types of content in Open Context include:

  • Narratives: These include more loosely structured, textual types of content, including excavation notes, observations, and diaries. These narratives are integrated and linked to other types of information, including database records and other media (images, videos, and maps).
  • Analytic (Tabular) Data: Open Context enables publication of database types of content. These include context databases, finds registries, museum registries and catalogs, and specialist analyses. All of these different types of data are automatically integrated together in one cohesive database.
  • Media: Open Context can link digital images, maps, drawings, GIS files, videos, and other types of media with other forms of content. For example, a user will immediately know if an item in a finds registry was photographed or drawn because a thumbnail image will appear with the record of that item.

Open Context makes it easy to browse, search, and analyze data from different projects and collections. It can serve as a reference resource to help researchers find relevant comparative materials. It can also support reanalysis and reinterpretation of excavation results. Finally, undergraduate students can use Open Context as a primary source, so they can develop important analytical skills by exploring and synthesizing primary excavation results. Users have a variety of options to find materials in Open Context, including simple, “Google-like” text searches (Figures 5 and 6), and more sophisticated, advanced searches that use Boolean logic." (

Status Report

Eric and Sarah Whitcher Kansa:

"In development since late 2006, Open Context now hosts over 180,000 items, including nearly 5,000 media items, from 35 archaeological sites around the world. The current rate of publication is about one project per month, and we hope to increase that rate as our publication tools become more streamlined. While Open Context contains mainly archaeological content, it can also accommodate content from other field-based sciences (public health, conservation biology, geological sciences, etc.), so please feel free to get in touch if you have data you would like to publish." (


Eric and Sarah Whitcher Kansa:

"To see some of this at work, check out the recently-published Aegean Prehistory Project, featuring data on shells recovered from three archaeological sites in the Aegean. Canan Çakrlar published these data as an online appendix to the printed publication of her Ph.D. dissertation. In addition to an overview of her project and a link to where the printed publication can be purchased, Canan also has a “person page” with information about her work, publications, etc. Her data has been drawn (via an Atom feed) into BoneCommons, a Web resource for the worldwide zooarchaeology community. Thus, Canan’s work can be found via a search engine, Open Context, BoneCommons, or any other place that draws her content from Open Context. This makes for maximum exposure of her work to her colleagues, as well as its discovery by others for uses beyond archaeomalacology." (


How Open is Open Context?

Eric and Sarah Whitcher Kansa:

"Open Context requires use of Creative Commons licenses (or the CC-Zero public domain dedication). Open Context also makes all data, including structured data (in XML, JSON, and CSV formats) freely available with no login barrier.

However, Open Context does permit use of license variants that restrict commercial use. While this restriction does inhibit interoperability, some stakeholder communities, especially indigenous groups, have deep historical and political concerns regarding commercial uses of cultural heritage materials. These concerns represent complex ethical challenges, but do highlight how the ideal of “openness” needs to be evaluated by other ethical considerations.

Incentives and Guidance for Openness

The National Science Foundation recently announced additional requirements for grant-seekers to develop meaningful “Data Access” plans for their proposals. Many researchers will have little background or understanding on how best to meet this requirement. To offer guidance for the researcher community, Open Context now offers guidelines for researchers to prepare data for online publication. In addition to these, we have developed an online estimation tool, which helps scholars budget appropriately for data sharing, guide them through licensing choices, and offer tips regarding good practices in data sharing. The estimation tool then returns texts to researchers that can be used in their NSF Data Access plans." (