Another stage complete

The past three weeks have been frenetic to say the least.  The photography part of our project is now complete (a whole week ahead of schedule!) and I don’t mind admitting that there were big sighs of relief all round as we finished photographing our 1,029th object.  After viewing some of the initial raw images however, we soon realised that all of the intense hard work was worthwhile.  The close-ups taken of certain blades, especially some of the bronze age swords and axes, are astounding.  The extremely high resolution of the images are of such good quality that all manner of scratch marks, notches and other signs of use can be seen clearly. 

All of the raw images are currently in the process of being copied, renamed and reformatted, but I’m sure that when we get the finished product the Cutting Edge team will agree it was worth being holed up in a basement store for three weeks.

Tools and weapons from the ethnography collection laid out ready for photography.


Photographer Colin Davison gets in close to capture the detail on a stone adze from Papua New Guinea. This object is also one of our case studies and will undergo use wear analysis to provide us with even more data.

Cutting Edge objects – ready to strike a pose

While Mark, Stephen and all the technical guys at Newcastle University’s Digital Institute are all gearing up towards completing important phases of the website development, activity is increasing over at the museum aswell.  Monday 6th August will see the beginning of a vital stage of the project- object photography.  We have now picked out just over 1000 objects that will be highlighted for the Cutting edge project- alongside objects from collections belonging to the Society of Antiquaries and the Natural History Society of Northumbria, we will be using objects that have been kindly loaned to us from the Laing Art Gallery, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens and Arbeia Roman Fort.  These objects have now been packed up and shipped over to our two temporary photography studios based at the Great North Museum: Hancock and the GNM Resource Centre based at Discovery Museum.


Objects loaned to us from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums ready for photography at the GNM Resource Centre, Discovery Museum.


Crates of Danish stone axes from Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens- not easy to move about by yourself…!

Good images are a must for any website, but as part of the Cutting Edge project is specifically about blade analysis, images of our prehistory and ethnographic objects will be a lot more detailed than usual. 

These are interesting times for the curatorial and prehistory specialists on the Cutting Edge team.  It’s always exciting to be able to conduct new research on collections, particularly on prehistory collections as these are often the types of objects that are often lacking in information. Hopefully when our new digital images are integrated into the website and used alongside all of the datasets that Mark has been incorporating, we may be able to look on our prehistory collections in an entirely new light.



Technical Approaches

Research Assistant Mark Turner explains his thoughts behind the design of the Cutting Edge website.

When designing the architecture for a system for a problem which the Cutting Edge project is trying to solve, it is important to keep the solution as general and flexible as possible. This generalisation is what enables the system to scale easily, being able to incorporate new requirements and integrate them as seamlessly as possible. In this instance the idea was not to not think about the information the Cutting Edge database actually contains, only that there is some data.  Similarly with the users, the exact types and privileges of each role are not important, only that those roles exist. 

To allow for multiple data sources, some outside the control of the project, it was decided to introduce a level of abstraction between the Cutting Edge website and the database. By treating the Cutting Edge database like any other data source consumed by the system, it allows the website to be built in a block-like manner, with no need to make the Cutting Edge database some kind of special case or precedent.

In actual fact the website has no notion of there being a database; it only knows that there is a web service which returns Cutting Edge data. This abstraction allows for future changes to be made to the Cutting Edge data store without the need for major work on the website. The type of database could be changed completely and the web site might never need to be changed. The social network Twitter works in this way. It has an Application Programming Interface (API), which it allows other people to use and develop their applications on top of. Twitter simply treats itself like any other developer and effectively uses its own API for its website and mobile apps.

Figure 1 shows the final architecture for the Cutting Edge system. This type of architecture has allowed the introduction of other third party data sources with minimal modifications to the architecture. Third party data sources such as the Archaeological Data Service and The National Archives are treated the same way the Cutting Edge data is, using much of the same application code. This commonality is what makes the system highly scalable, more and more third party data sources can be added over time without the need for the system to be heavily modified each time.