Archaeological and Image Databases

Although Egyptian law demands that a register of factors affecting every archaeological site should be compiled, no national database of sites and monuments yet exists. Hoping to rectify this deficiency, the Theban Mapping Project decided to build a national database of pre-Islamic sites, initially focused on Thebes. By aiming to compile a complete database of Thebes, we are building a very useful dataset and resource for Egyptologists and archaeologists that provides not only a reference and research tool, but an aid for site management and conservation.    
Much of the Theban Mapping Project's time and resources are focused on researching and photographing the archaeological sites on the West Bank at Luxor and on entering the results of this work in the TMP Archaeological Database (ADB) and the TMP Image Database (IDB). These databases are regularly updated and modifications in their interface and structure are ongoing.    
Design and Software
We initially thought to base the design of our databases on similar national databases developed by other countries (e.g., the United States, Britain, Jordan and the Sudan). Unfortunately, these designs would not accommodate the special problems of Egyptian sites. These include:    
  • The wide variety of sites found in Egypt
  • The sheer number, size and complexity of sites
  • The variety of natural and cultural environments in which the sites lie
  • The many environmental, economic and social pressures on the sites
  • The need to develop inexpensive, low-tech, sustainable approaches to the monitoring of sites
    We realized that we would need a database to house not only a large variety of details about a site, but also different types of details for different kinds of sites. The database needed to reflect the changing conditions of a site and allow that information to be cross-referenced and compared not only within one site but between a number of sites as well.    
    The Theban Mapping Project's original database was built as a Borland Paradox database with a Borland Delphi 4 interface, but it proved awkward. The decision was made to migrate the database to Microsoft Access, an application that we could maintain and support in-house. Access is a very suitable application: it allows us to easily create friendly and flexible data entry forms and high quality reports. Via its truly relational structure, we can carry out complex querying of datasets. It also facilitates ready transportation of data between databases, spreadsheets, and word-processing software, and it has the ability to integrate with GIS software.    
    Standards and Terminology
    The standardization of data has been an important goal in our databases, particularly as many fields (e.g., place names) can contain a variety of words with many different spellings, all conveying the same meaning. It was important for us to develop a terminology that uses a set of agreed terms to refer to sites, object types, materials, components of sites, etc. This facilitates easier and more accurate data entry and helps us to sort and index our records, which in turn allows us better access to the data when constructing and running queries and searches.    
    To improve its standards, the Theban Mapping Project uses these word lists in its data entry forms, making them accessible in drop-down lists where they apply to particular fields. This way we can control the terms used and the same terms can be used for data retrieval. Important fields have been made compulsory for data entry and referential integrity between the linked tables has been enforced, preventing users from entering duplicate records. Of course, standardizing data and using defined terms does to a degree involve some editing of the source material. Nevertheless, in the rare cases where this may affect the accuracy or clarity of information entered, an associated comments/notes field is provided to allow for extra details.    
    Structure and Content of the Archaeological Database
    Data about archaeological sites are stored in the Archaeological Database (ADB). This relational database is based on a main database table that holds summary information about each site [17970]. The key field of this table, which distinguishes each record as unique from the others, is the site reference number. The site reference number is the common link between this main table and the related tables that hold different groups of more detailed information about the site in question. Each site (and its related details) occurs only once in the main table but more than one record about the site can be stored in related tables (i.e., there is a one-to-many relationship between the tables).     17970
    Different types of sites (e.g., tombs, temples, settlements etc.) vary archaeologically, architecturally and artistically and require the recording of different pieces of information. Individual subsidiary tables have been created to record these different categories of site information that are linked to the main database table. Obviously, not all of these tables are applicable to all sites. As the Theban Mapping Project explores different areas of Thebes, and new site types are researched, new tables are added to the ADB and minor modifications are made to the structure and interface of the database. In this way the ADB is a constantly evolving resource, developing and changing in response to our research needs.    
    By June 2002, TMP had compiled basic records for over 2,100 sites and recorded over 1,000 fully comprehensive, chamber-by-chamber records for the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. These records on the Valley of the Kings form the foundation of much of the material on this website.    
    Structure and Content of the Image Database
    In conjunction with the archaeological database, the Theban Mapping Project maintains an Image Database (IDB) to house the Theban Mapping Project's collection of images and details about them [17816]. The photographs and other images are gathered in order to visually document the archaeological sites at Thebes and to provide a means for assessing and monitoring the changing conditions of sites over time. The images are also used to provide supporting information and evidence for the textual data documenting the sites in the ADB.     17816
    The IDB has a similar structure to the ADB with a main table containing general information about an image, with related subsidiary tables that contain more details on particular aspects of information. The key field in this database is the image reference number, which supports the links between the tables. The IDB is linked to the ADB via the site reference number, so that information can be shared between the two databases and images pertaining to particular sites can be easily retrieved.    
    Most of the imagery contained in the database comes from slide originals. Low-resolution copies of high-resolution scans of the images are made available to the IDB and information about the image and its content is entered in the relevant fields.    
    Historical photographs and artwork of the Theban area have been acquired and added to the IDB, which allows us to compare them with modern photographs, helping us to recognize changes over time in the condition of a site. We have also integrated plans and maps (surveyed by the Theban Mapping Project and also existing historical plans and maps) into the IDB. Drawings and watercolors of objects and relief from KV 5 are also entered.    
    By June 2002 TMP had registered on the IDB nearly 7,500 images relevant to the Theban area, with many tombs in the Valley of the Kings documented wall-by-wall, chamber-by-chamber. Approximately 2,000 of these images are available on this website, accompanied by data from the IDB. New images are being registered on the IDB daily and several photographic expeditions to Thebes are undertaken every year, to gather more material.    
    User Manuals and Quality Control
    To facilitate data entry and as a method for documenting the Theban Mapping Project databases, we have written user manuals describing the databases and how they function. Word lists and definitions of terms to be used have been compiled to assist data entry and retrieval of data. These lists are reviewed periodically to ensure consistency and accuracy, and the material entered into the database is edited by an Egyptologist before it is made available on this website.    

    Published or last modified on: August 23, 2002
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