Archaeological Geosemantics, the final chapter

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

GSTAR IV: Return of the GeoJSON

Following on from my Days of Archaeology in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (and for the last time), the bulk of my Day of Archaeology this year focussed on my doctoral research, writing up my thesis on Geosemantic Technologies for Archaeological Research (GSTAR). It’s been a busy three years but the project is nearing completion and will hopefully inform heritage management and research strategy over the coming years.

The aim of the project was to show how geosemantic technologies can be used to provide a framework for working with heritage data in a range of research contexts. To this end, I have built a demonstrator application which is based around a map (obvs!) for the Stonehenge landscape and which draws data from Historic Environment Records, museums and project archives, allowing users to ask questions across these diverse resources taking advantage of the semantic goodness of Linked Geospatial Data, thesauri and ontologies. Geosemantic ‘glue’ was used to integrate horizontally between resources (such as monuments and artefacts found within or nearby) and vertically (ie between excavation records and monument/event HER records and museum collection records).

The ontologies used were the CIDOC CRM, CRM-EH and GeoSPARQL which allow the concepts used by the various sources to be aligned whilst the terminology provided by the thesauri (published using SKOS) allow for the various terms used to document these concepts to be related. In other words, the semantic tools allow for the different sources to be made interoperable and queryable with the results displayed and interacted with on a map.

Moving forward, the approach taken and successfully demonstrated could be scaled up to act as the basis for the next generation of heritage information portals; think of the Heritage Gateway but with some additional bells and whistles:

  • the ability to undertake proper geospatial queries and analysis, even where there is no GIS data
  • spatial queries mediated using geospatial semantics, to get away from purely Cartesian views of space dependent on geometry and the problems that entails for historic information
  • complex querying across all of the participating providers, with differences in terminology ironed out

The demonstrator application is built using a range of standard web and geospatial technologies. Currently, the accessioning process for data is largely manual, built using the STELLAR Toolkit to process outputs from MODES and HBSMR, two major software packages used in museums and HERs respectively. A next step would be to automate this, which would be fairly straightforward from a technological if not a political perspective. If an automated pipeline could be implemented across all the HBSMR and MODES using institutions and organisations, this would cover an enormous amount of heritage information and, combined with a map based portal and live feeds to desktop GIS, would greatly improve the way in which we undertake all kinds of research activities, both in academic and commercial contexts.

Information from site archives was a little tricksier, as one might expect; such data does not typically get archived in a readily useable fashion unlike information found within the structured systems used for managing Historic Environment Record data or museums collections. However, with ongoing work relating to the digital capture and sharing of fieldwork information through OASIS, HERALD and the broader Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS), we are undoubtedly moving towards a time when this becomes not just possible but the norm. When this happens (and note I say when not if!), we can start to extend Linked Data principles more fully to our information resources, so monument records can be directly built up from linked fieldwork records, museum collection artefact records can be layered on top of linked excavation finds records and, on top of all this, our Research Agendas and Frameworks can be truly data driven, dynamic resources drawing directly on this web of Linked Data, informing and informed by ongoing research and our shared knowledge of the past, across all of our information resources.

The use of such geosemantic ‘glue’ allows for a much more intelligent approach to finding and working with geospatial information from heterogenous sources split across numerous providers. Take the following query for example:

Show me all the Bronze Age mounds where dolerite has been found during excavations and carved chalk balls were discovered nearby.

Using the HeritageData Periods thesaurus, it is possible to mediate different uses of language across sources to describe time-spans relating to the Bronze Age, using broader, narrower and/or related terms. We can use the FISH Event Types Thesaurus to find event records relating to interventions (including excavations) and draw on the project archives for these to check for finds of dolerite, potentially using geological ontologies such as GEON to mediate identifications of rock types. Using the FISH Object Types Thesaurus, it is possible to do the same for chalk balls or any other artefact type. Geospatial information may well not exist for these objects as recorded in museums collections, most likely not in the form of British National Grid coordinates at least, particularly where they were discovered in antiquity. But we do often have some basic spatial information such as an associated location (eg Stonehenge), parish (eg Amesbury) or named place (eg Stonehenge Road); in such cases we can use the Ordnance Survey Linked Data plus some of the spatial relationships defined by the Simple Features specification (used by the GeoSPARQL ontology) to perform a spatial query using these index terms via a bit of geosemantic magic. Moving forward, we can align our research questions with such resources and queries so, for example, if the dating of carved chalk balls (typically thought of as of Neolithic origin) were to change, we can use the same approach to identify contexts where such changes would have a knock on effect or where our broader understanding of deposits, sites and complexes may also need to be updated or where new research questions arise. So this may be the end of the GSTAR project, but it’s only just the beginning for the use of such approaches within the heritage sector.

Many thanks again to everyone who has helped, contributed and otherwise supported this research project along the way, particularly:

  • Doug Tudhope, Alex Lohfink, Mark Ware & Ceri Binding (University of South Wales)
  • Chris Brayne (Wessex Archaeology)
  • David Dawson (Wiltshire Museum)
  • Adrian Green (Salisbury Museum)
  • Keith May (Historic England)
  • Melanie PomeroyKellinger (Wiltshire Council)

Prospección desde el sillón

Instituto de Ciencias del Patrimonio (Incipit), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), España.

Introducción técnica (con palabras raras y eso)

El uso de tecnologías geoespaciales tanto para investigación como para gestión y protección del patrimonio arqueológico es algo bastante consolidado ya en esta nuestra disciplina. Dada la buena disposición del estado, en España disponemos desde hace años de una ingente cantidad de datos geográficos de libre acceso a nuestro alcance cuyo número no deja de crecer y que permiten que cualquiera persona pueda trastear en el espacio cuanto y como crea conveniente.

Una de las grandes posibilidades ofrecidas por estas tecnologías que en la última década ha ido ganando fuerza es el uso de datos LiDAR, nubes de puntos obtenidas con láser que permiten modelar superficies con bastante precisión y clasificarlas en categorías (Para más información, La precisión obtenida con algunos sensores permite reconstruir la superficie del terreno con resoluciones altísimas aportando, entre otras muchas cosas, una visión diferente de los sitios arqueológicos a la que estamos acostumbrados.

Una de las grandes posibilidades que ofrece el uso de LiDAR en arqueología es la de realizar desde tu silla (o sillón, todo depende del estatus) prospecciones sobre grandes áreas de terreno en las que detectar cualquier anomalía superficial susceptible de ser un sitio arqueológico.

El resumen del trabajo

Hoy, 29 de Julio de 2016, en el Día de la Arqueología, estoy dedicando la jornada a aplicar estas técnicas no invasivas para comprobar su eficacia a la hora de identificar y delimitar yacimientos, tanto ya conocidos como nuevos. En concreto, como parte de un proyecto, estamos revisando zonas del Concello de Friol, en Lugo, un territorio bien conocido y prospectado hace años a través, básicamente, de trabajo de campo.

La cobertura de datos LiDAR de España es también de libre acceso e incluye todo el territorio estatal, si bien la calidad de los mismos muchas veces no permite obtener de forma precisa una resolución mejor a 1 m (hay que pensar que estos datos se tomaron con otros fines que no requieren tanto detalle como planeamiento urbano, forestal y demás). No obstante, trabajar con modelos de 1 m de resolución está resultando suficiente por lo general en este caso y, de forma constante, estamos identificando túmulos (tanto nuevos como conocidos) y estructuras como fosos y terrazas asociadas a castros.

Para visualizar todos estos elementos nos estamos ayudando de filtros que nos ayuden a resaltar características del terreno tales como la pendiente, la concavidad/convexidad o su exposición al sol. La posibilidad para identificar elementos arqueológicos en estas superficies frente a métodos tradicionales como la fotointerpretación se hace bastante evidente:

00_PNOA2 00_SLOPE2

Figura 1: Comparativa. La misma superficie vista desde el aire vs vista con datos LiDAR. Los puntos rojos representan túmulos, la mayoría de ellos no visibles con fotointerpretación. La rugosidad de la imagen de LiDAR quiere decir que la calidad de los datos no es muy alta. Sin embargo, es suficiente para identificar los túmulos más grandes.

El caso de la imagen anterior es de túmulos cuya existencia ya era conocida pero, no obstante, en ocasiones también estamos localizando posibles túmulos no documentados que, obviamente, tendrán que ser confirmados en el campo. El trabajo no resulta excesivamente complicado, pero sí requiere un buen ojo, muchas horas de dedicación buscando en la pantalla y, sobre todo, mucha paciencia para no entrar en desesperación cuando revisas hectáreas y hectáreas en un solo día buscando bultos sospechosos.


Figura 2: Excederse con el LiDAR en una misma jornada y no tener resultados positivos puede llevar a la desesperación, así que paciencia.

En definitiva, y como consejo/resumen, idos preparando, compañeros de profesión, pues como la calidad de los datos LiDAR vaya en alza y se sigan desarrollando nuevas técnicas es posible que la prospección convencional pierda importancia… ¡Así que ya podéis ir afinando el ojo!

Por Jorge Canosa-Betés

Kate Brady: Post-Excavation and Photography

My name is Kate Brady and I am a Project Officer in the Post-Excavation (PX) department at Oxford Archaeology.

My job varies greatly from day to day (one of the reasons I enjoy it so much). Hopefully this blog post will give you a flavour of what I do on a typical day.

Thursday 28th July 2016


After coffee and emails my first task is always to plan how I will complete my task for the day I have four ongoing projects at the moment and I am also in charge of photography at the unit so at the moment I have several things to keep track of.

People at their desks at work

Some of my colleagues in the PX department at Oxford Archaeology South, Oxford.

9.30am – 11.30am

This morning I am writing the discussion section for the report on excavations at Brasenose College in Oxford. The site revealed evidence of the use of the site before the construction of the current College building so I have been consulting maps and documents to match up our evidence from plans and section drawings of the site and the pottery we collected, dated by our in-house specialist John Cotter, with the documented use of the site. Because the pottery is in several cases dateable to the space of a few decades, and the development of the site in the post-medieval period is fairly well documented, I can piece together this evidence to tell a story of how the site developed. Having said that, there are still a few questions, such as why was there such a large dump of German drinking vessels recovered? John and I discuss some ideas about this and I think about how I’m going to present the possible explanations in my report. When I’m formulating the discussion of a report like this I usually print out site plans and maps and scribble all over them. Although we now routinely use CAD and GIS to overlay site plans on maps and analyse our data, I still often use this old fashioned method initially as I find it helps clarify my ideas as I’m thinking them through. The results of these scribbles will later be presented in a much more professional way, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Plans, ruler, keyboard and pen on a desk

My desk!


Several of my Colleagues in PX are specialists in certain categories of finds and John Cotter, who sits just along from me often shows me particularly interesting things that come in for him to look at. John is a specialist in medieval and post-medieval pottery and also clay tobacco pipes, and I’ve learnt a lot just sitting nearby. Today a complete medieval crucible was brought back from one of our sites in Oxford. The project manager has asked for a spot-date. John says he thinks it is 12th century in date and the best example every found in Oxford. I always feel so lucky to get to see all these things as they come in.

Hands holding a 12th Century crucible

A 12th Century crucible

11.30am- 1pm

I continued with my discussion writing for the rest of the morning, occasionally answering questions about what cameras are available for use on upcoming sites and about plans for me to go out and photograph sites next week. We have lots of sites on at the moment so I’m busy in that respect.

1.30pm – 3pm

For the first part of this afternoon the PX department gathered together for a departmental meeting which we usually have bi-monthly to keep us all informed of what work we will be doing next and what projects are now moving into the PX phase. I found out I’ll be working on the report for a Roman site we excavated in Aylesbury and that a monograph I co-wrote on a project we completed in Bristol will soon be published. My programme is full for the rest of the year so I’m happy that I’ll be kept busy.

3 pm – 4pm

After the meeting I retreat to the photography room we’ve set up to photograph some medieval tiles we recovered from the Westgate Centre development in the centre of Oxford. Most of my photography work at OA is on site but I also occasionally undertake finds photography and enjoy getting to handle the finds and work out the best way to photograph them.

For the last part of the day I continued with the discussion text I was writing earlier. Late in the day is often a good time to write as the office is emptier and quieter and I can get lost in what I’m doing without being disturbed. However, a nice distraction arrives before I’m about to leave at 5pm, the latest edition of our in-house newsletter is ready and one of my photos is on the cover!

A hand holding a magazine

My photo from the Westgate excavation on the cover of the latest edition of the in-house newsletter

Kate Brady is a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s South office in Oxford. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our publications, visit our website:

Commercial geophysics for archaeology – a day at my desk

Cs mag survey around the long cairn

Cs vapour magnetic survey around the long cairn

We are a geophysical survey company working mostly in archaeology with some other shallow geophysical work alongside. This is ArchaeoPhysica’s second Day of Archaeology post, this time featuring mostly office work.

I’m Anne Roseveare, the Operations Manager, and I spend much of my time at a desk, make a few field visits and occasionally can be found in the workshop building and mending things. Unsurprisingly, my day involved quite a bit of time on the phone and emailing people about quote requests, ground conditions and schedules. Harvest dates are a hot topic at the moment as often fieldwork is held until the crops are cleared and we’re then wanted everywhere in a short time window. Our overall timetabling process has similarities to multi-dimensional tetris, or at least it feels like it.

We had fresh batches of data in from the previous couple of days’ fieldwork to process, visualise and prepare interim results to send to our archaeological clients. Kathryn’s been busy working through these, checking data quality and getting the data sets GIS-ready. I’ve also been working on the final stage of reporting for a multi-method geophysical survey on a deserted medieval settlement.

One of last week’s surveys was a couple of fields of magnetic data collected on a research basis next to a monument we surveyed using ERT (electrical resistance tomography) a few months ago. It’s not often you get to survey a neolithic long cairn and visit the excavation of the damaged part, so we were keen to see what (if anything) there was to see around it. Our work will inform the long term management plan for the monument.

01 image3 smaller

Our earlier ERT survey in progress

sloping slice across ERT profiles shows the internal structure

Sloping slice across ERT profiles showing some of the mound’s internal structure

some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area - useful to compare with ERT

Some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area – useful to compare with ERT results

talking through findings with one of the excavators

Talking through findings with one of the excavators

The rest of Friday’s workload was as usual completely commercially confidential – most of our work is development-related and is attached to planning applications (so no pictures from these).

I reviewed a WSI (Written Scope of Investigation) prepared by colleagues Daniel & Martin for a large project, updating the sections on soils & geologies. We often produce a WSI for large or complicated projects – sometimes it is required by the Local Authority Archaeologist or the client. It contains a summary of the purpose of the project and background information that will influence our geophysical work, including heritage and environmental information. Next comes the reasoning why our proposal is the most effective way forward and what the limitations are, followed by what the outputs from our work will be.

Another chunk of my time went into preparation for a forthcoming project, where there are multiple areas to survey and strict access arrangements as the site is sensitive. In this case, our project GIS will help us and the client to map out survey & no-go zones, schedule the different work areas (and re-schedule if needed as the work unfolds) as well as be the usual foundation for our reporting. We’ll be mapping visible signs of landscaping as the fieldwork goes on, too, to give our geophysical data local context.

Behind the scenes, out of sight of clients, there’s always other things happening. For example Martin was preparing a funding proposal to support a research project on a prehistoric mining site and there was unexciting but important maintenance of our internal project archive. Also, project Pegasus is moving along, with Martin & Benj on 3D design and construction (all will be revealed later this year). We usually have a development project on the go – it’s a case of fitting things round the commercial work.

I lost count how many mugs of tea and coffee we got through but this week’s Friday cake was carrot cake with particularly squishy icing – important fuel!

Folders of secrets: the SITAR Project.


We work at the SITAR, the innovative project of the Archaeological Superintendndence of Rome (today called Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il Museo Nazionale Romano e l’Area Archeologica di Roma), born in 2007 and that aim at the complete digitization and systematization in a GIS environment of all the archaeological documentation related to the surveys and excavations carried out in Rome from the end of XIX century to present. The work to do is hard and it’s too much for one person, for this reason we are a team of ten archaeologists. What expect us is an huge work, sometimes dusty for sure! We explore forgotten angles of famous palaces of Rome and their subterraneans to collect old and precious documents. 

At first we have to go physically in the archives to collect paper documentation. What you don’t expect is that the archives could be such as astonishing places as the one at the Terme di Diocleziano, or really full of stuff as the one of Palazzo Massimo, but in any case the satisfaction to open folders and find in them archaeological documents from the end of the XIX century is really great, we feel like the explorers of the past. Not all the archives are “user friendly”, and not every documentation is complete or in agreement with actual archaeological common standards, but we believe in this work and we consider this like a real archaeological excavation. After all we are archaeologists and put in order things from the past is part of our mission.


The second step consists in an office data entry work to digitize and systematize the archaeological dataset: acquire by scanner, georeference and digitize plans, extract the data related to the surveys and to the archaeological evidences, and so on. Today the Archaeology is also all of this, not only excavation or pure research, as a lot of post of Day of Archaeologist says. Archaeology is also putting in order data, thinking and planning new ways to achieve the “migration of the century”, from data archived in a physical or old way (just think about floppy!) towards actual digital shapes and, most of all, make the data accessible for everyone not only for specialists. In fact, just from its birth, one of the most important goal of the SITAR is to make this impressive dataset public and searchable. All our work flow into the web platform of the project where it is possible to explore the archaeology of Rome, through a map of the city populated with the representation of the heritage, well known or unknown, discovered by the archaeologists who have worked in the Eternal City. And just to improve the public interest and participation, we are planning new ways for the dissemination and accessibility of the project so…enjoy and follow us!



A day of archaeology, in the life of an early career academic.

photo 4

There is a method to the madness, and structure in the stratigraphy of notebooks!

Hello! I’m Dr. Ryan McNutt, a University Teacher (adjunct professor to American readers) in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. Today I’m going to talk a bit about a typical day in my work as an early career archaeologist within academia, and also tell you a bit about how I got here.

Anthropologizing Abroad—Or, an American in Glasgow

Like many archaeologists, and in fact, like many of my colleagues at Glasgow, I’ve had a varied journey to reach the desk I’m sat in front of today. My undergraduate was a B.Sc in Anthropology from Middle Tennessee State University, where the majority of my interest was in the prehistory and protohistory of the Mississippian civilizations of the American Southeast. Even within that, I was always interested in conflict within and between groups, and the archaeological and anthropological investigations of the effect of conflict on human behavior, and indeed, on the landscape.


Castalian Springs Field School 2006. My last field school prior to graduating.

After a few years doing commercial archaeology in the United States, this interest in conflict, coupled with my desire to return to postgraduate study, saw me pack up and move across the Atlantic to Glasgow to pursue an Mlitt, and latterly a PhD, focused on conflict and battlefield archaeology with Glasgow’s own (and the only one in the world!) Centre for Battlefield Archaeology.  My postgraduate study through the Centre was phenomenal, opening doors and providing some amazing opportunities for fieldwork in France, Poland, and on some of the most historically significant battlefields in Scotland, as well as participating in TV documentaries.


43,847 sites and counting…

Hi! I’m Jolene Smith. I manage all of the archaeological data for the Commonwealth of Virginia at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. We’ve got nearly 44,000 sites in our inventory, with more being added every day. While most of my time is spent in front of a computer and not in the dirt, what I do is no less important. It’s about the follow-through. It’s taking the data produced by the destructive act of removing artifacts and features from their context in the soil and making sure it is safe, accessible, and useful. It’s about making connections. Here’s a day in my life.  (more…)

Jon Chandler: The day to day assessment of our cities

My name is Jon Chandler. I am Lead Consultant Archaeologist with the Heritage Consultancy team. I have various responsibilities, including quality assurance technical reviews of our archaeological desk-based assessments. Developers use these to support planning applications – anything from a residential development to major infrastructure projects. Recently this included the Thames Tideway Tunnel, Thames Water’s new sewer for London. For over two years I managed a team of up to 15 consultants and specialists in archaeology and buildings assessment, foreshore archaeology and geoarchaeology.

A broad range of archaeological, documentary and cartographic sources and geological information is consulted for our reports. We try to establish the archaeological potential of the site, taking into account factors compromising survival (e.g. existing basements, foundations, services and landscaping). The likely significance of any archaeological remains is assessed, along with the impact of the proposed development. We provide recommendations which the local authority planners will use to decide what must be done as part of granting planning consent.

This morning I am looking at a development site on the Isle of Dogs. This area is now heavily built over but in the prehistoric, Roman and medieval periods was all open floodplain marsh prone to flooding. Prior to rising water levels, the underlying topography would have comprised gravel islands suitable for prehistoric settlement, and deeper channels, crossed by timber trackways in the Bronze Age. Such remains are buried beneath a sequence of deep alluvium floodplain above which is a thick deposit of ‘made ground’ (artificial ground) dumped here from the excavation of the adjacent docks in the mid-19th century.”

We need to assess what depth the archaeology is likely to be at (possibly 3–4 metres down), and how the construction of the new building will affect any remains that might be present. We also need to know whether this is evidence of prehistoric activity or 19th century dockyard remains.

This afternoon I will start to review an early draft of our Portsmouth Harbour Hinterland Project, which is funded by Historic England. The Royal Navy established Portsea Island as its main harbour and base in the 16th-century. As a consequence, the surrounding rural hinterland was developed with an extensive supporting infrastructure, protected by a significant group of sea and land defences. Much of this survives today, but their heritage significance in relation to the docks is not always fully recognised. The aim of the project is to enhance understanding and heighten awareness of how the Portsmouth hinterland has developed as a result of the naval base. This helps to assist local decision making, planning, development and management of the historic environment.

As part of the project a survey toolkit and user-friendly guided will be created. This will help the local community and volunteers identify the presence of buildings, landscape and other heritage assets associated with the development of the hinterland. It enables the local community to further understand and add detail to the narrative.

Yesterday, the MOLA project team met with Historic England to discuss progress on the two-year London Urban Archaeological Database project. We are digitising, in a Geographical Information System (GIS), the location and extent of all past archaeological investigations in the historic centre of London. Thousands of investigations have been carried out (see the map). The information will enhance the data held by the Greater London Historic Environment Record.