My project, Virtual Valdivia, is an online repository of ceramics pertaining to the Valdivia culture (ca. 4400-1450 BC) of coastal Ecuador. The project developed as outgrowth of my dissertation research, which examined variation in ceramic assemblages at multiple Valdivia sites. This inter-site comparison was the first of its kind undertaken for this period. Generally, analyses are limited to single sites, and contained within the pages of site reports or theses. This limits researchers’ ability to make robust conclusions about social processes in the past. While I published my database and ceramic images in my dissertation (which is available online as a free download), I did not ultimately feel that this was a sufficient expression of my goals of data-sharing and data-accessibility. The Virtual Valdivia project was conceived as a way of making my data (and hopefully the data of others in the future), as widely accessible as possible.

Outcomes

There are two tangible outcomes of my participation in the Institute on Digital Archaeology Method & Practice: First, an open-access database of Valdivia ceramics, hosted on Open Context (https://opencontext.org/projects/d3bed915-947d-4c1a-8c9a-b7723f03d21a); Secondly, a website that serves as an interface for archaeologists and others to access the database (http://sarahmrowe.github.io/Virtual_Valdivia/), hosted on GitHub.

The Virtual Valdivia database on Open Context includes 403 records, ceramic rim sherds from my dissertation excavations at the site of Buen Suceso. Each record has information on 29 variables, which are described in detail within the data set (a 26-page PDF of this documentation is included on the Virtual Valdivia website). Ultimately, all information currently in Open Context in English will also be available in Spanish.

The website consists of parallel page construction in both English and Spanish. From the home page, visitors can navigate to an “About” page that explains the rationale and background of the project, as well as some general information about the Valdivia culture and its general social developments through time. This page also links to a brief bibliography of relevant sources, to provide the interested visitor with further reading. From the “Data” page, the visitor can navigate to the database on Open Context, download a .csv file of the data, or use customized search fields to browse different portions of the collection. Results are returned right within the webpage, and individual records are linked to the Open Context database. I am inordinately happy about this search page, and hope users find it useful.

For those interested in reading about specific project components, as well as my challenges along the way, I encourage you to browse through my previous blog posts.

While this post serves as my official project launch, I was just so excited with my project progress that I couldn’t help but announce the project before I left the Institute. That announcement has been shared more than ninety times on Facebook and garnered thousands of views. Google Analytics records nineteen unique sessions in the first week after the project launch. While it is unclear what this means in terms of actual engagement with the data, I view this as a very promising sign of interest in the database and desire for such open and accessible work.

Future Directions

The Virtual Valdivia data set, hosted on Open Context, still requires some additional work, mostly in the area of translation. Spanish labels will be matched to English labels, and variable descriptions in Spanish will be included as well. Some additional work is necessary to finalize the variable descriptions, including the addition of figures. The database will undergo peer-review once these tasks have been completed.

In the short-term, future iterations of the Virtual Valdivia website will feature fully-functional search options in Spanish to enhance the bilingual. This search will utilize a customized JavaScript and the Open Context API, the same one currently used for the English-language portion of the site. This will be completed after Spanish labels are added to the database on Open Context.

In the long-term, I am actively working to include other scholars in the Virtual Valdivia database. Including their data in an open and accessible format is essential for reducing the siloed nature of grey literature (site reports, theses, etc.) and building more robust interpretations of past life. The database will continue to focus on Valdivia ceramics, but future developments may include other material types in this database.