Data, Data, Data

I’ve been spending most of my research time working with my supervisor to compile a lot of published data and creating a database of glass beads.  One of the largest questions we’ve been having (and will probably continue to have) is how we can document this data and represent it in a database that allows for easy manipulation, but doesn’t eliminate important material.

Many scholars talking about beads use different classification types like collared, segmented, gold-foil, etc.  I had been putting these under a single ‘subtype’ column in the database, but then we came across examples of segmented gold-foil beads.  What do you do with those?  I can’t really put ‘segmented’ as the shape, since it’s not really the general shape and segmented beads can take a number of shapes.  So perhaps put segmented in a different category, like design?  But design is more like the actual patterning of color, lines, and shapes in the glass itself.  So maybe modification?  In don’t know. *

And then we have the question of colors.  Some scholars describe beads in terms like “sea-water”.  I grew up near the ocean (I’m literally from the Ocean State) and I know that sea-water has a number of different colors, all of which could be what that author meant when describing that bead.

Also, how detailed do we get with color?  Do we go with individual shades or stick to general ‘red’, ‘green’, ‘blue’, etc?  These might seem like simple questions, but honestly, they’re not.  What data do I eliminate if I limit my color notation to basic terms?  Is the deeper description of color worth the time and effort spent to get/create it?  Is it even possible to find that information without being able to see the beads myself?

* I do have a much more developed system as of January 2014 (that’s what 4 years of research will do), and I expect it will continue to develop.  I will be honest, though, and say that I still ask questions like “How do I note shape or color or type or any of the many distinguishing factors of a bead?” and “Is the degree of information I would be getting worth the time and effort used to get it?” and “Can that information really tell us anything useful?”  I think in a way, that’s just good scholarship – constantly revisiting your methodology and questioning how you can make it better.


About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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