University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Exploring Semantic Web-based research questions for the spatio-temporal relationships at Çatalhöyük
Holly Wright, James Stuart Taylor

Last modified: 2011-12-20


Çatalhöyük is one of the most important and iconic sites currently under excavation. The data derived from the site has already spanned decades of ongoing work, and has been the focus of innovative theoretical, methodological and technological approaches. Efforts have also been made to, as much as possible, fully digitise and publish the excavation data for use and re-use in the future, including digitising the individual unit data (similar to an individual context, as used in the single context recording tradition), some of which can be accessed online through the website. This includes information about the complex stratigraphy found throughout the site, along with comprehensive information associated with each unit. The nature of single context recording allows spatio-temporal relationships to be re-organised and recombined in ways compatible with the way data is structured using the RDF triple format, which is used by the Semantic Web. It is also compatible with the CRM-EH, which is a domain ontology for archaeology, based on the single context recording tradition.

One of the most popular reasons for using Semantic Web principles and technologies is as a means to create interoperability between heterogeneous datasets, and successful exemplars of this now exist. In contrast, the data from Çatalhöyük is housed in a bespoke database to facilitate the nuanced intra-site analysis necessary for understanding the site’s complexity. As such, there are other features of the Semantic Web, which may help to further unlock the spatio-temporal relationships in the stratigraphy of the site, which are not reliant on interoperability, and have seen fewer exemplars. This is largely owing to both the recent advent of the technology, and the structure and querying of graph data being unfamiliar to most archaeologists. Some of the complexity that might be better understood at the site, includes defining a ‘deposit lifespan’ for a series of units, which would be based on developing a system of coding time within a stratigraphic matrix. It may be possible to use the querying abilities of SPARQL (and potentially GeoSPARQL) to ask more complex questions of the stratigraphic data, and to allow the ‘data haystack’ model of graph data to allow easier combining and re-combining of ‘deposit lifespans’ for analysis under a variety of criteria. This exploration will be carried out with an eye towards how the results might be subsequently visualised. In addition, there may be potential for the use of Semantic Web ‘inference’ to allow the creation of new data which can be understood from the existing data, at a greater degree than might be possible using more traditional relational data structures.

This paper will explore the potential research questions, which may be answerable using Semantic Web principles and technologies, using a subset of data from the Çatalhöyük excavations. It is hoped that this exercise will result in new exemplars of the usefulness of the Semantic Web to archaeology, and the potential for a new and more fluid understanding of the spatio-temporal nature of the occupation at Çatalhöyük.



Çatalhöyük; Semantic Web; graph data; CRM-EH; ontology; SPARQL; stratigraphy; RDF