I’ve got a small Citizen Science project for archaeology in Wikidata. It‘s funded by the Wikimedia Foundation Germany within the Fellowship Free Knowledge. The project page is in German, so let me explain what I do in English here.

Citizen Science in Archaeology

Citizen Science describes the contribution of “non-researcher” citizen to scientific projects. Quite often the perspective of an outsider can be quite interesting and invigorating to a scientific project. Also, many people are very interested in scientific methods and approaches as well as results. Especially archaeology inspires many “lay-men and -women”. Projects like DigVentures or the Ness of Brodgar – project delight in taking volunteers on digs, where they learn excavating and contribute significantly to the research on site. Metal detectorists and volunteer surveyors play another important part in archaeological citizen science. They survey fields and record finds and sites in close cooperation with state archaeology. In contrast to treasure hunters they alert heritage management to new-found archaeological objects. As archaeologists cannot survey all the world on their own, their help is greatly appreciated.

Surveyors in Lower-Saxony, Germany, cc by sa Ronald Reimann via Wikimedia.Commons

In Germany, volunteer surveyors for heritage management lack a nice platform on which they can present their finds to the public and archaeologists. I thought, we could use the Wikimedia universe for this. It is well known, there is space for pictures on Wikimedia Commons and we can use Wikidata for structured information.

Wikimedia Commons is probably well known by everyone. But I will introduce Wikidata and why I think it’s well suited.


Wikidata is an open and free knowledge hub. You can imagine it as a huge database, which anyone can edit. It’s the structured information storage of all Wikimedia projects: It links the different information systems with each other, such as Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. All data in Wikidata is available under a free license, can be exported in standard formats, and can be interlinked to other open data sets on the linked data web.

Linked Open Data

What does “interlinked to other open data sets” mean? Well, there are loads of information online – not just on Wikipedia, of course. There is, e. g. OpenStreetMaps (OSM), a free and open “google maps alternative”, which stores spatial features or perio.do, a gazetteer for periods. So, if I have an archaeological find I can describe it in Wikidata and declare that it has been found at a certain site. Instead of describing the site in detail (e. g. with point coordinates), I declare: “This site has got this OSM ID, so if you want to know more about it, go to OSM and look there!” Same with the periods: Instead of typing more information about the period, I might just link to perio.do and let perio.do do the further explaining. To cite Tim Berners-Lee, “inventor of the internet”:

The Semantic Web isn’t just about putting data on the web. It is about making links, so that a person or machine can explore the web of data.

Linked Open Data (LOD) aims to create a network of online and accessible information.

How does Wikidata work?

Entries in Wikidata are called “items”. Each item has a label, a description and sometimes aliases. An identification number that always starts with the letter Q (Q-IDs) identifies the items. To add further information on a Wikidata item statements are used. A statement consists of a property and a value. The property is again described by an ID, which this time starts with an P. My friend Florian described the item “Ogham Stone CIIC 81” (Q69385424) by adding the property “belongs to the collection” (P195) and the value for this property “Stone Corridor at the University College Cork” (Q69379477). Other stones also have the same property and the same value for this property. They are connected by sharing property and value.

Therefore Wikidata is a graph database. The properties are edges — they describe relations between the item and a value. The value itself may be an item, which has other properties. Together they create a huge network of information, that is not just linked within Wikidata, but also to other databases and repositories.

Wikidata in the Linked Open Data Cloud. Databases indicated as circles (with wikidata indicated as ‘WD’), with grey lines linking databases in the network if their data is aligned. (Layout by graphopt algorithm by the igraph package in [R]. Data from https://lod-cloud.net/datasets)
Here you can see Wikidata (WD) in the middle of the Linked Open Data Cloud, linking information from a multitude of subjects (cc by Thomas Shafee via Wikimedia.Commons).

Is there archaeology in Wikidata?

A lot of archaeological data is already in Wikidata and the whole Wikimedia universe. There are types of amphorae (e.g. Q11076343), ancient vase painters (Q55501274), famous sites (Q5684) and famous archaeologists (Q74395). The Ogi Ogam project uploaded information on Ogham stones (Flo and I wrote about it here) and the category Samian Ware has a huge number of entries. These are just some examples, there’s a lot to find and explore!

Smashed Dishes – my project

For my project I use the CRADLE tool to create a form for entering data on prehistoric pottery into Wikidata. I work with citizen archaeologists to make this an easy and accessible way to add to archaeology in Wikidata and to present and showcase finds.

In the form you can link your entry to an image that has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. So if you find a sherd, the easiest workflow is to first upload an image on Wikimedia. As a second step you will use the CRADLE form to add more information in a structured way, such as the find spot, when it has been discovered and the culture to which the sherd(s) belong. This way we create a database for survey finds. Everyone interested will be able to search for cultures or check his/her area for new finds. Everyone interested could be so many people: Other citizen archaeologists, local historians, students, archaeologists, …

text blocks saying "modelling sherds" and "citizen archaeologists" point to the "Wikidata logo" and "smashed dishes -archaeological soures in Wikidata" is written on top, several arrows lead from the Wikidata logo to Students, Researcher, Anyone interested and other citizen scientists.
This is what happens in my project.

Of course citizen archaeologists still have to alert Heritage Management to new finds in the normal way and with more detailed information. Because of potential grave robbers, we will e. g. only record imprecise site locations in Wikidata. The rough information will be offered to everyone, who then can ask the Heritage Management about the exact information, if they need it.

When the form is in its final form (hee hee ;-)) I’ll create some tutorials and screen casts, which will hopefully help anyone else who wants to add ceramic sherds to Wikidata and to the Linked Open Data world.

Also, to complement the project I will give a talk at the EAA 2021 on “Wikidata and the Wikimedia Universe as a platform for citizen archaeologists”. It will take place (virtually) Sept. 6th -11th.

Sophie Schmidt

Founder & Editor

About the Author

My name is Sophie, I am a prehistoric and computational archaeologist and have been research associate at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne, as well as for the NFDI4Objects project at the German Archaeological Institute. I teach statistics for archaeologists, work on new methods in settlement archaeology (GIS, geostatistics in R and stuff) and am interested in archaeogaming. Now I started my PhD-project on the 5th mill. BC in Brandenburg (that's North-East Germany).

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