Overview

The Arches project is a collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and World Monuments Fund (WMF) to develop for the international heritage field an open source, web- and geospatially based information system that is purpose-built to inventory and manage immovable cultural heritage. Arches incorporates widely adopted standards (for heritage inventories, heritage data, and information technology) so that it will offer a solid foundation that heritage institutions may customize to meet their particular needs. Arches is built using open source software tools to make its adoption cost effective, and to allow heritage institutions to pool resources to enhance Arches in mutually beneficial ways.

Background


In June 2010, the GCI and WMF completed development of the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities (MEGA)—Jordan, a web-based, Arabic-English geospatial information system built with open source tools and designed to serve as an archaeological site inventory and management system for the Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA).

The DoA deployed MEGA—Jordan kingdom-wide in December 2010. The DoA has allowed public access to the system for viewing and searching purposes at megajordan.org. However, to ensure security of the data, most of the advanced features of the system are not accessible to the public. The full functionality of the system may be viewed in an overview video on the megajordan.org homepage or on the MEGA-Jordan project pages.

GCI-WMF have received numerous inquiries from heritage organizations around the world interested in potentially adopting MEGA, which has conveyed the broader need for such a tool. This interest led GCI-WMF to embark on the development of a generic information system for the international heritage field.

Building on its experience with MEGA, in June 2011 GCI-WMF began to develop an open source, web- and geospatially based information system designed to inventory and manage all types of immovable heritage, including archaeological sites, buildings, structures, landscapes, and heritage ensembles or districts. The system is named "Arches." In order to lay the groundwork for developing Arches, and particularly to provide capability for documenting all heritage types (and not only archaeology as is the case of MEGA), GCI-WMF have undertaken extensive research on best practices and standards that are relevant to the development of a system of this type. The GCI and WMF consulted international best practices and standards, engaging nearly twenty national, regional, and local government heritage authorities from the United States, England, Belgium, France, and several Middle Eastern countries, as well as American and European information technology experts.
During the development of version 1.0 of Arches, the contributions of heritage institutions played a critical role. Early on, the Flanders Heritage Agency gave test data and valuable advice on a number of development issues. English Heritage contributed substantially by providing additional data for system development, testing, and demonstration, by offering guidance on controlled vocabularies and the incorporation of the CIDOC CRM, and by leading the system documentation effort.

Key Characteristics of the Arches System


The Arches project team determined that, based on these efforts and experience developing the MEGA system, Arches should be designed according to the following principles:

  1. Standards based: Arches is being built using internationally adopted standards in the cultural heritage and information technology fields.
  2. Broadly accessible: Arches will be web-based to provide for the widest possible access. It will be user friendly and require minimal training for most users. The system will be freely available for download from the Internet so that institutions may customize it and install it at any location in the world.
  3. Economical to adapt and implement: Through the use of open source tools, it will be economical to customize, update, and maintain and will be vendor neutral with no licensing or upgrade fees. Because the system will be designed to be easy to use, it will not require specialized training for the vast majority of users.
  4. Customizable: The software code will be open sourced, allowing it to be readily customized. The system will be structured in modules so that it may be easily extended. It will be capable of presenting its user interface in any language, or in multiple languages, including those that are bidirectional and use non-Latin scripts. It will be configurable to any geographic location or region.
  5. Secure: Once the Arches system is installed, institutions implementing it may control the degree of privacy of their data that the system contains. They may choose to have the system and its data totally open to online access, only have some data accessible, only accessible to users with valid login credentials, or somewhere in between. The system will allow each organization deploying it to implement their individual information access policy.
Arches has been designed to serve a number of purposes fundamental to the understanding, appreciation, and management of heritage places. These include:

  • identification and inventory
  • research and analysis
  • monitoring and risk mapping
  • determining needs and priorities for investigation and research, conservation and management
  • planning for investigation, conservation, and management activities
  • raising awareness and promoting understanding among the public, as well as governmental authorities and decision makers
Arches also incorporates international heritage documentation standards. Growing out of documentation practices in a number of countries, international standards have been developed for the inventory of archaeological, architectural, and movable cultural heritage. These standards identify "core," or essential, information that should be part of any cultural heritage inventory. These standards were also created to facilitate data sharing across political boundaries and to serve as a reference for heritage organizations, which, as they create inventories, often grapple with identifying the optimal set of inventory data to meet the practical requirements of heritage management. One standard for inventory of architectural heritage, the Core Data Index to Historic Buildings and Monuments of the Architectural Heritage, was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1992. A second standard for inventory of archaeological heritage, the Core Data Standard for Archaeological Sites and Monuments, was adopted by the International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC) of the International Council of Museums in 1995. Both standards are available online.
CIDOC is now finalizing a combined standard for the inventory of both archaeological and architectural heritage known as the International Core Data Standard for Archaeological and Architectural Heritage. For the Arches system, this combined standard was used to identify the data fields of version 1.0. Organizations that deploy Arches can customize those data fields to meet their specific requirements.
Arches bases the relationships between data fields in the system on the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM), which has been adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as ISO 21127:2006 (Information and Documentation: A Reference Ontology for the Interchange of Cultural Heritage Information). The latest version of the standard is available online. Use of the CRM keeps the data independent of conventions that are particular to the design of Arches. It also contributes to powerfully effective searches within, as well as across, data sets. It will facilitate data migration to newer systems and aid in the preservation of data over time.

Last updated: October 2013