Harris Matrix Data Package: version 2022 of the hmdp tool with new features for the creation of stratigraphy data packages

A few weeks ago I presented a new version of the hmdp tool at the ARCHEOFOSS conference in Rome. You can find the archived presentation on Zenodo.

Harris Matrix Data Package is a proposal for a standardised digital format of archaeological stratigraphy datasets in CSV format, following the table schema developed by Thomas S. Dye for the hm Lisp package, augmented with a metadata descriptor (datapackage.json) that enables consistency checks and streamlined data access with the Frictionless Data tools and programming libraries. In the standard, each dataset consists of various CSV tables and a metadata descriptor, forming a data package. I proposed this standard in 2019 at a previous ARCHEOFOSS conference based on a 2015 work by Dye and Buck .

Based on this proposal, hmdp is a command line program for working with archaeological stratigraphy data in the Harris Matrix Data Package format.

This new version adds an “init” command, that will create an empty data package with the correct metadata. You can find the archived source code of hmdp version 2022.10.16 on Zenodo, too.

The hmdp init command works both interactively and with explicit command line parameters, and it is centered around the idea that in the Harris Matrix Data Package:

  • each Harris Matrix is a data package
  • there is 1 data descriptor
  • there are from 2 to 7 CSV tables
  • each CSV table is a resource

The two resources that MUST be present are:

  • contexts
  • observations

Most often, excavation data will make use of three other resources:

  • inferences
  • periods
  • phases

Only in case there are radiocarbon dates or other absolute chronology available the two resources should be used:

  • events
  • event-order

With the above outline, default presets are defined, and choosing a preset will create the corresponding CSV files (resources). The CSV files are created only with the standard column headers, data must be filled by the user.

The current released version of hmdp init can create a Harris Matrix Data Package from scratch, e.g. in a new empty directory. Support for recognizing existing CSV files and adding the metadata descriptor is in progress.

The project home page is at https://www.iosa.it/software/harris-matrix/ and the development repository is on Codeberg at https://codeberg.org/steko/harris-matrix-data-package


Moody, B., Dye, T., May, K., Wright, H., & Buck, C. (2021). Digital chronological data reuse in archaeology: Three case studies with varying purposes and perspectives. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 40, 103188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2021.103188
Costa, S. (2019). Una proposta di standard per l’archiviazione e la condivisione di dati stratigrafici. Archeologia e Calcolatori, 30, 459–462. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.19282/ac.30.2019.29

Di Stefano Costa

Archaeologist, I work in Liguria where I live with my family. In my studies, I spent most of my energies with the Late Antique and Early Medieval/Byzantine period on the northern side of the Mediterranean, focusing on pottery usage patterns. I'm also involved in open source and open knowledge initiatives.

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