Integrated Archaeological Database

The Integrated Archaeological Database system, or IADB for short, is designed to address the data management requirements throughout the lifespan of archaeological excavation projects, from initial excavation recording, through post-excavation analysis and research to eventual dissemination and archiving.
History |  What's New |  Users |  Demonstration |  Requirements |  Costs |  Installation

Key Features
Web Interface
The IADB is a web application using modern AJAX programming techniques. It is accessed through a web browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome from any Internet-connected computer. No IADB software is installed on the user's computer.
Project Resources
Put simply, an IADB project database consists of data resources and the links, or connections between them. There are a number of different types of resources as shown below (click on a resource name to see an example):
Finds are sub-divided into Small Finds, Bulk Finds, Samples, Skeletons, Architectural Fragments and Structural Timbers. Find References take the form FSF12345.
The standard stratigraphic excavation unit. A basic Context record consists of keywords and other metadata, an optional image (or facsimile) of the original context recording sheet, stratigraphic links to other contexts and a "single context plan" of the context.
Sets consist of one or more Contexts, for example, the cut of a pit and its several fills, and can belong to a single Group
Groups consist of one or more Sets, for example, several associated pit Sets, and can belong to a single Phase
Phases consist of one or more Groups
Objects consist of any combination of Finds, Contexts, Sets, Groups, Phases and other Objects. They are defined either as a list of members (static) or as the result of a database query (dynamic).
Images include photographs and other digital raster images such as scanned X-rays. Each image can be linked to any number of Finds, Contexts, etc and can be inserted into internal IADB documents.
These include any type of digital vector illustration which can be converted into SVG or DXF format
Structure Diagrams
A Structure Diagram can be a simple stratigraphic matrix diagram showing stratigraphic units (Contexts, Sets, etc) and the relationships between them, or other database resources (images, plans, documents, other Structure Diagrams, etc) can be added to create more general purpose visualisations. A Structure Diagram can be thought of as a visual representation of, and an index into, a particularly aspect of the project database.
Documents can be internal HTML documents created and edited within the IADB, externally created documents (such as PDF files) uploaded and stored within the IADB, links to external (non-IADB) web resources, or references to paper documents.
Bibliography References
Each IADB server maintains a global Bibliography, from which selected items are tagged for inclusion within individual Projects.
Built-in Editors
The IADB includes online editors for creating and manipulating Structure Diagrams, creating and editing internal documents, and for digitizing single Context plans (from scanned images or using a graphics tablet). No third party software is required.
Tag Cloud
Any number of user-defined tags (analogous to Labels in Google Mail, for example) may be applied to any resources within a project database.
Unique URIs
Each IADB project, each Tagged list, each individual resource record (Find, Context, Image, Structure Diagram, etc), and each SQL Query in an IADB project database has a unique URI which allows links to individual IADB resources to be included in web publications, external databases, etc.
A Brief History of the IADB

The Integrated Archaeological Database (IADB) has developed over many years. In the late eighties, Steve Stead and Pete Clark, then both at the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust (SUAT) in Perth, Scotland (archaeological services in Perth are now provided by Alder Archaeology) started developing the concept of a computerised integrated database to record and help with the analysis of several large excavation projects on which SUAT was working at the time. When Mike Rains took over from Steve Stead at SUAT in 1989, he realised that some of the software development projects on which he had been working, initially at Durham University and then at the Scottish Development Department (later to become Historic Scotland), could together form the basis for starting to implement the IADB concept. These included a simple stratigraphic analysis program, a basic Context and Find cataloging application and an early attempt at a single context plan digitising solution.

The original concept of the IADB was to make available digital versions of the various excavation records as an easily accessible integrated resource for use in post-excavation analysis and to provide a framework within which that analysis would be undertaken. Initially, the IADB only dealt with simple artefact records and stratigraphic unit or context records. Over time, the scope of the IADB has widened to include other digital resources including single context plans, photographs, stratigraphy diagrams, etc. Initially the IADB was described as a "digital workbench" or a "computerised desktop", today we would probably call it a virtual research environment.

Early versions of the IADB ran under MS-DOS and were written in Clipper and C using the dBase database format. Vector graphics used the GEM graphics library, a precursor to Windows. With the launch of Visual Basic, the IADB was moved to Windows using an MS Access database. In 1997, Mike Rains moved from SUAT to York Archaeological Trust and shortly afterwards the IADB programs were re-written in Delphi, still using an Access database. In 1999 work was begun on converting the IADB to a web application using MySQL and PHP.

In recent years, development has continued in collaboration with Amanda Clarke and Mike Fulford of the Silchester Town Life Project at Reading University. Grants from the AHRC have funded the development of the IADB as a web publication tool, and grants from the UK JISC have funded the OGHAM and VERA projects for the development of the IADB as a Virtual Research Environment for archaeology using the Silchester project as a test-bed.

In September 2005, an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme The Material World featured an interview with Mike Fulford and Mike Rains in which they discussed the role of the IADB in the Silchester project with particular reference to the development of the IADB as a virtual research environment. As of May 2011, this programme remains available online at

The IADB was Highly Commended in the Best Archaeological Innovation category at the 2010
British Archaeological Awards ceremony held at the British Museum on 19th July 2010.
Latest Developments

Development of the IADB is an on-going process. Recent development work has concentrated on the following:
Facsimile Context Record
An innovative approach to Context recording has been developed which uses a scanned image of the original Context Recording Sheet (CRS) and some associated metadata as an alternative to the traditional IADB context record which was essentially a full transcription of the CRS. An example of a facsimile Context record may be seen here. A discussion of the background to the Facsimile Context Record may be downloaded from here (PDF 290kb).
Work is continuing on the development of a Section record within the IADB. The aim is to produce a fully interactive system of digitised section drawings linked to the Contexts, Finds and Samples represented on them. In many ways, this will be similar to the existing system for digitising and storing single context plans within the IADB.
Mobile IADB
An IADB Mobile webapp is now available for the Apple iPad and iPad Mini. The IADB Mobile app provides a method for "direct to digital" data entry for Context records, single Context plans, photos and Finds records in the excavation trench. The app works in offline mode so that data can be entered without a wifi connection. Data entered into the device can then be uploaded to the main IADB database when a wifi connection is available.

Who is Using the IADB

Current users of the IADB include:
In addition, the IADB is used as a teaching tool within the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading and, most recently, in the RADII (Recording Archaeological Data in Iran and Iraq) project, a British Academy funded joint project between University College, London and the University of Reading.
IADB Demonstration

The link below provides access to a trial version of the IADB containing a small demonstration project. You can explore this in read-only mode by clicking on the link below and logging in using the user name GUEST and the password GUEST (leave the VRD field empty). However, the IADB is designed very much as an active working environment rather than as a passive resource, and so read-only access does not really allow you to explore the full potential of the system. If you would like unrestricted access to the demonstration IADB, please contact Mike Rains to request a username and password. Please mention the nature of your interest in the IADB.
Please note: The IADB is designed to be used with the Mozilla Firefox web browser. Most parts will also work in other browsers including Google Chrome, Safari and Opera, but you may experience some problems using these. Internet Explorer is not recommended for use with the IADB. Firefox is available free of charge for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from The IADB uses cookies, JavaScript and pop-up windows, so all of these need to be enabled within your browser.
Using the IADB

If you are interested in using the IADB, then there are two routes open to you:
  • You can pay to host your IADB database on a server operated by one of the many commercial web hosting companies (for example: Rackspace Hosting, one of the leading providers of managed web hosting facilities).
  • Alternatively, you can install, operate and maintain your own IADB server. This option is not for the feint-hearted but it has the advantage of giving you complete control over your server. The downsides include higher initial costs and the need for in-house technical skills to set up and maintain the server. For example, data backup will be entirely your responsibility.

The IADB program is open source software which means, amongst other things, that there is no charge for the actual software, whether used via the hosting option or installed on your own server.

Further Information

If after reading these notes and possibly looking at the demo you would like any further information about the IADB or would like to arrange a 'test run' for your organisation, please contact Mike Rains.
Last Updated: 6th July 2014