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Archives and Research

Data standards

Find out how we curate, publish and care for our huge range of data relating to the historic environment.

1 Overview

Scotland’s historic environment is a rich resource, with a huge range of associated data.

Our data and recording work ensures the data relating to our heritage is made available through a range of services, including:

  • Canmore, the online catalogue to Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, and industrial and maritime heritage
  • PastMap, an interactive mapping service offering a point of entry into five major databases
  • ScotlandsPlaces, a website allowing users to search across different national databases using geographic locations

Data standards underpin the information we curate and publish. They ensure that our data is recorded consistently, is discoverable and is easily searchable.

We also work to ensure that our data is accessible and maintained for future use.

2 The team

Data Standards Team

Area of focus: Making sure the huge amount of data relating to the historic environment is as accessible as possible.

As data custodians, we are responsible for complying with government and industry requirements.

The Scottish Government’s compliance with several directives means we have several requirements:

3 Partnerships and funding

The majority of our data research is funded from Historic Environment Scotland’s core budget.

We engage in partnerships with curatorial colleagues in Scotland through Scotland’s Historic Environment Data Strategy. We also work with colleagues elsewhere in Britain and further afield.

We contribute to the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage, working on indexing terminologies, recording standards and guidelines.

Our data work also involves engagement through people undertaking and reporting on fieldwork.

4 Projects


We use vocabulary terms to formally index information we publish on databases like Canmore. These vocabularies enable the public to discover and retrieve data more easily. They also direct people to similar or related themes.

Our cultural heritage thesauruses and vocabularies act as standards for use by both national organisations and historic environment records kept by local authorities.

For example, a Canmore keyword search for ‘castle’ may return more than 7,200 records. A site search for records specifically categorised ‘castle’ will return only a fraction of these results.

The difference in records returned reflects the ambiguity of simple keyword searches: a search for ‘castle’ will return castles, but it will also return Victorian hunting lodges, and sites whose address is Castle Street.

Linked open data: The SENESCHAL project

The SENESCHAL project addresses our need for a linked open data approach to our terminologies.

Linked open data is:

  • linked data connected through Semantic Web standards, which promote common data formats and protocols
  • published under explicit open licence, allowing reuse of the resource

It defines concepts used to index our records, introducing standards and machine-readable formats necessary for interoperability.

The SENESCHAL project converts major vocabularies from English Heritage, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the former Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland into linked open data, which is hosted on the Heritage Data website.

For Scottish monument terms, Scots Gaelic expressions were provided for each concept. For example, the concept of ‘castle’ in English was linked to ‘caisteal’ in Gaelic.

Users are able to download the vocabularies in various formats.

Find out more about the SENESCHAL project.

Publishing our vocabularies as linked open data is the first step in releasing more of our data as open data. We’re helping to deliver the Scottish Government’s Open Data Strategy and meet European requirements on publication.

Making data available has the potential to help us deliver improved public services and wider societal and economic benefits through innovative data use.

As well as publishing our vocabularies as linked open data through Canmore and PastMap, users may download search results as CSV files under an Open Government Licence.

5 Publications and conferences

Hamilton, S. and McKeague, P., ‘Reality Bites: Reviewing a Decade of Online Collaboration’ in A. Traviglia (ed.), Across Space and Time, Papers from the 41st Annual Conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Perth, 25–28 March 2013. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2015).

Hamilton, S., ‘A 21st Century Record: Maintaining a Modern Monuments Record’ in A. Traviglia (ed.), Across Space and Time, Papers from the 41st Annual Conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Perth, 25–28 March 2013. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2015).

McKeague, P., ‘Cartography and Heritage: Past practice and future potential for mapping Scotland’s cultural heritage’ in F. Gligny et al. (eds.), 21st Century Archaeology Concepts, Methods and Tools, Proceedings from the 42nd Annual Conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Paris. Archaeopress, Oxford, (2015), 315–22.

McKeague, P., ‘SENESCHAL: Cultural Heritage vocabularies as Linked Data – a data provider’s perspective’, Catalogue and Index 174, (2014), 25–32.

McKeague, P. and Cowley, D., ‘From paper to digital, and point to polygon – the application of GIS in a national body of survey and record’, International Journal of Heritage in the Digital Era 2(4), (2013), 678–94.