NEW ENGLAND ANTIQUITIES RESEARCH ASSOCIATION (NEARA) Our 54th year!
Over the past two hundred years or more, as they roamed America’s northeastern woods, sharp-eyed observers have been finding enigmatic stone structures. These include elegantly constructed chambers, crude stone piles, unusual stone walls and circles, propped boulders, petroglyphs and earthen or stone mounds. Attempts at explanation have been almost as numerous as the finders. Some attribute the features to colonial field clearing, farm food storage (root cellars), animal pens or hunting shelters. Others see similarities to European or Mediterranean structures from pre-Columbian times. Some features seem to be American Indian, used perhaps for ceremonial, astronomical or calendar purposes.
NEARA was founded in 1964 to promote disciplined research exploring the origins and functions of these structures and sites, to document them and to encourage their protection and preservation. Volunteers participate in the search for new sites and enjoy the challenge of better understanding them through the traditional lenses of history, archaeology, anthropology and geology, as well as less established fields such as archaeoastronomy, deed research, and epigraphy.
Evidence has been accumulating but in many cases the mysteries remain unsolved.
NEARA is dedicated to ongoing, multi-disciplined research using the broad spectrum of the talents and abilities of its members and other researchers.
We invite you to share in this unfolding adventure of discovery by joining NEARA today.
NEARA Releases First Public Service Announcment (PSA) Click image below to play PSA
Site Report Digitization Project
SPECIAL PROJECT TO DIGITIZE ALL SITE REPORTS – Walter van Roggen
NEARA’s Research Committee is more than just about helping people do their research on lithic features – it is also responsible for Special Projects and for maintaining site information. As it so happens, we are now undertaking our largest project in recent memory, and it is a Special Project that also involves maintaining site information. That project is to digitize all of NEARA’s site reports that we have collected since the 1960’s and then make them available online to researchers.
Why is it so important to do all this work? For decades the only way to read a bunch of site reports was to visit the library, which was inconvenient for people outside of the Concord New Hampshire area. Once the old reports are digitized, they can be shared over the internet, either by email or on a web site. After they have been OCR’ed (Optical Character Recognition) into a textually searchable format, they can be searched easily along with new reports which will all be digital. Making a copy of the physical reports will also help preserve the information. The board approved this massive project about a year ago.
This huge project involves scanning most of the contents of five filing cabinets plus the files of those chapter coordinators who wanted their own files to be scanned. As of this writing, our two highly trained and extremely dedicated volunteers working part-time have gathered over the past year about 280 GB of digital data, consisting of 80227 files in 15213 folders.
The scanning has involved a lot of repetitive work. For each file folder we had to organize all of the loose sheets of paper, sorting them into coherent documents when possible, finding duplicates, photographing them, and moving the image files into the appropriate folder on disk. I estimate that we have scanned about 16000 slides. Each one had to be individually mounted in a slide holder so that the flatbed scanner could scan it at high resolution. For each one we wrote down any scribblings that had been handwritten on the slides, so that the information would accompany the digital image. But over the past year we have made a lot of progress. Although we still have a fair bit of work to be done, we can see the end of this phase not too far away.
The next phase, which we have already started, involves organizing the files into a more uniform folder structure that is consistent for all of the sources of information and that can be used when we make the contents available in various manners via a web site. Alas there are some documents and many slides that have few clues about where they belong. Basically, in this phase we are starting to record metadata for all of the sites.
Since some sites may be known by various names over time, for its location or its owner or its construction or its unusual features, we are identifying as many sites as we can with a unique identifier and organizing by the one feature which should not change over time – its location. In the long run identifying each site with a number will also help our efforts to protect its precise location when the name might otherwise give too much of a clue where it is.
Another phase will be to create searchable PDF documents from sequences of photographs produced by scanning various typed or printed documents. This involves identifying images for each separate document, moving them into a separate folder, and using OCR tools to produce a PDF document. This work sometimes involves correcting the text recognition and ignoring unimportant blocks of scribbles or noise. Alas, no OCR tool seems to be any good at recognizing hand-written text, but we won’t have time to try to transcribe anything but the most basic metadata information. That kind of work will have to wait until some future volunteer is interested in transcribing documents that are of particular value.
The following phase will be to create a private GIS database and web server. Users will need to login and may need special permission in order to read all the details of most sites, depending on the needs of their research. This phase too will take a lot of effort and expertise to implement.
Finally, we intend to offer a way for users to report and document sites. There are many sites that currently have no site report in the library. For many people their contribution might just be to provide some photos of a visit. Eventually we hope almost every site will build up a series of photos over time. But we expect many of those people will also add some more textual information – descriptions, measurements, comparisons, and other commentary.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a great online resource for serious people wishing to learn about certain sites and wanting to help add to our knowledge about those sites. It will take some time, but we will get into the 21st century.