CHOICE Review – eHRAF Archaeology

Originally published in CHOICE Magazine (October 2015).

eHRAF Archaeology, from the Human Relations Area Files, Yale University. Human Relations Area Files. Contact publisher for pricing.

[Revisited Jul’15]  Like its companion database eHRAF World Cultures (CH, Apr’13, 53-0580) for contemporary societies, eHRAF Archaeology is a unique resource designed to facilitate the study of cross-cultural patterns and discontinuities through the systematic comparison of one or more anthropological subjects in association with a particular documented archaeological tradition or statistical sample of the world’s prehistoric cultures.  Primary documents are indexed at the paragraph level, with search results displayed as snippets or paragraphs linked to their page context and the complete work, presented in page-by-page sequence in HTML format.  Results are accompanied by the publication information, detailed abstract, and the work’s illustrations, tables, and bibliographical references.  Since this subscription-based resource was last reviewed (CH, Dec-03, 41-1926), the number of traditions covered has grown from 23 to 90, with more to be added.  Each archaeological tradition (e.g., Paleo-Arctic, Late Chalcolithic Mesopotamia, New Guinea Neolithic) is introduced by an author-signed summary with data, narrative, and selected bibliographical references following a standardized layout that is similar in content to the nine-volume Encyclopedia of Prehistory (CH, Feb’04, 41-3178), published by the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) with Kluwer Academic over multiple years beginning in 2002 (CH, Jun’02, 39-5556).

The electronic eHRAF Archaeology database offers Search (Basic, Advanced) and Browse (Traditions, Subjects, Documents) options.  A browsing strategy is recommended for accurate selection of known traditions and better understanding of the organization of subjects covering all aspects of cultural life and context, based on the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM) thesaurus.  New users are advised to explore the helpful online tutorials and videos, taking advantage of the powerful Advanced Search to select specific traditions and subjects with the option to add keywords; Basic Search may not work as users accustomed to keyword searching expect.  Noticing the examples provided within the search interface also works as a brief orientation or memory jog.  The Add Subjects function in Advanced Search has several quirks that can be avoided by exploring the functionality of tools designed to include or restrict results to subheadings using the A-Z Index, Major Subjects, and OCM Code menus.  Recent interface improvements include generation of bibliographic citations in MLA, APA, Chicago, or Harvard formats and permalinks that will work at subscribing institutions.  EndNote and other reference-management software tools are supported.  Paragraph-level results (and document-level metadata) may be printed or emailed, although one’s search-strategy history must be documented manually.

While not the first place that students will go to do a comprehensive literature review—institutions supporting programs in archaeology will also want to license the Anthropology Plus database (CH, Apr’13, 50-4191) for that purpose—eHRAF Archaeology is very well designed for its intended purpose, namely comparative studies based on authoritative research in a representative sample of archaeological cultures worldwide. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates through researchers/faculty; professional/practitioners.

–K. Cleland-Sipfle, Southern Oregon University

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