cyberSW: A Data Synthesis and Knowledge Discovery System for Long-term Interdisciplinary Research on Southwest Social Change

Project Summary

Funding Source: 
National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award Number: 

Funding Amount: 
Investigators : 
Dr. Barbara Mills 
Dr. Sudha Ram 


Archaeology can provide a 'deep time' perspective on issues ofcontemporary relevance--including human demography, social inequality, migration, the evolution of socialidentities, diffusion of ideas andtechnologies, and spread of social movements--to a variety of researchcommunities. A major challenge

in using archaeological data to address these domains, however,is that most information collected by archaeologists is not digitally curated or synthesized beyond individualprojects. A number of recentsynthesis projects in the U.S. Southwest show the great potentialof these data for addressing bigquestions in the social sciences. The proposed project will acceleratethe cumulative research potential ofthese efforts through the creation of cyberSW, an integrated cyberinfrastructurethat will

(1) mergeseveral existing synthetic databases from the U.S. Southwest into one scalable, networked database;

(2)collect additional data from archives, reports, museum collections,and limited fieldwork to fill in spatial,temporal, and material culture gaps in the new database;

(3) analyzethose data and create user-friendlyonline tools for data analysis and display based in network scienceand other quantitative methods; and

(4) establish a web portal for data display, analysis, and sharingthat is accessible to both professionalresearchers and the general public.

Intellectual Merit

The archaeological record of the U.S. Southwest is one of the mostintensively studied in the world and isoften at the cutting edge of archaeology with respect to methodand theory. This project builds on several prior NSF-funded projects in this area that have already producedlarge, synthetic databases that focus onspecific areas and time periods. As part of this project, we willintegrate these into a single researchdatabase of unprecedented scale. But cyberSW will be more thana database; it will be an integrated knowledge delivery system allowing users at different levels ofexpertise to view, analyze, and extract data for other analyses. Protocols for data standardization andsynthesis have already been established for most classes of artifacts and architecture, and we will build onthese as we expand our coverage to newareas of the Southwest. Additional data will be collected thatwill allow researchers to address social science issues of contemporary relevance from the deep time perspectiveunique to archaeology,including demography, density, diversity, and connectivity. Aninnovative part of our project is the use of a graph database that is both scalable and open source, which canbe used as a model for other large-scaleresearch projects.

Broader Impacts

CyberSW will result in the data integration of millions of objectsfrom tens of thousands of settlementsspread across the U.S. Southwest that were inhabited between ca.A.D. 800 to 1550, making it one of thelargest archaeological databases in the world. By merging existingdatabases and creating a single,networked database that provides the infrastructure for researchby a variety of constituencies on severalbig questions in the social sciences, including: How and why doessocial inequality emerge? What is therelationship of demographic scale to social connectivity? Why dosome societies fail? And how doesmigration alter social relationships and identities? Many of thearchaeological sites to be incorporatedinto cyberSW are well-known and of great interest to the generalpublic because they are on federally

managed lands, including National Parks and Monuments. Making thesedata available to researchers andto the public fulfills an ethical responsibility to make the findingsof archaeological research accessibleand interpretable. The online analytical tools will allow a widerange of individuals to conduct their ownanalyses, whether these be tribal members interested in their history,students learning data manipulationand display, or social scientists grappling with the long-termquestions about the human past. The Citizen Science component for registered volunteers will allow a much biggercommunity to participate intransformative science.