There are numerous technical solutions to the issue of datamanagement, for this is a common problem in database design. However, the challenge is to create a solution that does not require the end users (archaeologists) to become IT (information technology) specialists and does not require dependencies on programmers and computer scientists. It is essential that archaeologists be involved in the design process from inception to execution, and this means the solution has to be understandable and operable by archaeologists. The database solution needs to be easily modifiable and expandable to meet the changing needs of the field, while at the same time it must be robust and stable enough to sustain scrutiny from a worldwide user base.
One option is to use an integrated digital 'data management system' (see below) that is well suited to the special requirements of archaeological work and heritage management. In archaeological fieldwork, for example, the essential data can be entered in the field directly into 'off-line' PDA (portable data assistant, e.g. Palm or Pocket PC) devices and uploaded throughout the day into the centralised database.
Paper records are not replaced. On the contrary, the process of entering the data from the paper records into the PDA provides a vital cross-check that the field records are complete and accurate through verification processes built into the digital database. By moving the entry process to the field and excavation, we can give the excavating students feedback dynamically in real-time. The benefits of such feedback are immediate and clear. Because every field document is tracked in one integrated data system, we can dramatically reduce the risk that an archaeological feature is not adequately recorded as well as the potential for wasted time and effort through redundancy or over-recording. Several validation steps are in place to assure data integrity, culminating in a complete and accurate digital record. To accommodate the realities of time constraints in the field and the overwhelming amount of data entry if all of the data from the field notes were entered, the database serves as a retrieval system. Notes, forms, plans and sketches are scanned and given ID numbers so that the 'analogue' documents remain intact and data entry is manageable.