Monthly Archives: August 2015

An archaeologist’s holiday

Exterior of the architect designed building containing the replica cave

Exterior of the architect designed building containing the replica cave

When you go on holiday as an archaeologist, you end up finding and visiting the archaeology around your holiday destination or, as I did, you build your entire holiday around going to see archaeological sites. I have watched Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I have read Mordicai Gerstein’s The First Drawing and I have trawled through the images on the Bradshaw Foundation. When the Caverne du Pont d’Arc was opened earlier this year, a replica of the famous ‘Chauvet’ Cave in the Ardèche region of France, I knew that I’d be dragging my family there this year and that’s where I found myself on the Day of Archaeology 2015.

The original cavern was only found in 1994 by cavers, among them Jean-Marie Chauvet who the cave is often named after. Due to the damaging affects of tourists visiting caves found in earlier decades, such as Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France, the decision was made very early on to create a replica of the cave for visitors. It was a huge project that cost over 55 million euros and I was excited and nervous, hoping that it would be well spent and worried that it would be a damp squib.

I needn’t have worried. The replica is incredibly impressive, from the outside as well as in. The architecture of the exterior of the replica is monumental and reflects the angular formations of the cavern walls. It has been built on a hilltop a couple of miles from the original down in the valley of the Ardèche, and commands a breathtaking view of the mountains of the Cévennes. As far as I could tell, the entire cave system is recreated, instead of just a section of it, as at other cave replicas.

Panorama of the view from the top of the hill where the replica has been built

Panorama of the view from the top of the hill where the replica has been built

The cave was worked on some 36,000 years ago and has the earliest known cave art in Europe. (In contrast, Lascaux was painted about 17,000 years ago. As much time passed between Chauvet and Lascaux as between Lascaux and today!) It has cave paintings in both red ochre and charcoal, as well as cave engravings. It has paintings of bears, lions, horses, giant deer, woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos. The artists have observed these animals closely and for many years. It has an engraving of an owl with its head turned all the way round. The images are, for the most part, executed with great skill. They appear to move as some animals are given more than one set of legs that would have flickered back and forth in the torchlight. The earlier part of the cave is generally done in red ochre, while the later paintings are all mostly black.

Bear skull placed deliberately on a stone, image from Bradshaw Foundation’s website

The cave was also occupied by bears around the same time, who have left their marks all over, in the hollowed out hibernation nests they made for the winter, the rubbing along the walls where they passed and the claw marks on the walls to mark their territory. They died in there, too, and the people who came to paint the walls also moved the bones. Some long bones seem to have been shoved into the earth on end to act as markers, and several skulls were arranged on a bed of ochre around a natural pillar of rock on which another skull was sat.

Cave lions and a woman’s legs and vulva, image from the Bradshaw Foundation’s website

By the final gallery I was nearly in tears with the beauty and power of the place. All throughout I had been translating the guide to my five year old daughter and getting her to find certain animals and look at the expression of the sad lion. I had abandoned my English language audioguide, which didn’t have the detail I wanted, which the live action tour guide did, which I managed to mostly follow in French. I was particularly pleased to point out the child’s negative handprint (created by spitting paint on the back of the hand pressed on the cave wall) and footprint on the soft earth floor, and the cruder paintings that have been speculatively suggested to be the work of children. I even explained to her the image of the woman’s legs and vulva in the final gallery, as some teenage boys giggled to themselves, but this is the deepest part of the cave, the most magical. Women, then, are apparent in the cave both here and at the start where women’s handprints probably accompany men’s.

In the museum accompanying the cave, however, women are almost completely absent. I felt completely let down by this, which is totally in contrast to the evidence in the cave. In an introductory video four male hunters, who don’t seem to do very well as they compete against cave lions, stumble upon a cave and an elderly man envisions the animals upon the walls and starts to draw with charred wood from the fire. In the gallery of mannequins afterwards, it is the men again who are engaged in placing their palm prints on the walls, while one woman and one child are engaged doing something else with their heads down. It needs a bit more work to coax the whole story out, I think.

The replica Caverne du Pont d’Arc is spectacular. The real thing is off limits to everyone but those who are studying and conserving it so that it can survive another 36,000 years. The paintings at Lascaux are now damaged beyond repair by the damp and the tramping of hundreds of feet through the cave, disturbing molds which started growing on the cave walls and destroying the beautiful art. We don’t want the same to happen at Chauvet, so the replica is as good as it gets for this archaeologist as for us all.

3D Scanning and Photogrammetry of 17th and 18th Century Artifacts for Archaeology Month in Philadelphia, PA

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I am a Digital Media graduate student at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Today I am working with 17th and 18th century archaeological artifacts excavated in 2001-2003 from what are now the grounds of the National Constitution Center in Independence National Historical Park (INHP) in Philadelphia. This archaeological site is the richest colonial American site ever excavated in an urban area. Last week, working with INHP Chief Historian and archaeologist Jed Levin and Drexel Digital Media Prof. Glen Muschio and undergraduate STAR Scholar Ryan Rasing I digitized the artifacts using a 3D scanner and photogrammetry techniques.

I used both techniques to investigate the pros and cons of 3D scanning versus photogrammetry. Specifically, I am documenting, evaluating, and comparing object extraction qualities (accuracy of shape, detail, and texture), equipment and software costs, duration of reconstructions, duration of photographing and scanning sessions, memory consumption, and object size limitations.

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3D scanning at the Independence National Historical Park (From left: Ryan Rasing, Jonnathan Mercado)

Photographs were taken with a Nikon D7000 in raw format. The photographs captured were imported into Agisoft Photoscan, where I worked to align the photographs, generate point cloud information, and produce the 3D models with corresponding textures. You can view, rotate, and pan the 3D model of a ceramic pitcher I am in the process of extracting by clicking the image below.

GreenPottery2 (Click to view in 3D)In addition to photogrammetry, I used the Artec Eva 9 scanner and software to digitize artifacts and align multiple scans, clean mesh topology, construct the 3D models, and extract color information. For a view of a colonoware rim click here.

By the end of my research I will have a greater understanding of the two methods employed. The 3D models produced will be used to create 2 Public Service Announcements (PSA) calling attention to ongoing archaeology projects in Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania.

7 things you need to know about Forum Pacis dig in Rome

I’m a digital archaeologist. I excavated Pagan and Christian tombs, nympheaums, Consular roads, harbor storehouses, and kilns and much more. Then, a few years ago, I left the trench behind and become a different kind of archaeologist: I wrote for museums and for the Web, telling people about ancient Romans and about the archaeologists who help uncover their stories. Along the way, I met other archaeologists who share my passion for communication, like Antonia, Domenica, Francesca and Paola. It’s with them that I spent my Day of Archaeology, using social networks to tell yet another story about archaeologists, this time about the ones who are currently working at the Forum of Peace dig in Rome.

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You probably heard of it: it’s a big area, also known as Temple of Peace, erected in the 1st Century CE by the Emperor Vespasian to celebrate his victories in Palestine. It’s located on Via dei Fori Imperiali, the long road that since the Thirties cuts through the heart of the wide archaeological area that lies in the middle of Rome.

We spent the day in a large auditorium (which also functioned as a temple), situated inside the Forum of Peace. Today, the noises of the buses that cross the modern road, the tourists’ chatter, the construction work for the new subway line make it hard to imagine how this ancient part of the city must have looked like centuries ago: what we know is that it was quite big, on the edge of a large square that was surrounded by a portico and had a flower garden in the centre. The space inside the auditorium was dominated by a cult statue of the goddess Peace on a high podium. Here, sacred symbols taken from the Temple of Jerusalem—such as the Ark of the Covenant and the menorah, the seven sticked candelabra—were kept and preserved. These objects, along with the statue of the goddess Peace, disappeared during the sack of Rome in the 5th century.

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The excavation, now in its fourth consecutive summer season, is being carried out by the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome and Rome Tre University. Since 2014, they have been joined by students from the American University of Rome.

Below is a list of 7 things you definitely need to know about Forum Pacis dig.

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1. First meeting to talk about the last results of the excavation: everyone in the team must know about the latest finds and share their ideas. And that big squared brick thing? It’s the podium of the statue of the goddess Peace

Forma Urbis wall

2. The famous Forma Urbis hanged from this wall. It’s a large map of Rome, over 20 m tall and made of 140 marble plates! The big holes accommodated the bronze hooks that supported the plates.

Flotation_ Forum Pacis

3. The excavation unearthed many traces of hearts, which means that one of the most important activities on the dig is the flotation, that is sifting in water, which helps archaeologists to retrieve even the smallest, but very important, finds such as seeds and bones.

Leveling staff_Forum Pacis

4. Things you shouldn’t do on a dig: stand beside a leveling staff. This way everyone will know how tall (or short!) you really are 😉

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5. Anywhere in the Forum you can see traces of the dismantling and reuse of the precious marble decoration from the floor and walls. Where this wide circle lies there was a rota made of porphyry, which was then taken during periods of abandonment of the ancient monument.

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6. Cooking pots, African Terra Sigillata, eastern amphorae, lamps. By studying pottery archaeologists can retrace past commercial routes within Mediterranean and recover evidence left by the different peoples who lived in the Empire over the centuries. Turns out, all roads did lead to Rome.

Palatine Hill view from Forum Pacis

7. The view is simply breathtaking!

 

Original post by Astrid D’Eredità (@astridrome)
Translation from Italian and editing by Domenica Pate (@domenica_pate)

Starting Over in Alberta

The Alberta weather is sometimes cold

The Alberta weather is sometimes cold

This year, the Day of Archaeology actually fell upon the first day of a four day weekend. Having moved to Alberta from Wisconsin in late-2014, I’m currently working a 10-day on/four-day off shift as a field tech for a Canadian Cultural Resource Management company. Actually, they constantly remind me that I’m not a field tech, if only because they don’t use that particular title. Officially, I’m a staff archaeologist working for this particular firm for a limited time. The job duties are essentially the same, though. I basically accompany a higher ranking archaeologist and help them by doing the basics: dig, walk a lot, look for historic properties, and take notes. I’m pretty removed from any decision-making, which after 15 years of being in a supervisory role, is both incredibly relaxing and somewhat boring. It’s nice to be free of the stress and obligations of being a boss. At the same time, I really enjoy performing a lot of the boss-type duties.

In Alberta, you need to be issued a permit in order to conduct archaeological excavation. I’ve been approved to apply for one, with certain reasonable restrictions. This means that I could theoretically work for a firm as a permit-holder, and run my own projects. Unfortunately, I chose pretty much the worst time to move to Alberta. With the price of oil in the tank, development has all but stopped. There just aren’t very many archaeology positions, this year, so I feel lucky to have the job I do. The only other place that seems to be hiring is apparently working their staff for long shifts comprised of 12-hour days. That just sounds like burn out city to me. I can’t imagine how someone could consistently produce quality work with that sort of schedule and I wonder how many will still want to do archaeology in five-years time.

The typical day starts with a safety meeting, which is called a tailgate meeting despite the fact that most of them don’t occur at the tailgate of our truck. After that, the bosses knock out any coordination with the client that might remain. Then, we head out to the project site, where we drive around looking for sites and historic structures. We follow a judgemental survey strategy, which means we dig shovel tests in places where we think there’s a good chance of finding a site. This targeted approach is different than the systematic survey methods that I’m used to. For that, we shovel test along regular intervals in order to get broader coverage. There can be some down time while bosses do boss stuff. Flexibility is an essential skill for a (not a-) field tech.

During all of this, we talk. In addition to the usual discussions about our interests in pop culture, we discuss archaeology. As a result of the judgemental method of surveying, we debate about where sites might be located and how that differs between the boreal forest, the northern plains, the alpine portion of the Rockies, and any other places that we know about. We talk about possible interpretations of the sites that we’re currently working on. We compare the differences in the compliance process between Alberta, the other Canadian provinces, and the United States, which has strong federal legislation. We talk about the job market and the potential for work after the project ends. This all helps me calibrate my reasoning to the Albertan way of doing things, as well as the local variations of cultural property that we might encounter.

This job is sort of a restart for me. In addition to just getting the local experience that employers want to see, it lets me see the local archaeological properties, methods, and processes first hand so I can relate it back to what I already know. I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunities to discuss our work with my coworkers and that will hopefully lead to more (and longterm!) employment in the future. The bottom line for many of the archaeologists that you might have seen in other Day of Archaeology posts is that archaeology isn’t just something we love, it’s something we do to (hopefully) pay the bills. Trying to make that profession fit with the rest of our lives can sometimes be a challenge. In my case, moving has required me to restart my career in a number of ways.

A day at the museum: #archaeobloggers explore the new rooms of Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, in Rome

One thing we often accuse our museum of—or at least, Italian museums—is that they rarely seem up to date with our modern tastes and, in some cases, they even keep that XIX century aura that it’s fascinating in its own right, but doesn’t really showcase the beauty of the treasures they guard. That’s especially true for archaeological museums, and quite a few of them still look like Wunderkammer, “Cabinets of Curiosities” stoked with random ancient objects, with little or none inclination to experimentation.

Luckily, that’s not always the case.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is one of the four branches of the National Roman Museum in Rome, directed by Dr. Rita Paris. Its opening dates back to 1995, which makes it a young museum, but even so, since 2005, its rooms have been continuously renewed and updated to modern exhibition standards.

This past week, rooms 2, 3 and 4 on the first floor, the ones displaying portraits and statues made under the Nerva-Antonine dynasty (early to mid II century CE), reopened to the public and we were invited to have a sneak preview of them and to meet some of the curators of the new exposition.

Needless to say, we jumped at the occasion, and that’s how we found ourselves wandering through the newly opened rooms, looking up in wonder at the immortal portraits of people who once upon a time ruled the world.

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Busts of Pompea Plotina, wife of Trajan, 110-120 and of Vibia Sabina, wife of Hadrian, 136-138

We were also dazzled by the beauty of the representations of the Roman Provinces as young women, originally from the Hadrianeum, the Temple of Adrian, located not far from the museum, and we could see the funeral relief of Apthonetus, a marble pedimental relief with a long epigraphy and Apthonetus’ portrait, displayed for the public for the first time and documented in every detail.

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Personifications of the Roman Provinces, from the Temple of Hadrian, built by his adoptive son and successor Antoninus Pius.

We admired the smoothness of their faces, and the details of their clothes and armours and we were surprised by the pleasant effect given by the contrast between the marble of statues and the dark colour of the supports. We enjoyed our visit very much, and as always, we used our smartphones to fixate in tweets and pictures what we were seeing and feeling, that incredible, eternal charm these ancient statues can have on us.

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Marble relief with with portrait and epitaph by Quadratilla for her father Apthonetus, from Colle Tasso, near Tivoli, 130-140.

We also had the pleasure to meet with Carolina De Camillis, architect and external consultant of Palazzo Massimo, in charge of the new lighting system of the rooms. She explained how lighting is an essential component of the new display: halogen lamps typically used in museums tend to give the surfaces of the statues an uniformed glaze, to flatten the differences of colour and in texture that are characteristic of the marble Romans used to make their statues.

The new lighting, created with special LED lamps, allows visitors to fully appreciate the traces that Roman artisans left on their works with their instruments, but also the natural veining of the marbles and, sometimes, even the single macro-crystal of the rock.

It is quite clear, then, that the new displays are the result of a common effort of a number of different professionals such as archaeologists, architects, lightening designers, specialised workers, who work behind the scenes to offer visitors new ways to enjoy the fascination of the ancient world.

Original post and pictures by Antonia Falcone (@antoniafalcone) and Paola Romi (@OpusPaulicium)

Translation from Italian and editing by Domenica Pate (@domenica_pate)

Commercial geophysics for archaeology – a day at my desk

Cs mag survey around the long cairn

Cs vapour magnetic survey around the long cairn

We are a geophysical survey company working mostly in archaeology with some other shallow geophysical work alongside. This is ArchaeoPhysica’s second Day of Archaeology post, this time featuring mostly office work.

I’m Anne Roseveare, the Operations Manager, and I spend much of my time at a desk, make a few field visits and occasionally can be found in the workshop building and mending things. Unsurprisingly, my day involved quite a bit of time on the phone and emailing people about quote requests, ground conditions and schedules. Harvest dates are a hot topic at the moment as often fieldwork is held until the crops are cleared and we’re then wanted everywhere in a short time window. Our overall timetabling process has similarities to multi-dimensional tetris, or at least it feels like it.

We had fresh batches of data in from the previous couple of days’ fieldwork to process, visualise and prepare interim results to send to our archaeological clients. Kathryn’s been busy working through these, checking data quality and getting the data sets GIS-ready. I’ve also been working on the final stage of reporting for a multi-method geophysical survey on a deserted medieval settlement.

One of last week’s surveys was a couple of fields of magnetic data collected on a research basis next to a monument we surveyed using ERT (electrical resistance tomography) a few months ago. It’s not often you get to survey a neolithic long cairn and visit the excavation of the damaged part, so we were keen to see what (if anything) there was to see around it. Our work will inform the long term management plan for the monument.

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Our earlier ERT survey in progress

sloping slice across ERT profiles shows the internal structure

Sloping slice across ERT profiles showing some of the mound’s internal structure

some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area - useful to compare with ERT

Some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area – useful to compare with ERT results

talking through findings with one of the excavators

Talking through findings with one of the excavators

The rest of Friday’s workload was as usual completely commercially confidential – most of our work is development-related and is attached to planning applications (so no pictures from these).

I reviewed a WSI (Written Scope of Investigation) prepared by colleagues Daniel & Martin for a large project, updating the sections on soils & geologies. We often produce a WSI for large or complicated projects – sometimes it is required by the Local Authority Archaeologist or the client. It contains a summary of the purpose of the project and background information that will influence our geophysical work, including heritage and environmental information. Next comes the reasoning why our proposal is the most effective way forward and what the limitations are, followed by what the outputs from our work will be.

Another chunk of my time went into preparation for a forthcoming project, where there are multiple areas to survey and strict access arrangements as the site is sensitive. In this case, our project GIS will help us and the client to map out survey & no-go zones, schedule the different work areas (and re-schedule if needed as the work unfolds) as well as be the usual foundation for our reporting. We’ll be mapping visible signs of landscaping as the fieldwork goes on, too, to give our geophysical data local context.

Behind the scenes, out of sight of clients, there’s always other things happening. For example Martin was preparing a funding proposal to support a research project on a prehistoric mining site and there was unexciting but important maintenance of our internal project archive. Also, project Pegasus is moving along, with Martin & Benj on 3D design and construction (all will be revealed later this year). We usually have a development project on the go – it’s a case of fitting things round the commercial work.

I lost count how many mugs of tea and coffee we got through but this week’s Friday cake was carrot cake with particularly squishy icing – important fuel!

Archaeology from the depths of the Delaware River to high atop Philadelphia’s Skyline

Today, I coordinated the activities of two groups of faculty and students working on archaeological related projects at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA USA. One project supervised by Erik Sundquist, Director of the Westphal Hybrid Lab and being produced by Riley Stewart, a Digital Media sophomore is an 11 ft. replica of a cheval de frise, an American Revolution era underwater weapon used to prevent British warships from sailing into Philadelphia. The artifact was recovered in the Delaware River in 2007 by maritime archaeologist J. Lee Cox Jr. and donated to the Independence Seaport Museum. Shortly after the artifact was recovered,  Craig Bruns, Chief Curator, Independence Seaport Museum, asked if my team of faculty and students could make a 3D scan of the cheval as part of the Museum’s effort to preserve it. Then Digital Media faculty member Chris Redmann and Digital Media sophomore Mark Petrovich scanned the artifact and produced a 3D model. Recently, Craig asked if we could produce a replica of the cheval from our scan data. Craig plans to use the replica as a proxy for the actual artifact as the Museum prepares to exhibit the cheval de frise. Before producing the full scale replica, Erik and Riley printed a miniature replica of the cheval to test the integrity of the scan data. Satisfied with the model Erik and Riley plan to produce the replica next week.

For the second project I reviewed storyboards for two Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that will be used in October to alert the public to two archaeology events. The first entitled, “Explore Philadelphia’s Buried Past” is a one day celebration where archeologists explain to the public ongoing archaeological work being conducted in Philadelphia. The free event is held at the National Constitution Center and is sponsored by the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum and Independence National Historical Park (INHP) Archaeology lab. The other PSA will announce that October is Pennsylvania Archaeology Month. The storyboards are being produced by Digital Media freshman, Ryan Rasing. Both PSA’s will feature 3D models of archaeological artifacts from the INHP’s archaeology collection. The artifacts were scanned last week at INHP’s Archaeology Lab by Digital Media graduate student Jonnathan Mercado assisted by Ryan. Both are working to produce the PSAs that will appear on the upper floors of the Pennsylvania Energy Company (PECO) Building high above the city of Philadelphia for all to see.

Ryan (left) Jed Levin, Chief Historian INHP (center) Jonnathan (right) examine 3D scan data at INHP’s Archaeology Lab

Ryan (left) Jed Levin, Chief Historian INHP (center) Jonnathan (right) examine 3D scan data at INHP’s Archaeology Lab