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Research Open Science Open Research Award

Unlocking the Power of Legacy Field Survey Data for Archaeological Research with Online Student Internships

Anita Casarotto (GIA, Arts)

Open Research objectives/practices

This case study (fully published in Ref.[1]) presents a didactic and research method based on online international student internships for the collection, digitisation and dissemination of archaeological legacy field survey data. It aligns with the following objectives (O) and practices (P):

  • O1. Making the outputs of research freely accessible.
  • O2. Using online tools to increase the transparency of research processes and methodologies.
  • O3. Making scientific research more reproducible by increasing the amount of information placed on the public record.
  • O4. Using open collaborative methods to increase efficiency and widen participation in research.
  • P1. Incorporating open and participatory methods into the design of research.
  • P2. Introducing Open Research concepts and practices into teaching and learning.
  • P3. Undertaking activities to develop the environment for Open Research.


Field survey has been widely used to detect archaeological sites in arable fields since the 1970s. Through survey, data about the preservation state of ancient settlements have been extensively mapped by archaeologists over large rural landscapes using paper media (e.g., topographical maps) or GPS and GIS technologies. These legacy data are unique and irreplaceable for heritage management in landscape planning, territorial monitoring of cultural resources, and spatial data analysis to study past settlement patterns in academic research. However, legacy data are at risk due to often improper digital curation or obsolescence, and the dramatic land transformation that is affecting several regions. To access this vast knowledge production and allow for its dissemination and reuse, this case study employs participatory approaches and open research practices, such as crowdsourcing through online student internships (i.e., nichesourcing), and digital platforms for web data sharing powered by collaborative-mapping software (e.g., Ref.[2]). Based on the results from a pilot study with Dutch, Italian and Portuguese students, it is concluded that there are clear benefits for cultural resource management, academic research, and the students themselves.


This method has been developed to achieve three goals: 1. international collection, digitisation, integration, accessibility, and reuse of field-survey datasets for the benefit of the scholarly community and heritage professionals; 2. comparison of survey data on a supranational level to discover large-scale, past societal patterns (data mining) in our project on Roman archaeology (Refs.[1,3]); 3. training of future generations of European archaeologists (i.e., university students) in responsible digital data management and open science. Another reason was in part born out of necessity in hard covid times. First, a method based on online internships is a resilient didactic formula that works in pandemic times because adapted to train students through distance mentoring. Second, students based in Italy and Portugal could access data in their local libraries; these data are useful for our project (Ref.[3]) but were difficult for us to reach due to the travel restrictions.

Lessons learned

The digitisation/integration of legacy survey datasets has its challenges, such as the variability of data formats. The lack of a shared pattern of argumentation and the often poor availability of documentation on survey designs and recording methods (i.e., metadata) implies that several legacy datasets cannot be aggregated with new survey datasets using standardisation models (e.g., CIDOC-CRM ontology). Nonetheless, an urgent issue is how we can preserve legacy data, especially considering that archaeological sites are increasingly in danger of being lost forever due to urbanization, agriculture, and digital obsolescence, rendering new data impossible to collect. This case study attempts to counteract this situation: not only is this method capable of bringing to light legacy survey data that are sometimes difficult to access and improving their preservation; it also assists their translation into FAIR data. Indeed, by applying this method, legacy survey data may become more easily findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable.

URLs, references and further information

Further information:

The results of this recently completed experience have been published in the open access peer-reviewed journal Digital (i.e., Ref.[1]). The transfer in open repositories of the legacy data digitised during three yearly internship editions is in progress since 2020 by our staff and students through the freely accessible, open source WebGIS platform Fasti Online Survey (for more information see Ref.[1]; to access the platform: Ref.[2]). This initiative has received funding from the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (Regato Fund) in the context of the RUG-KNIR research project “The impact of Roman imperialism in the West” (see Ref.[3]), for which I work as a postdoc researcher until 2026 together with the PI dr. Tesse D. Stek, a research assistant and two PhD candidates who will be hired soon.

References and URLs:

[1] Casarotto, A. Digitising Legacy Field Survey Data: A Methodological Approach Based on Student Internships. Digital 2022, 2, 422-443.
[2] Fasti Online Survey. Available online: (accessed on 28 September 2022).
[3] Project “The impact of Roman imperialism in the West: settlement dynamics and rural organization in Iron Age and Roman Portugal” (2018-2027). Description available here: (accessed on 21 November 2022).

Last modified:25 November 2022 08.46 a.m.