Posted on Monday May 11, 2015

Portable antiquities and other historical objects from the Neolithic until the Middle Ages

Europeana has a wealth of content available to researchers, both through its portal and its APIs. Europeana Research highlights this content and its research potential. This article by Agiatis Bernardou, Researcher at Digital Curation Unit R.C. ‘Athena’, focuses on a collection of antiquities.

Collection Title: Portable Antiquities - historical objects from the Neolithic until the Middle Ages
Source: The British Museum and The Portable Antiquities Scheme
Licence for metadata: CC0
Licence for Content: CC BY-SA
Data Format: Image
Metadata Format: EDM (Europeana Data Model)
How Accessed: Europeana Portal, API console

Silver groat of Henry VIII, York mint. 3rd coinage,The British Museum and The Portable Antiquities Scheme, CC BY-SA.

Unsurprisingly, a collection on portable antiquities and other historical objects from the Neolithic until the Middle Ages could be of general interest to the public and to particular research communities such as archaeologists, historians, numismatic experts and art historians for academic use. The chronological and thematic extent of this collection from the British Museum and the Portable Antiquities Scheme can be seen as advantageous, because many of the movable finds can be found in context. Disadvantageous however is that this context is at times unclear, if not totally absent. Take, for example the post-Medieval items of the collection: a researcher on that era or, for that matter, on metal objects of the past would benefit greatly from the variety of coins, weights and brooches; however, the mere presence of Mesolithic axe heads in the same collection reduces its potential for high-level academic use.

The discrepancy between the stated number of objects in Europeana Labs (more than 290,000 items) and the Europeana portal (about 375,000 items) could be easily overcome and would not in any way disturb the research process. On the contrary, the temporal parameter of the collection (”You may enter only years in this field…”), does not facilitate the work of the researchers and would make the navigation through this collection extremely hard, since this parameter can not be valid for the time between the Neolithic and Medieval periods. For instance, in the case of a post-Medieval axe, the date of creation is stated as 1500-1950. It is easy to understand the issue of dating such findings – and there is usually more than one reason that the dates are not precise – however such a dating combined with the low resolution of the image, renders the item highly improbable to be the object of advanced research in the Arts and Humanities where the level of detail makes every difference. Having said that, though, one could see how this digital resource could be of use for educational purposes.

Although the resolution of the images is not always consistent and depictions on coins, for example, are not easily discernible, the licensing of the collection [CC BY-SA] allowing for sharing and conditionally remixing, supports and facilitates research on a collaborative level.

In conclusion, the collection on portable antiquities and other historical objects from the Neolithic until the Middle Ages could be seen as an entry-point to the world of archaeological, historical and art-historical research of the periods, as well as a valuable set of resources for the general, history-loving public.