When Is "Near" Close Enough? Old Data, New Interfaces and an Imperfect Present

Author(s): John Hansen

Year: 2018


The Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History launched its first online database in 1995. The image-oriented interface proved attractive to an audience with a moderate level anthropological background. Later, in response to numerous requests, unimaged archaeological collections with more technical data were offered through a password protected interface. As of September 2017, 250,000+ files with images were publicly available, the combined online database representing 450,000+ records.

There are continuing issues with the source material, legacy data and user experience. Many database projects were underfunded and resulted in data inaccuracy. Inadequate context discourages novice users. Most frustrating is the lack of definition in object name and provenience. Although the inclusion of scans of original documentation mitigates some user dissatisfaction, the situation limits the use of existing web services.

Even with these problems, the database has proved popular and useful. The web-based interface has permitted an agile, flexible and relatively easily modified presentation of data while maintaining integrity with the original catalogue. The resulting tool is not only the primary means of external access to our collections for students, educators, researchers and casual visitors but has become a valuable resource for divisional staff as well.

Cite this Record

When Is "Near" Close Enough? Old Data, New Interfaces and an Imperfect Present. John Hansen. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443928)

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Abstract Id(s): 18776