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Heritage Data Standards and Terminology

We have a lead role in setting standards for recording built and buried heritage. Our Data Standards Unit collaborates with a large number of heritage data management organisations, both nationally and internationally.

Here you can find out about our documentation standards and terminology tools, which can help you record historic environment information accurately and consistently. They will also improve data retrieval and access.

MIDAS Heritage

The main standard for documenting heritage asset information in the UK is MIDAS Heritage (2010). This explains what information should be included, rather than advising how to record it, and covers:

  • The individual assets that form the historic environment (buildings, archaeological sites, shipwrecks, areas of interest and artefacts)
  • The work that is undertaken to understand, protect and manage change to those assets
  • Sources of further information

MIDAS Heritage reflects best practice in the UK. You can download MIDAS Heritage for free from our Publications section.

First published in 1998, we developed MIDAS Heritage in collaboration with several other heritage organisations. It complies with the UK e-Government Metadata Standard (e-GMS), which is based on Dublin Core. It draws together key data elements from other British information standards, such as:

International standards

International cultural heritage standards are best covered in the Council of Europe’s publication Documenting the Cultural Heritage (edited by R. Thornes and J. Bold). This document outlines the three core data standards for recording historic buildings and monuments, archaeological sites and artefacts from a country-neutral perspective.

Another important guidance document for data exchange and integration of cultural information is the ISO 21127:2014 Information and Documentation standard. Previously known as the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM), this standard was developed by The International Council of Museums (ICOM-CIDOC).

FISH thesauri

We are part of the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage  (FISH), a professional discussion forum for the further development of heritage data standards and tools. The FISH thesauri represent our suite of terminologies developed for indexing cultural heritage. Examples of these controlled vocabularies include hierarchical lists of generic to specific types of:

  • Monuments
  • Building materials
  • Maritime vessels
  • Historic aircraft
  • Britain’s main cultural periods
  • Historic land and seascape character
  • Archaeological management activities

You can search the thesauri online or download them in PDF or CSV format, all free of charge:

You can find information on Linked Open Data (LOD) and more technical advice on importing the FISH thesauri into your own collections management system via the Heritage Data website.

Three buildings illustrating different window types
Different window types listed in the FISH Components thesaurus. From left to right: Oriel Window (4 Church Street, Tewkesbury); Oculus (Academy Cinema, Bristol); and Rose Window (Welsh Presbyterian Church, Chester). © IoE 376661 John Brookes, IoE 379118 Janet Gibson, IoE 469902 John L Wishlade

Contact our Data Standards Unit

Please contact our Data Standards Unit for advice on how to record more subject-specific information, such as medieval pottery, human remains, or archaeological archive material.

We are happy to help with any questions and to provide advice on which standards or terminology to use. Please also contact us if you would like to find out how you can contribute to the development of these standards and terminology.

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