Archive

From legacy data to drones

While my archaeological journey began in Italy and I still hang out with the Etruscans of Poggio Civitate, my day job is with the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis as the Publications Data Manager, a brand new position which I began in March of 2014, and FINALLY I’ve made it to site after messing with their data, images, documentation, and all things print and digital. Most of the time I’m in Cambridge (Somerville to be exact) cleaning up data, digitizing images, archivally storing those images, copy editing, website developing, and answering questions from scholars and fans of the Lydians and those who came after at Sardis.

My first day on site began with a ride in a land rover far older than I, crammed into the back with six conservators and equipment, to watch them take photos and take care of business on some newly exposed floor levels. The thing sounds like a swarm of bees, but looks like a good time to play with.  It’s less fun to have it flying right above you as you sweep a floor.  I got to hold a newly-lifted vessel in a box on its way back in the Land Rover to the compound.

Now I’m becoming accustomed to this depot, and after an hour it feels like home. I finally have the chance to weigh and measure a set of Byzantine glass weights that a scholar asked about a couple months ago for a new publication on this object type. Feels good to finally hold in my hands the objects I’ve only longingly gazed at in the images I archived.  Here at Sardis I’ve seen over 50 years of excavation, from paper tags to photogrammetry, shovels and drones, ancient past, less ancient past, recent past, present, and future.  So happy to be a part of it all.

Early morning photography of cleaned surfaces in some of this year's excavation units

Early morning photography of cleaned surfaces in some of this year’s excavation units

My natural habitat among boxes of artifacts

My natural habitat among boxes of artifacts


Where art meets archaeology: Finding artefacts for an art exhibition of excavations at Calleva Atrebatum

Today I’m working at Hampshire Cultural Trust with Dave Allen. I’m lucky because my visit times with the regular weekly volunteer day at the Archaeology Stores, managed by the Curator of Archaeology, David Allen.

To find out more about the work of David and the team, visit their excellent blog, which has a new post every Monday.

Hampshire Archaeology blog: https://hampshirearchaeology.wordpress.com/

Nicole Beale

Sarah is a volunteer at Hampshire Cultural Trust and has been working with Lesley (who is not in today so we couldn’t get a snap of her!) to prepare a display on some of the material from 1970s and 1980s excavations at Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester).

Sarah – A Trust volunteer

The pieces will be on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, another Trust managed museum, from the 15th to the 29th August and will accompany a special exhibition ‘Silchester: Life on the Dig’ which is made up of works by Silchester’s Artist in Residence for 2014, Jenny Halstead.

The exhibition will be on display in numerous other locations in the south, but the Silchester objects that Sarah has been selecting will be exclusive to the Willis Museum.

Sarah and Lesley need to choose a representative sample of objects, but also to identify objects that are appropriate for display, because they have an interesting feature, are not too fragile, and in the case of some of the tiny coins, large enough to see!

They picked out a selection of coins, there is also a glass bead that will be included in the display.

Coins! Lots of coins!

I don’t know what I love more, the coins, or the envelopes that the coins are stored in

Lovely coins

The glass bead

Sarah is holding a whetstone that is a fragment of sandstone, originally used as a roof tile, and then reused as a whetstone to sharpen chisels.

Sarah is holding the whetstone

The whetstone

The Samian bowl is very attractive and caught the eye of both of them when they were selecting items. It has all sorts of animals, including a deer, a goat, a hare, a boar, a bird, a dolphin, around the outside of it, and Sarah and Lesley thought that it would be fun to find out a bit more about the decoration. The bowl was made in Lezoux in the 2nd century AD.

The Samian bowl

A boar and a hunting dog?

A hare

The pair also found some nice details on some of the tiles in the stores, including one that has a clear dog print on it.

Some of the tiles and brickwork from Silchester

Naughty dog

Finally, just before re-packaging the items to be sent over to the Willis Museum, Sarah needs to type and print labels that will go on display alongside the objects. This task can be quite time consuming as it is nice to be able to provide a little contextual information for each object, and so some research must be done for some of the less common artefacts.

The objects will be on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke: http://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/willis-museum

Nicole Beale

Taking the Iron Age to the Romans: Researching Iron Age finds for an open day at Rockbourne Roman Villa

Today I’m working at Hampshire Cultural Trust with Dave Allen. I’m lucky because my visit times with the regular weekly volunteer day at the Archaeology Stores, managed by the Curator of Archaeology, David Allen.

To find out more about the work of David and the team, visit their excellent blog, which has a new post every Monday.

Hampshire Archaeology blog: https://hampshirearchaeology.wordpress.com/

Nicole Beale

Two of the Trust’s volunteers, Peter and Jane, have spent the morning working through a collection of artefacts from a late Iron Age site near to Rockbourne.

Peter and Jane checking objects against the archive inventory

The site was excavated in the mid-1970s as part of a British Gas pipeline being installed, and our intrepid volunteers have been doing some detective work to try to make connections between the objects from the stores here at Chilcomb and the paper archive which was published some time ago.

Objects need to be located and then checked. This is also a great opportunity to re-pack some of the more fragile objects.

Rockbourne Roman Villa is run by the Trust and this weekend will be hosting a family fun day. The event organisers want to celebrate the area’s Iron Age connections, and so the team at Chilcomb have been set to task to find objects to showcase on the day.

In the first few boxes, they had already found some great objects to be taken up to Rockbourne for visitors to see.

Lots to work through!

In one of the boxes, Jane unpacks a huge tankard. It’s much larger than we had all expected and lots of jokes about the serious business of beer-drinking in the Iron Age ensue.

Jane finds an Iron Age tankard

The huge tankard

Unpacking the tankard

Next, they unpack fragments of a kiln lip. On the underside there are clear finger-marks, left from where the clay had been quickly shaped.

The kiln rim

The pair spend some time focussing on the profile of a Late Iron Age large pot that is in several parts, and manage to piece it back together. It will provide a great prop for showing younger visitors how archaeologists can infer pot shapes from diagnostic sherds.

Hang on a minute, I think there’s a good profile here…

Does this go here?

Now we’ve got it!

Tucked into one of the boxes is a nice example of a spindle whorl and also a small box which contains a bronze pin, probably from a brooch.

The brooch pin (you can just see the spindle whorl under Jane’s right hand)

A big pot!

Still plenty left to unpack and check

Peter and Jane

We’ll create labels for all of these objects and then transport them up to Rockbourne in time for the event on Sunday. Do come along if you’re in the area.

More about the event: http://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/event/festival-british-archaeology-experience-iron-age

Nicole Beale

Something old and something new: CAD migration and archive accessioning at ADS

ADSeasy-250x250As a reasonably new face at the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) I am still getting to grips with the somewhat baffling world of digital archiving and preservation! If someone had asked me this time last year when I was graduating what I saw myself doing in one year’s time, I would probably not have said doing a mass CAD file migration… But being a Digital Archivist for the ADS has so far been a fabulous experience.

Today I am working on two tasks, archiving collections coming through ADS-easy (for more information about ADS-easy see Ray Moore’s post from the Day of Archaeology in 2014 ), and continuing the ADS’ preservation work by migrating our historic CAD files.

It has been just over a year since the first ADS-easy archive was released, and a lot has happened in a year! For those who have not heard about ADS-easy, it is a system that allows users to electronically submit archaeological archives, along with metadata (information describing the files). It has significantly altered the workflow of digital archivists at the ADS as data from ADS-easy does not require manual inputting of metadata. Since last July we have worked on 71 archives, ranging from image collections, to excavation reports, to geophysical data. We have had 6636 unique visitors to the website and have an average of 250 unique visitors per month. Most of those are from the UK but visitors come from all over the world, including the US, Germany, Italy, France, and Spain. On average 8 archives are submitted each month and the number has been gradually rising.

ADS-Easy

Screenshot from The Grand Western Canal archive, submitted through ADS-easy (dx.doi.org/10.5284/1031512)

My role within ADS-easy is to take the data we receive, accession it into our collections management system, convert the files into suitable preservation and dissemination formats- and document all of these processes!  Finally, I create an interface so that people can see the files on the ADS website. Today I am working on an image collection from a building recording of farm buildings in Lanchester, County Durham, and a data archive from an excavation in Crowle, Worcestershire. The data that comes in from ADS-easy is varied and often comes from small scale projects that would not otherwise be shared with the public. That is what makes the job both interesting and somewhat rewarding.

That has taken me up to lunch time, this afternoon I am carrying on with the long-running task of migrating all of our historic CAD files. Data that is archived at the ADS is continually ‘preserved’ over time to ensure that it is always readable and useable, and does not become obsolete. We are in the process of migrating our CAD files from earlier versions to the more recent 2010/2011 version. This has so far involved manually going through each collection containing CAD drawings and checking each file, converting them to the 2010 version, and then moving the previous versions to a migration folder. Another part of this process is creating a PDF file of each drawing to make them accessible to people who don’t own CAD software. All of this then needs to be documented in our collections management system so that the rest of the digital archivists know what I have done to the files, and where to find them if anything goes wrong!  After this the interfaces need updating to include the new PDF files.

CAD_example

Example of one of the many CAD plans the ADS holds. From Elizabeth House (dx.doi.org/10.5284/1008432)

CAD migration may seem quite a repetitive task, but it has allowed me to look back at some of the earliest ADS collections, such as the excavations at Eynsham Abbey in the late 80s/ early 90s, and the survey and excavation at the Iron Age emporium of Vetren . This process of migration is a very important part of what the ADS does; active management of our data means that it should (in theory!) always be accessible to the public in the most useful file formats and have longevity.

Better get back to it, those remaining 1000(ish) CAD files won’t migrate themselves!

Etruscan Multitasking

It all started as a field school opportunity in the summer of 2001, and I never thought I’d help run an Etruscan archaeological project for 14 years.  From minion, to trench master, to cataloguer, I found my niche there as manager of materials and inventory for the lab and storerooms, or Magazzino, at the Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project, located in Vescovado di Murlo, near Siena, Italy.  Excavations have taken place continuously since 1966 and is now through the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and directed by Dr. Anthony S. Tuck.

I have since left work at Poggio Civitate to continue my professional career at Sardis in Turkey, but I came back to PC this summer to check in and help out for a bit. What is a day in the life of an archaeological multitasker? Well, the morning starts out with unlocking and airing out the storerooms, checking in with the conservator to see how we should best utilize our student workers, and filling water bottles.  As students arrive and are sent to dry brush ceramics found the day before, I check in with the director to establish priorities for the day, and that may involve cataloguing artifacts that have been cleaned and conserved, looking for comparanda for newly excavated objects, cataloguing objects excavated decades ago but never catalogued, pulling materials for scholarly publication, passing objects along to be photographed or illustrated, making inventory lists, tracking down missing information from the find tags made by trench leaders, restarting the database server if it goes down, flipping through old field diaries to find missing information from the database or to provide our GIS specialist with as much data as possible for mapping old trenches, etc. Let’s say I know where information is, whether physical or electronic, and spend the day either providing it or gathering it.

Of course there are the annoying bits, too…tourists wandering down into the storerooms by mistake, the town handyman needing to move a vehicle, but in order to do so, we need to move tables of pottery fragments, letting the cook know how many people are having lunch, eating lunch in a driveway, moving heavy things, killing bugs, and running supplies up to site when they run out.

But as head of the archive, I get to teach students and learn new things from them, work through issues with dedicated, enthusiastic colleagues, poke through boxes and boxes of nearly 50 years of excavation history for objects 2700 years old, and be a part of something that’s much bigger than myself.

At the end of each day I check in with the trench masters to see their new finds, spread out their pottery to dry, and make sure the conservators get their hands on new sets of projects and problems. Sweep the floors, close and lock up the archive, then march back to down for dinner and sleep before starting all over again.

Home at Last

store

These few boxes in the foreground are the site archive (the finds as well as excavation records and other important documentation) from two sites to the west of Fishbourne Roman Palace. We have stored them for around 15 years but always known that they don’t come from our collecting area. Instead the come from the collecting area of Chichester Museum (“The Novium”). It seems that these archives were given to Fishbourne Roman Palace in error and should actually have been deposited with The Novium .

The collecting area is, unsurprisingly, the area from which a museum collects archaeology. Every museum should have its own area. These should not overlap and there should be no gaps. In reality, it’s rarely as simple as that!

Anyway, we have been working with The Novium to try to transfer these archives from our collection to theirs, and today we finally completed the paperwork needed involved. It has taken several months in total. Transferring an archive is not a straightforward process and involves a lot of form-filling. It is important to create a clear record that the material was once owned by the Palace and has since been passed on to The Novium. This will avoid confusion in the future and so is worth it, even if in reality the archive has only moved a few yards from one end of our shared store to the other!!

 

Karen Thomas (MOLA): Another musical day from the Archive

Started the day by walking from Liverpool Street to the office as part of my new fitness regime

First job was to finish the digital archiving for a small but, hitherto lost, archive under the Jubilee Line extension project in the 1990’s – LBG95.  Yesterday I spent ages trying to understand why there was a box of finds for this site with no archaeology (and therefore no contexts!) until the penny dropped and I realised that the finds belonged to LGB95.  Note to all archaeologists: make sure you put the correct site code on all your records including the finds labels!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r57a8vNvkQ

Media meeting discussing all the great projects MOLA is working on and how we are publicising them via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and any other media outlet we can think of.  I think this is brilliant for getting the message out there however, I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology which is why Stephanie is going to be ‘posting’ this for me (I hope I got the right word there!)

Back to some spreadsheet compiling for a project to digitise all our site reports – a bit dull but a very worthwhile project to free up some space and make the reports much more accessible.

LUNCH – actually escaped my desk today and had lunch with the girls.

After lunch, more spreadsheet stuff but with the happy distraction of listening to JB next door regaling a visitor from Argentina on the archaeology of Shakespeare’s London.

Had enough of the spreadsheet so moved on to another site archive that is nearly ready to microfilm.  Change of scenery and temperature with a trip to the Drawing Office (where the air conditioning actually works) to convert some report figures from coreldraw to pdf/a.  Nice and quick now there is a new W7 computer to use.

Back to the tropical conditions of the Archive to finish off the metadata – always a good thing to fry your brains on a hot Friday afternoon!

Now time to go home and enjoy the weekend.  Hope you’ve all had a good day.

 

Research in Archaeology – A Day in the Archives

This time last year I was finishing writing up my postgraduate degree thesis whilst panicking amongst books, AutoCAD and copious amounts of tea. As I procrastinated on twitter (after doing lots of work, of course) I avidly followed last years Day of Archaeology, wondering to myself if I’d be in a position to post anything for the next event.

Fast forward a year and here I am telling you all my day in archaeology. I’m Cath Poucher and I’ve just started my new job as Archives Services Officer for English Heritage in their archives:

http://www.englishheritagearchives.org.uk/

This job is perfect for me as it combines my love of research, archaeology and working with the public. Although I’m very new (I only started this month) I am thoroughly enjoying it and am learning something new every day, and this for me is the most important part of any career or volunteer project. My daily life does not directly involve working in a “traditional” archaeological setting; I do not excavate or deal with physical remains on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I assist both heritage professionals and members of the public alike to carry out a variety of projects by helping them to undertake documentary research, and this is a very important part of archaeology.

My day started with the usual morning check of emails and answering requests from previous enquiries I have already carried out and undertaken. A big part of my day involves carrying out research of our archival holdings on behalf of the public, whether on their house or searching for plans of a particular English Heritage property. This means that I often have to search and handle a variety of archives ranging from measured drawings and 18th and 19th century building sales catalogues to photographs. These photographs can range in date from present day to the 19th century.

Today was no different to this; I have been completing research about small listed houses in Gloucestershire and searching plans and elevations of Osbourne House, Isle of Wight and Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire. Each day is different in that I never know what I am going be doing one day to the next, and this is what makes me so passionate about what I do. In the afternoon, I contacted customers and sent out the information I had found, and answered queries about our archives. I’m still learning my job but am enjoying every minute- especially learning about different areas of England I didn’t know anything about. At the end of the day I organised visits to the archive for customers and started new enquiries, ordering some archives from our cold store. Much of our holdings is fragile and is stored in climate controlled conditions and has to be acclimatised to room temperature before it can be viewed. As this takes 24 hours, ordering in advance is essential.

So this is my day in archaeology; probably not as muddy as others, but equally fascinating and I’m looking forward to many more…

(Note: the words, thoughts, and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.)

 

An ADS Day of Archaeology

Here it is, my Day of Archaeology 2013 and after a routine check of my emails and the daily news I’m ready to begin!

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

I am currently approaching the end of a year-long contract as a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service in York on an EH-funded project to prepare the Silbury Hill digital archive for deposition.

For a summary of the project, see the ADS newsletter and for a more in-depth account of my work so far check out my blog from a couple of weeks ago: “The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel”

Very briefly, though, my work has involved sifting through the digital data to retain only the information which is useful for the future, discarding duplicates or superfluous data; sorting the archive into a coherent structure and documenting every step of the process.

The data will be deposited with two archives: the images and graphics will go to English Heritage and the more technical data will be deposited with the ADS and as the English Heritage portion of the archive has been completed it is time for the more technical stuff!

So, the plan for today is to continue with the work I have been doing for the past few days: sorting through the Silbury Hill database (created in Microsoft Access).

Originally, I had thought that the database would just need to be documented, but, like the rest of the archive, it seems to have grown fairly organically; though the overall structure seems sound it needs a bit of work to make it as functional as possible and therefore as useful as possible.

The main issue with the database is that there are a fair amount of gaps in the data tables; the database seems to have been set up as a standard template with tables for site photography, contexts, drawings, samples, skeletal remains and artifact data etc.  but some of these tables have not been populated and some are not relevant.  The site photography and drawing records have not been entered for example, meaning that any links from or to these tables would be worthless.  The missing data for the 2007 works are present in the archive, they are just in separate Excel spreadsheets and there are also 2001 data files, these are in simple text format as the information was downloaded as text reports from English Heritage’s old archaeological database DELILAH.  The data has since been exported into Excel, so, again to make the information more accessible, I’m adding the 2001 data to the 2007 database.

My work today, therefore, as it has been for the past couple of days, is to populate the empty database tables with the information from these spreadsheets and text files and resolve any errors or issues that cause the tables to lose their ‘referential integrity’, for example where a context number is referred to in one table but is missing from a linking table.

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

So, this morning I started with the 2001 drawing records. The entering of the data itself was fairly straightforward, just copying and pasting from the Excel spreadsheet into the Access tables, correcting spelling errors as I went.  Some of the fields were controlled vocabulary fields, however, which meant going to the relevant glossary table and entering a new term in order for the site data to be entered as it was in the field.

Once the main drawing table was completed, the linking table needed to be populated; again, this was done fairly simply through cutting and pasting from Excel.

The next step was the most time-consuming: checking the links between the tables, to do this I went to the relationship diagram, clicked on the relevant link and ticked the box marked ‘enforce referential integrity’ this didn’t work which meant that a reference in one table was not matched in the linking table which meant going through the relevant fields and searching for entries that were not correct.  The most common reason for these error messages was that an entry had been mis-typed in one of the tables.

That took me up to lunchtime, so what about the afternoon?  More of the same: starting work on the sample records with the odd break for tea or a walk outside to save my eyes!

As much as the process of updating the database has been fairly routine, it’s an interesting and valuable piece of work for me as it is the first time I’ve ever really delved into the structure of a database and looking at the logic behind its design.  I was fortunate in that I had attended the Database Design and Implementation module taught by Jo Gilham as part of the York University Msc in Archaeological Information Systems which gave me a firm foundation for this work.  Also very helpful was the help provided by Vicky Crosby from English Heritage who created the database and provided a lot of documentation in the first instance.

The next step once the data has been entered will be to remove any blank fields and tables and then to document the database using the ADS’ Guidelines for Depositors and then to move on to the survey data and reports.

I’m looking forward to seeing it all deposited and released to a wider world for, hopefully, extensive re-use and research!

The Archaeology Data Service, keeping the Grey Literature Library going

Welcome to another post to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog 2012

If you want a quick introduction to the ADS and what we do see last year’s post.

We have contributions from two members of staff from the ADS this year, one from Stuart Jeffrey ADS deputy Director (Access) and this one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

ADS logoRay Moore

As a digital archivist at the Archaeology Data Service, my day to day activities involve the accessioning the digital data and other outcomes of archaeological research that individuals and institutions deposit with us, developing a preservation programme for that data, but also curating existing ADS collections.

Today, and indeed for the past week, I have spent much of my time working on the Grey Literature Library (or GLL).  The GLL is an important resource for those amateur and professional archaeologists working in archaeology today providing access to the many thousands of unpublished fieldwork reports, or grey literature, produced during the various assessments, surveys and fieldwork carried out throughout the country. These activities are recorded using OASIS (or Online AccesS to the Index of archaeological investigationS) and after passing through a process of validation and checking the reports produced in these projects arrive at the ADS. On first impressions then the digital archive may seem like an ‘end point’, a place where archaeological grey literature goes to die, but the ADS, through the GLL, makes these reports available to other archaeologists and the wider community allowing the grey literature to inform future research. At the same time as a digital archive we take steps to preserve these reports so that future generations can continue to use the information that they contain; an important job as many of these reports do not exist in a printed form.

Grey Literature Reports

Reports from the Grey Literature Library.

So what does digitally archiving a grey literature report entail? Initially all the grey literature reports must be transferred from OASIS to the ADS archive; the easiest part of the process. More often than not the report comes in a Portable Document Format (or PDF) form, and while this is useful for sharing documents electronically it is pretty useless as preservation format for archiving. One of my jobs is to convert these files into a special archival form of PDF, called PDF/A (the A standing for Archive). Sound’s easy, but often it can take some work to get from PDF to PDF/A (my all time record is 2 hours producing a 900mb PDF/A file). These conversions must also be documented in the ADS’ Collection Management System so that other archivists can see what I did to the file to preserve the file and its content. While OASIS collects metadata associated with project, the ADS uses a series of tools to generate file level metadata specific to the creation of the file, so that we can understand what and how the file was created. Only once these processes are complete can the file be transferred to the archive, with a version also added to the GLL so that people can download and read the report. With a through flow of some 5 to 600 reports per month the difficulties of the task should become apparent; and all this alongside my other duties as a digital archivist. This month’s release includes an interesting report on The Olympic Park Waterways and Associated Built Heritage Structures which stood on the site now occupied by the Olympic Park. Anyway I’d better get back to it!