The Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project, supported since 2015 by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, and with additional support since 2017 from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund (CPF) is led by the University of Oxford in partnership with the Universities of Leicester and Durham. The EAMENA project records cultural heritage sites in the MENA region, in collaboration with local and national heritage authorities in the partner countries, and with a particular focus on using remote sensing to identify additional archaeological sites and record their condition. Inclusion in the EAMENA database does not indicate that an individual site is under threat, the database includes all sites in areas where it has conducted research in order to provide a full archaeological context. The Maritime Endangered Archaeology project (MarEA), based in Southampton and Ulster Universities, works closely with EAMENA, and contributes directly to the EAMENA database.
Overview of the key issues
In addition to the University research teams, the project has multiple partners and stakeholders. Funding from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund (CPF) has strengthened the partnership between EAMENA, MarEA, and the national heritage agencies in a number of countries. While the Arcadia funding requires Open Access to the database, we must respect the needs of multiple stakeholders, whose aspirations for, and requirements of, the dataset may differ. The key point for EAMENA and MarEA is that how, and by whom, the data are shared has the potential to impact on us and our partners, in unpredictable ways. We accept that we will be associated with the groups that we share the data with, and that actions that they take will have consequences for EAMENA and MarEA. While most of the time this will be unproblematic, we must be aware that this may not always be the case.
Our Regional Partners have indicated that they consider that there are three main types of user: management, research, and the public. Some forms of management information may require confidentiality to be maintained; research information, including unpublished data from external sources, or nuanced levels of confidence in unconfirmed sites, may be inappropriate for wider access.
We believe that Open Access is good for archaeological research and heritage protection in general and will advocate this policy for the MENA region through policy development. However, this is a long-term goal, and we must proceed collectively with our partners.
Local partners: Our partners are mostly government organisations, who are the guardians of the heritage that forms part of their national cultural patrimony. Many are based in countries where heritage has long been studied by international researchers rather than by their own citizens, and where there is sensitivity to the actions of foreign and international bodies such as EAMENA. The scale and nature of remote sensing survey places it outside most existing heritage regulatory systems, but EAMENA must take account of national concerns, including the publication of data. There is a perception that identifying the locations of sites may encourage looting and although there is some evidence to indicate that open access does not have much impact on looting, this is far from clear-cut. This risk is seen to be a particular issue for the underwater environment. EAMENA must avoid actions that cause our local partners difficulty within their own countries. The EAMENA Open Access policy must include a system to govern how access to the database is granted and provide user agreements with appropriate terms and conditions, including appropriate measures to cover data security. Where necessary this may include direct consultation with our local partners.
Arcadia: Our funders want this dataset to be Open Access so that it can be used for heritage protection work, but recognise there may be practical limits to this policy and that Open Access does not mean that it is immediately open to everyone. Arcadia is interested in seeing the EAMENA database as a platform through which others share their data, and we are examining developing Linked Open Data. This aims to make the EAMENA database platform a research hub, drawing upon information from other platforms while users work within it.
Our institutions: The Universities that house the EAMENA and MarEA projects wish to see the projects generate high-quality research outputs, substantive impact case studies for future iterations of the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF), and successful bids to major research grant funders that build upon the EAMENA dataset. They also wish to minimize their exposure to risk (academic, financial and reputational). The Universities also have HR policies that require that EAMENA and MarEA provide demonstrable career development opportunities for staff, Early Career Researchers in particular.
The research community: The wider research community, local and international, is an important stakeholder, both in creating knowledge that may be used in the database and as users of the data. In particular, EAMENA and MarEA should support the development of local researchers by providing access to archaeological data. Some research projects may have concerns regarding the security of their data, at least until their own work has been published.
The new Arches 5 platform provides some new features that will help provide the various levels of access required. In particular, ring-fencing datasets, and awarding different levels of access to different user-groups, become possible, and will be made available as tools as they are developed. Specific limitations differentiating between, for example, the ability to read the database and to download data may be developed.
Proposed User Categories and User Access
We have developed a system for governing access to the database and preparing user-agreements with appropriate terms and conditions. Users will apply for access via an online application form. The system tries to reflect the three main levels of access discussed with our regional partners, and breaks these down into several different categories: EAMENA and MarEA staff; staff of the national heritage agencies; EAMENA/MarEA trainees; students and volunteers and Heritage agency field staff; academic researchers; academic research partners; and the general public, each with different levels of access. Requests for access will be considered by the Director.
EAMENA/MarEA staff: Full access.
National Heritage Agency staff: Full access to national resource for trained personnel.
Trainees/Students/Field staff/Volunteers: Can create and edit data in the database, can search all fields with unlimited zoom, but cannot delete records.
Academic Research Users: Intended for those who require access to specific and limited subsets of data – e.g. doctoral students, so these might be viewed as data users rather than data creators. They must apply for access and agree to use only those resources for which they have applied. Access can be time-limited. Cannot alter records, and can only see condition assessments where permission is specifically granted; cannot change anything. We would expect this to be the main route for external users using a standard User Agreement.
Academic Research Partners: individuals and projects who have set up a research partnership with EAMENA or MarEA requiring larger datasets or access over longer periods. Such collaboration requires formal agreements around research outcomes and publications, and a commitment to provide EAMENA with updated data, and specific terms and conditions.
Public: Free basic access for interested parties using a Guest access. Limited zoom, no access to condition assessments, no downloads, cannot edit, but will have access to search, map and report view only.
The EAMENA database will be maintained long-term and funding for an Endowment to secure this future is being raised now. Some versions of the database may continue as National Heritage Databases independently of the EAMENA database.