geomatics

Charlotte Walton: The Life of an Archaeological Illustrator

Being an archaeological illustrator can be a very varied job through creating trench plans and digitising excavations to preparing figures for publication and display materials as well as drawing small finds and pottery. Often having to flick between any one of these things in one day.

I have to use a range of software including AutoCAD, QGIS and Adobe Creative Suite on a daily basis, and relish the chance to sit at the drawing board to draw some lovely pottery by hand.

At the moment I am drawing three bells from Hinxton Genome Project, one is highly decorated with diagonal lines and crucifixes.

A desk showing grapics tools for illustrating archaeological artefacts

The tools of the trade

A close-up of a sketch of a crotal bell

A close-up of my bell drawing

Recently I have been getting to grips with geomatics and learning how to set out trenches and record features on site using the GPS. I got issued with my very first set of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and went to my first excavation (not bad for being in archaeology for nearly 10 years). The day consisted of finding my way through brambles, climbing over gates, and recording some very exciting Anglo-Saxon burials.

Charlotte Walton is an Illustrator Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist graphics services, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/specialist-services/7-top-level-pages/113-archaeological-graphics

Dave Brown: Ringing in a New Era of Recording

My Job

I am a Geomatics Supervisor working in the quite newly formed Geomatics team at Oxford Archaeology East. My job has a great mix of both field and office work and often involves new forms of technology and experimental techniques and recording systems.

Over the past 5 or so years the company has changed from using primarily hand-drawn recording methods to a much more widespread use of digital recording. As a result, the divide between ongoing site work & what was traditionally post-excavation has become blurred. The Geomatics team pretty much operates within this blurred zone between field teams and graphics/post-excavation teams.

A car boot full of survey equipment

The essential tools of my trade! The car radio is permanently tuned to Planet Rock.

I enjoy the diversity of my role. On a daily basis I may travel across the Eastern Region to set out evaluation trenches or visit ongoing excavations. Or I may be inside creating trench designs or digitising site plans.

Today I am in the office catching up on my survey processing and working on some site plans for a large project recently completed in Norfolk.

One site in particular is very interesting. It has evidence of Bronze Age activity, including round structures within enclosures and remarkable post hole alignments.

A plan of archaeological features surveyed at a site

A site plan from a large project recently completed in Norfolk

The archaeological features were planned on site using Leica DGPS. Every feature was accurately planned, including all of the postholes, well over 1000 of them!

The data was sent to me & after processing I imported it into AutoCAD. I’m am currently tidying the plan and adding other data.

Archaeologists in hi-vis recording and surveying on site

The field team in action! Note GPS recording in background.

It is hard to imagine how long the process of recording all of these postholes would have taken with traditional methods.

Special Feature!- photogrammetry doesn’t quite ring true

One of the most exciting recording techniques we have recently started to use is photogrammetry. It involves taking a series of photographs which can be processed and manipulated by sophisticated software to create scaled photorealistic 3D models of objects and georeferenced orthophotos of archaeological sites (amongst other things). It means we can record sites by the use of drones even!

This technique is new to me, so one evening earlier this week, partly as a training exercise, I decided to attempt the recording of some church bells. As part of a restoration project funded by local donations and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Nassington Bell Project will see the restoration and overhaul of the existing 5 bells and frame and the casting of a new bell.

As part of this project two out of tune bells will be recast and I thought it would be good to preserve a record of their original form. Unfortunately, the bells are 40ft up in the small, dimly lit belfry!

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

Having gained access to the belfry I placed markers on the bells to help the software and put up bed sheets to mask out unwanted parts of the bell frame.

photographing-bell

Bell 4 cast in 1642 by Thomas Norris of Stamford, weighing approx.. ¼ tonne

I have run the data through the OAE’s Agisoft software overnight and I’m astonished by the results! I had to use a flash for every shot. I thought the smooth regular shape of the bell would also cause problems.

photo-composite

Each blue rectangle represents the position of my camera. I used only a basic digital SLR and its inbuilt flash

More processing and experimenting is required but, for a first attempt, I am quite pleased. I intend to upload the model to Sketchfab eventually to make it more freely available.

finished-bell

Doesn’t quite ring true- there is currently a hole in the top of the model!

The End

Thanks for making it to the end of this blog! I hope it has given you some idea of the diversity of roles and interests in archaeology. Dave

Dave Brown is a Geomatics Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist geomatics services, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/specialist-services/16-oxford-archaeologys-services/fieldwork/21-geomatics

Conan Parsons: A Day in the Life of a Geomatics Project Officer

7:30am I’m normally at the office by now, with my first cup of coffee, but there’s some roadworks on the road around the corner from the office, so we’ve taken a detour to avoid the hideous congestion. I’m sharing a ride from Faringdon with my partner Charles and Gary the GIS expert – more people are living out of Oxford as it’s so expensive, on archaeology wages if you don’t want to house share any more then you’ll have a hard time staying in the city.

7:45am I load up my unit vehicle, today it’s a little Skoda Fabia, my PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is already in the boot from yesterday, I just needed to get the GPS out of it’s locker. I don’t put my coffee down while I’m loading, it’s a morning ritual I’ve developed when getting ready to go to site. As I drive out of the estate I’m going away from all the congestion and traffic, so it only takes me 30 minutes to get to site near Dorchester-on-Thames

8:15am I put my work boots on and assemble the GPS, I’m here to finish marking out some trenches that I started on Monday. I couldn’t get access to part of the site until today, as there were electric fence issues. I create a new job on the GPS and select which trench I want to mark out and head on over.

Here I bump in to the land owner who’s got some concerns about where trenches are going and wants to know how long it’ll be until the excavator is in the field where her horses are now. The supervisor is at the dentist so I ring the site technician who’s over with the machine, to try and find out for her. He claims ignorance of details above his pay grade, I jovially scold him and between us we come up with an estimate of time scales for the land owner, which she seems happy with.

A close-up image of a brown foal with black hair next to GPS equipment.

A friendly foal I find in the field.

8:40am I’m now marking out the trenches with the GPS, putting a yellow flag at each end. A foal comes over to me and starts sniffing me while I’m working, the whiskers tickle quite a lot so I can’t help giggling, which attracts the other horses, that are all curious why I’m in their field. Luckily they don’t eat my flags.

915am I let the technician know that I’ve finished, and that I’m off site, checking he doesn’t need anything else from me while I’m there. Back to Oxford! It takes me longer than usual, there’s still that pesky roadwork problem!

10:am I’ve unloaded the car and put GPS batteries on charge. I notice one of the batteries hasn’t charged properly again (I had previously flagged it up for checking last time it failed). I give it to my boss and ask him to order a replacement. He’s getting a growing pile of dead batteries now, as they get worn out after a while! I grab another coffee and tell Charles I’m back in the office after popping myself in on the in/out board

10:20am I need to process my job to get the information in to CAD, one of our supervisors has also done some survey and uploaded his data to our server, so I decide to process that as well while I’m using the same software. When I’ve processed my stakeout data I send a list of trench altitudes to the site supervisor, so that he can use a dumpy level on his trenches to work out heights. Wh7en I’ve processed the other job I make a PDF of a plan and send it to the supervisor so he can see what his site looks like, I also put some hard copies in his pigeon hole.

While this is all going on I’m having issues with the IT department: They’ve just got a new server up and running and I need them to put our specialised photogrammetry PC on to it before I start any jobs later. Also I have to put paper in the printer and tidy up the print area: People sometimes print things and then don’t pick them up/forget them. Sometimes this happens when the printer runs out of paper and jobs just queue up until some one actually puts paper in.

11:45am I’ve got some polecam photos to put through the photogrammetry machine, they’re from our site in Somerset which is over a Roman villa. I’ve previously processed a mosaic from the site, now some of the cobbled surfaces are being done. Polecams give a good vantage point and the photogrammetry software can stitch the photos together to make an orthometric photo (or ortho-photo for short), which we can put to scale on a CAD drawing. One of the parts of site comes out fine and I send this over to the site PO (Project Officer) so that she can put it on her CAD drawing for a birds eye view of the cobbles. The two other parts are awaiting her survey information so that I can locate it spatially and scale it.

Then I have to help one of the IT guys find the equipment cage for Somerset, as he’s just finished processing the site backup disk (so that if anything happens to the site laptop we still have the most current data.)

12:12pm The supervisor from Aylesbury has rang me after receiving his site PDF, and given me some feedback about what needs changing on the plan after a re-inspection of the site. We agree on the changes and then I update and resend the drawing.

12:30pm I grab another coffee and steal a cigarette off of a project manager (who’s also given up smoking), we’ve got some history together and we get on well, so I don’t feel bad about asking, and he doesn’t mind my company. I’ve got a good working relationship with most of the managers actually, which is useful when negotiating things on site or on the computer (such as time limits, working practises etc.)

12:40pm I have 3 outstanding skeletons to process from one of our other sites: We’re also using photogrammetry to make ortho-photos of burials now. This site has had a lot of grave goods, and some the photos look amazing, showing the context of the finds in great detail. After a half hour lunch break and when I’ve finished processing the photos I ask Gary if he needs the photogrammetry machine for anything, he says “no” so I shut it down.

A detailed overhead photograph of a skeleton in a cut grave.

One of the ortho-photos I processed. An ortho-photo is a uniform-scale overhead photograph.

2:15pm I load up the 3 new ortho-photos in to the site CAD drawing, trace around the shape of the grave cuts, draw a stick man in the pose/position of each skellie and digitise any grave goods (like necklaces, swords, seaxes, the usual). I save the drawing – The project manager for the site is on holiday this week, but I know that as soon as he gets back on Monday he will go straight to the drawing and have a look at the progress, he won’t be expecting the stick men in the graves but he’ll appreciate it. It will be a good drawing to send off to the client and county archaeologist as a progress report. I was a bit engrossed and my coffee went cold, so I get another.

2:30pm Our graphics team have been a bit low on work, so one of the illustrators is digitising Bexhill for me, as I don’t have time and the other surveyors are in the field. I’ve been asked by his manager, Magda, to check on his work and make sure the drawing is all OK thus far. I have a good look through, checking for valid geometry and that data is attached. It’s 99% good work, and after discovering he’s already gone home when I go to give my feedback, I send him an email, copying in his manager, about what he’s done well and what could be better. I’m happy it’s going smoothly, as it’s a big project he’s digitising.

3:15pm I load up a CAD drawing from Didcot that I’ve been digitising myself in between projects. It’s a very quiet afternoon and I’m left to it with no interruptions, I’ve been lucky this week as a few managers are on holiday and as such I’ve had few interruptions to my already busy schedule!

4:00pm I go and talk to Stuart, our drone pilot at OA South, we’re off out early tomorrow and I’m his flight assistant. I confirm with him what time we’re going out tomorrow and then round up the guys ready for the drive home.

I hope those road works are finished.

Conan Parsons is a Geomatics Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s South office in Oxford. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist geomatics services, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/specialist-services/16-oxford-archaeologys-services/fieldwork/21-geomatics

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…)

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


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.

(more…)