Central object-database of the Research Archive for Ancient Sculpture at the University of Cologne and the German Archaeological Institute (DAI)

Arachne is the central object-database of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). In 2004 the DAI and the Research Archive for Ancient Sculpture at the University of Cologne (FA) joined the effort to support Arachne as a tool for free internet-based research.


Arachne's database design uses a model that builds on one of the most basic assumptions one can make about archaeology, classical archaeology or art history: all activities in these areas can most generally be described as contextualizing objects. Arachne tries to avoid the basic mistakes of earlier databases, which limited their object modeling to specific project-oriented aspects, thus creating separated containers of only a small number of objects. All objects inside Arachne share a general part of their object model, to which a more class-specific part is added that describes the specialised properties of a category of material like architecture or topography. Seen on the level of the general part, a powerful pool of material can be used for general information retrieval, whereas on the level of categories and properties, very specific structures can be displayed.


The ancient sculptures database was originally started in 1995 using FileMaker, and has been supported since 2001 from the established chair for Humanities Computing at Cologne university. It is also used by students undertaking development projects.

Thanks to significant and ongoing support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft since 2001, Arachne started to integrate negative archives of ancient sculpture that went beyond the specialised documentation retained in Cologne itself: the Malter- and Fittschen Archives, and since 2003 the negatives of ancient sculpture of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome. All that totaled in 40.000 high quality scans of ancient sculptures, that are presented with a state-of-the-art scientific documentation. Started in 2006, the digitalization of historic glass plate negative collections resulted - until August 2009 - in another 65.654 digital images, beginning with those of the German Archaeological Institutes in Athens, Cairo and Istanbul. Beside this larger projects lots of activities are going on on different levels, for example the online preparations for the »Corpus der Antiken Sarkophagreliefs«.

In 2004 Arachne has been reworked from the bottom structurally as well as editorially. After that it has been rebuilt from scratch using an MAMP environment. Being strategically positioned as a central object-database for a large federal institution which possesses about two millions of images inside their photographic archives and produces even more data each year in the course of its research activities, Arachne's potential is not too modest. To meet it, there is still a long way to go.


Starting from week 38 of 2009, Arachne has about 3936 registered users who can access 503.580 scans and about 250.000 objects free of charge. Quality of data differs regarding the state of documentation and has to be improved in the areas where just a basic description took place. Forecasting the target area in quantities one could refer to statistical estimations of huge digitization-projects of Cultural Heritage in Europe. They foresee being able to digitize approximately 30 % of the existing material in the given financial circumstances. That would lead in the region of 700.000 digital images from archive material. With addition of newly produced documentation, one could hope for 1 million 20 or 30 years from now. All objects should then reflect their contextualisations in basic categories of material and topography. All categories of material cultural heritage from classical antiquity as well as from Asia and South America should then be integrated. Regarding interoperability, different steps have been taken to ensure the widest possible use and visibility of data, while on the other hand fulfilling the liabilities of intellectual property rights-management and copyright-protection, that DAI and FA took when documenting in the framework of collections, museums, excavations etc. Technical aspects of interoperability do address the way data is shared and connected inside the DAI itself, mainly between Arachne and several GIS who are being used on DAI excavations and surveys - so a given object will only reside once inside the overall dataspace of DAI, minimizing redundancy. In that sense DAI will support uniform resource identifiers (URI) in the near future, to unmistakable identify objects residing in Arachne. It is the policy of DAI and FA to implement the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model, for which different projects [1] and proposals are ongoing. Newly implemented is the support for the Open Archives Initiative. As a partner of CLAROSnet Arachne is committed to work on the issues mentioned above as well as to build a multilingual interface, that it lacks until today. Since April 2009 Arachne is i18n-ready, so the technical framework for internationalization has been implemented. After the necessary translation-work Arachne will have an English, Italian and Russian Graphical user interface (GUI) in 2010. It was the policy of DAI and FA to address issues of that complexity not on their own but in an international framework. A solution must be found for this in the near future.

Another section of Arachne is providing ancient books with no Intellectual Property rights on them; here Arachne is at 300 volumes with more than 60.000 pages, for which annotations can be made. This project is called the iDAI.Bookbrowser. The digitized Archaeological literature will also be integrated into the thematic portal of Propylaeum. In the long run a linking between the objects in those volumes and the objects in the databases is planned. This has been done in an exemplary way with Scipione Maffei's book about the Museo Maffeiano from 1749 and Clarac's Musée de Sculpture antique et moderne from 1828 onwards.

Another part of the iDAIbookbrowser is a project called "Comprehending the ancient world with a semantic network" Stichwerkprojekt in coorparation of the DAI Rome and the FA. In this project engraved prints so called Stichwerke of ancient sites, buildings, sculptures and other archaeological artifacts are digitized and linked to the relevant records of the “real“ objects in Arachne.

Emagines is a project, funded since 2006 by the German Research Foundation (DFG), for digitizing the large and partially very old collections of images held by the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).

The „Berlin Sculpture-Network“ is a cooperative project between the Antiquities Collection of the Berlin State Museums and the Institute of Classical Archaeology at the Free University of Berlin.