Cultosaurus Humongous or Everything you ever wanted to know about heritage but were afraid to ask

Big ideas

As mentioned in my earlier post – The thesaurus that time forgot – the idea of a combined Thesaurus of Monument Types for the whole of the UK has been around for more than a decade. Unfortunately, as with anything that’s left, unwatched, on a back burner for any length of time, it’s likely to boil over. In this case, like the magic porridge pot, the idea has not just boiled over, it has grown…and grown..and grown…and gr…(well you get the picture).

The idea is no longer to develop a UK-wide Thesaurus of Monument Types but to expand it to cover the whole of Cultural Heritage, and the whole of the geographic British Isles (including the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).

The thesaurus would include those vocabularies provided by EH, RCAHMS and RCAHMW as well as bringing together all of the existing thesauri/authority files recommended by FISH.

In addition, it  would also look to incorporate other terminologies from the reference data lists in use by the following organizations:

Where practicable archaic, regional and dialect terms would be included and the thesaurus would include multilingual aspects with Welsh, Gaelic, Manx and Scots Gaelic included (where appropriate).


For both geographical and political reasons it is recognized that the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands share a common cultural heritage with respect to their archaeology and architecture and that, although certain regional differences occur, these do not reflect the current geopolitical boundaries, for example:

  • The Neolithic monuments found across the whole area
  • The Roman presence in England, Scotland and Wales
  • The Viking settlements of Ireland, The Isle of Man, Scotland and the North of England
  • The Georgian architecture of Bath, Dublin and Edinburgh
  • The military architecture of the 18th, 19th and 20th Century

As such, the proposed British and Irish Thesaurus of Cultural Heritage (acronym not to be used in polite circles) aims to provide a common framework and language for the recording of the built and buried heritage.

What and how?

Currently the terminologies in use sit in isolation from one another. The intention of the TCH is to bring them together under the umbrella of an Uber-thesaurus. Thus each domain (monuments, objects, materials, periods etc.) will become a hierarchy within the larger Cultosaurus Humongous (to misquote Blue Oyster Cult).

This structure will also allow us to create relationships between domains so that if a monument type is made of a specific material and found in a specific period then we can model that within the structure.

Obviously once the TCH is built it will be made available as linked data, each concept being represented by a HTTP URI. It is also anticipated that we will be able to associate each concept with images and other documentation so that the TCH will become a truly encyclopaedic resource for the Cultural Heritage sector.

So, that should be simple enough then…


The thesaurus that time forgot

In the Beginning was the word

In 2001 at the  mda conference, Rebecca Jones and myself gave a paper, mischievously titled Towards a Flexible UK-Wide Integrated thesaurus, concerning the aspiration for a UK-wide thesaurus of Monument Types. At that time the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) had just completed the development of the Scottish Monuments Thesaurus (SMT). Based on its English cousin the Thesaurus of Monument Types (TMT), the SMT provided RCAHMS with terminological independence. Its very existence also paved the way for the development of a combined UK Thesaurus.

The paper that Beccy and I gave at that conference set out the vision of a combined Thesaurus of Monument Types. Although the idea was well-received and welcomed by the community the lack of available tools for the development proved a major stumbling block and the project was mothballed.

Five years later, in 2006, EH secured funding for EHKOS – the English Heritage Knowledge Organization System. Intended as a collaborative tool for use by the whole heritage community , EHKOS would provide us with an online editing tool. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, the project ground to a halt at the end of Phase 1.  So it was back to the drawing board.

In 2013 the landscape looks very different. Open-source thesaurus editing software is increasingly  being made available and we’re investigating options for using these to develop the thesaurus. These include:

  • GINCO  – currently being developed by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication
  • Vocbench – developed by  Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

But before we can begin creating the new thesaurus we’re making the existing vocabularies, currently in use, available as linked data.

The rationale behind this is that the community have been asking for them and we can no longer keep our public waiting. Obviously we’d have loved to deliver the combined thesaurus but as the Rolling Stones once sang, you can’t always get what you want.

The other reason for not waiting for the release of the combined thesaurus is that the new thesaurus will look somewhat different…