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Lincoln goes high-tech to manage heritage assets

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Lincoln Council has joined forces with the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) to launch a dynamic and powerful web-based system that categorises, maps, and describes the rich cultural heritage of the city.

The publicly-accessible database called ARCADE (Access Resource for Conservation and Archaeology in a Development Environment) will showcase the diversity of the city’s long history from Roman times to the present, reveal the complex relationships of the people and events that shaped Lincoln’s development, and help guide city efforts to protect and preserve its cultural heritage.

ARCADE was built using Arches, an open-source data management platform created to inventory cultural heritage places, including buildings and structures, archaeological sites and finds, and historic landscapes.

Arches – developed by the GCI in partnership with World Monuments Fund – employs international standards for cultural heritage information, is highly customisable, and can be configured for use by policymakers, property owners, developers, visitors, students, historians, and the public.

“Our colleagues at City of Lincoln have been enthusiastic collaborators as we have worked together to adapt Arches as the underlying platform of ARCADE,” said Tim Whalen, John E. and Louise Bryson Director of the Getty Conservation Institute. 

“The importance of historical data maintained by City of Lincoln offers an opportunity for us to demonstrate the significant advantages of Arches to the international conservation community, and the benefits it provides to those in need of a modern and comprehensive cultural heritage management system.”

Lincoln has ancient roots as a Roman colony founded in 50 AD along the River Witham. In 1072, William the Conqueror started building Lincoln cathedral and castle, a site noteworthy to this day for possessing one of four surviving originals of the Magna Carta.

Today, the city has a population of about 97,000 and maintains a number of historic sites.

“One of the virtues of having Lincoln taking the lead with Arches in the UK is its thoughtful integration of below-ground and above-ground asset management,” said Alison Dalgity, Arches project manager at the Getty Conservation Institute. “Lincoln’s decision to have its city archaeologist and its city conservation officer work in partnership demonstrates a great deal of foresight.”

The Arches historical inventory for Lincoln currently contains 18,000 records, including 9,113 records of archaeological sites and historic buildings, 3,959 records for excavations and surveys, and 3,179 records for its library of books, reports, maps, and photographs.

Many entries show relationships between different types of cultural heritage data, such as an historic building and information about its architect, or an archaeological site and information on artifacts found at that site that may now reside in a museum.

ARCADE also has powerful search and discovery features, including a colorful and innovative “time wheel” that visualises the entire content of the database broken down into millennia, centuries, and decades, and a mapping system that allows heritage data to be viewed in new ways, such as using a heat map to demonstrate the density of heritage in the city.

ARCADE can be used by Lincoln’s planners and developers to better understand the development constraints in areas with cultural heritage assets, and can help them determine how best to balance development and heritage preservation. Addressing all of these issues at an early stage of development planning can save significant time and money.

Before Arches, historical information about Lincoln was accessed via the Lincoln Heritage Database. While it has been the repository for data about the city for over 30 years, the database also had many limitations, including its organization, searchability and lack of public accessibility.

ARCADE addresses these limitations, using a state-of-the-art online public interface. It will make accessing data significantly faster, turning the current day-long process of generating maps, extracting data and preparing files into one that takes less than 30 minutes. 

One of the more fascinating discoveries made during the process of analysing Lincoln’s historic data was a collection of “Lachrymatories”, or small vials that were used in Roman mourning rituals. Once thought to collect the tears of mourners, the vials were instead likely used to release the scents of expensive perfumes during cremations.

The existence of these vials in the City of Lincoln’s inventory of heritage objects was virtually unknown before the data was sorted and better understood. 

The GCI is also working with Historic England, which will be deploying Arches as the new Greater London Historic Environment Record, anticipated to be launched by the end of 2019.

“It has been great to work with the GCI and Historic England on this project,” said Kieron Manning, City of Lincoln Council’s planning manager. “Lincoln has a world-class heritage, but it’s also a growing and expanding modern city. Arches/ARCADE will help us to manage change sustainably, ensuring that we don’t lose sight of our past while building for the future.”

A video about the project can be viewed below.

Lincoln has a world-class heritage, but it’s also a growing and expanding modern city. Arches/ARCADE will help us to manage change sustainably, ensuring that we don’t lose sight of our past while building for the future.– Kieron Manning, planning manager, City of Lincoln Council