Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Irish Artefacts in the British Museum: An Interactive Analysis


Some time ago I was struck by the idea to comb through the online British Museum catalogue to find artefacts in their collections that came from Ireland. This was a terrible idea. It was terrible not because there was so little, but because there was so much – had I any idea of how much work was involved, I’d probably have been best advised to leave it alone. As I appear to be unencumbered by common sense I pressed on and have begun publishing a series of blog posts that seem quite well received. Each post usually represents a single traditional county and lays out the material in broadly chronological order. A Table of Contents to these posts can be found [here].

In putting together my brief introductory comments on each post, outlining the most common materials, periods represented, and artefact types etc. I’ve relied on a hastily assembled data visualisation created in Tableau. I had thought to develop it a little further and release it as an additional resource to the series of posts. The thing that was stopping me was the feeling that data like this needs to be mapped to be most effective. True, some of the BM entries include individual townland names – some even have grid reference! But these are in the minority. Frequently, finds are located just to the county, or just given as ‘near’ a town or village. For all that, I still reckoned that it was worth pursuing to see if I could get them (in some form) onto a map. I’ve done my best, but some of it is pure guess work. For example, if there are two townlands of the same name and I’ve no reason to suspect one over another, I’ve just picked the first one. Where I’ve got nothing beyond the name of the county to go on I was tempted to leave it off the map. However, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that they should be visible on the map in some way. That’s why, although no artefacts in the dataset were recovered from off-shore sites, some appear to be positioned either in the Atlantic or the Irish Sea. This doesn’t really cause too much difficulty where the county has even a little coastline, but it can look a bit odd for the landlocked ones.

Let's look at the dashboard:


Irish Artefacts in the British Museum tab
On the left we have the map, with a dot for each artefact and coloured by the major material type used. If several artefacts are located to the same spot, they are stacked and only the top one will be visible. To the right is a bar chart of the Counties in the dataset with the number of artefacts from each. Clicking on one of these bars (Ctrl+click for multiples) refilters the map to that selection. In the top right corner, there’s the ‘No of Artefacts’ that shows a count of the items currently in view. Below this are a series of filters that allow the User to investigate and interrogate the data by County, Culture/period, Date, where it was Found/acquired, Material, and Object type. If the User is looking for a specific artefact with a known Museum number the last filter allows them to get to exactly this. These filters are reproduced on all subsequent pages and choices made on one filter affect all other graphs using this datasource.


Object Analysis tab
This tab has four breakouts of the data in the form of horizontal bars. Users can see the Location Found, the Culture/Period, the Material, and the Object Type. Again, clicking on one bar will refilter all other graphs.


Detailed Data & Further Reading tab
For Users wanting a deeper look at individual artefacts or groups of objects, this tab lays out the available information in tabular form. The dot of colour at the right of each line indicates the material used, but serves the useful purpose of providing a ‘Tooltip’ or ‘hover-over’ with all the information. If this is still not enough, and the User needs to see the British Museum online catalogue entry there’s no need to go searching. All that is required is to click the colour dot and a ‘GoTo British Museum’ hyperlink to that record appears at the bottom of the Tooltip.


One final feature I’d like to mention is new to recent releases of Tableau. When the User hovers over a colour dot and sees the Tooltip they can now interact with the data through the pop-up. Now, running the mouse over the Tooltip window shows certain terms underlined. Clicking on one of these terms will highlight other entries that match the same criteria. For example, on the Detailed Data & Further Reading tab, clicking on Object Type of ‘ring’ highlights the colour dots for every other artefact meeting this criterion. The top of the Tooltip also lists the number of entries that have been highlighted. The same approach may be used with the map on the first dashboard and will filter the Breakout by County bar chart too.


At the time of writing data is available for nine counties and more will become available as the main set of posts go live.


An embedded version of the dashboard is available below, but if you experience any issues you may wish to use the version on my TableauPublic page [Hereor go for the Full Screen option (button on bottom right of dashboard). For the best viewing experience, it’s recommended that you use a machine with a large screen – desktop or laptop machines. Tablets are more problematic and smart phone-sized devices are right out!