The Documentary Archaeology of Late Medieval Europe

Inventory of the estate of Guilhem de Cavalhon, a resident of Marseille who died in 1405.
In 2014 Dan Smail and I started DALME with the broad goal of laying the foundations for a documentary archaeology of late medieval Europe. Millions of pages of records have survived from this period, and scattered across them, especially in sources such as household inventories, are innumerable references to household things, from cooking pans and crockery to beds and garments. These are the textual counterparts to objects found in museum collections and on archaeological sites. But although museums have made tangible things increasingly accessible to the world of scholarship and teaching, there is no comparable collection of the textual things found in archival records.

DALME leverages advances in data science and machine learning to extract vast amounts of material culture data from medieval household inventories in a manner that makes comparison possible between objects described in widely varying ways in documents, as well as with museum objects and excavated artefacts. The data the project produces is made accessible online as open, well-structured, and machine-actionable datasets readily amenable to computational analysis.

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