Prior to joining the Scheme, Dan worked in IT for an investment bank (Dresdner KW) after studying Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and reading for a Masters degree at Cambridge University. The role of this post, based at the British Museum is multi-faceted and has developed substantially since inception in 2003.

Following the collapse of the Scheme’s database suppliers {Oxford ArchDigital), he has become fully responsible for all our IT. Currently working on the revamp of our national database of archaeological objects using fully open source, standardised php and javascript frameworks. This work involves research into the following:

Linked data methodologies
Social web techniques
Making wider use of RSS and XML within the site
Extending blogs to all staff members using wordpress’ blogging platform
Generally implementing more advanced web technology whilst avoiding the label web 2.0
He has also been heavily involved in the development of the British Museum website, performing the duties of Secretary of the Web Steering Group until the project was delivered. He is an Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, teaching on the Museum Studies, Conservation and Public Archaeology MA programmes. He is currently co-supervising one PhD student at UCLDH.

Tinkering with the machine and linking data

This post is rather belated, I’ve had a lot of things on over the last week. Family, server hardware problems, filming a short make believe piece for a children’s video conferencing workshop, editing and publishing posts for this website and developing new things for the Portable Antiquities Scheme website that I develop and manage. The actual ‘Day’ for me was an interesting affair that started the night before working till midnight with some tinkering with the site to iron out some bugs that has pre-released over 20 posts from RCAHMS (these were fantastic) and then rescheduling them following the discovery of the problem (an incompatible plugin) and then started again at around 5am when my son woke me up:

Then a fast cycle into work at the British Museum. Little glitches were identified in some of the plugins and these were fixed, probably without anyone noticing and the workflow for getting posts seems to work  well. Throughout the day load and activity on the server was monitored, we had no real problems and Tom Goskar asked for a cache to be enabled in case we had a surge in activity.

Whilst not editing and publishing posts via the scheduling feature, I was working on my current development work, which is an extension of the LAWDI summer school programme I participated in. I’m modelling Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) data to the CIDOC-CRM mappings that the British Museum have used to allow our data to be harmonised by the ResearchSpace project. I’ve been linking PAS records to the URIs that exist in the BM system, in the Ordnance Survey data endpoint, to Geonames, to Nomisma, to the thesauri exposed via Seneschal (see this post by Michael Charno at the ADS for more insight into what they are doing there). I think I’m getting there and you can see this N3 view of one of the records linked here (it might take a while to load as this is an external service), if you see problems with what I am doing tell me as I’m tinkering in the dark, some URIs are missing their identifier off the end of the URI string as I haven’t updated the search index on that server – for example OS ones. Once I get this working properly, we’ll have over 560,000 records in RDF format, who knows what people might do with the data – serendipity is king as my good friend Vuk is wont to say.

Enjoying the outputs

Running through the posts, many caught my eye. The content was fantastic (over 300 posts), the images (over 1,100) amazing and some of the commentary coming in (not the pingbacks) was insightful. For me, some stand out posts:

There’s too many to mention, and the LAARC ones were excellent, INRAP’s contributions ace. Every entry is superb in its own right and Janet Davis summed up the event succintly:

Back Channel

As usual, we tried as a collective to maintain a healthy presence or back channel (you can read more on this idea in this pdf by Ross, Terras, Warwick and Welsh) on social media using two platforms – Facebook and Twitter. In my eyes, the Twitter platform has been more productive (even though we gained fans/likes on Facebook). It was easy to measure whether links were being clicked on as I set up a plugin that automatically tweeted the majority of posts (except for when we exceeded the rate limit for daily photos being posted – I didn’t even know this was limited) and shortened them to a goo.gl url. Over 5,500 tweets (inc retweets) were sent using the #dayofarch hashtag – to put this into perspective, the British Museum #pompeiilive archive that I collected showed 18,000 tweets relating to their cinema extravaganza. These tweets were collected using Martin Hawksey’s  Tags Version 5 tool which is easy to set up and the only tricky bit is setting up the authorisation with Twitter, and then the conversation could be analysed. For example we could see how many people used the hashtag in their output (696) and who the top tweeters were and how many interactions or @ were made to them using the hashtag:

Top Tweeters Volume of tweets @’s % RT
dayofarch 619 4917
AdamCorsini 132 180 17%
lornarichardson 124 209 31%
portableant 122 164 32%
rcahms 121 170 13%
m_law 83 90 33%
tharrosinfo 81 3 81%
JaimeAlmansa 78 32 23%
TRArchaeology 75 8 67%
TinctureOfMuse 69 11 61%
VitaEmilia 67 48 10%

And then we could see what the network graph looked like (this one is with mentions clicked in the bottom right corner):

TAGSExplorer  Interactive archive of twitter conversations from a Google Spreadsheet for  dayofarch

And what the timeline looked like for posting frequency:

TAGS Searchable Twitter Archive

I’ll be doing some more analysis of the Twitter archive using the programming language R shortly.

Running the project

The ‘Day’ as a concept has definitely been fun to help co-organise with a fantastic team of people over the life time of the project; for 2011-12 iterations we comprised the collective of Lorna, Matt, Jess, Stu, Tom and Andrew and myself and then this year we changed slightly with the inclusion of Jaime (who made great efforts to branch out into multi-lingual contributions), and Monty Dobson. We lost Jess, who has just got married to Leif (congrats you two) and Stu along the way. The team has functioned really well. If you’re interested in how we’ve managed to keep this show on the road, a combination of tools have been used:

  • Basecamp
  • Google+ hangouts
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • Gmail
  • Very infrequent vis-a-vis interactions as we’re a team divided by oceans

The site itself is quite straightforward. We run on:

  • a wordpress installation (even though if you look at the HTML code under the hood, you think spaghetti code) using the latest version (at all times!)
  • search is provided by the solr for wordpress plugin (which is pretty powerful and allows the faceted search)
  • the theme (overseen by Tom Goskar) is from WooThemes and is the Canvas version
  • we use OpenCalais for generating tag suggestions for post (by analysing what you have written in your contribution)
  • for posts submitted by email, we use the Postie plugin (this is superb, but you do need an account first before your post will be accepted.)
  • tweets, vimeo and youtube video links were easily converted just by placing the url in the text of a post (no need for embed)
  • Akismet stops spam comments coming through (there’s so much spam out there.)
  • A linked data view of the posts can be generated via the wp-linked-data plugin

If you’ve got any questions about the technical side, do email me (I’m easy to find on Google).

Reflection – my opinion (not the collective)

But, have we made a major impact? Reflecting on the ‘Day’ as a project, yes, we have made an impact in some ways. Readership has not been massive, the Google Analytics figures show interaction magnitude of 1000s rather then 10s of 1000s (5,818 visitors on the day). However, the people that have taken part have made a concious effort to participate and I hope that everyone that has participated has enjoyed it? Myself, I’ve been flamed on blogs for my contribution to running the site and my integrity questioned, and the author of those offered nothing to the site about his archaeological day or any positivity at all. You’ll know where to find them if you’re associated with archaeology and metal detecting debates.

I’m disappointed that more of my colleagues from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the British Museum haven’t contributed to this project (thank you to Julie Spencer, Jonathan Taylor,  Ian Richardson and  Peter Reavill for taking the time out of your working day to join in), seeing as both of these organisations were supporters of the project. I believe that this is a good project and hope that it continues for a few more years at least. The resource created, by you, the contributor, is amazing. An insight into the world of archaeology that isn’t available anywhere else in a searchable, discoverable format. It is even available as linked data.

Dia da Arqueologia 2013

Alguma vez te perguntaste o que andam os outros arqueólogos a fazer? O projecto Dia da Arqueologia permite-te ver o dia-a-dia de arqueólogos de todo o mundo.

Este projecto pede a arqueólogos que estudam, trabalham ou fazem voluntariado em qualquer lugar do mundo para participarem num “Dia da Arqueologia”, todos os anos no Verão, registando o seu dia-a-dia e partilhando-o através de texto, imagens ou vídeo no website: www.dayofarchaeology.com. Este panorama de um “Dia da Arqueologia” demonstra a vasta diversidade de trabalho que a nossa profissão realiza diariamente em todo o mundo, e ajuda a desenvolver no público a consciência da relevância e importância da arqueologia no mundo actual. Qualquer pessoa com uma ligação pessoal, profissional ou voluntária à arqueologia se pode involver nesta projeto, ajudando-nos a salientar as razões porque cada arqueólogo é vital para proteger o passado e informar o nosso futuro.

O projeto é gerido de forma não remunerada por uma equipa de voluntários, todos arqueólogos profissionais que trabalham em museus, universidades e entidades privadas no Reino Unido, Espanha e América do Norte.
A participação no projeto é completamente gratuita e requer poucos conhecimentos de blogging ou tecnologias web.
Todo o projeto do Dia da Arqueologia depende da boa-vontade e da paixão por comunicar com o público!

O primeiro Dia da Arqueologia teve lugar a 29 de Julho de 2011 com mais de 400 contributos, desde arqueólogos em trabalho de campo aos especialistas nos laboratórios e nos computadores. O segundo Dia da Arqueologia aconteceu a 29 de Julho de 2012, e mais de 300 arqueólogos participaram.
Este ano, em 2013, o Dia da Arqueologia terá lugar na 6ª feira dia 26 de Julho.

Se estiver interessado em participar, por favor registe-se, ou dirija as suas questões por e-mail para dayofarchaeology@gmail.com. Esperamos que se junte a nós!

Heeley City Farm Community Dig, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

My day started at 7am, but I drove to the dig site shortly after 9am. I was absolutely exhausted and barely functioning on a basic level, but once onsite I’d be okay to a degree.

Gill as Finds Officer

Gill as Finds Officer

Why was I so exhausted? I have medical conditions which make my life challenging on a daily basis. Some people tell me I’m NOT disabled, but as my abilities have been severely restricted since I developed these conditions five years ago (including costing me my job at the time), I beg to differ. A nasty head cold triggered a balance disorder and associated symptoms including chronic fatigue syndrome, tinnitus, hyperacusis (sensitivity to certain tones and pitches of sound), anxiety and depression. Fortunately here in Sheffield we have an incredible Audiovestibular Department at one of the hospitals, staffed by very attentive and compassionate people. Not everyone suffering from a balance disorder is that fortunate. There is no “cure”, but a programme of specialised exercises set and monitored by a physiotherapist to retrain the brain into interpreting the signals for your balance correctly. Essentially, you’re being re-taught how to stand and walk and sometimes it can take years as pushing yourself too hard does more harm than good.
The hardest element of my condition is that I look normal and people judge me accordingly. I visibly lose my balance occasionally, but what people don’t see is me concentrating as hard as I possibly can to remain upright and avoid walking into people and objects. Due to the balance system no longer being automatic, my brain has to therefore think about walking and standing, so every task (physical and mental) uses up those limited energy resources very quickly. The problem doesn’t end there either – you may feel okay after a good night’s sleep. People with chronic fatigue syndrome don’t. After five years I now know that if I exert myself mentally or physically one day, I need to rest completely for a week in order to recover properly. That means doing absolutely nothing; no housework, no visiting friends or family, no going food shopping, no attending medical appointments, no studying. I don’t have a social life per se, as it’s too tiring. I visit friends and family at their homes. Chronic fatigue is cumulative, and those energy levels return VERY slowly.

Anyway, bored you enough with the background, so back to the Day of Archaeology:
I’m 41 years old and study the BA in Archaeological Studies part-time at the University of Sheffield as a mature student. I have just completed year 3 of 6, and for the second year running I volunteered my services to Sally Rodgers, Community Heritage Officer at Heeley City Farm, for the community dig during the Festival of British Archaeology.

Last year I assisted in the Finds Room with cataloguing finds. That was my very first time on a dig, and due to my disabilities I’d requested to be used where I could best contribute. This year I accepted the role of Finds Officer, partly for the opportunity to become more involved and to learn more, but also as being on a summer dig is a requirement for a module I’m taking next academic year.

The dig started on Saturday 16th July and had been taking place every day. What were we excavating? Victorian terraced houses. Boring, you might think. The local community would disagree with you there! The site of the farm was once residential housing built during the latter part of the 19th Century and we want to know about the structures and the people who once lived there during the houses’ entire history.
The Finds Room already had approximately 20 finds trays awaiting sorting and recording, but let’s start at the beginning:

Gill as Finds Officer

Gill as Finds Officer

Three trenches were opened onsite and the Trench Supervisors; Ken Dash, Jane Woodcock and Joe Page, would come to me and request a context number and recording sheet. Archaeology is a precise discipline. When recording finds and structures the context in a three dimensional space is essential in mapping the distribution of those finds. Without the context the finds are meaningless and have to be recorded as un-stratified. Every time a Trench Supervisor discovered a new layer of different material (different soil layers, rubble layers etc) or if they extended their trench I would assign them a new context number made up of the site code, trench code and a unique reference number. This layer in the trench would be labelled and all finds discovered in that context would be labelled accordingly. I also provided the Trench Supervisors with additional finds trays with relevant context tags where required (which was happening more and more frequently in Trench C!). Heaven help anyone who touched my recording sheets – including the Site Director – as I’d threaten to bite them!

The trays would come into the Finds Room where I would sort through them in turn, separating them into materials such as metal, wood, bone, plastic, glass, ceramic etc. Each pile would then be placed into a finds bag labelled with the context reference (as detailed above) but additionally a unique three digit finds number would also be allocated and recorded on the Finds Register. The Finds Register records the finds number, site and trench codes, context number, number of items in the bag, weight, and a brief description of the contents such as clear glass, or bone fragments etc. The bags were then set aside for later processing.

Pretty simple you’d think, but my responsibilities also included greeting members of the public who wished to be on the dig. My duties involved ensuring they were properly attired (suitable footwear and clothing), that adults were aware of the age restrictions for children, ensuring all participants had completed the relevant documentation including photography permission forms, and introducing them to Sally, Dr Roger Doonan (the Site Director and one of my lecturers) as well as Jane, Ken or Joe out at the trenches.
Engaging with visitors is essential on a community dig, and in the Finds Room Sally had created display boards of information, maps and photographs of the farm site throughout history. This encouraged visitors to ask questions and make observations, particularly the older generations who recalled living in the properties before they were demolished for a doomed relief road during the 1970’s. I would ensure these people were introduced to Sally so she had the opportunity to record their stories for future use and interpretation of the site.

Due to the number of interesting finds, I created a special tray and once those finds had been suitably recorded I placed them there for visitors to look at. This included two Police Community Support Officers and a Police Officer! Of particular interest was the button stamped GR for George Rex, made by a company called Firmin & Sons Limited (which was stamped on the reverse). They started manufacturing buttons for the military and then the Police in 1677 and are still in business today! As part of a research project in conjunction with Heeley Historical Society and the Hawley Collection at Kelham Island Museum, we had information from the Trade Directories and Census Returns for the addresses we were excavating, and we knew a Policeman resided in one of the properties as a lodger at one stage. Did HE lose the button? It was very exciting!

The day was much of a sameness with trays coming in, trays being processed, context numbers being issued, participants and visitors being greeted. The huge excitement was all of us standing around Roger’s vehicle during the morning whilst we listened to Rony Robinson on BBC Radio Sheffield. He’d been out at the site previously to interview Roger and participants regarding the dig and interesting finds. Sally was talking to Rony live by phone and we found some of the comments really funny, such as the “Knicker Hoard of Heeley”. A collection of lady’s underwear had been discovered earlier on in the dig, and this had produced much hilarity amongst the volunteer staff. You don’t have to be mad to work here – but it helps!

As the personal belongings of all participants and staff were kept in the Finds Room, I was also responsible for ensuring the security of the room. Unless another member of staff was present I would secure it if needing to go elsewhere on the farm site such as the cafe (which is excellent!) or the toilets.
The dig day ended at 4pm, but certain tasks needed to be completed before we could leave. I would ensure the large table where I worked was tidy, that all finds trays were processed in the order they came in, and that all paperwork was in the correct folder. All staff would close the shutters, ensure all tools and display boards had been brought inside and we’d signed out before the room was secured and the shutters brought down. My day ended at 4:25pm before I headed home to collapse with my cats.
Usually Rachel Walker-Higgins, a friend of mine, had been assisting me in the Finds Room, but she was poorly that day, and I would like to thank her particularly as without her help I would never have coped with the demands of the role. I would also like to thank Roger for his patience and confidence in my abilities to be Finds Officer despite my limitations; Sally for the incredible opportunity she gave me and her undying confidence that I could achieve what was required; Giovanna Fregni for her support and advice which proved exceptionally valuable; Rach, Jane and Ken for repeatedly badgering me into taking breaks to rest and eat properly; but most of all I want to thank all of them for making me take days off when my exhaustion was severe despite my sense of duty, and their compassion and understanding regarding my disabilities. They helped me feel like I have a value, that my disabilities haven’t made me worthless, and that I still have something to contribute to society and the world around me. An exceptional experience and one which will look amazing on my archaeology resume. I’m still recovering now!