Geographic information system

Jetlag and a very full day – GIS manuals, Egyptology and conference preparation

Hello!

Yesterday was a very busy day, thus I am only now able to submit a post here!

Australia!

I got back from a two-week holiday to Western Australia on Thursday. My Dad and I went to visit his brother who moved to Perth from the Isle of Man 40 years ago, and his family. We had an awesome time, saw lots of places and wildlife: Roos, Quokkas, Koalas, the lot 🙂

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

My family out there is lovely! I am still rather tired and recovering from a long journey back, which commenced on Wednesday afternoon: 5h flight from Perth to Singapore, then 13h Singapore to London-Heathrow. Then another 3h back to Liverpool by train. My poor Dad had to fly back to Hanover, which is close to Peine, Germany, where I am originally from!

The thing that struck me, whilst visiting Australia, however, is the general attitude towards archaeology. Whenever I mentioned my interest in visiting a particular museum, or seeing anything related to archaeology, I was told that “Australia doesn’t have very much history at all”, and that “surely, there is not very much archaeology around”… I was rather shocked and saddened by this, given the huge amount of aboriginal culture in Australia. I did point this out, and obtained some understanding, but the attitude of Australians towards Aborigines is a very problematic topic in general. When visiting the Western Australian Museum in Perth, however, I saw a very well-displayed and super-informative exhibition on aboriginal culture in Western Australia. Shame it didn’t seem to be too-well visited! 🙁

Back to work!

I had to get up extra-early yesterday (29th July), as I had to get straight back to work: I work as a Supervisor in Geomatics for Oxford Archaeology North, specialising in open source GIS. I totally love it and really do think it’s the way forward, especially given that proprietary software can “lock in” archaeological data, which can lead to data loss – something that should be avoided, I guess we all agree! Over the past couple of years we have been using open source GIS software, such as gvSIG (both the “original gvSIG” and the OADigital Edition), Quantum GIS, GRASS,  in addition to some 3D GIS visualisation tools, such as Paraview. Furthermore, we have been testing and using database software, such as PGAdmin (PostgreSQL and PostGIS), and illustration software, such as Inkscape successfully. I must say that all of the software we used has come a long, long way in those past two years, and at OA North, we use open source tools more or less as a standard and I can confidentially say that it is replacing the proprietary software previously used, such as AutoCAD and ArcGIS.

My friend and colleague Christina Robinson and I were given some time to document our combined knowledge in order to make it accessible to both colleagues within the company, and also the wider archaeological community – what is better than a free guide to open source GIS, which allows you learn to use free, powerful GIS software, and edit and analyse your own survey data! 🙂 We have produced guides and manuals during the past couple of years – they are available for free download on the OA library website and released under the creative commons license. Here are the manuals we released so far:

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Hodgkinson, Anna (2010) Open Source Survey & GIS Manual. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Using the Helmert (two-point) transformation in Quantum GIS. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd.. (Unpublished)

Robinson, Christina and Campbell, Dana and Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Archaeological maps from qGIS and Inkscape: A brief guide. Third edition. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished) – this is the third edition, re-released today!

And here are two brand new guides, produced on the Day of Archaeology and made available today:

Robinson, Christina (2011) QGIS Handy Hints. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Download of the Leica 700 and 800 series Total Station. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Please download and  use these and extend your skills; please burn them and let us know, we are grateful for your feedback! Some more guides/manuals are currently in production and will be added to the library, so please watch this space!

Lunch Break – (not really) time for some Egyptology

I briefly escaped work at lunchtime in order to go to the bank – I had to make an international transfer, the only way (annoyingly) to pay for my speaker’s fees for the upcoming 16th International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, Vienna, November 2011. My paper on “Modeling Urban Industries in New Kingdom Egypt” was accepted for presentation, my abstract an be found here. I will be presenting my current research on the distribution of (mainly) artefactual evidence from Amarna, ancient Akhetaten, in Middle Egypt. Using open source GIS (naturally), I am studying the distribution and density of artefacts relating to high-status industries, such as glass, faience, metal, sculpture and textiles within the settled areas of Amarna, in order to establish how products and raw materials were controlled and distributed.

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

This paper presents part of my PhD research on high-status industries within the capital and royal cities in New Kingdom Egypt, Memphis, Malkata, Gurob, Amarna and Pi-Ramesse. I have now completed my third year of part-time research and am hoping to finish the whole thing within the next two or three years. We will see, thought I’d better get on with it!! 🙂

I am a member of the fieldwork team at Gurob, and I am very much looking forward to our next fieldwork season in September this year! Check out the project website for reports of past fieldwork seasons and my work in the industrial area, which I also presented at The Third British Egyptology Congress (BEC 3) in London, 2010.

After-work seminar and more open source GIS

We had an in-house, after-work seminar at 5pm, at which Christina and I gave our paper on “Open Source GIS for archaeological data visualisation and analysis” to colleagues, which we presented at OSGIS 2011 in Nottingham. You can watch the webcast of the original talk online (scroll down until you find it), unfortunately it only works for Windows, though. :'( The paper, which was presented on June 22nd 2011, is about our successful case study, moving Geomatics at OA North to open source GIS and away from proprietary software. We even won the prize for the second-best presentation! It went down well with colleagues, and after a discussion we moved on outside for a barbecue, which was very nice, as it stayed warm all day (unusual for Lancaster). I had to eave rather early unfortunately, as the commute back to Liverpool takes about 1.5 hours. At least I was able to relax and read George Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons”on my Kindle!

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham


7. Digitising Crickley plans and using GIS

There are numerous plans showing the features at Crickley Hill – some are simple pencil drawn plans (done in the field), but most have since been reproduced in ink, for both durability and to make features more visible. When I was digging at Crickley, I remember planning (drawing) contexts – this was done using a 1m grid that had been divided into 10 x 10 cm squares. Any item the size of a 2p piece or larger was drawn. This resulted in very detailed plans (anything smaller was unlikely to show up when the plan had been reduced to scale).

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6. Roman and early Medieval Crickley: Matrices and contexts

This post will outline one of the most important tasks in post-excavation analysis – working out and showing how features relate to one another. I’ll discuss how records of data retrieved from the Crickley excavations might be used to establish stratigraphic relationships, and illustrate one common way of showing relationships – a type of diagram known as the Harris Matrix. I’m currently undertaking this task in I’m preparation to digitise plans of a building in a GIS programme (see 7. ‘ Digitising Crickley Plans and Using GIS‘). I’ll begin with an example of how a matrix might be used, in conjunction with context records.

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The Big Picture: Archaeological Records after the Project is Done

Greetings! I’m Jolene Smith. I work for the Department of Historic Resources in Virginia, USA. I decided to post on Day of Archaeology because I am most certainly not what most people would consider a “typical” archaeologist. I manage digital and paper records and mapping for nearly 43,000 recorded archaeological sites in Virginia through our government agency, which is also the State Historic Preservation Office.

Sometimes I miss being out in the field, but certainly not today. It’s currently 100°F/38°C outside at lunch time, so I’m very happy in my air conditioned office cubicle.

Distribution of Sites in Virginia by County

Distribution of Recorded Archaeological Sites in Virginia (work-in-progress!)

My work so far today has been very heavy on GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I spent the morning creating a quick map showing the density of recorded sites in Virginia’s counties for a publication of the Archeological Society of Virginia (our state’s wonderful avocational archaeological organization). It’s still a major work-in-progress, but I’m happy I was able to easily generate this data. The ASV hopes to use this info as a guide for where to conduct future archaeological surveys. With a little more work, I’ll be able to clean up some errors, pretty it up, and label everything so the data will be easily understandable.

I spent much of the rest of the morning working on creating records for a large project conducted by a CRM (cultural resource management) consultant, making sure the GIS mapping is accurate and matches the information in our databases and in the printed site form records. Quality control is a big part of what I do. It’s fundamental to remember that archaeology is inherently destructive, so it’s critical to have good, clear records.

Here’s what I have on tap for the rest of the day: I’ll work with some more consultants to create records for new archaeological sites and add information to previously recorded sites. I’ll also be responding to a few emails from members of the public interested in recording small cemeteries in our inventory. Then, I’ll probably review a few archaeological projects that have been conducted at the future sites of mobile phone/telecommunications towers as part of Section 106 compliance to make sure that there won’t be impacts to important archaeological deposits. Quite a variety, isn’t it?

Supporting students in the field

I have a strange job, and one that doesn’t exist at too many other universities. My official title is ‘Project and Fieldwork Officer’ and, along with my partner in crime Anthony in the role of Computing Officer, you could say we act as a sort of half-way-house between the students and the lecturers in the Department of Archaeology at York.

We spend a lot of our time teaching the undergraduate and postgraduate students techniques like survey, geophysics, and computing skills such as GIS, but invariably this doesn’t stop in class. As soon as a student decides to use a fieldwork technique, piece of kit, or computer in their dissertation, this means a lot of one-to-one support and coaching from us. This puts us in a nice position, as we really get to know the students well, in a more relaxed environment. It also means we are rewarded handsomely with wine and chocolate at the end of the year.

With the undergraduates away for the summer it’s quiet in the department, but there’s still plenty to do. The postgrads are still here, desperately trying to finish their dissertations and in need of GIS and other general computer help, but today I had other responsibilities.

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It’s all fun and games until you break my GPS

The day in the life of a GIS manager.

As a GIS manager at a small environmental and archaeological firm in Arizona I don’t get out much to enjoy the archaeology any more (Dirt? Never touch the stuff).

Since I wake up 8 hours behind the rest of the world, my Friday is about to consist of getting a quote on a GPS repair (most likely not worth the fix since it’s a Juno and pretty worthless in the first place… 2-5 m accuracy? Boo hiss), working on proposals for local scanning projects , answering phoned in questions on the total station from the crew in the field excavating (told you I don’t get out), cleaning up data on the server (my nemesis), digitizing rocks and mortar, and pulling maps out of thin air. All by 5 or beer thirty, whichever comes first… hopefully the latter?

So I should probably stop blogging and get to work!

Day of Archaeology (Meetings)

Today is going to be spent pretty much inside, pretty much in Southampton, and pretty much in meetings, pretty much as usual. Still, the stuff is pretty interesting, at least as far as an archaeologist obsessed with computation and old things in sunny places thinks.

Today started with a couple of hours of editing. We have been working for a few years in the field of Reflectance Transformation Imaging. Last year the AHRC funded us to develop some new RTI systems and also to spread the word about the technology, particularly amongst archaeologists and experts in the study of ancient documents. This has been enormous fun. But I can start with a negative: the technology has its limitations – there is good experimental research demonstrating that other methods can be more accurate at the very fine level. But the considerable positives are – it is quick to do, can be very cheap, and definitely does the job if what you want to do is explore the subtle surface details of an object. If you want to measure to a micron, go elsewhere (and we have been – mostly to mu-Vis). But otherwise, grab a camera, a torch or flash gun, and a shiny ball (snooker balls work well) and get imaging. So, you’ll see from the RTISAD web page that we have been recording all sorts of objects with a load of interesting people. Whilst the project is winding down – I’m editing the report whilst writing this 🙂 – we are really keen to build new collaborations so please get in touch.

Next up I have a meeting with Les Carr in Electronics and Computer Science.  I am involved in a few projects with Les and lots of others here at Southampton to identify ways for us in the institution to manage our research data. Most recently we have built a couple of pilot systems in Sharepoint and EPrints and also trialled some tools to make deposit of data an easy process for researchers. The bottom line is that we need to make it even easier for researchers to look after their data, not only for fear of the disaster of losing it but also because it is our ethical and increasingly our legal responsibility. There are a lot of institutional and professional practice issues here, as well as more pragmatic stuff: its so much easier to keep your files in a bunch on the hard drive than beautifully ordered and attributed somewhere safe and central. So, for the last year funded by the JISC we have looked at research practice and policy within the institution, including talking to a lot of our archaeologists, and seeing how in the end we can join up data management here with the aspiration of also making deposit to the ADS easier and even more ingrained in researcher practice.

For lunch it is a supervision with Tom Frankland, a PhD student here working on the RCUK Digital Economy www.patina.ac.uk project. Tom has been busy on fieldwork in Italy and in the UK examining extant fieldwork practice and developing some interventions, particularly focussed on hierarchies and issues surrounding collaboration on site. There has been loads of work in the area of digital data capture on archaeological sites and we want to explore the impact of this on practice and the wider discipline, and also propose and consider the implications of some novel technologies. For a starting point on where we are coming from look at the cool work of Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry at MIT on SixthSense.  

Afternoon in my calendar is free so at the moment that means more RTI report editing and a bit of work on Science and Heritage PARNASSUS. This project is looking at environmental effects and adaptation measures needed for the protection of cultural heritage from climate change impact. We have been involved in some interesting survey work and also research into archaeological indicators for adaptations to climate change. Open on my laptop though is the policy document for data exchange and documentation. The project has a lot of partners gathering complementary but quite different information in the next few months so as ever the issue is thinking about how best to look after it and how to let one end of the data talk to the other.

Last part of today is timetabled for reviewing this month’s progress on the www.portusproject.org . We have been working at the port of Imperial Rome for the last decade or so and recently got funding from the AHRC for three years of analysis, limited fieldwork and publication. This has a strong digital component including building a succession of structural and visual computer graphic models of the various buildings, using information from geophysics, laser scanning, photogrammetry and so on. Thanks also to L-P Archaeology and their ARK 🙂 So, with more fieldwork at Catalhoyuk in Turkey coming up really soon, the iPhone pinging, and a nagging doubt that the car still won’t be fixed tonight it is time to stop writing 🙂 Day of Archaeology = top idea. Weekend looking like Beach + Rain.

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

RCAHMS – Hannah Smith IfA Bursary in Information Management

Well it’s a bit of a cheat as ‘technically’ on the 29th I’ll be blogging all of the RCAHMS contributions for Day of Archaeology, so I’ve made my own contribution early!

I’ve been at RCAHMS for 5 months working with the Data and Recording section. I’m lucky enough to be here on a funded IfA/HLF bursary which allows me to get involved in a number of different projects to provide training and workplace learning. However at the moment I’ve been working on the Defining Scotland’s Places project (when I’m not blogging for Day of Archaeology that is!) which aims to create site area polygons for existing records. These polygons will effectively create an intelligent map containing attributes and information about the site itself. To create the extent polygons, a number of sources are consulted such as aerial photography, Ordnance Survey mapping both current and historic, RCAHMS 1:10,000 record sheets as well as information created from field surveys. All of these sources are taken into account to determine the most accurate site extent.

I’ve been working on polygonising the Western Isles and I’m currently focussing on Harris. The map shows the areas which have been polygonised already as part of the project (seen in pink).

Both RCAHMS and Western Isles local authority records are available so the project provides an opportunity for concordance between the two sets of records as well.

In essence the project creates a new intelligent map which has been digitised from a combination of other sources including the record summaries which give details of the site.

Polygons are a closed shape which define an area. They provide far more information about the site than a simple dot on a map. The polygons are also flexible enough to be created for any type of site. Even at a glance polygons allow for a much more understandable map of the sites already recorded in Scotland and can be further interrogated for more detail and information.

This new data provides a much more visual understanding of the sites and their surrounding landscape. I’ve been learning a lot about the landscape of the Western Isles during this project which will no doubt come in handy when I visit the area in a few weeks to give a download of the data created so far to the Western Isles archaeologist.

For more information on the specific details of this project see the RCAHMS website.

More examples of the work being produced by the project:

Defining Scotland’s Places Heritage Asset Map

Defining Scotland’s Places Heritage Asset Map 2

Defining Scotland’s Places Heritage Asset Map 3