augmented reality

The many researchers of the GeoSatReSeArch Lab: high tech archaeology!

For the last year (and for the next three weeks), I have been working with a team of archaeologists and scientists from related disciplines at the Laboratory of Geophysical – Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeo-environment (GeoSatReSeArch Lab), at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, in Rethymno on Crete. The lab and the IMS are part of the Greek research foundation, FORTH. The IMS is the only FORTH centre which deals with the humanities and social sciences. The other Institutes based at Heraklion, Patras and Ioannina, cover the fields of computer science and the natural and biomedical sciences. The specific purpose of IMS is to support and invigorate research in the field of the human and social sciences, as well as to promote the application of advanced technologies in the field.

In that respect, the Lab conducts its own research,  but also participates in collaborations with the Ephorate (the Greek State Archaeology service), Universities, Foreign Schools and many others. A key aspect of our work is showcasing the potential of high-tech methodologies in archaeology, and we do a lot of teaching and outreach work alongside the frontline scientific research.

After a year working here, I thought it would be interesting to make my ‘Day of Archaeology’ post about the whole lab, not just me, to give you all an idea of the diversity of the work we do and the projects we are involved in.

Conducting Archaeological Geophysics:

Kelsey Lowe- PostDoc Researcher

Kelsey and her data

Kelsey and her data

“While fieldwork generally beckons most of us this time of year, or at least myself, I find that today I am sitting comfortably at my desk processing geophysical data from a Middle Bronze Age site in Cyprus. As part of my current position at IMS, having the chance to work along other Mediterranean experts has provided a very unique experience, especially in regards to archaeological and geophysical interpretation of Bronze Age landscapes. Oh look, what do we have here?!? Architecture! Happy Processing!”

Abir Jrad- PostDoc Researcher

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

“Hello, I am Abir, I am not an archaeologist, but a geophysicist who has the pleasure to work with archaeologists  searching for buried archaeological features using geophysical methods. Today I will continue the processing of the data acquired in the last field work on the archaeological site of Kenchreai, in Greece! We combined several geophysical methods to prospect the studied area. As usual the main method was the gradiometry with the Sensys instrument. The gradiometry and also the electromagnetic acquisition show an anomaly with high magnetic gradient intensity and also a high magnetic susceptibility. In the location of this potential archaeological anomaly, we did a hand coring, to collect samples on a vertical profile. The samples collected were analyzed using the Bartington susceptibility meter in the Lab, which allowed us to measure the magnetic susceptibility at different frequencies. The correlation between the field geophysical data and the laboratory analysis will allow me to realize a constraint modelling for the suspected anomaly!

Carmen Cuenca-Garcia – PostDoc Researcher

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

“Hi there, this is Carmen reporting from her desk on Day A (see photo). Figure 1 above encapsulates today’s work, which is… more reporting. In this case, I am writing up the results of analyses of soil samples collected at several Neolithic tell-sites (or magoulas as they are called here in Greece). Before the soil sampling sampling, we surveyed the magoulas using a range of geophysical techniques during several fieldwork campaigns and got fantastic results. We analysed the soil samples using magnetic susceptibility and phosphate analysis, then we correlated the results with those from the geophysical surveys. This type of integrated analysis is extremely interesting and informative for archaeological prospection but it also involves lots of intense work: dealing with many and diverse types of datasets, stats, cross referencing many graphs, tables… which may be a wee bit tough to deal with when you are in a celebratory mood like today ☺ Such analysis also require lots of collaborative work and I particularly enjoy the enthusiastic chats I have with my colleague Abir Jrad, who is working with me on the correlations. Part A in Figure 1 shows a view of how you would find me if you pop into my office right now and part B is where I would rather like to be… outside, fieldworking and enjoying the anticipation of tasting the delicious and well-deserved Thessalian food after a days work on the top of a magoula!”

Teaching and Training Activities:

Kayt Armstrong (me!) – PostDoc researcher

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

“My day-to-day job at the lab is as the GIS officer for a project looking at the dynamics of settlement on Crete in the Early Byzantine period (roughly the 4th-9th centuries AD). Part of the goals of that project are to further the use of GIS, aerial prospection and other high-tech methodologies in Greece. As a result, I have two interns working with me at the moment, from the Archaeology programme at the University of Crete. They are making important contributions to the project, and in exchange learning database skills, GIS methods and how to survey using the latest RTK GPS equipment. Today they are testing some user manuals I have made for the team, so that the amazing high tech kit can continue to be used after I have left in August. My job isn’t just to bring in these skills to the project, but to train local archaeologists, students and researchers in them, so that they are taken up more widely in the profession. Pay it forward!”

Developing Prospection Methods and Equipment:

Apostolos Sarris- lab Director, Ian Moffat – Post Doc Researcher and Beatrice Giuzio- engineering student intern

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

“We  spent the day testing electromagnetic induction (EMI) instruments on the beach near Episkopi on the north coast of Crete.  EMI is a geophysical technique that is frequently used in archaeology to measure the conductivity and magnetic susceptibility of the soil to find archaeological sites and map the geology that contains them.  Despite the usefulness of this method, recent research has shown that EMI instruments are prone to drifting, that is that their data values change during the course of a day even when sitting in the same location.  To determine if this drift exists for the EMI instruments used at IMS we set them up near the beach and collected data continuously in the same location for 7 hours while monitoring changes in temperature.  This experiment showed two clear findings: 1) that the adjacent taverna has excellent seafood dishes, and 2) that the EMI instruments drift in ways that are not correlated to temperature change.  These findings suggest that much more research to understand drift is required, particularly when using EMI to map archaeological sites that are difficult to map with this method, such as those without extensive metal in the subsurface.”

Aerial Prospection and Photogrammetry:

Gianluca Cantoro- PostDoc Researcher

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

“My name is Gianluca and I am an aerial archaeologist and photo-interpreter. My job consists in looking into photographic archives in search for aerial images where archaeological traces can be identified. In combination with historical photographs study, I also undertake aerial survey myself with Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS or simply drones) or ultralight high-wing aircraft (usually something like a Cessna 172) over specific areas.

In the photo, I’m just back from one of these archaeological aerial surveys and I am sorting the pictures I took during the flight. You can see a map with notes I had in the plane, my ideal flight path and areas of interests, my pilot-flight kneeboards and my camera.

Once images have been synchronized with the GPS logger (so that each photograph holds the GPS location in the EXIF tags), they are entered in a digital database and then photogrammetrically processed, to obtain orthophotos and 3D models of the photographed areas (or potential “unknown” archaeological sites). A part of my work at the IMS I have developed software to make these tasks easier, which is free to use and downloadable here. ”

Augmented and Virtual Reality for Cultural Heritage:

Lemonia Argyriou- software engineer

Testing the Augmented Reality application

Testing the Augmented Reality application

“Working in Rethymno, Crete during summer … it’s  burning hot outside (34 degrees) and I’m finalising an Augmented Reality android educational app for Cultural Heritage.

At least things have become easier the last years after the release of the Unity3D, an extremely powerful and easy to use game platform. By the use also of AR APIs (such as Vuforia or Meteo), text, images and also small objects can be tracked and allow the triggering and presentation of 3D models along with 3D text and voice-over explanations. This leads to a more informative and immersive experience that could easily enhance the level of quality and edutainment in cultural heritage education.

The application I’m working on at the moment is accompanied by a printed map of Crete, displaying aerial photos of the most attractive ancient monuments on the island. By using an android mobile device and hovering over the location of a monument on the map, the relevant 3D model of the monument appears on the screen and can be observed from any side simply by moving closer or tilting the device. There is also a UI that allows the user to listen to the historical information of the specific monument in their preferred language (Greek or English), learning about their story of preservation and their role in the past.

That’s all by now…the beach is calling me 🙂 Day Of(f) Archaeology!”

Nikos Papadopoulos Jr – software engineer

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

“Hello there,  and many greetings from Rethymno, Crete. Although the day is suitable for going to the beach, I’m working in the lab developing a cultural heritage virtual navigation application for Koule Castle (Iraklion, Crete) based on natural human interaction. The specific application can capture simple user gestures, like steady walking or torso rotation and lean, with the use of a Microsoft Kinect sensor. The gestures are used for navigating in the virtual space of Koules castle offering the user a more immersive cultural experience. All of this this happens thanks to the Unity3D game platform and of course lots of coffee (sorry…programming). Time for some raki now :-)”

And lots more besides:

Quite a few of the scientists at the lab didn’t have time to write something today, or were off elsewhere doing fieldwork or attending meetings and workshops. Other ongoing activities at the lab include using near-surface geophysics to monitor pollution, complex systems and agent based models for historical and archaeological research, GIS classifications of landscapes in terms of geomorphology, risk-mapping, shallow marine geophysics, processing algorithms for GPR data…. I could go on!

I’ve had an amazing year here in Rethymno. I have learned so much, and hopefully I have given something back and passed on some skills to colleagues and students here. I’ll be keeping in touch with the lab team via their facebook page, and I hope to come back to use the huge archive of geophysical data they hold here for a project I am cooking up with my old Dutch colleagues 🙂

As it starts to cool down (a bit), I am going to shut down my computer and head for home, where I will spend what is left of the evening pouring over the other Day of Archaeology posts from around the world, and being very thankful I get to work in such an amazing community.

Happy Day of Archaeology!

Kayt x

I hear dead people

I’m preparing for the upcoming Advanced Institute on Digital Archaeology Method and Practice at MSU. I’m really excited about it; I’m one of the instructors! I’ll be talking and teaching augmented reality for archaeology:

Low cost and low friction methods, tools, and best practices to capture and present archaeological materials in 3D for research, publication, teaching, or public engagement. Special emphasis on physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, digital imagery or geospatial data and information.

So what does that mean in practice? I was thinking on this the other day, and I’ve been building a demo application to put some of my ideas into practice. I’m tinkering with it during quiet moments today, but this ‘diary in the attic’ will give you some idea of the flavour of what I’m after:

Shawn dusted off the old diary. ‘Smells of mould’, he thought, as he flipped through the pages.

Hmmph. Somebody was pretty careless with their coffee.

I think it’s coffee.


Doesn’t smell like coffee. 

What the hell…. damn, this isn’t coffee.

Shawn cast about him, looking for the android digital spectralscope he kept handy for such occasions. Getting out his phone, he loaded the spectralscope up and, taking a safe position two or three feet away, gazed through it at the pages of the diary.

My god… it’s full of….


The thing about hand-held AR is that you have to account for *why*. Why this device? Why are you looking through it at a page, or a bill board, or a magazine, or what-have-you? It’s not at all natural. The various Cardboard-like viewers out there are a step up, in that they free the hands (and with the see-through camera, feel more Geordi LaForge).  I’m trying to make that hand-held AR experience feel more obvious, part of a story. That is, of course you reach for the spectralscope – the diary is clearly eldritch, something not right, and you need the device that helps you see beyond the confines of this world.

Without the story, it’s just gee-whiz look at what I can do. It’s somehow not authentic. That’s one of the reasons various museum apps that employ AR tricks haven’t really taken off I think. The corollary of this (and I’m just thinking out loud here) is that AR can’t be divorced from the tools and techniques of game based storytelling (narrative/ludology, whatever).

In the experience I put together above, I was trying out a couple of things. One – the framing with a story fragment, so that the story that emerges from the experience for you (gestures off to the left) is different from the story that emerges from the experience for you (gestures off to the right). (More on this here). I was also thinking about the kinds of things that could be augmented. I wondered if I could use a page of handwritten text. If I could, maybe a more self-consciously ‘scholarly’ use of AR could annotate the passages. Turns out, a page of text does not make a good tracking image. I used a macro in Gimp (comes prepackaged with Gimp) that adds a random waterstain/coffeestain to an image. The stained diary actually made the best tracking images I’ve ever generated! So maybe an AR annotated diary page could have such things discretely in the margins (but that takes us full circle to QR codes).

Augmented reality works best when it fits seamlessly into our interactions with the world. If you tried out the experience above (you needed to download and print out the pdf, and then install the app on your Android phone; point your phone at each page from about two to three feet away) you’ll see that I chose to augment via sound rather than whizbangy visual effects (although one such effect is really rather neat). We often think of our smartphones and tablets in terms of visuals (retina displays and so on), but the visual is only one sense; hearing the past via AR makes for a much more visceral experience. Visuals can cause ‘breaks-in-presence’ because when things are ‘wrong’ somehow, it is immediately apparent. We get kicked out of the experience easily when the 3d model doesn’t sit on the page correctly, or it flickers because the phone isn’t powerful enough. Audio on the other hand requires us to pay attention in a way that is more subtle. Generations of movies have taught us how to respond emotionally to certain sounds. So I want to experiment with an aural augmented reality for archaeology. That’s my agenda here.

Another element in the calculus of AR is framing the approach. One of the things I tell my history students who are interested in video games, the mechanic of the game should be illustrative of the kind of historical truth they are trying to tell. William Urrichio pointed out in 2005 that game mechanics map well onto various historiographies. What kind of truth then does an augmented reality application tell? In the very specific case of what I’ve been doing here, augmenting an actual diary (a trip up the Nile, from New York, starting in 1874), I’m put in mind of the diaries of William Lyon MacKenzie King, who was Prime Minister of Canada during the Second World War. King was a spiritualist, very much into seances and communing with the dead (his mom, mostly). I can imagine augmenting his ‘professional life’ (meeting minutes, journals, newspaper accounts), with his diaries such that his private life swirls and swoops through the public persona, much like the ghosts and spirits that he and his friends invoked on a regular basis. King was also something of a landscape architect; his private retreat in the Gatineau Hills(now a national historic site) are adorned with architectural follies (see this photo set) culled from gothic buildings torn down in the city of Ottawa. MacKenzie King might well be a subject whose personal history, or whose historic estate, might be very well suited indeed for an exploration via augmented reality.

After all, the man lived an augmented reality daily.


If you’re interested in finding out more about how to use AR or how to build your own, watch my research blog. I’ll be putting up some tutorials in a couple weeks. I’d love to connect with folks interested in trying out similar things.

[parts of this post are nicked from my research blog, Electric Archaeology; you can also find the credits for the augmentations there].


Wrestling Pythons, Blending Grass and Proofing Papers

Today has been a pretty normal day in my current archaeological life. I am in the final year of my PhD and so have been battling away infront of a laptop (like many others) trying to make sense of archaeological data and say something new and interesting about the past.

I am lucky in that I live in Cambridge, and so had a lovely cycle ride this morning across the meadows, past the cows, to install myself into the Cambridge University Library (UL). This is one of the joys of being a student in the UK, even though I am doing my PhD at UCL in London I am more than welcome to come and use the library in Cambridge for free which is not only great for books – it also has an excellent tea room.

Bronze Age Huts in QGIS

My PhD is on the Bronze Age hut settlements on Bodmin Moor, I am using Augmented Reality to examine the locations of the huts and how they fit into the landscape. This involves a lot of GIS work and also some 3D modelling. I have a lovely GIS dataset of the Bronze Age hut locations and a pretty decent elevation model. When out in the field archaeologists use quite few tools, but the trowel is probably the most useful. When in front of the computer archaeologists also use a lot of tools – today I was using the Python framework to script a way to get GRASS data into blender so that I could load virtual models of the huts into Unity3D to view them in my ARK database to then finally use Vuforia and Unity3D to display it in the real world. Today my most useful tool is Textmate.

Bodmin Moor in blender

Basically what I am trying to do is import 2D GIS data into a 3D gaming engine, that I can then use to explore the data and (using Augmented Reality) ‘overlay’ that onto the real world. The important thing is to ensure the spatial coordinates are preserved when it is imported into the gaming engine – otherwise the on-site GPS location won’t work during the Aug. Reality stage. So the distances, heights and topography seen int he gaming engine representation are as close to the real world as possible (at least the real as modelled in the GIS!). To keep track of the huts and their associated data I have been using the ARK database system (created by Day of Archaeology sponsors  L – P : Archaeology). ARK brings all of the various bits together  – data from the literature, basic dimensions of the huts, spatial data and also the 3D representation. I’ve been getting some pretty good results from my experiments and seem to have cracked the workflow – I’ll put up a proper walkthrough on my blog once the script is all sorted out as I think it will probably be pretty useful for others to see and use. In the meantime I have made a very small screencast to show the huts within ARK and Unity – which I think it pretty cool. For those of a techy bent, ARK is sending the Unity3D plugin the id of the hut currently being viewed and Unity is then figuring out where that hut is in the virtual world and placing the ‘player’ inside it.

Wow that was all a bit techy – sorry about that!

So as promised in the title of the post then – here is a link to some wrestling pythons…

and someone blending grass..

and the paper proofing is a bit more boring…

Today I also approved the final author proofs of an article on my research that is going to be published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. Apparently when they have made my suggested corrections (c. 1 week) it should be available at:  for people who have personal or institutional subscriptions to the journal, very exciting!

Right back to the coding… only an hour before I get chucked out of the library.


It’s Friday… Friday… Which Seat Can I take?

As dear Rebecca Black so eloquently said (covering Dylan of course) – it’s Friday, which seat can I take?

I have two archaeological hats to wear, I am a Partner in L – P : Archaeology and I am also undertaking a PhD at UCL.

It is an amazing position to be in and the straddling of the academic and commercial world really makes my archaeological life interesting and the constant crossover gives some pretty cool insights into how things work together. That and my five-week old kid means I am pretty busy most of the time!

Today I am sitting in both seats. This morning I have been working on the PhD, I am looking at using Augmented Reality (AR) to aid in Phenomenological Investigation of Landscapes. What that means in the real world is that I get to play with iPads and gaming-engines, making archaeological information appear in the landscape. AR is slowly becoming a widely-used technique (especially in the advertising world) and indeed many archaeologists are getting in on the act. The Museum of London has just released StreetMuseum Londinium which allows users to wander around the streets of London with their smart-phone, ‘seeing’ where various artefacts, etc. have been discovered. Today I have been attempting to move some of my AR work over to a new SDK released for iOS by Qualcomm to aid in marker-based AR. Ideally later today or at the weekend I will take the iPad out into the landscape (the local park with my boy in his buggy) and actually make some stuff appear outside – instead of having to sit at the computer futzing around. Before I do that though, I have to get my head around quaternion mathematics, accelerometers and gyroscopes, then meshing this all with GPS and vision-based analysis. It’s pretty fun in a sick masochistic kind of way, but it does seem quite far from archaeology at the moment!

This afternoon I will have to move seats and put on my L – P : Hat. It is the end of the month and therefore its time to take a good look at the finances for the past month and what contracts we currently have on, etc. As L – P is owned and run by the partners themselves, it means that we all have to do a bit of everything – this is a great way of working and means we can really turn our hand to anything. Although we are spread over 4 offices in the UK, we are all great friends and working with everyone here is an absolute pleasure. It is great fun working with such amazing people in a very dynamic sector and doing work to a highly academic standard in a commercial framework. I mean doing archaeology, constantly learning new things, working with mates AND getting paid for it – not a bad Day!

However, times have been a bit rocky recently for commercial archaeology, and although it seems as if UK PLC. is pulling itself slowly out of the recession, new planning laws are being drawn up that may or may not make it better for archaeologists. There are constant stories of planning departments closing, units going bust and people out of work. We are all really at a turning point at the moment in commercial archaeology and so this afternoon I will also be taking the time to look over the new proposed National Planning Framework and seeing how this is going to affect the sector. I urge everyone else to do the same, the Government is asking for consultation responses, so please do take a look and contact the IfA and let them know what you think about the document and how we can change it to make it better for the needs of the sector.

Right back to my seat… front or back?




Dead people, augmented reality, and other things of interest

Hiya. My name is Brenna, and I’m an archaeologist, with a PhD in dead people’s teeth. You can normally find me on the twitter at @brennawalks or in tl;dr format on my blog passim in passing .

So, what gives today?

So many shiny things! Turns out archaeology really suits people with rather wide and varied interests; on any given day you might find yourself with a synchrotron smashing particles or a mattock smashing soil. In my case, I had planned to go in and look at some of my research material in the scanning electron microscope over at UCL. In my ‘real’ academic life, I study teeth, and I study them very, very close up. You could call what I do ‘bioarchaeology’ or ‘dental anthropology’ … I’m not fussy. But I study the development of teeth from people who died in the past in order to look at the record of growth that is trapped in the structure of their dental enamel. Your teeth carry chemical and physical signatures of things that happened to you during childhood, while the the teeth were growing. What I look at in particular are signs that growth shut down briefly during childhood, a condition called ‘enamel hypoplasia’.  These are (ish) grooves on your teeth that can be evidence of a childhood fever or other unhappy event. By looking at different patterns of these markers in teeth, we can compare aspects of health across different groups. Did rich kids have a better time of it than poor kids? Did sedentery agriculturalists do better as kids than more nomadic groups?

To study stuff like that, you get to do some cool science with machines that go ‘ping’ and or ‘whop’. My favorite lab machine is the gold sputter coater; it turns my tooth casts into art:

gold coated tooth

the gold coated tooth of a child who died in 18th century London


You can see a big groove in the tooth above. That’s from some sort of growth disruption episode while the kid was still a toddler. Go on, check your own teeth now. You know you want to.

Of course, I haven’t ended up in the lab at all. One of my newer interests is something called augmented reality (for an example, check out the awesome new Museum of London roman app: The Only Way is Londinium). I’m really interested in applications for public outreach (particularly web-multimedia and smart-phone based stuff) and I’m totally enamoured of anything shiny and/or techie.  So instead of being good (hey, it’s Friday!) I went and made a 3d object hover over a piece of paper. It’s a poor screen capture, but hey, I should be working on publications and actual research, right?

Check out the easy, totally free-ware possibilities though. This is brought to you by Google Sketchup running the ARmedia plugin; it’s practically idiot proof and the results are pretty cool. Anything more involved and you’re looking at developing some serious modelling skills, but who needs sleep…?

sorry about the video quality 🙂

Untitled from Brenna Hassett on Vimeo.