archiving

Volunteer Archaeology: Raiders of the Lost Archive

By Cardiff University students, Shannon and Yasmine, volunteering at MOLA.

Hello! Our names are Shannon and Yasmine, hailing from Cardiff University as Bsc Archaeology undergraduates. We bid MOLA farewell and offer a brief summary of all the things we’ve been able to get up to whilst we’ve been volunteering, and the things all you other Young ‘uns out there can get down and dirrrty with.

Over the 4 weeks we have spent here, we have been able to help out in a number of different departments including: Environmental Processing, Archiving, Osteoarchaeology, Zooarchaeology and Archaeobotany! And even got a few cheeky complimentary lectures along the way on cool stuff like Identifying different seeds, Invertebrae/ Vertebratae anatomy and health markers on Human bone!

Adios! Thank you one and all and we hope you see you again!

Lovely ladies in MOLA's processing team

Lovely ladies in MOLA’s processing team

Yasmine getting all the horrible concrete mud & peaty stuff haha

Yasmine getting all the horrible concrete mud & peaty stuff haha

 

 

Archiving Ipswich

Two years after posting about my work on the Silbury Hill digital archive, in ‘AN ADS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY’, and I’m still busy working as a Digital Archivist with the ADS!

For the past few months, I have been working on the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive, deposited by Suffolk County Council, which covers 34 sites, excavated between 1974 and 1990.

Ipswich2

Excavation at St Stephen’s Lane, Ipswich 1987-1988

To give a quick summary of the work so far, the data first needed to be accessioned into our systems which involved all of the usual checks for viruses, removing spaces from file names, sorting the data into 34 separate collections and sifting out duplicates etc.  The archive packages were then created which involved migrating the files to their preservation and dissemination formats and creating file-level metadata using DROID.  The different representations of the files were linked together using object ids in our database and all of the archiving processes were documented before the coverage and location metadata were added to the individual site collections.

Though time consuming, due to the quantity of data, this process was fairly simple as most of the file names were created consistently and contained the site code.  Those that didn’t have descriptive file names could be found in the site database and sorted according to the information there.

The next job was to create the interfaces; again, this was fairly simple for the individual sites as they were made using a template which retrieves the relevant information from our database allowing the pages to be consistent and easily updateable.

The Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive called for a more innovative approach, however, in order to allow the users greater flexibility with regards to searching, so the depositors requested a map interface as well as a way to query information from their core database.  The map interface was the most complex part of the process and involved a steep learning curve for me as it involved applications, software and code that I had not previously used such as JavaScript, OpenLayers, GeoServer and QGIS.  The resulting map allows the user to view the features excavated on the 34 sites and retrieve information such as feature type and period as well as linking through to the project archive for that site.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

So, as to what I’m up to today…

The next, and final step, is to create the page that queries the database.  For the past couple of weeks I have been sorting the data from the core database into a form that will fit into the ADS object tables, cleaning and consolidating period, monument and subject terms and, where possible, matching them to recognised thesauri such as the English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus.

Today will be a continuation of that process and hopefully, by the end of the day, all of the information required by the query pages will be added to our database tables so that I can begin to build that part of the interface next week.  If all goes to plan, the user should be able to view specific files based on searches by period, monument/feature type, find type, context, site location etc. with more specialist information, such as pottery identification, being available directly from the core database tables which will be available for download in their entirety.  Fingers crossed that it does all go to plan!

So, that’s my Day of Archaeology 2015, keep a look out for ADS announcements regarding the release of the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive sometime over the next few weeks and check out the posts from my ADS colleagues Jo Gilham and Georgie Field!

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!

The Archaeology Data Service, Working to Keep Your Bits in Good Order

Welcome 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 one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

Stuart Jeffrey

Stuart Jeffrey

Another busy day at the ADS today, lots of looming deadlines and lots of work to be done.  Since the last Day of  Archaeology the ADS has continued to expand its collections and participate in more and more national and international projects, which is great news and it certainly keeps us out of mischief. In terms of recognition for ADS’s work, it’s actually been a very good year too, the ADS was a major part of the submission that got the University of York’s Department of Archaeology a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and we are also short listed for a BAA award for innovation (to be announced on 9th July, so fingers crossed!).

The project that is occupying most of my time today is the Economic Impact of the ADS project. The ADS is a free to access digital archive, but it’s really important to us, and funders, that we have a good idea of what the actual economic value to the whole sector of the ADS actually is, so we have embarked on a JISC funded project to try and find out, it’s no easy task to try and put numbers on this kind of ‘value perception’.  I’m preparing for a meeting with John Houghton the Professor of Economics (from CSES in Australia) who is carrying out the analysis for the project in Oxford on Monday. This will be our first meeting since the on-line survey of users and depositors will have closed and I’m really looking forward to seeing the responses. (BTW is closes tonight so if you want to participate there is probably a bit of time left, follow the project link above).

Copyright Clive Ruggles from ImageBank

A nice image from the ADS archive, Cloonsharragh, Ireland, Copyright Clive Ruggles, image taken from ADS ImageBank

Also today, I’m also putting the finishing touches to a joint application, with Internet Archaeology, for an IfA HLF work place learning bursary. We have hosted a couple of these in the past and have always enjoyed the experience of giving someone the opportunity to bring on their skills in a work place environment. We also think there is still a skills gap in the archaeological work force when it comes to digital data management, especially the complexities of digital archiving, and managing data and understanding archiving should really be core skills for archaeologists.

I’d also like to mention the fact that the ADS are proud to support the Day of Archaeology. We’ve been really impressed with the response to the Day of Archaeology project in general and the way a ‘snapshot’ of archaeological activity has been built up covering all sectors including academic, commercial, fieldworkers, specialists, students and curators. As well as fulfilling its role of information sharing and community building amongst the profession, it is also clear that the snapshot created on this one day in 2012 could well become a valuable document for the historians of the archaeological discipline in the future. With this in mind, the ADS are keen to help archive these contributions for the long term. Everyone’s contributions today could well be part of a future research project in 2112!

Finally, as we near the end of the month it’s time for me to change the ‘featured collection’ section of the ADS front page. Ray has been busy archiving and validating a lot of Grey Literature reports, our total is now over 17,000 I think, and some of these relate to archaeological work done in advance of the construction work at the Olympic sites in London. Given that the Olympics are nearly upon us it seems a good idea to make the major MoLAS report (533 pages!) on this work the featured collection for July, very topical. Topicality is not always something that easy to manage when dealing with archaeological archives, but we like to give it a try.

Details of Ray’s Day to follow…….

 

 

RCAHMS National Collection

The RCAHMS National Collection includes a wealth of material illustrating and recording all types of archaeological sites and monuments across Scotland ranging in date from the late upper Palaeolithic period to the present day.

People have been making a record of their heritage for centuries and the archaeological collections reflect this, ranging in date from the early 19th century to the present day. Included are perspective drawings, excavation drawings and photographs, site reports and notebooks, context cards, small finds cards and correspondence, as well as the latest digital technologies like laser scanning and 3D models.

(more…)

Why I Love Pot

Hello, this is Alice Forward, PhD student at Cardiff, wrapping up the Cosmeston Archaeology contributions for Day of Archaeology 2011. We have had three excellent blogs today; Nicolle who started the day with photo scanning, Louise at lunchtime discussed how she was lured to archaeology by medieval dreams, and afternoon tea with Kyle, a Cosmeston old timer who is particularly familiar with the 2010 season of excavation. These three are part of a group of six students undertaking a post-excavation course on the material from Cosmeston. We will be bringing you blogs from each (Stuart, Sarah and Beth) over the next three weeks on our Cosmeston archaeology blog, so please check us out!

Post-excavation generally places archaeologists into two camps. Those who secretly enjoy organising things and those who are likely to start taking holiday time in order to avoid those rainy pot washing days. I most definitely fall into the former of these, but it isn’t the cataloguing that gets me going! Post-excavation enables you to directly engage with the archaeological record and analytical process. As Kyle said you understand so much more when you begin to bring it all together.

This week has involved initial work with the paper archive and, as all the finds had been washed and bagged on site, we moved straight to marking and sorting the pottery. The key principle for marking pottery is that it should be resilient but reversible, so that if necessary it can be removed. In order to achieve this we use Paraloid B72 (a non-yellowing acrylic resin) mixed with acetone (20% weight to volume). A thin band of this is painted on the object and, after it has dried, the site code and context number is written on in black ink. When the ink has dried a second layer of Paraloid is applied to seal the information. This can be removed without damaging the object using a cotton swab and 100% acetone (for more information see Collections Link).

As Louise also mentioned, marking pottery is necessary for a number of reasons. Firstly, boxes get dropped, mice can chew through plastic bags and plastic bags degrade. With pottery all marked up, there is no danger of losing context, enabling future generations to study assemblages. Secondly, particularly with pottery, interpretation of contexts can be helped if it is clear that parts of one vessel were deposited within a number of different features. To keep a record of this, and to enable reconstruction of the pot, you need to be able to know specifically where the sherds came from.

Sherd Nerd

Alice Loves Pot 4 eva

Alice Loves Pot 4 eva

Why do I have such a fascination and love of pottery?! I first began to find it particularly interesting when I was excavating in Leicester city centre on the High Cross development. The work there was bringing up massive amounts of ceramic material and I was particularly frustrated that I couldn’t identify the sherds (other than what was medieval and what was Roman). This lack of knowledge cultivated a desire to be able to know my way around a ceramic assemblage. I was lucky enough at ULAS to have a supportive manager, Nick Cooper, who began my formal training. Since starting the PhD at Cardiff University I have developed a good knowledge of South Welsh pottery. This saved me this week, as people were tired of just marking random bits of pottery, but once they were able to recognise what they were marking the job became far more interesting.

Reading the last paragraph back has slightly surprised me and made me realise how exciting my life must seem…

Managing the Monster

I’m Keeper of Collections at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, in London. The collection was founded back in 1937, and has over 80,000 objects from all around the world, with a sum total of two staff to manage the monster. Mine is an academic post, so I’m expected to combine teaching duties with museum work. My day is often an eclectic mix of activities – with my lecturer’s hat on I might be writing or giving lectures, marking, meeting with students, reviewing chapters my doctoral students have drafted, revising course handbooks, attending meetings or writing papers. But with my museum hat on I might be getting objects ready for other people’s handling sessions, cataloguing backlog material in the collections, updating our databases, writing a blog post for the collections, fielding research queries, supervising visiting researchers or finding jobs for my volunteers. I never really know what the day is going to throw at me, and when I do make plans I often find they get overturned the minute I get to my desk.

Today I have four researchers booked to visit the collections, so I’m hoping this will give me some free time to work on other things. But we shall see … (more…)

Into the Afternoon…

It is almost time to go home, and I have found something else to do! I finished reassessing my data (for now) and am now writing a new chapter, which I only decided to do about a month ago.  But fear not! Most of the groundwork is done and it is now a case of bringing it all together under one heading.  Although I am studying the wider landscape of Broxmouth, I am also incorporating detailed site analysis into this.  How does this work I hear you ask? Well, I’m still not sure! There are certain aspects of a site assemblage that can tell you about the wider landscape – the pollen and charcoal evidence for example can tell us about plants grown in the area but can also tell us if crops were processed on site and masses of charcoal can indicate in situ burning.  I am not an expert in any of these fields so needless to say I am making use of published reports! However we unfortunately don’t have evidence for this at our site so I am examining the sequence of ditch deposits and episodes of recutting and maintenance.  Still don’t get it? Well  there are formulas out there for working out how many man hours it would have taken to dig out a ditch and whilst we can never know the exact number of people or days, we can compare this relatively to other sites.  For example at Broxmouth, there is evidence to suggest that some parts of the ditch only reached 1.5m deep whereas near the south west entrance, the ditches reached 3m deep.  This suggests the extra material was used to heighten the ramparts and combined with the rather impressive entrance structures, this suggests that there was a deliberate attempt to monumentalise the entrance.  This raises questions over how many people would have been required to do this, as well as the amount of wood to create the entrance structures.  Examining the nature of the ditch deposits also reveals whether maintenance was a regular thing or more infrequent.  Consequently, one can then speculate over the function of the site during a particular episode of its biography.  After all, this site wasa magnet for activity over a thousand years and did not serve just one function during this time.

 

So all of this is being compared to other excavated sites to look at resource use and relative frequency of creation and maintenance at these sites.  An added dimension is the visual impact these sites would have had and not just the finished product, but the spectacle of seeing so many people working at a site.  So needless to say, lots to think about! And I am running out of words…

 

The project will be published as a monograph  but all of this is not intended to be an end to this work.  I hope that people will utilise the archive to carry out their own research and maybe prove (or disprove) some of my theories! The archive will be preserved for future generations to explore and utilise in their own way and it will be a valuable research resource.  Archaeology doesn’t stop once the trowel is put down and it is important to disseminate archaeology whether its a published report or an online resource so that people can access and enjoy their heritage and so fellow archaeologists in the future can utilise it for their research.  Working on a post-excavation project has made me appreciate the process and hard work that continues even after digging tools are downed, although I am itching to get back out in the field again!

The beginning of the day…

Morning!

Just shot a video of the office I work in (above) and then its on to the real work! I am currently making changes to some of my chapters which is involving redoing images and carrying out new analyses in GIS.  For those of you who don’t know what GIS is, it stands for Geographical Information Systems and you can manipulate data to display it spatially.  So for example, I am creating maps of old routeways through East Lothian and how these correspond to the archaeological evidence.  Is it possible that these routes were in existence prior to the Medieval period? Where they are best preserved, they traverse the Uplands (in this case, the Lammermuirs), which is almost devoid of later prehistoric settlement evidence.

As you can see, there seems to be an interesting correlation between the routeways and early prehistoric monuments.  The darker areas indicate the higher ground where most of the sites survive.  Do the routeways simply pass by these monuments because they are ‘markers’ or is it because these are familiar routes that have been traversed over for thousands of years? I am still deciding!

The sites have been plotted using CANMORE which is the public online database run by the RCAHMS and has been an invaluable resource for my PhD.  CANMORE give accurate grid references for these sites however to put them into a GIS, these figures have to be converted into eastings and northings.  These are also based on the same OS grid system but are six figure grid references.  So for example, a site in my are might have the grid reference NT123 345.  To convert that into eastings and northings, it would be 312300 634500.  Each grid square has numbers preceding it, in this case 3 and 6, and then the appropriate number of ‘0s’ are added to make it six-figure.

I’ll let you know how it goes later!

(Early routeways based on Roy’s Military Survey Map (1747-1755) and

Graham, A. 1951 An old road in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83: 198-206

Graham, A. 1962 More old roads in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 93: 217-35

Post-excavation – if you love alphabetising your DVD and CD collections this is the job for you.

We are the Cosmeston post-excavation team based in and from Cardiff University. Our job involves working with the paper and material archive, preparing it for analysis and interpretation. This year’s excavation at Cosmeston ended last week after a month of hard digging (see our blog) and this week the post-excavation team has been digitising the paper archives, scanning in slides from the 1980s excavations, as well as sorting and marking pottery. After four years of excavation there is a good amount of work to do and already the context information, registers and half of the pottery excavated in 2009 have been digitised, archived and organised. Today we will introduce you to a number of our students and provide an account of a day in the life of a post-excavation team.

Cosmeston is a medieval settlement in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales. Initially discovered in 1979 by local archaeology company GGAT, University excavations since 2007, involving students and the local community, have advanced our understanding of this complex medieval settlement. The site was reconstructed in the 1980s on the foundations of a number of the excavated buildings and is now a living museum with pigs, ducks and sheep, cared for by the staff who also manage and maintain the buildings and land. This is a well loved local resource which also acts as a set for the filming of Merlin.