search arches


Do you have a question that is not answered below? Ask it in the Arches Forum!

About Arches
The Project
Open Source Software and the Arches Project
Standards and Interoperability

About Arches

What interest do the Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund have in creating Arches?
The Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund embarked on creating Arches after hearing from heritage government agencies, non profits, and research institutions from around the world that there is a need for a low cost, easy to use geospatial information system that is purpose built to help inventory and manage immovable heritage. Much  interest was expressed regarding the previous related work of the GCI and WMF in developing the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities (MEGA) – Jordan, which was deployed by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities at the end of 2010 as Jordan’s national heritage documentation and management system.

How does Arches differ from other immovable heritage information systems?
Arches is an open source system that is highly adaptable to the needs of each user. Arches is built on the latest technology and has been created to incorporate the latest data standards for cultural heritage.

Does Arches record movable heritage?
Arches has been designed to record all types of immovable heritage, based on the CIDOC Core Data Standard for Archaeological and Architectural Heritage. In conformance with this standard, Arches provides the ability to record artifacts discovered at a site, but it has not been designed as a collections management tool. For a discussion of this question in greater detail, including ways to achieve additional functionality that may be required for movable heritage, please visit the Arches forum.

What does “web-based” mean?
Each deployment of Arches will operate on a server and can be accessed using a web browser. System users will need no more software than a web browser. Each implementation of Arches will be managed by one or more system administrators, and users of Arches will be able to access the system according to the information access policy decided upon by the organization deploying it (explained in the next point).

Do the data in Arches have to be visible or accessible to the public?
No. Each organization deploying Arches may control the degree of privacy of their data that the system contains. They may choose to have the system and its data totally open to online access, only have some data accessible, only accessible to users with valid login credentials, or somewhere in between. The system will allow each organization deploying it to implement their individual information access policy.

Is Arches a project to combine data from different organizations or sources into one system?
No. Each implementation of Arches is a standalone system. Arches uses heritage data and IT standards in ways that can facilitate the exchange of data that are managed by different implementations of Arches, but the decision to share information always rests with the organizations deploying Arches.

Go To Top

The Project

Why is the project called Arches? What is the Arches logo?
Arches are ubiquitous in the world’s built cultural heritage and they are symbols of support, connection, and stability. Just like real-world arches, the Arches project will offer an underlying system of support for heritage inventory and management. The Arches logo consists of four nested arched openings that mark a clear path in the distance.

How is work on Arches funded?
The Getty Conservation Institute  and World Monuments Fund have funded the initial development of Arches in order to provide an open source software system for organizations that create and maintain heritage inventories.

Go To Top

Open Source Software and the Arches Project

What is open source software?
Open source software is computer software that is freely available in source code form. The code can be modified and redistributed without restriction.

What license is Arches distributed under?
Arches is distributed under the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3 (AGPL3), a free, “copyleft” license for software. The AGPL3 is similar to the GNU General Public License, and it is specially designed so that modifications to software used on network servers become available to the development community. Copyleft licenses like the AGPL3 require that derivative works be distributed under the same license as the original. Learn more about the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3 here.

What’s the role of the Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund in this community?
The Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund led the initial development of Arches (see Project Background) with the goal of creating an open source software project. The GCI and WMF are only two of many active stakeholders. The GCI and WMF believe a thriving open source community will be a key determinant to Arches being broadly adopted over the long term, and are therefore committed to providing resources to support the community’s website and management during the first years of its existence.

Why was Arches developed as open source software?
The Arches project grew out of enthusiastic interest from around the world in MEGA, an archaeological site inventory and management system that was developed for Jordan and Iraq (see Project Background). As an open source project, the common heritage data management platform provided by Arches will be possible to customize for the needs of different users. Based on their experience, users will be able to develop new features for Arches, and the heritage field will benefit from decentralized development and pooling of resources. And public sector bodies that adopt Arches will be able to realize important flexibility and savings compared to the use of proprietary software.

Isn’t open source software less stable and more prone to bugs and other errors?
No. All software contains bugs, and bug identification and removal is an integral part of developing and supporting software. As the open source approach engages large numbers of users and developers of different skills, bugs and errors can be found, characterized, and reported promptly, and resolved in a way that represents the best judgment of a knowledgeable community.

Isn’t open source software less secure than proprietary software?
No, because the continuous and thorough review of code by open source communities helps to identify and guard against vulnerabilities that are sometimes found in software. In fact, most security threats to software do not depend on the availability of the source code.

How are open source developers compensated for their time and effort?
Many software developers who participate in open source projects are employed by organizations that have an interest in using the software for their own purposes. They do not have the intention of commoditizing it, but they can benefit from the contributions of other developers. Other developers choose to volunteer their time and effort. The Arches community hopes to engage qualified users from among different heritage organizations, who expect to benefit in their work from using Arches and helping to improve it.

Is open source software user-friendly?
Arches, like most open source software that is intended for mainstream use, has been designed to be highly user-friendly, and to provide simple ways for end users to carry out many technologically demanding tasks without the need for specialized training. The development of Arches has benefited from advice on usability from many heritage professionals from around the world.

Go To Top


Is Arches a Geographic Information System (GIS)?
Yes. Arches models location-based data, such as position and extent, using geospatial data, such as points, linestrings, and polygons (as well as the coordinate systems and spatial analyses associated with GIS).

Do Arches users have to be trained GIS specialists in order to use the system?
No. Although Arches allows users to create and edit GIS data, we have developed a user interface that shields users from much of the complexity usually associated with GIS software.

Does Arches use Esri GIS?
No, Arches does not require any Esri software. Esri software requires users to purchase expensive software licenses, which we believe would limit the ability of many organizations to deploy Arches. Instead, Arches uses robust, well-supported, and technologically advanced Open Source alternatives to Esri software. For example, Arches uses PostGIS and GeoServer as a high-performance alternative to ArcGIS Server.

Can I use my existing Esri technology with Arches?
Yes. Information in Arches can published through mapping services that ArcGIS can use for cartographic production, spatial analyses, and “what-if” scenario planning.

Go To Top

Standards and Interoperability

What is the CIDOC CRM?
The CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) is an “ontology” for cultural heritage information that has been developed  by a the International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC) of the International Council of Museums. In 2006 the International Organization for Standardization adopted it as standard ISO 21127:2006 (Information and Documentation: A Reference Ontology for the Interchance of Cultural Heritage Information). Use of this model allows Arches to consistently represent disparate, localized information and descriptions of cultural heritage in a coherent, configurable, and globally compatible way. The CRM’s incorporation will also ease integration between Arches and other systems compatible with the CRM, between separate implementations of Arches, and between related information management systems. The information, including objects and relationships, in an information management system, can be mapped to the level of the CIDOC CRM. Arches incorporates a default mapping of its database to CRM classes and properties.

What are the benefits of using a standards-based system?
Standards lead to better practices in the creation and management of heritage data. When systems employ common standards, the exchange and comparison of heritage information becomes easier. Standards contribute towards the longevity of heritage information, in spite of advances in technology.

Go To Top