Computing

Building an Archaeology Data Recording App

Today, I’m working at the Western Washington University archaeology lab, but since I wrote about that for Day of Digital Humanities a few months ago, I thought instead I’d write about the work I do with my company where I create software and tutorials for archaeologists.

9-12pm Worked through a Database Tutorial

This morning I finished up working through the tutorial for FileMaker Pro 12, a database management system (DBMS). I’ve heard great things about Filemaker from other archaeologists who have used it to create custom databases for recording archaeological sites. Compared to some other DBMS, Filemaker’s interface is very simple, and the program has some nice features, like tight integration and easy portability for iOS devices (e.g. iPhones, iPods, iPads) through the FileMaker Go app. This past year, I attended two conferences where several archaeologists demonstrated the Filemaker databases they built for academic projects. In particular, the Center for Digital Archaeology built their impressive Codifi app using FileMaker. Although I’ve yet to hear of any CRM companies who use Filemaker, I think it should work as a short term solution for a friend of mine to use this summer on field projects. In fact, I built a simple relational database for archaeological survey this morning based on the Intermountain Antiquities Computer System (IMACS) and Filemaker made it pretty simple for me to transfer the database to an iPad.

A Quick and Dirty Filemaker Form for iPad

Although Filemaker seems great so far, I’m hesitant to rely on the whims of two different companies, Filemaker and Apple, to ensure that I will be able to access my data when I need it. I interned briefly at Digital Antiquity (the organization that runs the Digital Archaeological Record data repository) and know that archaeologists who trusted their data to propriety database systems regretted it later when the database companies went under, leaving archaeologists with datasets that were difficult to access on new computers that couldn’t run the older database software. If the archaeologists were cautious, they might have translated their databases into less flexible but more stable preservation file formats, like plain-text comma separated value (CSV) files, but in many cases that didn’t happen.  Because of that experience, I always try to ask myself “how can I get data back out of here?” whenever I use a new piece of software.

For the past few months, I’ve also been building a custom archaeology data recording application for mobile devices using the Adobe Cordova/Phonegap framework.

Picture of an archaeology data recording application.

Screens from our data recording application.

The Phonegap framework allows me to use web languages like HTML, CSS, and javascript to create mobile applications that will run on multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and webOS. I’m already familiar with these coding languages from building websites and I like the idea of being as platform agnostic as possible. As an added plus, if my partner and I decide to make the application open-source, other archaeologists will be able to edit and customize the code more easily than if we wrote the app in C or Java. Phonegap and HTML5 do have their limitations though, so in case we run into issues that slow our app down too much to make it useful, we’re also looking into porting the app to native code. For now though, Phonegap allows us to quickly prototype the application using languages we’re familiar with.

1-3pm Videoconference with Chris at DigTech  

Two archaeologists communicating over Skype

I’m working on the PhoneGap application with Chris Webster of DigTech, LLC. Chris is a long-time shovelbum, project manager, and podcaster who recently started his own cultural resource management (CRM) archaeology company. Chris wants to do as much of his site recording digitally as possible in order to increase efficiency and data accuracy, spend less of his clients’ money, and free up his archaeologists’ time to do more research, analysis, and publication rather than data-entry. Chris has accomplished a lot of this by using various off-the-shelf applications like Tapforms and MementoDatabase, but decided that none of them were doing everything he wanted or needed to do for CRM archaeology.

Chris and I meet weekly to discuss projects and to collaborate on the application. Chris primarily works on the interface design: making sure that the app is useful in field situations, with large enough buttons, text, and easy access to vital data. I primarily handle the coding and database design, but Chris and I have also been challenging each other to learn more about computer programming as we go. Simply designing a database to hold archaeological data has forced us to carefully consider and try to anticipate the different needs an archaeologist might have for a database in the field: if sites can contain features and artifacts, but features can also contain artifacts, how do you map that relationship? How many controlled terms for material types do you need to offer to standardize and streamline recording without limiting an archaeologist’s ability to add in an unexpected material type? Others have put much more thought into this area, but the end goal is to design databases that are specific enough to increase efficiency and accuracy while being general enough to compare data across sites, archaeologists, and regions. For Chris and I though, it’s been useful mental exercise to think about these kinds of problems as we program.

Recently the app has started to resemble something that would be useful out in the field, but we still have a lot of work to do. Some of the field situations we need to adapt our app to handle are to expand beyond simple survey to being able to quickly and efficiently record rock art. We have a database up and working in the app and have tested recording coordinates using the mobile device’s internal GPS (it’s nowhere near submeter accuracy, but it’s still handy), but we’d also like to add in some other features, like simple mapping, storing photographs, and making the data exporting work more easily.

3-4pm Wrote an email to a programmer to collect bids on fleshing out the application.

Because neither Chris nor I are professional programmers, we’re contacting several people who are to see what they might charge to help us add features. We’re not sure yet whether we’ll fund that ourselves, release a beta version to fund further development, or seek funding through a crowdfunding website like Kickstarter. If you’re an experienced programmer, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact us through our websites or at russell[at]diachronicdesign.com or chriswebster[at]digtech-llc.com

4-6pm Geeked out with other archaeologists over a new toy

A few other archaeologists and I have been eagerly awaiting a low-cost tablet with both an internal GPS and a >3mp camera that we can use for field recording. Today, Google announced the new version of their Nexus 7 tablet which met our requirements. I’ve been waiting awhile for that right combination of specs, so I bit the bullet and bought one. I’m really excited the Nexus 7 runs on android 4.3, which means I can finally run the FAIMS application on a real device; up until now I’ve had to emulate a Nexus 7 on my laptop, which is not ideal. From their website: “The Federated Archaeological Information Management System (FAIMS) Project is funded by the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) program[…] an Australian Government program to build new infrastructure for Australian researchers.” The researchers at the University of New South Wales and elsewhere have specifically designed for CRM data collection in Australia. I’ve been interested in the FAIMS project since speaking with Dr. Sobotkova at the 2012 SAA meeting in Sacramento and was very impressed when Dr. Crook showed me the progress they made when I saw FAIMS’s booth at the 2013 SAA meeting in Honolulu. The FAIMS project has open-sourced their app, which I love, and a friend and I want to customize the app for an excavation project here in the United States. Now that I will have a new android device, I can finally move forward with playing with the app and (hopefully) pay things back by contributing some code or tutorials back to the project.

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m generally pretty hopeful that technologies like databases, mobile devices, internet blogs, and social networks can help archaeologists record, analyze, and publish about archaeological sites more quickly, sustainability, and openly.  I’m excited about all the other posts I’ve seen on Day of Archaeology today that involved everyone from academic archaeologists to CRM archaeologists, community members, students, authors, and more. I hope this post has been interesting and helped add to the diversity of the voices on this blog. I’m looking forward to reading more posts and can’t wait until Day of Archaeology comes back around next year.

Cheers!

Russell

Excavating an Archaeologist’s Desk

In honor of the Day of Archaeology, in which we endeavor to display the “wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe” (Day of Archaeology 2012 [archaeologists cite things]), I’m throwing this together as an archaeologist who embraces three different roles within the profession, has worked across 10 states and 3 foreign countries (Mexico, Cuba, and the British Virgin Islands), and still hasn’t finished graduate school (much to the chagrin of many, including myself).
To convey this complex existence, I’m choosing an archaeological metaphor and excavating my desk. My workspace is, to no surprise, a reflection of the many things that occupy my time, pique my interest, and, I hope, lead to some insight into the pasts of the common people of history, a group that counts my ancestors, German and Welsh immigrants, among its numbers. I have imposed a classification system on the contents of my desk, by which I will unpack the contents and, in turn, my life as an archaeologist working in the SAU Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Books
Indiana Jones once told a student (while running from the KGB) “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.” While I fully endorse this sentiment, you must realize that a lot of archaeological research involves bookwork. We read a lot about the work of our forebears as a way to help orient our own research, building on and modifying that which came before, and to avoid scientific dead-ends. The books on my desk include those oriented towards:
Dissertation: I am a doctoral candidate at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, the cradle of historical archaeology in the United States. I am trying to knock out a dissertation that will be the final step in my formalized education. This requires both books on epistemological issues relevant to the way I do research, such as Tim Murray’s Time and Archaeology or Anders Andrén’s Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. Combining the clarity of thinking derived from such sources with the results of fieldwork are then combined with the insight derived from other books, such as D.W. Meinig’s The Shaping of America and Kenneth Lewis’s The American Frontier to produce a document that will add to the historiography of southwest Arkansas and the American West… and earn me a diploma (please please please).
Teaching: I just finished teaching two classes at Southern Arkansas University, one a survey of world archaeology and the other a criminal justice research methods class. The detritus from preparing the lectures, including Catherine Hakim’s Research Design and Henn et al’s A Critical Introduction to Social Research still haven’t left my desk. They’re actually checked out from the University of Arkansas (5 hours away), so the next time I get called up to the coordinating office in Fayetteville, I’ll drop them off.
Methods: We demonstrate our competence as archaeologists in the field, showing each other and the cosmos that we can dig properly (carefully and fast), map precisely, and document our findings appropriately. I’ve got Hester et al’s Field Methods in Archaeology on my book rack for reference, and the bookshelves surrounding my desk are full of books on aerial remote sensing and LiDAR research.
Conference preparation:  One of the high points of any archaeologist’s professional year is a conference. For me, that usually means the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings, though in my current position the Arkansas Archeological Society conference is important as well. I’d like to go to the Fields of Conflict conference this year, but Budapest is a bit out of the range of my wallet (my truck needs work…). This week, I’ve been pulling together a session for the SHA with colleagues and classmates at William & Mary, and I’ve been using the abstract books from past conferences and De Cunzo and Jameson’s Unlocking the Past to write abstracts and encourage the session to take form.
Fieldwork Papers
As mentioned above, proper note taking is an integral part of archaeology. Documentation of context is key. It separates us from looters, provides a basis for scientific work, and is a backstop for ideas and information that might otherwise get missed. If ideas were baseballs, an archaeological dig is like being a catcher behind home plate, facing a battalion of pitching machines. Even if you’re Johnny Bench, you can only hold so many of those baseballs at once. Paperwork is like having a canvas bag to put those ideaballs (I’m liking this metaphor less and less) in so you don’t lose them. On my desk may be found
–        A green 3-ring binder from Area B of the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Training Dig, directed by my boss/friend/mentor Jamie Brandon. See his post here on the dig itself. The stack of papers inside is probably 2 inches thick. All of that came from two weeks in the field. It’s a lot of stuff to sift through, but every sweat-stained word is archaeological gold.
–        Field books. I see three, though there may be more buried in there somewhere. These nifty little books, usually with yellow covers, have waxed pages, making them resilient in rainy or sweaty conditions, and are the place where we jot our notes about the project we’re working on. My field book from the Society Dig contains the shot log for our surveyor’s total station, so we have a redundant copy of all that information. I also have my field book for site visits done on behalf of the Survey. The notes I take in the field can then be transposed into either a site form, which I submit by way of report to the Survey, or included in subsequent publications on that research. Writing notes, particularly under hot or busy conditions, is one of the disciplines that archaeologists must learn. As with so many other things, when it comes to notes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. In some positions, such as federal jobs, field books are part of the paperwork associated with a project and subject to subpoena and other legal strictures, so don’t draw too many cartoons about gophers in them.
Technology
The final big section of research-related equipment can be classed as technology.  Technological advancements in computing, remote sensing (Johnson 2005), data sharing (Kansa 2012), and numerous other fronts in the past twenty years is revolutionizing archaeology. The very fact of this blog post, the internet, and personal computing is evidence of this. Hallmarks of this advancement are, of course, found on my desk.
–        Computer: Shocking, I know. Nowadays, computers are everywhere and used in most pursuits, but mine is special, consarnit! First, it’s a laptop on a dock, which is necessary given the high mobility of many archaeologists. Since you can’t bring sites to you, we have to go to the sites, often for extended periods of time. We just finished two weeks at Historic Washington State Park, and in the last year, I’ve spent weeks at Toltec Mounds, Wallace’s Ferry, and Prairie Grove, all in Arkansas, as well as making numerous trips to the Coordinating Office in Fayetteville. My Army job was just like that, as was my time with the NPS, just that in the federal gigs, the projects are usually spread over greater areas. Laptops are essential in taking our computing power along with. Crucial to that computing power is the software held on the machine, particularly, in my case…
–        Geographic information system (GIS) software. I do a lot of work with spatial documentation and analysis, so I need mapping software. Being able to document the location of sites and areas within sites is an important part of the documentation process.
–          Scanner: I scan lots of things, primarily to make back-ups (hard to lose all copies of a document) and to share them with colleagues. Information sharing is a big part of the research process, as those who share your interests and expertise are not likely under the same roof as you. This is partly why conferences are so important. Information exchange stimulates, as Poirot liked to call them, “the little grey cells” and advance the discipline. Scanners help make that possible.
–        Telephone: Again, rather mundane, but an important part of my job. The Arkansas Archeological Survey does a lot of public outreach work for people of all walks of life from across the state. My station covers 11 counties in southwest Arkansas, and I get calls to come out and look at sites or assist colleagues at museums and parks in the area with public outreach work (come to the Red River Heritage Symposium at Historic Washington State Park on the 28th of July). Much of that begins with a phone call.
Other/Miscellaneous
As this all should indicate, I spend a LOT of time working, well more than 40 hours a week. As a result, I spend a lot of time in the office or in the field, and my desk contents reflect that.
–        Coffee mug and empty Coke/Diet Coke cans: I am a caffeine addict, plain and simple. I often get little more than 5 hours of sleep a night, and with as stacked of a to-do list as I have, it’s rather unavoidable. I can’t keep up with a friend, who runs on five cappuccinos a day, but there are times when I wonder how awesome that feels. I’m guessing “pretty.”
–        Mulerider Baseball cup: Our host institution and my erstwhile employer, Southern Arkansas University has a great baseball team, and the Muleriders just won the GAC Championship… again. Great job, guys! One of the ways I avoid having the pressures of all of these jobs and responsibilities burn me out is by having a mental outlet. For me, that’s baseball and hockey. We don’t get much of the latter down here. However, the baseball stadium is right across the parking lot from the office (really, I can see it from my desk), and those evening games are a nice break from the grind.
–        Yellow duct tape: Why yellow, you might ask? Because every station in the Survey system was allocated a color to mark their equipment with so that we could tell whose stuff is whose when we collaborate on projects. Our station’s color is yellow, Henderson State’s is orange, Toltec’s is blue, etc. etc. etc. Marking things as ours helps avoid confusion and trowel fights.
–        Field hat: I saved this for last because it’s one of my favorite things. For archaeologists, the attachments we form with crucial bits of equipment can be very strong. Many people still have their first trowels, and carefully guard them (think of a mitt for a baseball player). They’re things, but they’re things intimately tied up in the art of our discipline, and that makes them special. For me, there are three things that fall into this category. My trowel is the first, and I keep it distinct from all other trowels by wrapping the handle in hockey stick tape. The second is my Brunton pocket transit (think a compass on steroids with neon flames shooting down its hood), which is not only a very useful bit of equipment, it was also my father’s when he was doing his dissertation, and that carries great meaning to me. Finally, there is my field hat, a mid-crown cattleman with a 4” brim from Sunbody Hats in Houston, Texas. No matter how hot it gets, it’s always a little cooler under this thing, and it was a wedding gift from Jimmy Pryor, the owner of Sunbody and a childhood friend. It’s a link to home and my wife all at once, and it cheers me up when I’ve been out on a project for a couple of weeks and starting to get a little barn sour.
Now, having looked at these piles for a few hours while writing this, it may be time to do some cleaning…
References
Andrén, Anders
1997     Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. New York: Plenum Press
Day of Archaeology
2012    About the Project. Electronic resource (http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/about-the-project/, accessed 29 June 2012).
De Cunzo, Lu Ann and John H. Jameson, Jr.
2005     Unlocking the Past: Celebrating Historical Archaeology in North America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Hakim, Catherine
2000     Research Design: Successful Designs for Social and Economic Research. New York: Routledge.
Henn, Matt, Mark Weinstein, and Nick Foard
2006     A Critical Introduction to Social Research. Los Angeles: Sage.
Hester, Thomas R., Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder
2009     Field Methods in Archaeology. 7th edition. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Lewis, Kenneth
1984     The American Frontier: An Archaeological Study of Settlement Pattern and Process. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Meinig, D.W.
1988     The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 2: Continental America, 1800-1867. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Murray, Tim, editor
1999     Time and Archaeology. New York: Routledge.

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10816-012-9142-7  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.

 

Archaeology & Photographs

When a site is being investigated for an archaeological study one very important resource can be old photographs.

Photographs record an instant in time which can be invaluable at a later date for identification purposes particularly if the scene photographed has changed greatly over time. Fields may have been ploughed over, buildings demolished or altered or the people depicted have long gone.

As cameras became cheaper and readily available more and more people start to take photographs of their relations, friends, homes, towns, excursions and travels abroad. In addition, they also record scenes of particular interest to them and this often includes archaeological remains. This includes the roman mosaic shown below when newly discovered in Box, Wiltshire.

Identification, however, can be problematic particularly if the scene has changed greatly over time and is not identified either on the photograph itself or on documentation to accompany it. This can also make dating difficult as can not knowing who the photographer was. Despite this, however, they are an invaluable resource.

Some examples of photographs which could be of archaeological interest include some from a collection of glass magic lantern slides ranging from 1890 to around 1914.

One of these is of the Box mosaic previously referred to, found in 1898 and now reburied to preserve it from frost damage. Others in this collection where the location is recorded  could also be of use to archaeologists. These include a cottage in  Schull,Ireland, a windmill near Rhyll,Walesand a replica  medieval cross inBristol. The original was moved toStourhead in Wiltshire, while parts of the replica were moved toBerkeley Square

Box Mosaic 1989.176.8.69

Cottage, Schull 1989.176.8.5

Rhyll Windmill 1989.176.8.17

CrossBristol1989.176.8.72

Others in the collection are not identified so any help with possible locations would be appreciated.

These include:

1989.176.8.36 The name of the shop owner is clear but where was the photograph taken?

1989.176.8.37  This was probably taken near Warleigh but does anyone know who the people in the photograph are ?

1989.176.8.12. Finally, this stone tower building may possibly be inCornwall, any ideas?

Penny, collections volunteer

 

Doing Archaeology, Digitally

This Day of Archaeology doesn’t see me out surveying or excavating, nor in a lab.  Instead, it finds me sitting at my desk at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University in front of my Mac Book Pro, two large Apple Cinema Displays (powered by an old, yet remarkably reliable, Mac Pro), an iPad, an iPod, an Android handset (Droid X2 if you are interested), and a Galaxy Tab 10.1.  This (extremely technological) state of affairs results from the fact that its been a long time since I’ve actually stuck a trowel in the ground.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a great field archaeology pedegree.  I spent my elementary, highschool, and undergrad years (my father is an archaeologist as well) working on sites in the Northern Plains (mostly Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta – and a little bit in Montana and North Dakota).  As a graduate student, I worked in Indiana and Illinois.  My primary area of research as a graduate student (as well as my archaeological heart), however, rested in Egypt – Predynastic Egypt to be precise.  I worked several seasons with Fred Wendorf and the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at Nabta Playa.  The bulk of my work in Egypt, however, was at Hierakonpolis, where I excavated a variety of Predynastic household sites and did research into Predynastic household economy.

As a graduate student (and even as an undergrad, to be quite honest), I found myself increasingly interested in how information, computing, and communication technology could be applied to archaeology for teaching, research, outreach, and scholarly communication.  Fast forward several years and I find myself sitting at my desk at MATRIX in front of a dizzying array of devices.  My transformation from a “traditional” archaeologist (if you will – though, to be honest, is there really such thing as a “traditional” archaeologist) to a digital archaeologist is complete.

(more…)

Meta#dayofarch Reloaded

As you may have gathered, I am one of founders of the Day of Archaeology, and one of the team behind the manic moderation on the day itself.. My Day of Archaeology started at 6.30am, when I began to read and moderate posts. I was still there at 10pm, hovering over the site like a worried mother, fretting about our baby. But what a resounding success.. we made 1000 likes on Facebook in just 18 hours, and I haven’t even seen the Google Analytics data yet – we had problems earlier with the server, as the memory was reaching capacity (or something, I’m a bit vague about that sort of thing).. so I think that means thousands of people are looking at this.. But actually getting people to use the site as well as contribute to it is very important to me. What is the use of ‘a day in the life’ if no one uses the site?

As Mike Ellis memorably said at a conference I attended in 2009 (and I paraphrase slightly) “saying that your information is avaliable online does not mean it’s useful and accessible”.. This really affected me at the time, and although I have been involved in various online projects that haven’t quite yet grasped this concept fully, I really hope that this website is both accessible, useful, and a demonstration of the future of public, community, participatory archaeology – call it what you will.

The DoA team of 7 people worked as smoothly together as if we had been sprayed with WD40. The 400+ archaeologists that contributed to the site were enthusiastic and fearless. No posts were written that were difficult to understand if you were a member of the public. As a team of 407 we done good.

The important thing is what happens next – OK, so we can do this again next year, and aim for 500 archaeologists from every continent… But the potential of this site as a source for campaigning, education, career guidance, dissertation material and so forth is immense. I want to know what you plan to use it for.. You can always find me on Twitter (@LornaRichardson), or Google+ (search for Lorna Richardson, I’m the red-head). You can even email me at the Day of Archaeology email address if 140 characters are not enough… but please get in touch.

My Day of Archaeology…

How meta am I? I think I win any meta competition. My day was not only spent moderating and uploading blogs to the Day of Archaeology site, whilst Tweeting and Facebooking about it (and sending emails and texts), holding hangouts on Google+, Tweeting about holding hangouts on Google+ and Facebooking about Tweeting about holding hangouts on Google+, but I have also kept detailed notes about my experiences of the Day of Archaeology for my PhD research. I am re-using a Netnographic approach (online ethnolography of sorts) to the days participation and discussion on the various social media platforms as far as possible. So your interactions with me and the website have been considered ethnographically (all anonymously of course). And these thoughts and notes are now stuck on virtual Post-Its on my laptop, ready to be written up into a chapter for my research that discusses the creation of an archaeological community online. I think the day clearly demonstrates the existance of an online archaeological community, willing and able to cross social media platforms. It’s not just about being found on Twitter, Flickr or Facebook – it’s about using all of these technologies to create a supportive and cooperative environment on the Internet where archaeologists can come together to network, share, support and laugh about the wonderful world of archaeology.

We done more than good.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making the first Day of Archaeology amazing. So, July 2012 anyone?

Antiquities, databases and an atypical day at the British Museum

The Moorlands Staffordshire Trulla

The Moorlands pan, one of my favourite objects

For the last eight years, I have worked at the British Museum, following a couple of years working for a German Investment Bank in the City of London. I’m responsible for the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme‘s IT infrastructure and I provide advice to the British Museum on ICT issues when needed. The world of IT, is entirely self taught knowledge for me; at university I studied archaeology at undergraduate and post graduate levels, with a specific interest in maritime archaeology. It has been a sharp learning curve, and one that I think will always be challenging and disrupted by new technology. Of course, I’m open to offers to get back below the seas and excavate underwater again!

The department that I work for, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (and Treasure) is a DCMS funded project that records objects that have been found within the boundaries of England and Wales by members of the public. They voluntarily bring these objects forward to one of our 60 members of staff, who then record them on our database. You could say that this is at heart, public archaeology in action. This database now provides the basis for a massive amount of research within the university environment and it is very gratifying to see what people do with the database that I built. For example, the map below (produced in ArcView – I use QGIS at home) shows where coins of different periods are found by our contributors. Of course, I have to be very careful who has access to the full spatial co-ordinates, academics have to apply for access and I use some maths to obfuscate points on a map.

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

I’ve also been heavily involved with the #dayofarch project alongside friends and colleagues (we’re calling ourselves”Digital Archaeologists” ). The team working on this project were Matt Law and Lorna Richardson who came up with the plan, Tom Goskar, Jess Ogden, Stu Eve and Andy Dufton). I provided the project with server space, Google analytics, installation of the software and configuration of the software with Tom Goskar. The project has been amazing to work on, and we’ll hopefully be writing this up and getting a chapter on it into Lorna’s PhD.

My day is pretty varied and is either filled with writing funding bids, writing papers (CASPAR workshop papers on Archaeology on TV and Museums and Twitter at the moment), refactoring or writing new code, creating maps in various GIS packages, manipulating images (by script and hand), meetings with academics, TV people or colleagues. It is extremely different to my previous job, and it is probably why I’ve stuck with the role for such a long period. The database that I run, has been written from scratch and I’m currently transferring all my code to GitHub so that others can make use of my work. All the software that I either use or build has to be open-source. I have a very small budget for my IT work – £4000 per annum; is this the smallest budget for a National IT programme ever? I use products from Vanilla for our staff forum, from WordPress for our blogs and various framework packages like Zend Framework for our main website and database. As such, I spent only £48 on the site’s rebuild, the rest goes on server hosting and backup! At the moment, I am also working on a variety of funding proposals, a couple of JISC bids and I’m also looking for funding for the Video-Conferencing workshop that Elizabeth Warry refers to in her post. This is based around the discovery of the Frome hoard and forms the basis for her Masters’ dissertation that I’m supervising with Tim Schadla-Hall. Other people working on this include the British Museum’s education team and members of the Treasure Team. I’m also on various academic advisory boards, an honorary lecturer at UCL (currently helping to supervise Lorna Richardson’s PhD) and a Trustee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, a scholarly society based in Marylebone that has a wonderful collection of artefacts, maps and photos, and I’m currently involved in helping with a research bid for high resolution imagery of fragile documents which involves a wide array of partners.

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Currently we have records for over 720,000 objects which have been contributed by over 19,000 people in a 14 year time span. We get around 60,000 visitors per month to our site and around 3-10,000 objects recorded; the time of year has a great effect on this – harvest and seasons especially impact. The site was awarded ‘Best of the Web’ as a research tool or online collection at this year’s Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia. Something I’m extremely proud of for all our staff and contributors.  All of these records are released under a Creative Commons NC-BY-SA licence and we’ve had considerable success with a variety of digital projects. High profile finds that come up generate a huge amount of interest, and I’ve been trying to get suitable images for the Wikipedia community. We’re finding our relationship with them very beneficial and we now have lots of images in the Wikicommons.

With my wife, Katharine Kelland, I built the Staffordshire Hoard’s first website in 12 hours, and this was viewed by 1/4 million people in one day when we launched. I now use this model as a way for publicising other significant archaeological discoveries. I’m very lucky to work in the British Museum, I never thought I’d end up working there and you never tire of walking through the main gates and up the stairs to the Great Court. In the last few years I’ve been privileged to have seen amazing discoveries close up – the Hackney hoard, the Moorlands patera, the Staffordshire Hoard, the Frome Hoard, the Wheathampstead hoard, and the list goes on. I’ve even got to dress up as a gladiator and parade around the Great Court. Where else could you do this?

Day in the life of an archaeological planning officer

I am Neil Maylan and I work as the Archeological Planning Manager for the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, based in Swansea, Wales. We provide advice to 13 local planning authorities in South East Wales and I hope to be able to provide a work diary for today.

I started my working day circa 7.30am. As part of my job I am responsible for the Trust’s IT network and e-mails, so my first job is to check the e-mails that have come in overnight, delete the vast number of spam messages that are sent to our open e-mail accounts and redirect any messages that have been wrongly addressed or sent to the open accounts and need to be answered by a specific member of staff.

I also check my own e-mails received over night, fortunately few today and read the weekly newsletter from the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) Maritime Affairs Group, which always has some fascinating information on an area of archaeology I really don’t know enough about.

Account details have been sent out!

As of 12pm on July 12th, account details have been sent via email to everyone who has expressed an interest in signing up and contributing to the project. We now have 244 people willing to document their day, and we’ve even had the first post from Maev Kennedy (Guardian archaeology correspondent) which will go live at 00:01 on the 29th. If you want to contribute, you can still sign up, just email dayofarchaeology@gmail.com

At present, all new users have been set to contributor status, which wordpress defines as:

Somebody who can write and manage their posts but not publish them

All contributions will be moderated prior to them appearing on the site,  so any issues can be fixed before they go live. We have instructions on how to post via the traditional wordpress interface, or you can use the wordpress application on your android or iOS phone. Later today, details on how to post via email will appear on the site as well.

If you’re interested, the map below shows locations of contributors where known.

The day gets closer!