FORT: a modular Foundational Ontological Relations Theory for representing and reasoning over the composition of tangible entities - Observations from cultural heritage
Thursday, September 28, 2023


The materiality of tangible cultural heritage entities has garnered interest in heritage sciences due to its role in maintaining the unique identity of the entity across various interpretations as a boundary object. In multidisciplinary studies on tangible cultural heritage, an interdisciplinary approach is essential for developing a comprehensive understanding of human culture. To achieve an interdisciplinary approach within a multidisciplinary field such as cultural heritage, centered around a cross-disciplinary entity like the boundary object, a shared goal is necessary. By considering the materiality of the entity as the common point across multiple disciplines, and aiming for a better understanding and representation of this materiality as the shared goal, an interdisciplinary approach within cultural heritage can be fostered.

To effectively represent the materiality and composition of tangible cultural heritage entities, the use of an ontological model of structural and spatial relations is indispensable. Additionally, for a successful interdisciplinary integration, a meta-ontology approach is vital to overcome the challenges posed by the heterogeneity of multiple disciplines and promote interoperability across models of various domains.

In this thesis, we address the objective of representing and modeling the composition of any tangible entity using structural and spatial ontological relations, drawing insights from cultural heritage. For this purpose, we propose "FORT: a Foundational Ontological Relations Theory" within an applied ontological approach. FORT is designed with the following characteristics: (a) modular, i.e. composed of interlinked and intralinked relation modules; (b) a meta-ontology i.e. specifying a meta-conceptualization of top-level abstractions and using a meta-modeling language of generic modeling primitives; and (c) exclusively addressing relations and rule constraints.

To formalize FORT and illustrate its employment, we construct and adhere to an ontology engineering methodology. This methodology addresses various specification choices for FORT, namely expressivity and decidability, resulting in two versions: the FORT reference ontology and the FORT lightweight ontology. Furthermore, the methodology formalizes each specification, the reference and lightweight ontologies, at multiple levels, namely theoretical and empirical. Thus, FORT is formally expressed in a First-Order Logic (FOL) formalization with a Common Logic Interchange Format (CLIF) serialization for the reference ontology, and a decidable Description Logic (DL) formalization using the SROIQ fragment with an OWL2 implementation for the lightweight ontology. Moreover, the methodology bridges the two specifications through a systematic translation from the reference FOL theory to the lightweight SROIQ fragment.

Therefore, our approach contributes in the following ways. Firstly, we propose an expressive and well-founded language of exclusive relations and rule constraints through the FOL formalization of FORT. Secondly, we demonstrate the novelty and consistency of our proposed relations language through the CLIF serialization of FORT. Thirdly, we establish a decidable lightweight formalization of our relations language through a generic and systematic translation process, for the SROIQ formalization of FORT. Lastly, we provide this language as an OWL ontology and present different methods (direct and indirect) for its employment to support its practical use.

Mis à jour le 11 September 2023