The recording of ornamental motifs in anthropological and archaeological contexts tends to assign class types with specific relevance to the motif within a single, or small related group of, cultural and material contexts. There is potential in creating digital records of certain ornamental forms to describe motifs essentially as an uninterpreted shape, for example as a sequence of coordinates. This approach is considered to be particularly applicable to geometric motifs, for example in the context of prehistoric mark making. The digitisation of ornamental motifs in this manner allows them to be stored and transmitted in a manner which is efficient in memory usage and which is convenient for measurement allowing the reanalysis and reuse of data. The storage of descriptions of ornament in numerical format also makes them amenable to bottom up classification systems derived through cluster analysis or neural networks rather than assigning potentially culture or context specific type groupings.
This paper will describe, as a case study, a method designed for the comparison of spiral motifs and will discuss how the classifications derived from numerical description differ from those based on the mathematical equations of spirals which have commonly been used to assign class groups to decorative spirals. Finally, this paper will discuss the potential for making publicly accessible both the data collection method and the data themselves through online databases. This would make accessible a large and augmentable body of data from which ornament could be visually reconstructed making it accessible for qualitative analysis and providing shape descriptions in a manner which is convenient for a wide range of quantitative analyses.