Establishing the guiding principles for maritime heritage data and databases in the eastern Mediterranean: initial review of feasibility and potential.

Crystal El Safadi

The eastern Mediterranean is a region rich in maritime heritage including archaeological sites, features, seascapes, and traditions. Substantiative research and surveys have aimed to uncover the signature and significance of this resource: to map it, document, assess, manage, protect and conserve it. These initiatives, many of which supported by the Honor Frost Foundation, have and continue to, generate a wealth of information, which is largely produced and stored as data in a digital format. This data forms the foundation of knowledge production about the maritime past, of targeted management and protection strategies, and of research agendas. Not only that, but it also enables the sustainability of the maritime heritage resource in a digital form, in perpetuity. Therefore, it is crucial to acquire an understanding on how and where maritime heritage data is stored across projects and national inventories in the eastern Mediterranean, how accessible it is, and in which format and using which software and principles is the data stored.

In turn, such an understanding helps in identifying how best data can be linked together to facilitate research, how it can be made discoverable, and what guidelines can and should be implemented to guarantee that maritime heritage data in the eastern Mediterranean aligns with the FAIR principles of scientific data (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) which have been designed to support knowledge discovery and integration. Ensuring that maritime heritage data is appropriately documented, managed, and stored through common guidelines across the region, will facilitate today and in the future, its integration and usability by researchers, professionals, and governmental bodies alike.

This project looks at identifying the current situation relating to maritime heritage data and databases in the eastern Mediterranean, specifically the region that the Honor Frost Foundation supports (Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Cyprus). In undertaking a preliminary review of exiting processes, it aims at identifying an achievable approach to guarantee FAIR maritime heritage data across the region, and feasible enhancements and guidelines that can and should be implemented by existing and upcoming projects and initiatives.

The number of maritime research projects employing independent heritage inventories to store and manage their data has and continues to grow. This includes but is not limited to, the HFF Lebanon Database, El Max project- Egypt, the MarEA and EAMENA projects, Cyprus Coastal Archaeological Project (CCAP), Wrecks at Risk, the Tyre Landscape project and the Beirut Port Project (BPP). In addition to future research projects and initiatives that will undoubtedly generate further inventories of data, there is a crucial need to guarantee that sufficient planning and insight has been exercised in considering the sustainability of maritime data and databases generated, as well as compatibility between data formats and platforms across projects.

Besides research projects employing their independent data management schemes, we are currently witnessing directed support to national heritage inventories in the region including enhancing existing ones and establishing new systems such as in Lebanon, which has been supported by the EAMENA/ MarEA project. As such, the proposed project will not only incorporate a survey of data and databases developed by maritime research projects but will also review national heritage inventories’ practices and the possibility of maritime research data to feed into these databases where ever possible.

With the interconnectedness that lies at the heart of the eastern Mediterranean’s maritime past, bridging knowledge across modern political borders to tackle and identify research questions, share insights, and investigate and respond to common disturbances and threats, is paramount. This is possible with the right mechanisms set in place for maritime data documentation, management, and storage, including maintaining the FAIR principles.