Sellam Ismail / Christine Finn

(Vintage Computer Festival, Livermore, USA / Rome, Italy)

As computers became an important tool for archaeologists, much research data was stored on computer media in electronic form. In many cases, this data was stored away with other research documents for posterity or for a future time when such data would be needed again for re-examination or to further current research. As many researchers may have already come to find, they are attempting to retrieve old research data on computer media that is obsolete and no longer accessible with contemporary computer systems. Either tools and techniques for recovering this trapped data must be developed, usually involving locating and reviving old hardware and operating systems, or the services of an outside historical data consultant would be required.
Sellam Ismail is a historical computer consultant who specializes in recovering data trapped on obsolete media. Ismail will present a case study in which roughly 80 megabytes of archaeological data was recovered for the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society in Key West, Florida. The data in question–digital photographs and artifact inventory database—was stored on VHS tapes used as backup media. Ismail spent nearly two years locating and acquiring the necessary hardware and software needed to once again access the data on these tapes and convert them to modern media and file formats.