Morning Coffee

Starting the day with manuscript editing over coffee and breakfast, working on evidence of ancient astronomy.  My interests in archaeology and astronomy preceded combining them.  Inevitably, archaeoastronomy caught my interest.  When my research focus shifted from Mesoamerican codices to rock art–to start reading the story from the beginning so to speak, Fajada Butte and Chaco Canyon caught my attention.  I found the codices overwhelming and indecipherable.  Rock art wasn’t any easier, but it is a much larger sample of the original “writing” and it is still in place, in context and I enjoyed a year spent in the Southwest desert “reading” the sites.  After noting a specific glyph was distributed on a north-south line I examined Southwest ruins and found a concentration of major sites on a meridian.  I named it the Chaco Meridian, drew a map, and, considering the finding significant, notarized the map and sent a copy to a few archaeologists.  Thus I was drawn into a new area of research decades ago, site-to-site relationships of ancient monuments, what I term archaeogeodesy.  Archaeology has a way of leading the researcher down new and unexpected paths of exploration and of learning.

Learning archaeology has been a long road with many branches.  To study the past, especially if your focus is past knowledge, your level of knowledge has to match the topic.  Archaeologists focused on ceramics become experts in ceramics, those focused on subsistence learn agriculture, etc.  At one point I did not know the word geodesy existed, albeit I knew about navigation, surveying, and cartography.  Our paradigms blind us to what other cultures knew and I did not suspect past cultures placed their largest monuments at specific latitudes or in relation to distant monuments.  Bit by bit, the archaeological evidence forces the researcher to learn what the ancients knew.  This process can hit a wall when the evidence demonstrates that past knowledge may exceed one’s one and the knowledge of one’s own culture.  I hit that wall when my research results indicated past civilizations had determined longitude accurately.  How else could they place major monuments in relation to each other when direct survey between them wasn’t possible.  My knowledge was inadequate to explain how this was accomplished without modern tools.

Analysis of site-to-site relationships also yielded evidence of accurate heliocentric astronomy and precise knowledge of astronomy constants.  How did ancient civilizations determine astronomy constants?  Since modern astronomy offered no solutions, I had to figure it out the way they did, using reasoning.  So now I’m trying to figure out how to communicate all this to a culture generally lacking literacy in these areas.  No one said archaeology would be easy.  Most certainly no one said we might lack enough knowledge to understand aspects of the past or that we would have to expand our own knowledge to do so.  I really need that morning coffee because somehow I ended up an archaeologist.

A Digital Day of Archaeology

Wooston Castle Local Relief Model draped over a 3D Digital Terrain Model, all based on LiDAR data and available on Sketchfab

Wooston Castle Local Relief Model draped over a 3D Digital Terrain Model, all based on LiDAR data and available on Sketchfab

As is usual for me, my day comprises working on digital heritage projects, as in my previous Days of Archaeology (2011a, 2011b, 2012, 2013 and 2014). So no archaeological features were harmed in the making of this post!

Although on one current project, my GSTAR doctoral research, I am indeed working with archaeological excavation data from the archives of Wessex Archaeology combined with museums collections data from Wiltshire Museum and also heritage inventory data from the Wiltshire Historic Environment Record. This project is nearing completion (thesis due for submission April-ish next year!) and having already shown that geospatial information can be published and used in Semantic Web / Linked Data contexts through the integration of ontologies, I’m currently building demonstrators to show how data can then be used to undertake archaeological research through framing fairly complex archaeological research questions as spatial queries asked across the range of resources I’ve included.

Today however, I’m working mainly on Archaeogeomancy commercial projects as I do one day a week. And thanks to the wonders of digital technologies, I’m working out of Bristol for a change; my first Day of Archaeology away from Salisbury. It’s been a busy week this week, clocking up quite a few miles, as Monday and Tuesday were spent at the Pelagios Linked Pasts event held at Kings College London where a diverse group from across the world spent a very productive couple of days talking about Linked Data with particular emphasis on people, places, space and time.

This morning’s tasks focussed on an automation project involving planning applications. I’m building a system which consumes planning data collated by Glenigan, classifies it according to type of project (as defined by the client) and then pushes out regional and property specific maps and summaries on a weekly/monthly basis for a list of properties which may be affected by these planning applications. This allows specialists in each region to assess each planning application and make recommendations regarding any responses needed. So whilst not the shiniest and most academically interesting of projects, it is the kind of GIS based systems development and automation that can really make a difference by freeing up staff time from the mundane production of such maps and reports.

This afternoon’s tasks will focus on another system I’m developing, this time to assist with the analysis and interpretation of LiDAR data. I’m building a toolkit which incorporates a select range of visualisation techniques requested by the client including Local Relief Maps, Principal Components Analysis and the usual hillshades, slope, etc. The toolkit is to be deployed to users who are not necessarily experts in the analysis and interpretation of LiDAR data or GIS so needs to be simple to use with many variables preset and also needs to be integrated within their corporate GIS solution rather than be a standalone application. The first batch of tools mentioned above are all complete and working nicely; this afternoon’s mission is to wrap up the Openness and Sky View Factor visualisations.

Indeed, it’s been great working with LiDAR data again lately. When thinking of a suitable image for this year’s Day of Archaeology post, the one shown above immediately leapt to mind. It shows a screenshot of the output of the Local Relief Model (LRM) tool I built draped over the Digital Terrain Model (DTM) for a rather lovely hillfort as viewed on Sketchfab. I mention this because disseminating informative views of LiDAR data has long been problematic, but platforms such as Sketchfab allow us to composite 3D and 2D products and then share them in an interactive way with anyone who has a web browser and an internet connection without the need for any specialist software at all. Nice.

A Third Day In The Life (Of An Archaeological Geophysicist)

Wow, time has flown. This time last year, I was doing radar work in Ballarat on gold mine sludge. But that’s more geological than archaeological, and it should have been covered in last year’s non-existent post (what happened last year, admins??), so I won’t discuss that further.

Let’s see… what was I doing this year?

Ah, yes. Friday. It was the last day of an eight-day project using ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves in a cemetery. The day didn’t really involve any geophysical surveying as such – all that had been done over the preceding week. Instead, Friday was spent using one of my new toys – a Topcon Power Station robotic total station. I love it. It has reflectorless mode so I don’t have to walk around the cemetery to map things. Set-up is a breeze with re-sections (I was previously using a 25-year old reflector-only total station that required two operators and couldn’t do re-sections).

Can you tell from my passion for a robotic total station that I don’t have a romantic partner?

Anyway, I don’t want to sound like a Topcon salesman, so I shall move on.

Basically, what I did that day was map the headstones that were present in the cemetery. That took me from 7am until about 1pm.

It’s one thing to have a geophysical survey performed, but you really need to have a map of the surrounding “stuff” so you know exactly where the geophysical survey was performed (and, hence, where all the unmarked graves are located). If you don’t do this, you’re just wasting time (and the client’s money).

Once I collected all the points needed to create the site map, I packed up, headed to my motel room and entered all the data into GIS (I use Global Mapper. It’s far easier and better than anything else. Yes, including ArcGIS. Deal with it. 😛 ). Then I spent the afternoon colour-coding the different points and lines and shapes and what-have-you. Little trees to indicate trees. Dark grey areas to indicate marked graves. Light grey areas to indicate concrete slabs for the lawn section. A crossed orange line to indicate the cemetery boundary fence. You get the idea. Make the map look pretty. Then whack a north arrow, scale and legend on it and Robert is your mother’s brother. And then the clock hit 5pm and it was time to sleep. (This week involved working from 6.30am until about 7pm each day. So I was overjoyed to see the bed Friday night).

So that was the excitement for my Day of Archaeology.Until next time, live long and prosper.Dave The Grave HunterPS: Sorry for the lack of photos. Here are some on my Facebook business page.

A day of archaeological geomatics

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.
Image © Callen Lenz

Well, firstly, I can’t believe it’s been a year since last time! Doesn’t time fly? What’s happened since then I hear you cry? I’m still the Geomatics Manager for Wessex Archaeology, responsible for GIS and Survey. The big news is my desk is now paper free and I’m trying to keep to a paperless work regime, essential seeing as most of my workspace is taken up with computer equipment, leaving no room for unnecessary clutter. In the photo you can see not only my laptop but the recently rebuilt GISBEAST machine with it’s quad cores, 64-bit OS and 12Gb RAM, tooled up with all the software I need to do what I do. (more…)

The beginning of the day…


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

Archaeology + spatial geekery = archaeogeomancy

Survey at Stonehenge

Survey at Stonehenge

A few words of intro before the full and glorious meat of archaeological computery geekery that will ensue through the day. My name is Paul Cripps and I am the Geomatics Manager at Wessex Archaeology. The title of this post comes from my blog, Archaeogeomancy, where I usually talk about things I’m doing, researching or otherwise interested in, focussing on archaeological geomatics. Bit of a play on words there (as described here) based around the term geomatics. Many people ask me what is geomatics and I generally quote verbatim the rather good wikipedia entry:

Geomatics (also known as geospatial technology or geomatic engineering) is the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information, or spatially referenced information.