The PACTOLS thesaurus

A vocabulary for archaeology

The FRANTIQ team created the PACTOLS thesaurus in order to organise keywords used for indexing the Collective Catalogue. It comprises 6 thematic fields and 1 list, from which it derives its name : Peuples et cultures, Anthroponymes, Chronologie, Toponymes, Lieux et Sujets. Particularly suitable for the treatment of library documentation, it covers all thematic fields of archaeology from prehistory to the contemporary period. First specialising in the sciences of Antiquity it has since integrated new vocabulary on earlier (prehistory and protohistory) or later periods (the medieval and contemporary periods). The range and adaptability of the PACTOLS thesaurus have made it a reference tool for scientific editors and research data managers from the archaeological community, providing controlled and open metadata required for enrichment and sharing of information on the semantic web.

A free, controlled and interoperable vocabulary

  • it conforms to the ISO 25964 norm on organisation and interoperability of thesauri
  • it is multilingual : French concepts are translated into 5 European languages (English, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch) as well as in Arabic
  • it is available on the web under free license ODC Open Database License (ODbL) v1.0
  • it is managed with free management software Opentheso which was first developed for the PACTOLS thesaurus by Miled Rousset, in charge of the Tête de réseaux documentaires platform, Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée. Its advanced functionnalities allow management of concepts, polyhierarchies, multilingualism, and collaborative workflow, and make it exportable in non-proprietary formats CSV, SKOS, JSON-LD, and interoperable through REST webservices
  • each and every concept has an ARK persistent identifier which makes it a citable and reusable object of the semantic web
  • PACTOLS adheres to the FAIR principles for sharing data on the web.

The structure of PACTOLS

Over 30000 concepts are organised in 6 mico thesauri :

  • Peuples / Peoples : names of ancient and modern peoples, names of prehistoric cultures, names of groups
  • Anthroponymes / Anthroponyms : names of artists, writers, rulers, religous persons, deities and heroes
  • Chronologie / Chronology : absolute dating, geological eras, periodisation, historical events
  • Toponymes / Toponyms : an alphabetical list of places smaller than a village, that are not included in the Lieux micro thesaurus
  • Oeuvres / Works : works of art, legal, literary, and religious texts
  • Lieux / Places : geographical and administrative places by continent, ancient and medieval places, imaginary places
  • Sujets / Subjets : 26 hyperonyms including all fields of study of archaeology and sciences of Antiquity

Reorganisation programme

The PACTOLS vocabulary has evolved steadily over the last three decades. Yet to facilitate its use by a larger community and to make it portable on the web it has become a necessity to rethink its organisation. A reorganisation programme started in 2017 with the support of the MASA Consortium. The expertise of Sylvie Dalbin (ATD) allowed us to define a work methodology including a roadmap and tools of project and administration monitoring that did not exist before.

The reorganisation work focusses on three aspects :

1. Consolidation of the structure of the thesaurus

  • Strict respect for relationships between terms. For instance in the case of hierarchical relationship "is a", "is a type of", or "is part of" : a promontary fort "is a type of" fortification, Anubis "is an" Egyptian deity, the finger "is part of" the body
  • Multiplication of associative relationships : salt is associated with salt store, salt evaporation, salt trail
  • Reorganisation of fields according to elaborate semantic models to enable alignments. Reorganisation is carried out on the Subjets micro thesaurus whose top terms will move up to the same level as the other micro thesauri

2. Enrichment of the vocabulary by adding specialised terminologies aimed at :

  • the restoration of balance between the different fields
  • a response to to the need of precisions of the scientific community in describing data

3. The opening of a collaborative workflow to a larger community of users by offering training and support in the use of PACTOLS as a shared and controlled tool

It further appeared that reorganisation into thematic fields did not totally meet the requirements for interoperability with other online vocabularies. It led us to consider a more conceptual and federative structure like that of the Dariah BackBone Thesaurus (BBT). Members of the PACTOLS working group therefore attended the last Thesaurus Maintenance workshop in Heraklion and expressed an interest in participating in the BBT curators committee.


The PACTOLS working group carries out maintenance and regular updating of the 30000+ concepts. It ensures the structural integrity of the thesaurus, manages candidate terms, suggests semantic enrichments, and acts as liaison between FRANTIQ contributors and other partners. The working group consists of archaeologists and archaeology librarians, and consults specialists on complex cases to validate new terms and improve content.

Recent updates :

  • Translation into Arabic
  • CHRONOLOGIE / CHRONOLOGY : update of geological eras, reorganisation of periodisation, creation of 2 new branches : absolute dating and historical events
  • LIEUX / PLACES : update of the French administative regions, alignment with GeoNames and Wikidata


  • La Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée supports the development of thesaurus management software Opentheso and the Arkéo project responsible for the generation of ARK persistent identifiers
  • TGIR Huma-Num through ISIDORE, the humanities search engine enriches search results with PACTOLS, and the MASA Consortium : PACTOLS has been proposed since 2013 as a reference vocabulary for projects of dissemination, transfer, and use of research data developed by its members
  • INIST which manages alignments of LIEUX / PLACES with GeoNames and Wikidata
  • Numédif which develops a dynamic connection between the XML-TEI editorial chain used by scientific archaeological editors
  • OpenEdition associated in the exploitation of indexes of archaeological periodicals with PACTOLS on the OpenEdition platform
  • ARIADNE : the European infrastructure for archaeology includes PACTOLS among other controlled vocabularies aligned with the Art & Archtiecture Thesaurus