is the driving force behind the SEAD project?
The project's driving force is open access, analytical
empowerment, scientific transparency and making data freely
available to the research and professional community by providing
an integrated system for the storage, dissemination and analysis of
data relating to past human activities, and environmental and
climatic change. Large scale palaeoenvironmental datasets cannot be
efficiently analysed without the help of databases and are often
lost in archives or left unpublished.
What are the project's implications for future research
agendas? Which fields will benefit most?
The implications are enormous. The Strategic Environmental
Archaeology Database (SEAD) allows online access to a range of data
never before made available digitally, let alone in a single
system. It also allows new kinds of research looking at complex
cultural, social and environmental interactions over large
geographical and temporal ranges. Archaeology, environmental
science, geoscience, palaeoecology and related fields can perhaps
benefit most; but so too will any field in which past organism
distributions or soil and sediment changes, or their implications,
are important. SEAD contains a considerable amount of data on
insects and entomologists will benefit greatly by being able to
examine past distribution patterns with respect to the origins of
modern faunas. It also stores modern habitat and collection data
for work on contemporary biodiversity, sustainability and
What can be learned from studying the past environments,
climates and human impacts the project aims to help
These studies can yield a better understanding of past
relationships between people and their surroundings; how the
environment and climate influenced their possibilities and choices;
and how their actions influenced both society and the environments
themselves. For example, in any particular culture, in a particular
landscape, climate can either enable farming, or, perhaps due to a
series of bad summers, render it unsustainable.
What are some of the main challenges in creating a large-scale,
web-accessible, GIS-ready database?
Initially, designing a powerful, flexible database which
satisfies the data, access and analysis needs of a broad spectrum
of power users. Secondly, developing intuitive interfaces tailored
to the needs of these and other potential users. We have settled on
a concept of multiple front ends to a single database, combining
online and downloadable software. Thirdly, funding data entry and,
finally, convincing people to share their data and take part in the
project to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
How will the system be integrated into teaching and online
learning interfaces in the future?
Initially, the system will be incorporated into Umeå
University's campus and online archaeology courses. Material will
then be made available to help others incorporate SEAD into their
teaching. Online learning interfaces and supporting material will
subsequently be developed in which students will be able to
simulate the research process using real data and interfaces as
used by the researchers themselves. This will better prepare future
generations for answering complex questions on past, present and
future environments through digital means. We will also be working
with international partners, especially the Neotoma Consortium,
based in the U.S., towards producing school level educational and
museum orientated systems.
Is the database intended just for researchers and professionals
or will amateurs have access to it as well?
Everyone can get access to the system, but it will, at least
initially, be orientated towards researchers and professionals. Our
funding is clearly research infrastructure-orientated and there are
fundamental differences between designing interfaces for the latter
and for the public.