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Chapter 6



Computers are like Old Testament Gods, full of rules and without mercy

Whether one has available a simple basic 486 PC or the latest state-of-the-art computer system to run a gigantic database, (such as the latest crime-fingerprint database capable of analysing a million prints per second) the data still has to be entered. This is the most all-time consuming task, and, with the initial design of the database, the most important task. Immediately questions arise, where does the data come from? how do you find out?, where do you obtain the information? and what journals and references does one consult?.

In other words, information has to be generated in order to compare and analyse the stored data to come to any conclusion. In the case of the Akhmim database, the system followed was that of the preparation of a previously tried and tested application, the Gower database. This involved in the endless trawling through of all known (and often unknown) sources, references and journals, a very labour intensive task, but nonetheless providing an important base for the pyramid of the database.

The first port of call as it were, was to consult Porter and Moss (1962), scrupulously noting all relevant material appertaining to Akhmim. The main focal point at this juncture was the collection of material from the Late to Ptolemaic Periods (750 BC-30 BC), however, information from various periods were noted as the references would prove to be beneficial later in the project. This also prevents backtracking when in an advanced stage, thus saving time and resources.

Once all the relevant references and location of objects were marked and noted, a small bibliographic database was set up to minimise labour and maximise searches at a later date. This was found to be a very useful exercise in itself, especially when cross checking citations. The second task was the sifting through of all copies of the Annual Egyptological Bibliography (EAB), and Journals of Egyptian Archaeology (JEA) literally hand picking out all the pertinent references relating to Akhmim in general. These were then added to the bibliographic database. What at first seemed a poor return for the intensive labour input, results began to permeate through and a considerable list was beginning to emerge, albeit for all periods.

This list expanded even further upon visiting the Griffith Institute in Oxford to check through the original hand-written record cards of Porter and Moss. This task took up a whole week at the Institute, but labour has it own reward and not only many new references were found, but the location of many objects relating to Akhmim. Many of these references were to be found at the Institute, and so additional time was spent actually copying the records for future analysis. Indeed, this is still a very much on-going process as further references come to light as the project develops.
The advantages of the Internet are many, as previously discussed in the introductory section, including the rapid communications methods that are available, e.g. electronic mail and the various search techniques. Both of these applications have been used extensively, and, if they had not been available this project would still be in its embryonic stage rather than its late infancy at the present time.

The initial basic task carried out was to simply search for Akhmim on standard search engine programmes, while as a double check, searches were also carried out on the various spellings, such as Echmim Achmim and on the nearest larger town of Sohag. Initial searches produced a considerable number of hits, however, 90% were mainly Late Roman and Coptic Papyri (30 BC-AD 640) located at the Duke Papyrus Archive, University of Michigan, however, a number of objects of interest were found, such as at the Oriental Institute in Chicago.

This type of Internet searching system has been utilised considerably throughout the project, and by using Boolean (algebraic notation) searches in conjunction with other similar search techniques, has resulted in the narrowing down of related sites for analysis. For instance, searching for Sohag often came up with relevant citations and references on Akhmim. One of the important aspects to bear in mind while using this method is to understand how the search application is applied, the system can only search for a word, phrase or pattern (string) of words that would be acceptable. For example, one may wish to search for information on The Pyramids, by simply typing Pyramids, the result would be an incomprehensible number of hits. Certainly one may find Pyramids amongst several million hits, but the majority would be of entirely peripheral subjects, from Pyramid tea-bags through to UFO sites, astronomy and outlandish cult groups. Even typing in Pyramids and Egypt may still bring indeterminate results, the exact definition of what is required has to be entered for the system to come to a near as match as possible.

Following the example of above, and wishing to enquire on the history, construction and owner of one particular Pyramid, the formula below should bring a number of satisfactory web pages;

Pyramids + Egypt + Cheops + construction

A number of extraneous sites will still be displayed, however a deeper search
pattern may be formulated by subtracting this material, thus;

Pyramids + Egypt + Cheops + construction - cults - UFOs

By subtracting this extraneous material using basic mathematical formula, the search will speedily narrow the subject down offering a more suitable choice.

Upon locating the material on the web sites, the next stage was to contact the Museums and Institutions located on the web, the majority having an e-mail address made this a reasonably straightforward task. This was found to be the quickest method

for initial contact, not only would the relevant centre be aware of your interest, but be able to inform, almost within 48 hours, if any relevant material was available. In general, this was the most acceptable method inviting interested responses, although not always fruitful. One of the main problems with the attempt to track down material from Akhmim is the sheer world wide fragmentation of the objects, thus, to construct a full and representative database as possible would involve a substantial amount of additional time and effort.

Two of the major museums were contacted in the early stages of the project, the British Museum (BM) in London, and the Egyptian museum in Cairo. The BM have been very supportive and helpful in their approach and a number of visits have been made to check references and obtain material for the database, including a complete computerised list for Akhmim, which has proved extremely helpful. In order to obtain the maximum analytical results from the database as much inscribed material as possible should be collected, thereby involving scanning relevant photographs and diagrams. One of the problems to overcome here is the acquisition of such material, the BM have been very supportive and have offered its assistance in this matter, and a number of photographs are in the stages of being scanned. Cairo, however, possibly due to the geographical distance, and security organisation problems, have been slow to respond, although a useful contact has been made and hopefully contact will improve upon visiting the museum to check and hopefully photograph the objects themselves.

An additional method that is being utilised in the collection of the available photographic material is the actual scanning of the objects from photographs in catalogues and books, and producing reasonable quality scans. Whilst this is not totally suitable, it does provide a base from which to work until permissions and original copies of the objects are available.In order to contact the maximum number of museums and collections, the catalogue database of the CCER was searched, where a reasonably full list is available of museums holding Egyptological collections. By downloading the relevant part of the catalogue it was possible to compare the list with that of the index cards of Porter and Moss. This method produced a list of nearly 70 museums world-wide where Akhmim material of some description was held.

A base was now available where contact could be made for the confirmation and request of information, a task which is extremely time consuming and very much on-going. In the future, it may be a useful exercise to contact the remainder of the museums to enquire if any Akhmim related material is held in their collections.

A number of museums have replied to date and while the response is one of enthusiasm and interest of the project, only a small number of the larger collections have been electronically catalogued. Therefore, in the majority of collections this would involve physically searching through the respective records of each museum. However, while a number of museums may not be able to assist in the immediate term, personal invitations have been made to consult the relevant records.

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