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Quarterly Report: December 2010

Creators: Sean Gillies, Tom Elliott Copyright © The Contributors. Sharing and remixing permitted under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (cc-by).
Last modified Nov 09, 2012 05:23 AM
The Pleiades project has enjoyed a successful and productive first half-year under NEH funding. We began with an ambitious agenda, as reflected in the proposal workplan. We have achieved many of the goals we set for ourselves during the period, and have chosen to reprioritize some others in order to meet the needs articulated by our user community (a key approach throughout the period of performance, as highlighted in our proposal).

The following tasks were undertaken in accordance with the work plan during the period 1 May - 31 October 2010:

Accelerated rollout of Classical Atlas Project content:

We anticipated completing integration and publication of all point features documented on the Barrington Atlas maps by the end of April 2011. In fact, we have proceeded at a much faster rate, and have included also the areal features (e.g., water bodies, Roman provinces), reaching full deployment status on 23 November 2010.   The live, running total of ancient world resources (shown on the home page of Pleiades) now stands at: 31,357 ancient places, 26,267 ancient names, and 31,261 ancient locations.

The only substantive body of Barrington Atlas features still missing from Pleiades is roads. As outlined below under “support for relationships,” we have made significant progress on modifying our data model to support nuanced and effective representation of ancient road networks. We have partnered with a group of students studying the roads of Roman Anatolia at Wisconsin Lutheran College to test and refine this model. We have done some pilot imports of Barrington road network information into Pleiades and have scheduled the import of the rest for early 2011.

Collation and integration of content from the Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilization (DARMC):

This critical task proceeds on schedule, such that we anticipate full integration of good coordinates (as digitized and corrected by DARMC) by the end of the first grant year (i.e., in May 2011). DARMC currently has coordinates for about 24,000 point features. Of these, between 21,000 and 22,000 correspond to features in the Barrington Atlas. 11,000 of these points have been checked against high-resolution imagery in Google Earth, permitting DARMC to achieve significant increases in horizontal accuracy over the raw points (a consequence of the scale of the Barrington Atlas maps). Of the features common to both DARMC and Pleiades, 6,000 points are unnamed and so cannot be readily matched. Of the remaining 18,000 points, the DARMC team has succeeded in matching about 16,000 to Pleiades resources. Work on the rest is ongoing. We are developing the code to merge DARMC locations into Pleiades and formulating a schedule for its execution. The list of Pleiades identifiers and associated Barrington Atlas label and grid coordinate information that we prepared for DARMC to use during the collation process has subsequently been shared with other projects (including HESTIA and Google Ancient Places) that are interested in aligning their content with Pleiades.

Editorial oversight and content publication:

Even as we have been working toward full integration of the Barrington Atlas and DARMC data, Pleiades community members have been working to refine and expand content. The editors themselves have undertaken to correct some previously-identified Barrington omissions (e.g., the Strophades, or Plotai, islands). A number of ancient sites in Egypt’s western desert that were discovered or published too late to appear in the Barrington have received Pleiades entries (e.g., Ain el-Gedida) and some other places that were treated by the Barrington have now received more substantial treatment (e.g., Mareia).

Outreach and community building:

We have been working to improve the Pleiades user experience in order to encourage more active involvement and to reward contributors. Some examples of user experience improvements and outreach initiatives during the reporting period include:


We have seen modest but steady growth in the Pleiades user base during the reporting period, expanding from a registered user base of 40 persons in May 2010 to 60 persons at the time of this report. Since users are not required to register in order to get full access to published content (registration is needed only to suggest changes), we believe that anonymous use is significantly greater. At our next report, we will be able to provide statistics as Google Analytics tracking code was added to the Pleiades site in November 2010. We also anticipate that use will increase significantly once DARMC content is fully integrated.

Survey of collaborating groups:

As planned, we have consulted with a number of collaborating projects about what they would like to see changed in Pleiades:

We also invited our individual users to participate and contribute ideas. This survey identified a number of potential initiatives. We judged one of these -- search and Application Programming Interface (API) improvements -- to be so urgent that we elected to embark upon immediately, deferring some other activities until later in the period of performance (see further, below). We are also continuing a discussion with many of these parties on methods for cross-linking authoritative resources for geography and time periods over the web.

Support for relationships: 

As planned, we have implemented a general framework to support the creation of relationships between places. Although we have not yet rolled out functionality for “part/partOf” relationships between places, we have exercised this framework extensively for modeling linear features like roads and walls and their linkage to point features (e.g., the settlements through which roads passed). Although not evident on the site at present, relationship capabilities will greatly improve the Pleiades user experience in 2011.

Zotero integration: 

Pleiades inherited from the Classical Atlas Project a rich collection of bibliographic citations associated with individual features. A key deliverable for this grant is a flexible management framework for such citations that will enable Pleiades users to reuse the existing bibliographic information in new contexts, and to add new works and citations to the collection. In our proposal, we had anticipated taking advantage of Zotero’s newly deployed server architecture to serve this function, but on closer examination it is clear that we need to control and access some aspects of the bibliographic server in a manner different from that so far enabled by the Zotero team. Therefore, the Pleiades team joined other members of the ISAW digital projects team for a retreat in October 2010 that focused on this challenge. Our goal was to prototype an infrastructure for supporting bibliographic identity management across all ISAW projects (including Pleiades). First fruits of the effort have been documented online for public review and comment. We anticipate that most Pleiades community members will make use of Zotero to collect and prepare bibliographic information, but it is clear that we will have to devote more time in 2011 to developing and deploying the necessary server components.

The following tasks, originally planned for later in the period of performance, were undertaken during the period 1 May - 31 October 2010:

Search improvements and associated Application Programming Interfaces (APIs): 

The work plan called for search improvements to be implemented during 2012; however, the needs of our collaborators and community members dictated a more immediate response.  Accordingly, all Pleiades ancient world resources have been cataloged to enable keyword and text searches, and we have put into production a high performance spatial search catalog that supports bounding box, proximity, and “nearest neighbor” searches for ancient world resources.

The spatial search catalog supports arbitrary regional collections of resources such as the one at http://pleiades.stoa.org/collections/regional/near-deir-abu-matta (places within 100 km of Deir Abu Matta). It also supports maps on pages like http://pleiades.stoa.org/places/776142 and the listing of neighboring places on pages like http://pleiades.stoa.org/places/776142/neighbors

The spatial search catalog now also supports a web API for Pleiades that we have developed to share with partners. It is currently being tested by the UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. The keyword and text search catalog now supports a web API for Pleiades that we are developing to share with the HESTIA and Google Ancient Places projects. Given a name, it returns likely matching ancient world resources. Once fully tested, these APIs will be opened to the public for free use.

The following tasks, originally planned for the reporting period, we deferred to a later stage of the project:

Initial archival deposit: 

We originally envisioned a minimal archival deposit to the NYU Faculty Digital Archive in June 2010. We elected to defer this activity until the beginning of the 2011 calendar year because it was already evident that we would be able to make significant strides in data loading in that time frame, thereby making it possible for us to make our initial archival deposit much more complete. This decision also freed us to make progress on the search and API improvements requested by our collaborators.

DARMC workshop:

We have deferred the workshop in Boston with our DARMC collaborators until early 2011. It was clear from initial discussions that we did not need face-to-face interaction in order to establish procedures for collation and upload of DARMC coordinates to Pleiades. A face-to-face workshop later in the first grant year to focus on completion aspects, including harvest and sharing of Pleiades temporal data with DARMC, was judged more beneficial.