Research test 1: palstave

with 2 Comments

There is an overview of this project and presentation on this page

This post is meant as an appendix for my talk at CAA UK today 23. Feb 2013.

Disclaimer: This is only meant as an overview of the subject of accessing data. I am aware that there is many more data resources out there. Please correct me if I have misunderstood your resource and enlighten me if I haven’t mentioned your resource.

Palstave from Valladolid, by José-Manuel Benito Álvarez

This is the first in a small series of research tests to see how much information I can gather about an archaeological subject/item using only the internet.

Why palstaves?

Because they are an archaeological item I find very pretty and because I once found one during an excavation in a big field in the UK.

What is a palstave

According to Wikipedia “a palstave is a type of early bronze axe. It was common in the mid Bronze Age in north, western and south-western Europe”.

A Google image search brings us loads of images of beautiful palstaves. One of them (the one here on the left) is available for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Finds of palstaves

According to the Wikipedia quote palstaves are supposedly found in Northern, Western and South-Western Europe. So lets see if we can find some.

Lets begin with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) who attempt to record archaeological objects found by the members of the public in England and Wales. I love the concept behind this as there is so much information that gets lost if we don’t provide platforms where members of the public can voluntarily register their finds.

— I will just go off on a tangent here. I wish that every country had such a wonderful scheme. In Denmark, I have myself (while working at a museum) been out to visit farmers to help them record and identify their finds. They were always surprised but relieved to know that we didn’t want to take their finds away with us, but that we just wanted to record contextual knowledge before it was too late. —

Back to PAS and their wonderful collection. A simple search for Object Type = Palstave returns 335 results. I want to get a map of this. These results can quick and easily be exported as a KML file and added to Google Earth. Neat! So how do they avoid that everyone just storms to their site and begins to download all their data. Well they require you to register as a researcher and describe why you wish to use their data and what you wish to use it for. I did this and my request was accepted and audited.

Lets move on to Denmark and the database ‘Museernes Samlinger‘. Here I will search for Genstande, Beskrivelse = Pålstav. I get 111 results but I know for a fact that this isn’t the full record of all palstaves in Danish museum collections. In 2004 I registered a palstave for Museet på Sønderskov and when I make a search for pålstav in Museet på Sønderskov’s collection the result is 0. EDIT: OK, this is a strange coincidence. I did this search over a month ago and got the previous result. But when I did the same search today I got 114 results – the last three were from – yes, Museet på Sønderskov. EDIT: They have added more again!!!

Moving on to Sweden and a dataset I have used before for my MSc Dissertation: FMIS (Swedish National Heritage Board). A quick search here for ‘avsatsyxa’ (swedish for palstave) returns 35 results (this is find locations and not finds themselves). These results can also be downloaded as KML (not all 35 though) and opened in Google maps – result!

Next stop, the Netherlands, where I can use the Memory of the Netherlands site to do a quick search for bronze axes or bronzen bijl gives 133 results. It seems that a palstave in Dutch can either be called a hielbijl or a randbijl. The site searches across 129 collections in 100 institutions.   However, this site does not give me the option to download a list of these finds. Neither does it have a spacial download or even a spacial view. Most of my results were from the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities were I then went and conducted the same searches. No spatial or download options there either. From this I can only conclude that palstaves were also present in the current Dutch area in the Bronze Age.

Thanks to Guido Nockemann for putting me on to Europeana and the German Museum-Digital in his Day of Archaeology posting 2011. Museum-Digital gave me 8 randleistenbeil and 2 absatzbeil. None of these results could be exported or re-used in any way.

Edit: Thanks to Guido (see comment below) for correcting me here. It is possible to export data from Museum-Digital as a PDF.

OK, I am going to stop this now. I really wanted to look at this for other European countries as well, but finding the finds databases in different languages is not that easy and Google is not my friend in this case 🙁 But please if you do know of a finds database in Europe that I have not looked in, do let me know and I am happy to add it here.

The results
So what did I do with the results that I was able to extract? Well the KML I downloaded and loaded in Google maps. This way I can have a quick look at the spread of of palstaves across Europe (or at least the UK and Sweden). But I created my own map in Google maps, which I can edit so I am able to add the data I found in the other databases and give a slightly more covered spread.

View Palstaves in Europe in a larger map

What I did was simply input all my above searches and how I found the information as a point in the middle of the country.

Map data ©2013 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009), Google, GIS Innovatsia, DATA+ –

So, was geographical data the only thing I could use to understand the data? Not at all! PAS also allowed me to export the list as CSV. I can open this in my spreadsheet application or import it into my database. You can transform it into XML is that’s your drug of choice. It happens to be mine, so I guess I would have liked to have the option of a Restful Web Service outputting the result list as XML. But so far PAS are way ahead of the game as data re-use goes.

Having the information as CSV is great though. It means I can begin to run different analysis on it. Say I am curious as to the average weight of a palstave. I just do a simple average of the column for weight (result is 226g) in my favourite browser application. I can also tell you that the average length is around 10cm.

2 Responses

  1. Guido Nockemann

    Thanks for mentioning me, but your Information about the data of the axes at museum-digital is not fully correct.

    You can export the informations as an PDF. Look at “Objektinformationen zum Ausdrucken (PDF)” at the bottom of the record. Maybe not the best was for your purpose, but a possibility.

    museum-digital is not designed as an data-base for science in first place. The aim is to show and publicate all the objects the museums keep in they collections (the most objects would otherwise never been shown to public, because their to many) , to give information where the object is and who you can ask about it.

    Also the location of the find is given. Just click on “Info” at e.g. “… wo:
    Osterwieck OT Rhoden >>> [ Info]”. A window pops up and their you can find the coordinates. Ok, it´s copy/paste-Wwork, but you can use the data.

    Best regards,

    Guido Nockemann

    • Eddie

      Hi Guido,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment and help me improve the information about museum-digital. Much appreciated!
      I have edited the post with your information about the pdf export.

      I did figure that Museum-Digital as many other similar resources is not aimed at research but more the general public. However, that doesn’t mean that they are not potentially great resources for students and researchers and I would encourage the museum-digital project and other similar projects to think more about a strategy for how their resource can be made more available for research.