University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive: a workbench environment for the publication of large image collections and related complex data sets
Cornelia kleinitz, Robert Casties

Last modified: 2012-02-27


The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive is an interactive open access research platform making accessible complex sets of visual and related data on thousands of ancient graffiti. These were incised into the walls of the so-called Great Enclosure, a unique, labyrinthine building complex forming the centre of Musawwarat es Sufra, once a major sacral centre of the Meroitic realm (c. 300BC-AD350) and today one of Sudan’s World Heritage sites. The graffiti, informal inscriptions and drawings, provide a rich source of information on one of Africa’s early states beyond official codified graphic and inscriptional programmes.

The heart of the Musawwarat Graffiti Archive is a work-bench environment allowing the online publication of large image collections together with related extensive and varied data sets via an easily accessible web interface. A database front-end was developed for entering systematic graffiti-focused information as well as data on the exact spatial contexts in which the graffiti were created and used. All data is systematically linked to an extensive image collection - from overview photos and ground plans down to tracings and detail photos at the level of single building blocks and graffiti. All photos are presented using the digilib image viewer, allowing the user to zoom in and inspect images at the highest resolution even on low-bandwidth connections. All images can also be annotated and referenced for use in online publications. The web presentation of the archive, which targets scholars as well as the general public, dissolves the border between systematic access to the graffiti via database searches and the visual exploration of the Great Enclosure via hot-spots on overview images. The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive is meant to be continually extended both in breadth with more material and in depth with the integration of new types of media like RTI images, 3D models and GIS integration.

We understand the Musawwarat Graffiti Archive with its continually growing network of space-related data sets as well as large collection of images as an online publication of archaeological data that would be impossible to affordably publish in traditional paper format. By bringing the archive online we encourage scientific sharing and collaboration regardless of users’ locations or means. Thus, we hope to contribute to bridging digital and knowledge divides while at the same time promoting and digitally preserving African cultural heritage.