Tuesday 7 July 2015

Peripleo: a Sneak Preview

There's been quite a loooong silence on this blog about our tool development activities. Not that we've been idle. Far from it: we've been as busy as ever in our top-secret underground hideaway. Those of you following us on twitter may have noticed the occasional screenshot or info-bite leaking out. But today we're finally ready to give you a first comprehensive sneak preview of what we've been up to: the development of a spatio-temporal search engine for Pelagios. Everyone, meet Peripleo.

Peripleo is Greek for "to sail (or swim) around", and the notion of being able to freely navigate the "sea of open data", collectively brought together by our partners (and discovering the treasures hidden in remote places and ancient times!) is exactly what we had in mind when we started out.

Example 1: Tetradrachm

To see how Peripleo works, let's take a swim through two examples. First, let's search for 'tetradrachm', a particular coin type. This brings us to the following result, shown in Fig. 1: a total of 23,346 hits, and a map with a distribution of lots of small dots (and one slightly larger than the rest), indicating where those results are located. We also get some preview images for our results.

Fig.1 Search results for 'tetradrachm'.

Let's flip open the 'filters' panel to find out a bit more about those results (Fig.2). The filters panel shows us how our result data are organised. In this case, it tells us that most results come from the American Numismatic Society Collection, with a small fraction of hits (hovering the mouse over the bars tells us there are nine) coming from the Fralin | UVa Art Museum Numismatic Collection. We can also see how our results are distributed over time, between the 6th century BC and 3rd century AD, with the peak at around 300 BC.

Fig.2 Filter panel.

We can go exploring further too, by, for example, zooming in on Sicily (Fig. 3). Since the information on our side panels will update live as we go, we can see how our results change as we zoom in. We can see that our current map area contains a subset of 892 results (out of our total of 23,346). Interestingly, we can also see that the distribution over time has changed: results around Sicily date roughly to between 500 and 200 BC, i.e. to the earlier phase of our total result set.

The biggest dot in the region indicates the place with the most results. Clicking it reveals that it's Syracusae, and that 520 of our 892 results in the area are linked to it. We can move the map around to explore how the temporal distribution differs in other areas; and all the time Peripleo will live-update the contents of the filter panel, as well as the image previews.

Fig.3 Results around Sicily.

Let's take a break and zoom back out, so that we can view all our results again. You may notice handles around that blue time distribution graphic. These handles are draggable. Let's pull them to select a time range in the beginning of the graphic: somewhere between 500 and 400 BC, say. Peripleo now shows results only from that time span. If we drag the selected range across the graphic, we'll see how the geographical spread of our results changes over time. Fig. 4 shows the map at the start (Fig.4, left) and end (Fig.4, right) positions of this shift, with distinctively different 'footprints' at the beginning and end of the overall time period.

Fig.4 Results filtered by time.

Needless to say, once you have narrowed down your search to specific items you are particularly interested in, you can go directly to the source of the data. In our case, it could be one of these item pages at the American Numismatic Society MANTIS system, for example.

Example 2: Theatres

Let's try another example and search for the term 'theatre'. This time, Peripleo comes up with a handy set of 483 results (plus some corresponding preview images). The filters panel tells us that results come primarily from Vici.org and the Flickr photostream of the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East. Before exploring any further, though, let's first switch the backdrop to an aerial imagery baselayer (Fig. 5).

Fig.5 Map layer settings dialog.

Now let's move the map to a region we're interested in, say North Africa. Again, thumbnail images will update as we go along; and hovering over a thumbnail will place a marker at the location the thumbnail is from. Let's take a closer look at one of the results by clicking on its thumbnail (Fig. 6).

Fig.6 Aerial imagery baselayer.

The map will zoom in on the place we selected: a Roman theatre at Djemila, Algeria, that's recorded in Vici.org. Peripleo indicates that no additional data is linked directly to the theatre. But let's see whether we can find something interesting in the area around it. We can do this by clicking the blue 'explore this area' button, next to the search box. Peripleo brings up markers for other places nearby, sized according to how much data there is available for them. In this case, we can, for example, quickly spot the marker for Cuicul, the main settlement, which is linked to 133 inscriptions recorded in the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg.

Fig.7 Exploring an area.

But Wait - There's More!

This illustrates some of the things that you'll be able to do with Peripleo. But there are more things coming! For example: the scenarios above might give the impression that Peripleo is limited to treating places as points; and each item needs to be located at one specific place. That's not the case. Places in Peripleo can cover regions - see e.g. a search for 'galliae' in Fig. 8 (left) below. (Peripleo makes use of the Creative Commons 'Polygon Shapes for Pleiades Regions' dataset by Pedar Foss, AWMC.) Items can be connected to anything from a single place, to thousands - see e.g. a search for 'vicarello' in Fig. 8 (right), which returns, among other things, the Vicarello Beakers and the entire Itinerarium Gaditanum inscribed on them (along with the beautiful CC-BY photographs by Ryan Baumann).

Fig.8 Regions (left) and complex items (right).

We feel that Peripleo offers a tantalising glimpse into a new way of doing research, of discovering what's in the data, and revealing connections that would otherwise have been much harder to trace. Yet this work marks only the first steps towards tapping into the vast potential of the digital resources brought together by our partners, collectively and openly. That is to say, Peripleo is still a work in progress. Or, as I like to say, playing with Peripleo isn't "beta testing" just yet, but rather like taking a stroll across a busy construction site. Nonetheless: we're really eager to get first test users into the system, and find out what YOU think. What works? What doesn't?

So, if you're not afraid to put on your hard hat, and don't mind stumbling across the occasional unfinished area - we'd love to invite you to have a play with Peripleo yourself. Do drop us a line if you're interested to take a look & we'll give you access right away. We'd love to hear your feedback!


  1. Rainer, I'd be interested in giving Peripleo a test drive.

  2. Hello, I would absolutely love to take a look at Peripleo! I am planning a Roman Role Playing campaign similar to Dungeons and Dragons that I can hopefully use to help educate people in the ancient world. I feel this resource would come in very handy for that as well as that I just really want to play around with it.

  3. Hello there, the link for Peripleo is: http://pelagios.org/peripleo/map. Please bear in mind that it's a pre-beta version, and very much "work in progress". Any feedback that you can give us will be gratefully received. We would be particularly interested to hear whether you can think of any applications of or extensions to it, which would fit your interests.