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Headlines Published on 19 June 2006

Title Our forebears on-line?

What have bricks and TNT got in common? Not much on first inspection. The answer lies somewhere in the EU-funded IST programme. Two projects – of course called ‘Bricks’ and ‘TNT’ – are digitising and publishing information designed to help researchers trace European historical heritage – both recent and ancient.

Neanderthal remains digitised and on-line. © TNT
Neanderthal remains digitised and on-line.
Bricks, a €7 million 42-month European project, is building the framework for an elaborate on-line cupboard crammed full of ‘cultural knowledge’ which can be used and arranged in a number of innovative ways. According to IST Results, the project is creating open source software for use in museums, libraries, archives and other institutions housing cultural content.

Traditionally, digital repositories like this are centralised, difficult to access and sometimes the content is rights protected. Bricks’ decentralised archiving approach uses peer-to-peer architecture and data sharing to get around these hurdles. And with a peerage of some 70 organisations (and growing) – 50 of which will soon be hooked up to the network – the cultural pantry is quickly filling with valuable morsels for researchers to pick over.

This, the project’s communications director Silvia Boi says, will help especially smaller organisations improve their visibility. “[They] generally lack the financial means to build and maintain their own systems,” she told IST Results. “So, for them, the benefits of joining the Bricks community are large.”

They can simply download the software, add their content – from ancient scripts and photos of World War II to recent screenplays – and gain instant visibility in the network, she explains. And the system is totally scalable, which means there is no conceivable limit to the number of new ‘nodes’ that can be added to the network. 

Neanderthal tools in today’s setting
Information technology is also helping researchers digging further back in our history – back to around 30 000 years ago and long before – in the time of homo neanderthalensis. First discovered 150 years ago, Neanderthal remains have been studied more widely than any other form of early human. Today, new technology is boosting knowledge on our primitive relatives.

The EU-funded TNT (The Neanderthal Tools) project took just two years and €2.6 million to compile the largest collection of Neanderthal findings in Europe into an on-line database accessible to scientists and those interested in anthropology no matter where they are.

“Our database now includes 60% of the major excavation sites, 800 human fossil items from 35 archaeological sites and 200 specimens provided by third parties co-operating with the project,” project coordinator Heinz Cordes of ART+COM told IST Results.

The project ended in February 2006, but its system and data has been handed over to a special network of professional Neanderthal researchers (NESPOS) who will maintain the TNT platform and continue to provide free access to students and universities. However, only members of the newly created NESPOS Society will have access to all parts of the system.

Source:  IST Results and DigiCULT

More information:

  • IST DigiCULT projects
  • Bricks fact sheet
  • Bricks website
  • TNT fact sheet
  • TNT website

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