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Data archaeology

Things move fast in computing technology, as many people know only too well. (Seen many 5.25" floppy disks recently?) But it’s not just the physical storage of data which gets outmoded very quickly — so do the formats in which that data is stored. As methods evolve, data stored in old structures becomes progressively less accessible.

Enter the data archaeologist, a specialist in recovering historical data from such sources and translating it into a form which is useful. The term is used especially for large data stores like those accumulated in weather recording, of great importance for assessing climate change.

This seems to have been where it originated: it’s recorded about 1993 in the name of the GODAR Project, the Global Oceanographic Data Archaeology and Rescue Project. It is closely related to the more common data mining, which refers to the trawling of corporate databases for meaningful relationships between data.

[I’m grateful to Mike Anglin for telling me about this term.]

“Data Archaeologist” smacks of postmodernism gone awry, but the business of rummaging through now-forgotten tapes of health-care records or satellite observations for archival data is already a viable industry.

Capturing the State of Distributed Systems with XML, by Rohit Khare and Adam Rifkin, 1997

Data archeologists like Levitus have spent the past 7 years seeking out ocean temperature data around the world and digitizing them for archiving on modern media.

Science, Mar. 2000

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Last modified: 22 April 2000.