Digital data is a trend

Digital data is a trend. Complex digital data can be found today in almost all life situations. Powerful and inexpensive systems that are simple and intuitive to use are widely used. Everywhere people scan and digitize: pictures, books, maps, landscapes, rooms, museum objects. And who else takes pictures with the film today? Also in the field of archeology, traditional methods are increasingly being replaced by digital methods. Reports, plans, photographs, etc. Often exist only in the form of a file.

Many of these digital data deserve to be stored – archived – in the long run or even forever because of their uniqueness and exceptional importance. At present, however, information technology is usually not oriented to longevity. On the contrary, the shortest innovation cycles determine what is happening, and new technology rarely takes into account old data. Who can read floppy disks or mods today? How long will CDs last? No one seriously expects to be able to read data recorded by up to three or more generations of the system. How to keep something there forever?

It is expected that digital archiving in the near future will become an even more important topic as a standard IT topic, and most likely, commercial solutions will soon be offered. However, until then, it remains only to get acquainted with the problems and, step by step, find individual solutions. Knowing some basic methods, you can set the direction and take the first steps without risking losing data or even anticipating future archive systems.

Why can digital data be canceled so badly? Two main problem areas can be distinguished: complexity and aging. Conventional analog documents are usually readable and recognizable directly and with the naked eye. This simple principle has led to widespread distribution and at the same time guarantees that documents from ancient times can still be read if the medium was saved.

In the digital domain, we find a different situation. Here, content or functionality is only available through a sophisticated system of hardware, software, storage media and data format. As soon as something changes in this complex system after recording data, one can no longer be sure that the original content or original functionality can still be used. Without a suitable system environment, a data carrier with all its data is worthless.

Aging affects analog documents as well as the digital domain. However, the aging processes in analog documents are usually slow and continuous, so you can easily anticipate and take care of them. On the digital side, aging processes are fast and abrupt, which makes forecasting extremely difficult in the context of system complexity. This is because digital information technology is based on huge storage density and leaves little room for redundancy.

Digital data is extremely error prone. In addition, there are extremely short cycles of technical innovation, amounting to only a few years, while sustainability and conservation do not yet play a significant role, as a rule, only day after day.

But digital data also has a decisive advantage, because it can be copied without loss of information and, thus, updated again and again. This is not possible with analog media. Information on an obsolete faded photograph is irretrievably lost, and if necessary, extremely sophisticated methods must be used to save at least the remaining information if the medium cannot be saved. By the way, people like to use digitization for this.

The Association of State Archaeologists recognized the existing problems and called for the creation of the Archiving working group at the colloquium as part of the Archeology and Information Systems Commission. This working group set itself the goal of evaluating generally accessible methodological and technical approaches to archiving digital data, as well as practical recommendations, suggestions and tips. An analysis of the situation in the archaeological state bodies revealed important topics requiring urgent action. The purpose of this text is to achieve these goals within existing capabilities.