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SEAD – Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database

Research project An international standard database for environmental archaeology data is under development at the Environmental Archaeology Lab (MAL), in collaboration with Humlab, at Umeå University, Sweden. The web accessible system will allow the storage, extraction, analysis and visualisation of data on past climates, environments and human interaction with the environment. SEAD will form part of an international network of research infrastructure for environmental archaeology and Quaternary palaeoecology.

SEAD is designed to store raw data, such as records of plant macrofossils, fossil insects and soil chemical/physical properties recorded from archaeological and Quaternary geological excavations. By comparing these data with modern ecology and distribution data, along with an interpretation of the soil data, it is possible to reconstruct past human and natural environments and derive information on palaeoclimate. Our mission is to provide online tools to aid international researchers in these tasks, and to provide access to data that are currently not accessible online and often hard to find in any form. The relational database will enable advanced multidimensional analyses of several streams of palaeoecological evidence in order to answer complex questions on past cultures and their interaction with the environment. It will also enable greater interaction with related disciplines, especially in the areas of climate change research and sustainable development, by allowing researchers to query on long timescale geographical variations in selected biological and physical proxies, and compare these results with external datasets. The final system will include multiple entry points including a GIS interface based around that currently used by the lab for site mapping and landscape reconstruction. See the project website for more details:

Project overview

Project period:

2008-05-01 2012-12-31


This project has recieved funding from the Swedish Research Council.

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Research area


Project description

The SEAD - Strategic Environmental Archaeology Database ( ) project is in the process of creating a web-accessible, GIS-ready database for environmental archaeology data. The system will allow researchers to study data on the interactions of past environments, climates and human activities, as well as study the implications of these for current and future research agendas including heritage, species and landscape conservation. Empirical data from a large number of archaeological and Quaternary geological sites will be made accessible online and provide the basis for a wide range of interdisciplinary studies.

Through the use of innovative IT solutions, the system will combine the benefits of large datasets, easy access and powerful visualisations of scientific data. SEAD forms part of a comprehensive international initiative towards the construction of scientific research infrastructures and the project will link with similar systems being developed elsewhere in Europe and the USA. The project is being undertaken through collaboration between The Environmental Archaeology Lab and HUMlab (, an international meeting place for the Humanities and IT at Umeå University. The development of SEAD is led by Philip Buckland, previously responsible for the development of the multidisciplinary insect database BugsCEP ( ), with a highly qualified team of environmental archaeologists and IT specialists. The Environmental Archaeology Lab will assure the future sustainability and availability of the database in its capacity as a Swedish National Research Resource for scientific archaeology.

The Environmental Archaeology Laboratory (, in the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies at Umeå University, has operated since 1994 as Sweden’s only national resource lab for environmental archaeology. The lab has extensive experience of research and contract archaeology from both Sweden and internationally and has accumulated a large amount of data which needs wider access, and is involved in the advancement of scientific methods in archaeology.