Ann Hudson indexing services

Museum of London Archaeology indexing guidelines

This is an extract from the indexing guidelines I wrote for Museum of London Archaeology in 2008, but much of what I say here applies to archaeological indexing in general.

As with all indexing, always consider the needs of the user. Remember that you are catering for many different types of user: for example, someone who has a general interest in the subject; someone who is interested in just one small topic, such as Roman bone needles; someone who has read the report and wants to find something again.

MOLA publications are very clearly laid out, with a hierarchical arrangement of sections and subsections. It can be useful to start by making a skeleton index based on section headings, filling in extra detail later (although not all section headings make useful index entries). But avoid making an index that merely reproduces the hierarchical arrangement of the report. The index should also pull together topics mentioned in different parts of the text, for example medieval burials on different sites, or scattered references to one particular structure or find. Make full use of cross-reference and double entry to ensure that the user can find material from a variety of entry points. Use a double entry if space permits, as double entries are easier for the user (but check that your double entries have identical locators).

Although MOLA excavation reports follow a basic pattern, every one is different, and the way you index must vary accordingly. For example, does the report cover one site, two sites, or a group of sites? Does it relate to one specific period, or a range of periods? Base your indexing decisions on what will be most helpful to the user for this particular publication. The depth of indexing of a specific type of structure or find will depend on its significance in this report; for example, if a site produced painted Roman wall plaster of exceptional significance this will deserve full indexing. As a rule, if something is described in detail and/or illustrated, it is worth indexing. Information in tables can generally be indexed sparingly, with entries only for the general nature of the information contained.

Sometimes the same information appears in several places in the text, for example a brief description of an object in the context where it was found, a mention in a general discussion section, and a full description in a specialist appendix. Use your judgement about whether to index all these references; for example, if all the information given elsewhere is repeated in the specialist appendix you may only need to give that locator.

There is usually no need to index pottery types that are listed only in tables. Pottery fabrics/wares/forms, if included, are best listed under a main heading ‘pottery’. Distinguish between references to pottery for its own intrinsic interest (often indexable), and pottery used as dating evidence (not usually indexable).

Qualify objects by period and then by material, making a cross-reference from the material:
  hairpins, Roman, bone 66, 67
  bone objects see hairpins

Plant remains and animal bones can usually be indexed sparingly, unless they are particularly significant; there is no need to index lists of plant species given in tables. Use your judgement about when to index particular animal species separately. It is sometimes useful to index fish bones, as they can provide important evidence for both diet and fishing.

Try to avoid long complicated entries with more than two levels of indent; find ways of presenting the material in the simplest way possible by use of cross-reference or double entry. A longer, more complicated index is not necessarily more helpful to the user.

Ann Hudson
September 2008


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