NFDI4 Objects

NFDI for Archaeology, Material Culture and Objects

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Open initiative for the development of a consortium within the German National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI)

About NFDI

The aim of the national research data infrastructure (NFDI) is to systematically manage scientific and research data, provide long-term data storage, backup and accessibility, and network the data both nationally and internationally. The NFDI will bring multiple stakeholders together in a coordinated network of consortia tasked with providing science-driven data services to research communities.
(Source: German Science Foundation)

About NFDI4Objects

NFDI4Objects addresses the infrastructural needs of a well-defined group of researchers and practitioners with multiple disciplinary backgrounds, whose research foci and epistemological interests are in the material legacy of some three million years of human and environmental history. To accomplish this mission, the consortium pursues three main objectives:

  1. The stimulation and improvement of science-driven processes within the community that systematically exploit relevant research data, guarantee long term storage and make the data accessible internationally in accordance with the FAIR principles.
  2. Addressing the specific challenges of unlocking large and complex volumes of existing data in research processes, and at the same time providing access to the digital results of research projects according to the user needs.
  3. The establishment of structures and an operating model that allows for a confederated portfolio of trusted, easy-to-use and secure services based on existing solutions in a network distributed over government agencies, universities, research institutes and infrastructure providers in close consultation with the community and other NFDI-consortia.
CC0 by Joseph Sprecher, by , CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication .

Representing the most fundamental source of knowledge on the cultural and biological evolution and diversity of humanity and its civilisations, this legacy consists of physical objects, their embedding contexts and their manifold properties and histories. It is largely contained in the “soil records” of our planet, as well as in each particular “object-biography”, and it is meticulously unlocked by constantly advancing means of detection, recovery, reconstruction and interpretation. In this initiative, the term “object” applies to artefacts, architecture, archaeological features and anthropogenically shaped landscapes, as well as the biological or ecological remains associated with past human activity (for more detailed information see the extended abstract submitted in March).

With a scope that includes even the most minute of physical traces that past human activity has produced and that the environment has preserved, object-centric research combines methods and traditions from the humanities and the natural sciences. This creates technological challenges that have, thus far, too often been addressed only partially and on a per-case basis.

NFDI4Objects can build on extensive preparatory work, for example the results of the consortium-based DFG-Project IANUS. This project has developed a technical and organisational concept for the operation of a national research data centre, has developed a service for long-term preservation of data collections according to OAIS standards, provides IT recommendations regarding data management, formats, tools and documentation processes, as well as a register and the verification of qualification possibilities for digital data in research processes, and a catalogue of minimum IT-skills as a recommendation for higher education curricula. The IANUS project also included a stakeholder analysis for the long-term preservation of archaeological research data, carried out in 2014. In light of the intensive dynamics of change at the national, European and international levels, the present initiative will update the 2014 analysis in the coming months before submission of the proposal in 2020, with the aim of integrating new needs and newly developed data services.

NFDI4Objects will primarily build on existing infrastructural components, carefully extending capabilities, services and standards according to user needs. Archaeological research has always been data-intense, and therefore universities, heritage authorities and other research institutions either have their own computational resources, make use of state/regional computing centres, or both. Much work has already been invested by the community in connecting these systems via standard protocols and services, including connections with “outside services” (see, for example, the tools of Many of these implementations are technologically convergent in that they put into practice several key elements of open software technology evolution. This directly results in a high potential for the integration of several existing but not yet interoperable repositories for research data and service levels at universities, state heritage institutions and non-university research institutions within NFDI4Objects.

Within the framework of the NFDI, there is thus extensive infrastructure that is set to undergo iterative, evolutionary change, and where improvements to the nature of the design process (in the form of better user-based involvement and needs-driven development) is more acutely required than additional technological solutions. On the other hand, there are categories of research data, such as massive volumes of image-based 3D data, that are not adequately catered for, and where technological research and development are urgently needed to prevent users from further relying on private sector offerings of questionable FAIRness and sustainability. In addition, the strengthening of the service nature of existing infrastructural offers (this being a principal aim of NFDI4Objects) will require thorough analysis and resolution of technological and conceptual upscaling issues, resulting in a need for both strong development of the user-oriented decision-making and sustainable growth strategies.

CC BY 2.0, Kai-Christian Bruhn by , CC BY 2.0.

Research data

The diversity of data types gives rise to numerous concrete technical and conceptual requirements for this community- and user-based infrastructure. Data types and products central to the user community of NFDI4Objects are:

Survey and field data

  • primary products of fieldwork, diverse in content, more homogenous in structure
  • can exist either in open systems or in proprietary “tailored applications”, which necessitates archiving of software and runtime environments; in practice simple in structure; also digitised reproductions/scans of paper products (drawings etc.)

Exploratory and survey records, local archaeological records, monument registers, historical maps and archive data

  • primary products of the heritage management process and administration
  • data structures of simple to medium complexity; subject specific knowledge in digital scientific reports

Sensor data

  • measurement data from a growing number of sensors: magnetometry, (ground penetrating) radar, GNSS, LiDAR etc.
  • numerous file formats; raw data frequently only useable following extensive processing; processed and raw data frequently in proprietary formats; end products with clearly defined properties suitable for archiving

Data from scientific analyses and laboratory protocols

  • generally tabular data and diagrams of analysis results; frequently contract work; heterogeneous
  • widespread document and image file formats well-suited to archiving

Image data

  • products resulting in increasingly challenging quantities of data; completeness and quality of metadata generally unsatisfactory, potential technical solutions from the fields of machine learning and algorithmic image processing
  • image data formats present no problems, nor do metadata formats (e.g. TIFF, EXIF, XMP)

Training-/reference- and signature data

  • the increased use of algorithms developed in the field of AI research (machine learning, (un-)supervised learning and classification) leads to ever increasing libraries of reference data (signatures), which are necessary for training of classification algorithms or building heuristics (e.g. vocabulary trees in algorithmic image processing)
  • extensive but easily processed ASCII data of heterogeneous but well-documented structure

3D-documentation data

  • geometric and radiometric results of various scanning methods, image-based modelling (SfM) and related technologies that are largely automated
  • can include extremely large datasets of low complexity (point clouds, triangular meshes, photographs and geometrical attributes such as normals) but with multi-layered quality criteria

Spatially referenced data (GIS/geodata, maps, remote sensing)

  • data products from survey data or scientific research, remote-sensing data from external sources or in situ production
  • numerous formats; a limited range is sufficient to represent all essential aspects (e.g. GeoPackage, Shapefiles, GeoTIFFs); high level of standardisation; secure archiving up to ISO norms; standardised metadata and open protocols for maximum interoperability

Databases, digital archives and data estates

  • datasets with prestructured (e.g. numismatic) content and thematic definition; cannot be "standardised" without significant effort
  • wide range of data formats, often proprietary or exotic. Formally structured terminologies (bibliographies, ontologies, thesauri, linked data vocabularies, taxonomies, chronologies etc.)
  • structured and heavily redacted datasets designed for the contextualisation and mapping of object data
  • basic structure and high quality, exist in part as online services
By Florian Thiery - Own work, CC BY 4.0,
image credits: by , CC BY 4.0.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay image credits: by , .

NFDI4Objects will bring together a dedicated community to create a user-oriented, needs-driven, internationally connected research data infrastructure for archaeology and numerous related disciplines. This includes not only the field of archaeology in the broadest sense (represented by eight diverse archaeological disciplines in Germany), but also anthropology, architectural history (Bauforschung), ethnoarchaeology, geoarchaeology, paleobotany, archaeozoology, archaeogenetics, palaeopathology, geophysics, archaeological conservation and various sub-disciplines in the field of archaeometry. It shares a methodological framework characterised by strong interdisciplinary links, and includes many approaches that generate extensive digital data. An important characteristic of the target community is the a priori existence of strong traditions and competencies in the field of digitisation methods and technologies among many of its members, as well as natively digital data acquisition (laser scanning, photogrammetry, Structure from Motion, remote sensing, etc.). The consortium is thus aimed at users who are organised in a variety of academic and professional associations and initiatives, including universities, non-university research institutions, museums and federal heritage authorities.


User participation and involvement is firmly anchored in the planned organisational structure of NFDI4Objects. The consortium is organised on two levels: the user and the operational level. The user level consists of the members’ forum and the open users’ forum; the operational level of the services portfolio, an office and a consortium spokesperson. The user core group is organised into various Specialist Discipline Organisations, appointed representatives of which form the core of the Members’ Forum. The latter will gradually be extended by the inclusion of representatives from organisations for communities from other disciplines (with a focus on material culture and objects). The organisations‘ inclusion ensures feedback to the specialist communities. In addition, on the user level, an open Users’ Forum will guarantee feedback between users and the operational level, both within the framework of conferences, as well as in digital form. The members’ forum decides which services are included, or even excluded, and elects the spokespersons for the consortium’s individual lines of action, as summarized in the services portfolio, at the operational level. Criteria for inclusion are the needs of the open users’ forum and members’ forum, proof of actual use of services, as well as proof of the sustainability of basal services in the decentralized structure. As part of the establishment of lines of action coordinated by the co-spokespersons, a form of sponsorship for services and content (the former at institutional, the latter at community level) is intended. At the operational level, the spokespersons nominated by the members’ forum and sponsoring institutions implement the users’ requirements in the services portfolio, and develop concepts for the sustainable further development of services. The office coordinates meetings and conferences. .

Proposed Governance of NFDI4Objects
image credits: by Jana Skundric-Rummel, CC BY 4.0.

Task Areas

The NFDI initiative provides the unique opportunity of uniting all relevant groups in one project that will lead to more efficient preservation and recording of the material culture of humanity, as well as more methodically coherent and developed research and understanding. It is planned to structure the challenges and needs of the NFDI4Objects user community into five task areas

(1) NFDI4Objects for Fieldwork

NFDI4Objects for Fieldwork will cater for all needs originating from recording, exploration, and documentation of primary data sources (artefacts, sites and monuments, etc.) in the field, in depots and collections. The real-world requirements of field work (often under extreme conditions) can be taxing, including issues of reliable mobile data collection, offline data synchronisation and data safety. Therefore this task area will include a strong services and software innovations component.

CC BY SA 2.0 by John Atherton, by John Atherton, CC BY-SA 2.0

(2) NFDI4Objects for Collecting

NFDI4Objects for Collecting will establish an integrated research data infrastructure and quality-oriented data management processes addressing the complex needs of collecting artefacts. This comprises infrastructure and standards for quality management, joint use of structured thesauri, and open typologies. Our work in these fields will substantially improve internal documentation, cross-genre and cross-collection integration, long-term data storage, and accessibility of meta-data and images.

image credits: by , CC BY 4.0.

(3) NFDI4Objects for Analysis

NFDI4Objects for Analysis will cover platforms, standards and services for desktop-based research and laboratory-based analysis of objects, focussing on effective services and technologies for data standardisation, interfaces for retrieval (incl. machine-readability) and exchange.

image credits: by , CC BY 4.0.

(4) NFDI4Objects for Cultural Heritage Management

NFDI4Objects for Cultural Heritage Management will meet the complex requirements of protection, conservation, restoration and related areas of work and research (such as provenance research). In this task area, the primary challenge lies in the integration of policies, decision making processes and technological development.

image credits: by , .

(5) NFDI4Objects for Storage

NFDI4Objects for Storage will provide comprehensive technologies and standards for the long-term archiving of research data and all other aspects of FAIR principles. It will build on existing and proven components, with an iterative, strictly demand-driven approach to technological growth and investment. Measures required for this include the review and evaluation of existing regional or institutional solutions, the development of concepts for their integration, standardization, the adaptation to different user scenarios and the implementation of a discovery service for existing data and its long-term archiving.

image credits: by , .

(6) NFDI4Objects for Connection and Cross-linking

NFDI4Objects for Connection and Cross-linking is a task area designed with connectivity of data, standards and concepts in mind; both internally (within NFDI4Objects) and externally (within NFDI and internationally). It will enable and promote networking (of both people and data) across disciplinary and institutional divides. This task area will also address the consortium resp. community-specific needs of data literacy and training.

image credits: by , .

Get in touch

Do you perceive this website a bit too stylish? Are you looking for a place where you can actively participate in the development of the consortium? We have created a project in the OpenScience Framework. Here you will find all information about the progress of the project transparent and open online.

  • Philipp von Rummel

    Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
  • Alexandra Busch

    RGZM Leibniz Forschungsmuseum für Archäologie
  • Kai-Christian Bruhn

    Hochschule Mainz University of Applied Scienes, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität