Oxford Archaeology recently undertook archaeological and heritage work on the Carlisle Northern Development Route road scheme. The nationally important archaeological remains, excavated in advance of road construction, generated a large, diverse and complex data set. Building on our experience at Heathrow and Stansted (as part of Framework Archaeology), a web-based relational database was developed, in tandem with GIS and other mapping software, to manage this data set, initially, as fieldwork was being undertaken and, subsequently during post-excavation assessment and analysis. The database integrates and organises stratigraphic, specialist, chronological, graphic and photographic information, and allows this to be queried and output in a variety of formats, including displaying it spatially. Analysis has also taken place in both two dimensional and three dimensional GIS environments.

One of the great strengths of this approach is that the research team can rapidly access the information they need, over the internet, wherever they happen to be in the world. They can download information to their desktops and then interrogate and manipulate it using whichever application is most suitable. Once the post-excavation programme has been completed, the database will remain as a project legacy, hosted on our servers, and can be made publicly available. For example, an assemblage of a little over 300,000 worked lithics was recovered during excavations at the Stainton West site. This is one of the largest assemblages in the north of Britain and one of the most important Mesolithic assemblages nationally; it continues, therefore, to be a valuable resource for researchers and has great potential as an educational tool. The catalogue of these lithics (including over 6000 detailed photographs of microliths and other retouched tools), and associated analytical information, can be made available for other researchers to view or download. This could preclude the need to physically accession the assemblage or, could help target what might need to be accessioned.


Image: Interpolated (Kriged) distribution of flaked lithics at Stainton West. The pink polygons are features, the red rings mark the locations of structures and the relative lithic density is shown by the underlying contours (white being low values (3 objects per m²) and blue being high values (3700 objects per m²)). Analysis of the information stored in the site database permitted a reconstruction of the spatial organisation of a late Mesolithic encampment and an interpretation of how it was inhabited.