Philip Buckland

VISEAD: Pushing the cutting edge of the Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database SEAD: new research areas and users for interdisciplinary studies of global challenges

VISEAD aims to build on the established Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database (SEAD) platform by adding support for cutting edge methods in archaeological science. The project also aims to facilitate the use of multidisciplinary archaeological research data by regional government, consultants and with other infrastructure. It will do this in a collaborative venture uniting four archaeological research laboratories with a professional development team and stakeholders, including Västerbotten County Administrative Board (LST) and consultants. Project staff will undertake the systematic analysis and entry of new data types, including dendrochronology and wood analyses, compound specific stable isotopes, lipids and ceramic geochemistry. A globally unique platform will be created by adding these data to SEAD's current catalogue including insects, plants, pollen, soil chemistry and more. VISEAD will be a resource for a broad spectrum of research fields from archaeology and geology to health, conservation and heritage studies. It will enable the interdisciplinary study of long-term aspects of global challenges at an unprecedented scale and complexity. The system will also help heritage management organizations engage in advanced projects, including the analysis of the risks posed to cultural heritage by climate change. All data will be quality assured and made available through online Open Access.
Final report
• Purpose of the project and how it developed during the project period

VISEAD was designed to expand the scope of the Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database (SEAD) by adapting it for new research methods and data, in partnership with Sweden’s national archaeological research laboratories. VISEAD involved other state organisations (County Administrative Boards and the Transport Administration) and archaeological consultancy firms in evaluating the utility of the data and system for their needs. Online research orientated browser access ( and portals, connected to Virtual constituent databases for specific user groups, were developed. The scope of the project included systematic overview of the new data types (dendrochronology and wood analyses, compound specific stable isotopes, lipids and ceramic geochemistry) and their metadata, and the development of data entry and quality control routines. Considerable amounts of data were entered, and the database’s connectivity with other systems further developed.

The initial partners were the Environmental Archaeology Lab (MAL) and HUMlab, Umeå University; The Archaeological Research Lab (AFL), Stockholm University; the Laboratory for Ceramic Research (KFL) and National laboratory for wood anatomy and dendrochronology (VDL), Lund University; Västerbotten County Administrative Board (LST). KFL and LST were later replaced with SKEA keramikanalys and the Swedish Transport Administration (Trv) (see below). Umeå’s ICT Services and System Development department staffed part of the software development process.

Later partnerships were established with the Neotoma palaeoecology database (NSF), ARIADNE+ European infrastructure for archaeological data (EU), DataARC portal project (NSF), Swedish LifeWatch (VR), Swedish Biodiversity Data Infrastructure (SBDI; VR), EarthLife Consortium (NSF), IPERION-HS European infrastructure for heritage science (EU), and Urdar research infrastructure for archaeological excavation data (RJ). These collaborations provide small contributions to the continuation of this project and ensure the sustainability of SEAD internationally.

• Project results and a discussion about them

VISEAD achieved all of its projected goals, with a slight delay and minor reorientation of stakeholder participation. The following system components were created and are now maintained: Database structural modifications enabling new data and metadata types; Data entry templates (Excel); Data ingestion scripts (Python, Excel-XML); Online quality control systems (; Online facetted browser/portal (; Landing pages and data download; application programming interface (API); GeoJSON export; GitHub repository for system and data changes ( A 4-tier (development, testing, staging, production) model was implemented with monthly releases. All data are open access CCby4.0.

The following data and metadata were entered: Dendro: 72 sites, 5308 data and metadata items; Ceramic geochemistry: 408 sites, 11076 items; Isotopes: 94 sites, 944 items. In addition to: Fossil insects: 1310 sites, 17739 items + reference data; Archaeobotany and geochemistry: 371 sites, 94482 items; which have been added to and improved during the project. Further data pending ingestion include: Dendro: 404 sites, 5084 samples; Ceramics: data from SKEA; Radiocarbon: 782 dates; Pollen analysis: 165 sites. An ongoing partnership with the North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation (NABO) is adapting SEAD for, and entering new, animal bone data.

A GeoJSON export facility was created to enable semantic linking (through the meaning/interpretation of data) to the DataARC infrastructure ( Initially designed around fossil insects, it can be configured to various purposes by mapping biological taxa to concepts (e.g. ecological, ethnographic). NABO is developing this further for animal remains.

VISEAD created an API for SEAD built around the EarthLife framework ( This allows direct data access through URL’s hooked into queries mapping data to standard formats for external use (e.g. databases, portals, GIS, R). Staffing issues have delayed documentation and formal release is pending.
Similarly, the Digital Object Identifier API for minting DOI's via the Swedish National Data Service (SND) will be functional later in 2020. Each site will then gain a globally unique identifier in addition to the SEAD identifier presented on landing pages (e.g. Alvastra,

The potential for using SEAD in climate change related heritage management was evaluated, concluding that further modification of the database for storing and disseminating information on risks and preservation status would be valuable. This is being further investigated in a project funded by Trv. The usefulness of SEAD for background data and state-of-knowledge assessments for commercial and state archaeology was positively evaluated, and more online tools will be implemented to assist this.

• Unforeseen technical and methodological problems

The restructuring of VR infrastructure funding and the closure of Lund’s Laboratory for Ceramic Research (KFL) required us to prioritise ceramics data earlier than planned, and bring in an expert (Ole Stilborg, SKEA Keramikanalys, from the private sector for quality control. Similarly, the move (and lack of replacement) of our partner at Västerbotten County Council to the Swedish Transport Administration (Trv) necessitated truncation of part of the project after an initial report (Karlsson 2017). However, this opened up funding for two parallel cultural heritage orientated research projects via Trv which filled this gap.

The most significant challenge has been the recruiting and retaining of qualified software developers. Whilst Humlab is an attractive workplace the university is not permitted to compete with industry salaries. Staff changes lead to information gaps and delays, some of which can be smoothed through good documentation and the technical management of the project through GitHub. However, a new recruit always requires a start-up time and is thus a financial and technical stress on the project.

The greatest future challenge, as for any database, will be ensuring funding for long-term maintenance of both the data and system. The restructuring of VR’s infrastructure funding has reduced the scope for this kind of project.

• The work’s integration into the organisation and how it will be communicated

VISEAD has ensured SEAD is well integrated into the workflow of MAL (Umeå) and VDL (Lund), with the systematic use of data entry templates, the database in research and consultancy, and the submission of grant applications for research and infrastructure development. SEAD is a registered research infrastructure at Umeå University, and maintenance is co-funded by the University and Faculty of Arts and Humanities. VISEAD has enabled MAL and SEAD to engage with several international partners, some of which contribute funding. These ensure the sustainability of VISEAD’s results and provide a footing for bootstrapping further funds and research.

Undergraduate and postgraduate student and trainees have worked within the frame of the project, including data harmonization and completion, research overviews and quality control. This initiative will continue and provide a firm connection between education, research and consultancy.

VISEAD has been presented at numerous national and international conferences. This will continue, as will communication through the project partners. Database work has been prioritised over publications, but more of the latter are forthcoming. The VISEAD website will be maintained for another year before being merged with the main SEAD website.

• New research questions generated through the project

VISEAD has generated research questions related to both 1) the data and 2) the infrastructure. Some of these are being investigated through ongoing projects (in brackets), others are the subject of pending grant applications or ideas under development. Examples include:

1) Investigate the:
Overview of Swedish archaeobotanical data (ongoing).
The past biodiversity of insects and their implications for conservation science (presented at INQUA 2019 and Oikos 2020, publication and funding pending).
Climate change during the Last Glacial Maximum from fossil insects (published).
Cultural diversity in the past use of ceramics in Sweden (ongoing)
History of shipbuilding and trade in Sweden through timbers in shipwrecks and barrels (pending)
History of extreme events (summers, droughts) and the social effects of volcanic eruptions in Sweden (pending)
The history of slash and burn agriculture in Sweden (pending)

2) How do we:
Link archaeological and heritage science data and physical services (IPERION-HS)?
Store, summarise, visualize and enable research using (hyper-) spectroscopic (imaging) data (e.g. NIR, XRF, Ramen) in a useful way for archaeologists?
Link environmental archaeology to Norse sagas, archaeological survey, excavations, geology, climate etc. through data (Urdar) and interpretations (DataARC)?
Link environmental archaeological data to all other archaeological data in Europe (ARIADNE+)?
Provide useful environmental reconstructions and risk assessment data for cultural heritage managers and adminstrations (Trv)?
Visualise multivariate environmental reconstructions in 3D to enable intuitive, non-expert understanding of changes in climate and environment (

• Any publications and links to own websites,,,,
Publication list
• Online resources

Project website:
Database website:
Online data browser and research tool
- Dendrochronology portal:
- Isotopes portal:
- Ceramics portal:
- Palaeoentomology portal:
- Archaeobotany portal:
Quality control system:
Database download, data entry templates:
Significant adaptation of the SEAD database system in PostgreSQL (
GitHub repository:

• Publications

Buckland, P. I. & Sjölander, M. (in press). Approaches to Research Data Infrastructure for Archaeological Science. In Watrall, E. & Goldstein, L. (eds) Digital Heritage and Archaeology in Practice. University Press Florida.

Buckland P.I., Sjölander M., Eriksson E.J. (2018) Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database (SEAD). In: Smith C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer, Cham. DOI:10.1007/978-3-319-51726-1_833-2

Kohler, T.A., Buckland, P.I., Kintigh, K.W., Bocinsky, R.K., Brin, A., Gillreath-Brown, A., … Terstriep, J. (2018). Paleodata for and from archaeology. PAGES Magazine, 26(2), 68–69. DOI: 10.22498/pages.26.2.68

Karlsson, N. (2017). Kulturmiljöer och klimat i Västerbottens län: analys av konsekvenserna av ett fo¨ra¨ndrat klimat. Länsstyrelsen Västerbottens. Miljöarkeologiska Laboratoriets Rapporter 2017-031. Umeå: Umeå Universitet.

Buckland, P. I., & Sjölander, M. (2017). Blombocken avslöjar forntiden?: Databaser. Populär arkeologi, (5), 28–31. Retrieved from

• Conference/workshop presentations

The project was presented in 2015 in preparation for start at conferences in San Francisco, Umeå and Uppsala. VISEAD has also been mentioned in the presentations of our partners, but not listed here.

2017 CAA-SE, Gothenburg: Umeå University: DataArc: A prototype system for massively interdisciplinary data-linking. Phil Buckland, Mattias Sjölander

2017 DataARC, Reykjavik: SEAD – DataArc Connectivity and stuff. Phil Buckland, Mattias Sjölander, Roger Mähler, Johan von Boer, Erik J. Eriksson, Adam Brin

2018 CAA, Tübingen: HUMAN HISTORY AND DIGITAL FUTURE: The Grand Challenge of interlinking palaeoenvironmental data and interpretations,.Philip Iain Buckland, Mattias Sjölander, Rachel Opitz

2018 CAA, Tübingen: Driving interdisciplinary search for collaborative studies of long-term human ecodynamics. Rachel Opitz, Colleen Strawhacker, Philip Buckland, Gisli Palsson, Peter Pulsifer, Lynn Yarmey, Emily Lethbridge, Ingrid Mainland, Anthony Newton, Richard Streeter, Tom Dawson, Jackson Cothren

2018 Digitalization and digital archives in the research institutes, Rome: SEAD Project. Philip Buckland

2018 Nordic Archaeobotany Group meeting, Stavanger: Using the strategic environmental archaeology database for archaeobotany. Phil Buckland

2018 Swedish Data Science workshop SweDS18, Umeå: Data Analysis in Palaeoecology and Environmental Archaeology. Phil Buckland

2019 Nätverksforum för Arkeologi & Analys, Kalmar: Expanding archaeological analysis, Semantic networking with environmental data for expanding archaeological analysis. Phillip Buckland

2019 20th Congress of the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA), Dublin.
- Session: Building a better understanding of past climates, ecosystems, and societies through Open Big Data. John Williams (Convenor) Steven Phipps (Convenor) Philip Buckland (Co-Convenor) Lucien von Gunten (Co-Convenor) Tim Kohler (Co-Convenor) Oliver Bothe (Co-Convenor)
- Talk: Leveraging Big Data in palaeoentomology: Direct Linking and Conceptually Mapping Between Ecology, Archaeology and Palaeoecology. Philip Buckland, Francesca Pilotto, Mattias Sjölander

2019 EU-Day, Umeå: Infrastructures for Archaeological Data and Heritage Science. Philip Buckland

2019 Heritage Science Forum, Gothenburg: SEAD – The Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database. Philip Buckland

2019 Pathways to Ancient Britain, London: Turning fossil beetles into Big Data. Philip Buckland (Keynote)

• Invited seminars

2016 Department of Geography, St Andrews, UK: Managing and using Big Data in Palaeoecology through The Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database. Philip Buckland

2018 The Greenhouse, Stavanger: Understanding past environments through Digital Environmental Archaeology. Philip Buckland

2018 Stavanger Archaeological Museum, Stavanger: SEAD - Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database. Storing, exploring and visualizing data on past people, landscapes and climates. Philip Buckland


2019 Research exchange visit, Hokkaido, Japan.
Grant administrator
Umeå University
Reference number
SEK 5,421,000.00
Infrastructure for research