Case Study 28: Information management and online discovery

Peter McKeague

Carved stones are recorded by a range of bodies across Scotland each assigning their own identifiers for individual stones or collections of stones. Ideally each stone should have a persistent unique reference in online portals, with managed links to related resources, allowing researchers to move seamlessly between museum catalogues, Historic Environment Records and Canmore.


Nationally agreed definitions for monument or object types enable users of online resources to search and discover information about the sites, objects and collections published online. Users can discover how many records are classified as a CROSS, an OGHAM INSCRIBED STONE or as a PICTISH SYMBOL STONE based on nationally agreed terminologies. However this has limitations, while a user may be able to find 352 PICTISH SYMBOL STONES, they cannot discover how many are classified as CLASS I or CLASS II or have a particular type of symbol. There is a need for better and more flexible indexing.

Each of the terms has been defined and published online through, establishing persistent web addresses (URIs) for each concept so that it is explicitly defined. The approach offers greater flexibility than simply defining the term as in a dictionary. It allows users to map local terms to a concept and even manage multi-lingual expressions of the same concept. For instance expresses the concept for ‘A stone bearing an inscription in the ogham alphabet, in which the letters are represented by lines or notches along an edge or angle’. This may be labelled in English as ‘OGHAM INSCRIBED STONE’ and expressed in Scots Gaelic as ‘CLACH OGHAM’. The concept may then be mapped to other persistent online URIs including the DBpedia: to construct a network of machine-readable resources. 

With internationally agreed terminologies, and appropriate web services and protocols in place, cross-searching online resources offers new opportunities to search seamlessly across institutional resources and effortlessly integrate the results into other systems. For example, it should be possible to produce a distribution map of all ogham stones in the British Isles sourced from national and local inventories, regardless of the variation in classification terms (Figure 1). At present, however, assuming the data is online and indexed, a researcher must search each data provider individually and either copy or download the relevant details for reuse. 

The aspiration is clear: information needs to be more detailed, in more accessible, machine-readable formats to enable researchers to explore connections between resources and develop new insights and narratives into the common heritage of Europe, whether it is Neolithic monumentality between Scotland and Ireland, or common early medieval themes such as the spread of Christianity and the impact of the Vikings

A colour map of the UK and Ireland with black spots marking locations of Ogham stones

Figure 1: Distribution map of early medieval ogham stones based on searches of online national databases in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales (McKeague and Thomas forthcoming. Sampled 18 December 2015). Data is derived from multiple sources: © Historic Environment Scotland; © Crown Copyright RCAHMW; © Historic England; © NIEA; © Copyright Government of Ireland

Return to Section 3.4: Organising Data

Return to Section 6.2.8: Through information management

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