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Chapter 1

The Journey begins



The original idea of the Akhmim project was to elucidate on the methods of acquisition by institutions and museums in the heady days of the early Egytpology frenzy, and to locate as many of the lost or forgotten artefacts as possible. The inscribed funerary artefacts and associated objects were of particular interest, as they would offer a veritable plethora of information as to our understanding of life and death in ancient Egypt.

Therefore, because of the geographical and logistic nightmare scenario of collating these objects, the only method that would be suitable, and fast enough, would be the design, construction and development of an appropriate electronic database.

For reasons of compatibility, accessibility and future advanced data work it was decided to use the Microsoft database application Access. This would also lead to the ease of transfer of the database onto CD-ROM and ultimately the Internet and so into the public domain. Little did I know when commencing this electronic filing cabinet it would lead to a system akin to INTERPOL whereby the tracking down of the artefacts would be more like a global detective hunt.

Prior to commencing the database structure, much thought went into the actual design of the database, particularly bearing in mind that much of the material required for data input has been fragmented over a period of time in collections and museums throughout the world. An additional problem was the actual physical collection, (continuously on-going) of information regarding the material from Akhmim and its whereabouts, especially so in the case of photographic inscribed material. Therefore, the ultimate design of the database allows for additions and updates including a speedy and concise search pattern of words, phrases or queried groups of data, thus offering a rapid search programme providing comprehensive data on select queries.
Like any similar research, the more data input the more information would be available in order to provide deeper analysis, such as in the study of family genealogies, most useful in looking at the inscribed material on funerary equipment, such as stelae (similar to head stones) and coffins.

As many of you will appreciate, the rapid advance of computer technology in recent years has resulted in the global and widespread use of personal computers in all areas and divisions of social strata. Whether at work, home or at educational establishments, the PC it seems can be found in almost any remote corner of the world. In addition, with the relative ease of obtaining a communications modem (indeed many computers are sold today with this application as standard) in order to access the World Wide Web via the Internet, for many people the electronic world is literally at their fingertips.

Originally developed for military use, this electronic web is constantly spinning and expanding at a rapid rate, thus providing a global net of diverse information at the touch of a button. Whether one is surfing the web for the latest weather in the remotest part of the world, hunting for the latest book titles, or viewing the latest reconstruction of an Egyptian temple, all this is available without leaving the comfort of your chair.
The majority of web pages, especially the search engine sites, employ a database of some description, whether a basic commercially available application or a vast complex tailor made database. The fundamental aim, however, is the same, to store data in such a form as to access any given information from queries presented. In other words, a highly complex electronic filing cabinet, from which the user may input to store, alter, retrieve and sort data of any description, whether it be text, or advanced graphics.

Consequently, a computer can be said to be the ideal tool to organise the vast amount of data generated in the field of archaeology and Egyptology, especially in handling the diverse data sets from excavation finds and collections for cataloguing and analysis.

In the archaeology world computers have been in use for a number of years, Initially however, only for word processing and basic graph construction in conjunction with spreadsheets. This situation has rapidly changed and progressed at a breathtaking rate over the last ten years or so, as can be witnessed in the content of papers presented at the annual conferences of the Computer Applications in Archaeology (CAA). From the original basic word processing applications, we now witness the emergence and rapid development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), producing complex graphical displays from a multitude of topographical data sets combined with satellite imagery. In addition, with improved applications and faster computer drives possessing much larger memories three Dimensional (3D) representational and Virtual Reality (VR) reconstruction of models and ancient sites is rapidly becoming de rigour in computer archaeology.

This is an important feature in the field of Egyptology, in which VR may help alleviate the problems of threatened historical sites and monuments where thousands of tourists now view these ancient sites on a daily basis, such as tombs which were sealed and never intended to support tourism. A VR model enables the user to experience the site in a much richer way, explore at ones own pace 24 hours a day highlighting the important features while at the same time removing undesirable features, modern day objects for example. Tourism aside, VR has more complex potential uses, such as virtual reconstruction of monuments reflecting the changes over time, and analysing hieroglyphic forms, thereby assisting in dissemination of selected information. This latter application would be of great potential in tracing the historical pattern, development and growth of a chosen site such as Akhmim, for which the maximum of data of all periods would be essential.

The portability and potential of these applications has increased since the development of the CD-ROM (Compact Disc Read Only Memory), in which not only the data storage capacity is considerable (650Mb) but can be read on any suitably equipped PC, Macintosh or Unix workstation, and importantly, inexpensive.

Although, at the present time at least, the CD-ROM is not set to replace paper publications, especially in large-scale field projects, it can provide an extremely useful complimentary graphical display application in combination with the hard text itself.

No matter how basic or advanced the computer application, there must be adequate provision for the input and storage of the relevant information in an acceptable and compatible form. The most convenient structure for analytical dissemination is the application of a database (basically an electronic filing cabinet), where the data formatted can be stored in a flexible manner in order to display, analyse, edit and print as required. Apart from programming and developing a tailor-made database, it is often more appropriate to utilise one of the many commercially ready-made applications available, and in general is a matter of personal choice, the degree of flexibility and often cost!

As far as the Akhmim project was concerned, for reasons of compatibility and convenience it was decided to opt for Microsoft Access. This application is commonly in use for the analytic dissemination of archaeological material and in many areas is rapidly overtaking similar applications, such as Foxpro, often in use for UK county Sites and Monument Records (SMR).

Prior to selecting Access and commencing data input, the Computer Centre for Egytpological Research (CCER) in Utrecht was contacted for initial advice. Whilst the CCER actually design their own database programmes as a matter of convenience, it was they who in fact recommended that Access would be the best choice for the type of work intended.

With the growing number of computers now in use in the fields of archaeology and Egytpology, there are constant improvements in maintaining compatibility between computer platforms, in turn demanding a requirement in certain levels of standardisation regarding the use of data, especially in the growing field of Egyptology. The CCER specialises in matters relating to the application of computers in Egyptology by developing general methods, programmes and providing world wide advice and support, in addition the centre co-ordinate the computer group of the International Association of Egyptologists (IAE). Therefore, to facilitate the exchange of data and to improve compatibility, the method of referencing certain data fields in the database are those set and continually developing by the CCER (Appendix 1).

One of the primary reasons for developing the Akhmim Project was the suitability of Access to cope with the main problem of the fragmentary distribution of material and sources relating to Akhmim. A large amount of material is ascribed to Akhmim, of which the exact origination and circumstances are rather cloudy as will be discussed in later chapters. However, with developing input of data gathered from museums and collections world wide, combined with cross referencing and bibliography information, there seems a distinct possibility that much of the background of the material may be revealed. In addition, the maximum amount of data may be collated in an efficient manner as possible to provide a speedy and accurate retrieval system for further analytic discussion.

In addition by utilising photographic material stored in the database, it is possible to compare and overlay the various forms of text and figures, hence it would be conceivable to construct and develop a formula for recognising distinct material fragments. The advantage of this type of method is that once this technique is developed and perfected, analysis of other periods, and sites, may be investigated.

A further advantage of storing information in this compatible form, is the ability to provide acceptable data to perform advanced computer techniques, such as artefact and site reconstruction, thereby offering greater visual display and rendering of the site itself. In conjunction with information supplied by the database, this type of graphical display would be well suited for storage onto CD-ROM thus offering a complete textual, visual and interactive approach to the site in question.

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