SEAD – The Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database

HUMlab has worked together with the Environmental Archaeology Laboratory (Miljöarkeologiska laboratoriet, MAL) and ICT Services and System Development (ITS) at Umeå University to develop SEAD, a database with associated tools for recording and visualizing of environmental archaeological data. SEAD gives researchers the ability to ask complext questions using archaeological, historical and environmental data, and gain a greater understanding of the realationships between changes in the environment, climate and human society with a long-term perspective.

seadEnvironmental archaeologists use fossils and methods from the natural sciences to study ancient climates, environments and human activities. Using combinations of methods (a multiproxy approach), environmental archaeologists are attempting to understand the complex interactions between people, environments and climates. Insect fossils, for example, are often studied for this purposes, many insect species being sensitive to changes in temperature. Their fossils, when found in ancient peats or lake sediments, can therefore be used as indicators of past climate change.

SEAD provides open access to the results from a wide range of analysis methods, including the identification of plant macrofossils, pollen, insects, geochemical and the physical properties of soils. (The parallel project VISEAD will, among other things, extend and enhance this range.) The database also includes information on the ecology of many species of plants and insects, which can be used to help understand the environmental implications of fossil finds. This extensive database scope means that the data are of interest to a broad range of scientific disciplines, including geography, history, climate science, geology, ecology and many more.

The database currently includes data collected over 30 years by researchers at the Environmental Archaeology Laboratory, along with data ingested from the BugsCEP database. The aim is to increase the scope to include data from other Swedish archaeological research laboratories, primarily those within the ArchLab consortium. Tools are also being created to allow researchers to easily analyse and visualize data through diagrams and maps, as well as export to their own software.

The role of HUMlab in the project is the creation and support of online interfaces to provide access to the database. HUMlab has also participated in the design of the database, and online systems for quality assurance. The development of facilities for visualisation, making it possible to view relationships and trends in environmental archaeological data, is ongoing.

By making existing data more readily accessible to researchers, the project aims to enhance the extent to which the science community can improve our understanding of climate change, environmental change, and human history.

Find out more at:

Project director: Philip Buckland
Contact person at HUMlab: Fredrik Palm