IDEA is using Linked Open Data (LOD) to reassemble and recontextualize archaeological data from Dura-Europos.

In an effort to mitigate the physical dispersal of Dura-Europos’ artifacts and other archival materials, IDEA seeks to pave a pathway to digital reassembly.

While a sizable proportion of excavated Durene artifacts (c. 15,000) are in collections belonging to Yale University, even those artifacts happen to be spread across three different Yale-affiliated institutions: the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. As each institution follows field-specific best practices, metadata relevant to Dura objects has not been aligned in such a way that artifacts kept in these collections can easily “speak” across institutional borders. This is precisely the kind of divide that Linked Open Data (LOD) was envisioned to bridge. The IDEA team has developed and documented a process to join-up Yale’s Dura-Europos artifacts, and is now adapting that blueprint to join-up objects from Dura in other institutions worldwide, including the Louvre, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Royal Ontario Museum, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Harvard Art Museums, and the Princeton University Art Museum.

To bring together objects and archival materials kept in various collections, one of IDEA’s first goals has been to model all Dura-Europos artifacts to which the team has access in an internationally accessible Linked Open Data (LOD) format. In order to encourage contributions from international (especially Middle Eastern) partners and pedagogical up-take, we have settled on the LOD venue of Wikidata, specifically because of its low barrier-to-entry and multi-linguistic capacity. IDEA’s Wikidata data-modeling decisions are documented by the IDEA WikiProject.

Core to IDEA’s process for digital reassembly is the creation of an urban gazetteer for Dura-Europos that geo-spatially locates and disambiguates Dura-Europos’ major archaeological features. The resulting geo-spatial nodes serve as re-assembly points for objects excavated at the same site but removed to institutions worldwide. IDEA is creating Wikidata items for all the Dura-Europos archaeological features established with authoritative Pleiades IDs. Objects aligned with Pleiades IDs will allow for one-click visualization of an artifact’s findspot.

Sample queries

Number of Dura-Europos artifacts from various collections that IDEA has documented in Wikidata so far.

Sample query combining Wikidata Dura-Europos artifact records with findspot data aligned with the Durene urban gazetteer. (NB: press the ‘play’ button on the left side to run the query)