What did the Romans snack on while they brought their version of civilization to barbarian Britain? There's a lot of potentially useful data. A research team in Oxford is planning to answer questions about the Roman diet by analyzing the wealth of electronic data created in recent decades. A UK law of 1992 requires excavation of sites before development, which produces tons of data. Other laws aimed at getting metal detectorists and amateur archaeologists to declare their finds have also generated plentiful data.
The hurdle is, of course, data standardization. The team did not have much difficulty in preparing their actual analysis. Getting all the data to agree in the first place is another matter.
I'd urge anyone working on this kind of data project – in any walk of life – to think about the solutions they crafts in terms of ongoing standards which they can donate back to the community. Wouldn't it be great if this Oxford project could not only tell us about Roman eating habits, but also help ensure that other questions about the past are more readily answerable?
Those of us in positions of influence within organizations should also, I believe, be campaigning for a strong link between data archaeologists and data architects. You didn't know you had data archaeologists? You do: they're probably called the Big Data team. They're the people trying to mine useful nuggets from external data deposits. As these folks develop their strategies, data management folks elsewhere should be jumping in. Big Data & Food