Bringing the past into the future: a day in the life of a Geomatics Officer at Cotswold Archaeology

Hello! My name is Laura O Connor and I am a Geomatics Officer working for Cotswold Archaeology, in our Kemble office. This job is really varied and never gets boring! Not only do we work with GIS and CAD mapping software on a daily basis but we are also involved in a number of metric topographic/building surveys, laser scanning and photogrammetry projects. One of my favourite projects was the laser scanning of a historic walled garden in Cornwall. For this project, we used a GeoSLAM ZEB-REVO handheld laser scanner. This scanner allows the user to walk through the survey environment and record points at a rate of 43,200pts/secs. In the right conditions, it can capture points at a range of up to 30m with a relative accuracy of 2-3cm. I’m starting to sound like an advertisement now (I swear, I don’t work for GeoSLAM!!) but it is really a lovely piece of kit.

Using the GEOSLAM Zeb-Revo scanner in Cornwall (scanner was placed on top of a 2.8m pole to capture the tops of the walls)

 

I have been working in the Geomatics department for just over a year and a half. Before that, I worked as a field archaeologist in Ireland. I studied archaeology in University College Cork in Ireland, earning both a BA (Hons) and a MPhil degree. I left university in 2010 and discovered that there wasn’t a lot of work for archaeologists at that time so I then decided to study for a Higher Diploma in GIS (Geographic Information Systems). Once I had that completed, I worked as a GIS analyst for two years. By then, archaeology work was becoming more available so I returned to the field in 2014. In December 2015, I got the geomatics job in Cotswold Archaeology, moved to the Cotswolds and the rest as they say is history!

So what did I get up to today? Today was an office day so there was coffee and clean toilets galore! First job of the day was to the plot the distribution of flint from one of our sites that was recently excavated. We use ESRI ArcGIS software – our consultants in particular find the software really useful in spatial analysis for desk based assessments. We also use the Collector app, which is ESRI product that enables data collection in the field. Once the data is collected, it can then be uploaded and synced back to our servers for use in the desktop GIS environment. Our consultancy department love using the app on site visits!

Next thing on my agenda was to process some surveys sent back by our fieldwork teams. We have a number of Leica GPS instruments used by fieldwork staff working on evaluations and excavations. Once we process the survey data, we import the data into CAD and create plan drawings to email to the project leader on site to show them how their site is looking so far. Many of our project leaders and archaeologists are highly trained surveyors, which makes my job very easy in terms of quality control and creating lovely looking site plans.

An example of survey done at a site in Berkshire

Once I finish processing surveys, I grab the camera to do some photogrammetry work on a mammoth tusk we have in the office. Photogrammetry (the science of extracting geometric information from multiple photographs) is a very useful tool for the recording of archaeology, one which we utilise a lot both on excavations and for buildings survey. Undertaking photogrammetry of artefacts is harder in some aspects because of the size of the artefact, but it’s a fun process! If you’re interested in seeing some of our photogrammetry work online, check out our Sketchfab account at https://sketchfab.com/cotswoldarchaeology . Keep an eye out for the 3D model of the mammoth tusk!

One of my favourite 3D models is of Clay pipe kilns discovered during our excavations at Glassfields, Bristol. Make sure you check it out on Sketchfab!

Now it’s home time! I hope this post has given you an idea of what geomatics work can entail (it’s not all about making strong coffee but then again, sometimes it is). If you’re someone who wants to get into geomatics, one piece of advice I would offer is to hone your skillset in CAD and GIS as much as possible. ArcGIS is a licensed product but QGIS, which is an opensource GIS program is an excellent (and free) alternative. For CAD, one of my favourite open source solutions is Draftsight – definitely worth looking into. If photogrammetry is intriguing you, take a look online – there is alot of information out there about the best techniques to use. There are many cultural heritage institutions that use Sketchfab to showcase their lovely 3D models such as the British Museum, Historic England, and Discovery Programme (Ireland), so check those out online.

Laura