GIS

A Digital Day of Archaeology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the American Revolution in New York State

New York State was the location of many violent battles and skirmishes during the American Revolution.  Campaigns, such as the British invasion of New York City and Long Island (1776), the Burgoyne Campaign (1777), and the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign (1779) scorched New York’s landscape.  Raids and skirmishes also divided communities pitting Loyalists against American friends and families.  The British and American’s call for Native American groups, such as the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), to choose a side led to a civil war within the Iroquois Confederacy.  The impact of the conflict was felt immediately in the loss of homes and lives; these impacts lasted well beyond the end of the war.

The Public Archaeology Facility has conducted studies of Revolutionary War battles associated with both the Burgoyne and Sullivan-Clinton Campaigns.  These studies have helped to remap these battlefields by determining the boundaries’ of battlefields and identify landscape features associated with the battles.  The ultimate goal of this research is to better comprehend the experience of those involved in the American Revolution in New York State.  We hope that our research can be used to preserve these battlefields and provide the public with an understanding of the conflict.

Our studies begin with extensive research of historic documents.  To identify the location of the battlefield and its landscape features we review the writings or oral histories of a battle’s combatants.  Journals, official reports, letters, and veteran pension applications can all provide valuable information for us.  Although sometimes mentioned incidentally in these documents, references to landscape features, such as roads, villages, mountains, and rivers, provide us with valuable information on where battle related actions took place.  In a way, combatants tell us where they were during the battle and how they used the battlefield’s landscape.

Loyalist John Butler

Letter by Loyalist John Butler

We map this historic data using a Geographic Information System or GIS allowing us to perform various analyses and comparisons of data.  We overlay historic maps and accounts of the battle onto present day maps to determine where the battle occurred and what remains of the battlefield.  We refine the locations of battlefield features using viewshed and range of fire analyses.  This information is used to conduct a military terrain analysis of the battlefield.  We can identify how combatants used a portion of the battlefield- a path to advance or retreat, a place to seek cover or concealment, an observation post, an obstacle that restricted advance, or a post to defend or take.  Taken together, these pieces of the landscape provide us with the battlefield’s boundaries and multi-scale view of how the battle unfolded.

Range of Fire

Range of Fire Analysis

With a GIS map to guide us, we perform a systematic inventory or survey of battlefield features.  The identification of musket and rifle balls and personal belongings of soldiers tells us that the battlefield’s landscape and the material remains of the battle are still intact.  We can also use the locations of these material remains to better determine troop positions and movements.

 

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Archaeologist Conducting Systematic Survey

Rifle balls

Fired and Unfired Rifle Balls and Buckshot

The historical background and the results of archaeological investigation provide a basis for preserving the battlefield.  Working with local groups and descendent communities, we can present the history of the battle to the public with presentations, signage, or digital media.  This information can also help to advise agencies and developers on how best to avoid impacts to the battlefield so that the history of the American Revolution can be seen by future generations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a slow/busy year

Today was not the best day to detail my ‘day of archaeology.’ This week This year has not been the best for a day of archaeology. I am a GIS Specialist for a company that does Right of Way, Cultural Resource Management, and Environmental Resource Management consulting. Work for us is always feast or famine, but it has been especially famine lately for this 9-5 job. The flip side of the title though, is that outside of my 9-5 has been very busy.

As Day of Archaeology 2014 approached I was at a loss for what I might actually talk about for my 9-5. So I’ll throw together a little bit from the last week and we’ll all pretend that it happened in one day. It has happened in one day so it isn’t that big of a stretch. Part of my job is managing all of the GIS data. I set up the field equipment, I download that data when it comes back in, I design the technical figures that go into our reports, I work on cost estimates and work plans for proposals. I did a little of all of that this week. I worked on a proposal where our field crews would map in detail the architecture of several sites on a federal property and then provide to scale digital format maps. There is another proposal where we would take existing field maps from another federal property and provide scale digital format maps. I set up a Trimble for field use by an archaeologist and a biologist for surveying utility pole replacement. I design a suite of maps for a cellular tower installation. I like to argue that I’m slow this year because I have instituted so many automatic processes that reduce the overall time that I work on a single project. I love integrating data driven techniques. The downside is that I can now push out hundreds of maps in a few minutes instead of hours.

As I already said, outside of my 9-5 it has been very busy. I have been trying to pull in more on-call clients. I have designed and built a UAV. I try to keep up on my blog. Yesterday I submitted my poster abstract for SHA 2015 in Seattle. Come by and take a look at it. It should be pretty interesting. I worked with a colleague at the Fort Walla Walla Museum in…Walla Walla, Washington on a project that yielded some interesting archival research on the location of the city’s Chinatown. I am working on my GISP application (the RPA equivalent for us GIS folk).

It’s the daily grind that is typical for a lot of CRM professionals. But I get to drop interesting things in every now and then. This week was good for that.

 

Every Map Ever

I work as a GIS Specialist in Tucson, AZ for a company that does, among other things, cultural resource management. I started as an archaeologist, but I received my masters in GIS a couple years ago because I like using tech to increase efficiency and transitioning archaeology into an increasingly digital world. I like the challenge and I like that I get to be a part of every project on every level. From proposal, to field work, to report I get to see everything. I also get to manage the GIS server and make web applications. I research new technology and attend webinars to keep my skills up. I am the only GIS professional in the company so there are days where I’m very overwhelmed by the workload. Sometimes I get very little accomplished and sometimes I can make hundreds of maps in a day.

Today I worked on 4 archaeological projects. Three of these projects are in Northern New Mexico and have recently concluded their field sessions. The first one was in Santa Fe where some of our sub contractors monitored a busy intersection getting a utilities upgrade. I made 3 project location maps and 2 site plan view maps. The second project was on tribal land to the north east. It is also getting a utility upgrade but in this case it was walking survey. I made 3 project location maps for this one and 5 site plan maps. The third was across North Central New Mexico and I downloaded field data from our Trimble and post processes corrected the data. The correction wasn’t going well because the Trimble was not catching enough signal for correction. I’ll figure that out on Monday.

The last project I worked on is a resurrected data recovery project originating in 2003. This project has been brought to life several times in the last decade. Three weeks ago they approached me and said that they needed every figure from every year brought into the current software and edited. As I have gone through the data I started keeping a list of mapping specialists who worked on the project. I’m up to 7 not including me, so to say that it was frustrating bringing together all of those styles is an understatement. But we keep on and I was able to finish the plan views yesterday. I turned them over yesterday and started today on the profiles. Those should go better since there was not a lot depth for the features of these sites.

After that I worked for about an hour on my time card for the the week. This is a moderate week. Some weeks I have 20+ projects to enter. Beats unemployment by a long shot though.

We can be heroes, just for one day

Hello!  If you’re reading this perhaps you want to know what it’s like to be a HERO (Historic Environment Record Officer), just for this one day.  (I know it’s a bit tenuous but I wanted a quote for my title and I love David Bowie, so…!)

I last blogged as part of the Day of Archaeology in 2011.  If you want to read my blog from back then please read a day in the life of a HERO.  There’s a fair bit there that I don’t really want to cover again, like how I became a HERO.  I think today I’ll just blog about what I’m up to.

View from my office, County Hall, Leicestershire

View from my office, County Hall, Leicestershire

I work for Leicestershire County Council in the Historic & Natural Environment Team (part of Planning, Historic & Natural Environment, so we sit with various planning officers). The other people in my team consist of a war memorials project officer, conservation officer, 2 planning archaeologists and our team leader – we’re also in the same team as several ecologists. There used to be more of us but due to the ubiquitous cuts that’s the team at the moment.  The conservation officer and our team leader don’t work full time, also because of the cuts.  So they’re not here today.

I’m in charge of the Historic Environment Record for Leicestershire & Rutland, which is basically a database that attempts to record all known archaeological remains and historic buildings in the county.

The first job of the day is to check the Heritage Gateway upload that I set running last night. About 70% of our HER records are available on-line through the Gateway (our Heritage Gateway update page details what’s on-line at the moment). Yesterday I added some new records (and edited some old ones), so I thought I’d better upload them!  The new records include a rather interesting medieval cruck-framed house, 5-7, Market Place, Whitwick (MLE20894) that is due to be demolished as part of a scheme to build a new Co-op.  (It’s not listed.) Our planning archaeologists have been commenting on the scheme, hence the reports that have provided me with new sites.

Then it’s time to do some fun map regression!  I love the part of my job that’s basically detective work, though sometimes it’s infuriating not to get definitive answers to questions…  Yesterday the Principal Planning Archaeologist brought several things in Ashby-de-la-Zouch to my attention.  First is an early ‘tramway’ that ran from the Ashby Canal to Ticknall.  This was on the HER already, but the mapping wasn’t quite right.  Then there are a whole bunch of industrial sites dating from the C18th-C20th.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch

Historic maps (1735, 1837, 1888) and HER extract for Ashby-de-la-Zouch

The sites are (the links will work when I’ve done the next Gateway upload!):

The next job is something that brings in money – a commercial data search.  Searches are requested by land agents and solicitors as well as commercial archaeology units, to help inform land purchases, planning decisions and as part of fieldwork.  For a fee, I send various digital files (maps, GIS files, gazetteers etc) out containing all the archaeological sites and historic buildings on the HER.  (Non-commercial enquiries are free.)  Interesting sites in Appleby Magna, where this search was for, include Moat House (MLE10939), a C16th house that sits within a moat.  The moated site, along with formal gardens, fishponds and village earthworks, is a Scheduled Monument (National Heritage List Entry No. 1011458).

As a fun Friday afternoon activity I think I’ll go through a book I’ve just bought (another HER officer recommended it to me).  It’s called ‘Actions Stations: Military airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands’, by Bruce Barrymore Halpenny.  We’ve been trying to put World War I sites onto the HER in advance of the First World War Centenary next year and I’m hoping it can add a bit more information.

Short 184 Seaplane

First World War Short 184 seaplane built at the Brush Works, Loughborough

Reaching the end of the day, the book doesn’t contain much First World War information (I’m up to ‘L’ in the gazetteer), but it does have some information about the Brush Works at Loughborough (MLE8697), which built aircraft in both the First and Second World Wars, and Loughborough Meadows (MLE15968), where they test flew their planes. The updated information will be on the Heritage Gateway after my next upload.

As you can see, for an ‘archaeology database’ the HER contains quite a few records that are pretty modern, as well as things like castles and medieval houses.  It certainly makes for an interesting job, learning about all sorts of different things on a daily basis!  You never quite know what the day will hold…

A Day in the Life of Archaeological Services Inc. (Ontario, Canada)

Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) is one of the largest archaeological consulting firms in Canada with over thirty years experience in the production and dissemination of knowledge concerning our past. We have over 100 full-time and seasonal staff members and three offices – two in Toronto and one in Burlington. Our company is divided into separate divisions and here you will find little snapshots about what each field director or division at ASI is doing at the moment. Enjoy!

From Field Director Robb B:

Today I was stripping on site. Now that’s not what you think it means. We began stripping/removing the topsoil from our site today in hopes to uncover settlement patterns. We started roughly 20m away from outside the limit of the previously mapped extent of artifacts (as determined by surface artifact scatter or test unit artifact drop-off). As we move northward and closer to the main concentration of artifacts, hopefully we’ll find some sort of settlement pattern!

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The Gradall machine stripping the topsoil off Robb’s site.

From the Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscape Planning Division:

Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscapes is busy this week with projects that are taking place in Downtown Toronto, in the farming communities near Toronto and in a very old and historic area near Niagara Falls.  The cultural heritage assessments that we do are a form of archaeology that takes place ‘above ground’. Right now, one staff member is working on cultural heritage evaluation of bridges in Eastern Ontario and even managed to find an old bridge in the middle of the bush! Another member of the team is developing a plan for salvaging architectural material from nineteenth-century properties that are slated for removal. Meanwhile, the team near Niagara Falls is exploring ways in which modern  infrastructure projects can fit into a landscape that is associated with Canadian heroine Laura Secord and which still contains a number of important historic sites. And, in downtown Toronto a team is looking at how the built heritage of the city can be best preserved; their work will contribute to the establishment of three new heritage conservation districts in the city.

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The incredibly talented (and good-looking) Built Heritage team.

From The Geomatics Team:

Today Blake is overlaying historical maps of Fort York dating back to 1815 and digitizing the buildings and features in Geographic Information System (GIS). This will allow researchers to examine the changes that have occurred at the Fort overtime. It will also aid officials to better protect their hidden archaeological resources should improvements within the fort be planned.  Shady is working with CAD files provided by clients in GIS and he is mapping built heritage features and areas that have archaeological potential that could be impacted by different alternates of transit projects. The clients can take Shady’s graphics and avoid archaeologically sensitive areas and they can try to ensure that built heritage features are not negatively impacted by future development.

From Field Director Jes:

My crew and I are currently working on a stage three historic site being impacted by a service line associated with a wind turbine. The view is quite nice, with 7 foot corn on one side and a farm with animals on the other. Unfortunately, excavating here is like trying to dig through a rubber tire, but my team is tough and knows how to get things done! Below is a a shot of the crew as well as our monitors from Caldwell, Walpole Island, and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

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Jes’s crew on site beside the cornfields.

From the Special Projects Division:

ASI is also conducting excavations at Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto at the site of the East Enlisted Men’s Barracks of the New Fort York. Eventually, the exposed foundation of the barracks will be placed under glass and featured in an entranceway to a new hotel.

In south-western Ontario, ASI is investigating dozens of new sites dating to between six and three thousand years ago in cooperation with Six Nations of the Grand.  ASI is also currently documenting the artifact assemblages recovered over the last century from a number of Huron-Wendat ossuaries prior to their return to the earth as part of a large repatriation project planned for later this fall. The Huron-Wendat Nation, the University of Toronto, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and the Ontario Heritage Trust are jointly participating in the project.

From Field Director Wes:

Our crew (Wes, Nina, Chris, and Kristen) have been excavating the remains of three outbuildings located behind the East Enlisted Mens Barracks at the New Fort Site in Toronto. The foundations of the buildings are partially intact, as are numerous brick and clay drains associated with the buildings. The first photo shows the remains of a brick and limestone structure built overtop of an earlier limestone privy building. It also shows that we are constantly having to battle ground and rain water! The second photo shows the remains of a brick sewer drain later replaced by a clay drain, both of which are beneath the limestone foundation of what was known as a Cleaning Shed.

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The foundations and drain from Wes’s site.

From one of the Material Culture Analysts:

I come into our box filled office that I share with two other historic analysts and pull out the collection that I’m currently working on. Each bag full of artifacts is labelled according to its provenience and I work provenience by provenience to lay out each bag’s contents and assign a catalogue number to every artifact, and slowly my database grows!

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Typical desk of an ASI material culture analyst.

From Field Director Stacey:

We have been working on a stage three pre-contact settlement. So we have been digging a 1x1m unit every 10m in order to determine how large the site is and create a grid of units across the site.  When we find a unit with over 100 artifacts we will dig four more units one on each side, 5m away from it. So far we have found lots of pottery, fragments of chert (flint) and animal bone. We have also found evidence of the walls of the houses in the site from post moulds in the ground. Once we finish determining how large the site is, we will begin stage four, block excavation.

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Stacey resting in one of her (very deep) 1×1 units!

From the Environmental Assessment Division:

Work continues along the expansion corridor of a major east-west highway north-east of the City of Toronto. Five separate crews are working on everything from test-pitting tree-covered and bug-infested lots to preliminary excavation of pre-contact villages.

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One of five crews working on the transportation project east of Toronto.

Environmental Assessment teams are completing work on the sites of future wind turbines. First archaeology, then clean energy!

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One of the crews excavating an area for the wind turbine project.

We are also currently excavating a portion of a fourteenth century ancestral Huron-Wendat village north of Toronto. Previously disturbed by road construction, ASI crews will be on site this summer salvaging data resulting from proposed road improvements.

From the TPOK Organizers:

On Thursday, July 25th, ASI hosted its bi-monthly lecture series, Two Pints of Knowledge (TPOK).  TPOK started at ASI two years ago and has been a resounding success in drawing large groups of ASI employees out to its bi-monthly lectures.  By covering a broad range of topics from lithics and pre-contact ceramics to present-day garbology and historic beer tasting, in an informal, company-sanctioned space, and often lubricated by a beer (or two), TPOK has created a space of learning and socialization within a corporate, CRM environment.

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ASI staff and TPOK regulars listening to one of the Thursday evening talks.

The existence of such spaces is paramount to the well-being and sustained ethicacy of the CRM industry at a time when the deadlines placed upon the industry by their clients are making the existence of such events harder and harder to host.  As the last line of defense in the daily battle to preserve cultural heritage, it is critical for contract archaeologists to keep up with the developing methodological and theoretical trends happening within the discipline.  While life and bills and a full work schedule get in the way with much of the reading that goes along with the work conducted by our colleagues in university and public sector-based academia, facilitating a lecture series like TPOK allows contract archaeologists to spread much of the research work along them while bringing fellow-minded archaeologists together for open discussion.  Thus, not only does TPOK allow for training and education in a socially-friendly format, it creates an open environment so that new conceptions on how best to approach cultural heritage management can emerge.  It is our hope that TPOK continues to be a thriving success and that similar venues spring up in other CRM companies to advance the cause of heritage conservation around the world.

From Laboratory Services:

The lab is the entry point for all artifacts that are coming in from the field.  We wash, sort, organize and keep track of all the artifacts excavated by ASI crews.  Every day is different since we receive such a wide range of artifacts, everything from precontact lithic scatters to nineteenth century urban sites.  Being in the lab we have the privilege of seeing the best finds come in from the field as well as discover the secrets of seemingly mundane artifacts. Today we received four bags of artifacts from the New Fort site, more specifically from privies associated with the enlisted men’s barracks (see Wes above).

We also worked on washing, sorting, and cataloguing some artifacts that came from various sites associated with a major east-west highway northeast of the city of Toronto.  Two of these sites are villages from the pre-contact era, which include beautiful decorated pottery, pipes and stone tools.  We also washed a small 19th century historic surface collection which had some nice decorated ceramics, a pipe stem, some bottle finishes and machine made nails.  This surface collection will be analysed and catalogued in the lab, to determine if this site needs to be excavated further.

In order to keep up with all the artifacts that arrive from our 10 field crews we have a partnership with the University of Toronto’s Archaeology Centre where we rent a space in their building as well as hire archaeology students to wash artifacts. Right now they’re washing a collection from a redware pottery. Because the site includes all the refuse, misfires, and other cast-offs there’s a lot to wash!

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A collection of pictures taken yesterday in the ASI lab and the U of T lab.

From the Toronto Survey Division:

The Toronto Survey division has recently completed the assessment of a project at the crossroads of two former concession roads in the Region of Peel. The subject property was comprised of a portion of a former landfill site and recently ploughed lands adjacent to a water course along the west perimeter. The former landfill portion of the site was deemed to have no remaining archaeological potential, while the ploughed lands were subject to a pedestrian survey at five metre intervals.  Despite careful scrutiny no archaeological finds were discovered.

From Field Director Rob W:

Today our group is focusing on some rolling landscape. We were all thankful for the break in the heat and the rise in the windspeed as we searched for artifacts on the hills and valleys of our long-standing project. More field crews working on site together meant time for catching up on projects from across Ontario. Nothing improves the work day like running into old friends in a familiar place.

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Rob W’s crew, Kiara’s crew and Jes’ crew working together on a slope!

If you would like to learn more about our most famous projects and artifacts, visit our website here.

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Thanks for stopping by!

Academic Research: A Day of Meetings…

I work as a researcher at the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford.  My job is to look after the GIS elements of a large (ERC funded), 5 year project to study the English landscape from 1500BC to AD 1086, which we call the EngLaId project.  For any who don’t know, GIS stands for Geographic(al) Information Systems (or sometimes Science) and it is, essentially, computer software that lets you create maps and analyse data in its spatial context (to cut a long story short!).  Our project is using GIS as one of the tools in its armoury in order to try to understand continuity and change in the English rural landscape over the period of 2,500 years from the Middle Bronze Age to Domesday.  My job mostly involves bringing together a large number of pre-existing datasets within GIS software (specifically, ArcGIS) and trying to find patterns and trends over time.

ArcGIS

ArcGIS. Spatial data: contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2012 (OS OpenData)

However, Friday was not a day that involved a lot of GIS work for me.  Two of my colleagues on the EngLaId team work at the University’s eResearch Centre (OeRC).  During the morning, a few of us went over to the OeRC to meet with them and a Professor of Visualisation (Min Chen) and his team.  We had a long and interesting discussion about innovative ways of visualising data.  Prof Chen made a distinction between the two purposes of visualisation: to enable better academic understanding and exploration of data and to enhance public presentation of data.  The former is where his team’s research interests lie and they have done some fascinating work on creating ‘glyphs’ to display multiple data attributes at once.  The previous time we met with him, Prof Chen had shown us a series of glyphs that described the behaviour of sperm, which was most memorable for the erratic travel paths of the sperm found in ‘rats on drugs’!  The meeting ended with me being invited to take part in a workshop on geospatial visualisation at the end of August.

I returned to my office for a couple of hours, ate some lunch, and set my computer to running some GIS tools.  I then returned to the OeRC after lunch, leaving my processing processing, for our biweekly EngLaId team meeting.  We normally meet here at the School of Archaeology, but the building is being partly rewired over the summer, so there is currently no space to hold meetings here.  The team meeting lasted until after four o’clock, and seemed to be productive.

When we got back to the office, my colleague was told there was in a rat in her office (presumably disturbed by the builders), but I don’t think this rat was on drugs…  As it had been a long day, the pub beckoned, so we swiftly adjourned to there.  I had to return to the office later to check on my GIS processing (and pick up my bike), which had completed by that time.

Friday wasn’t really a typical day for me, as I am more usually found working at the computer in our attic office.  But it was a fairly productive day over all, despite the relative lack of normal work.  If anybody wants to know more about EngLaId, then please feel free to check out our own blog.

Office Day

The day before was the final day of a Time Team shoot, which is a television programme based on a three day excavation. It always gets quite hectic on the last day and I finally got on the train at 6:30 and was home by 10:30, still sweaty and muddy! As such Friday morning wasn’t an early one for me and the day consisted of office bits and pieces. First up was finances: I don’t know if it’s because of the recession but more and more clients are grumbling about having to pay! I had to check to see if money had been paid in and go through some timesheets for another job to confirm we were on site. Second up was GIS: we are involved in a development which might have quite a high impact on the landscape and we are using GIS models to work out the impact areas. I had picked out a few clusters of important features on high ground and the client wanted shapefiles to show where they were. Another client wanted shapefiles to show where the early foundations of a Listed Building may remain on a development site so that he could design foundations around them. The final job of the day was proof reading. All the reports our company, produces are proof read and edited to make sure they making sense and there are no mitsakes. 😉 I was looking over a Desk Based Assessment which is a report that assesses the potential for archaeological remains on a possible development site. The research suggested that there wasn’t much there so the report was quite short and also well written, so an easy way to end the day!

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Matthew Williams is a Partner in L – P : Archaeology a UK based commercial archaeology (CRM) company.

 

Analysing and Digging Amarna

A day late – but I was under particular time consraint both today and yesterday. My university requires every current PhD student to submit a “substantial piece of written work” by the end of today, and I can now say – it’s done! I submitted a chapter on the spatial analysis of artefacts relating to high-status industries found within the Main City North, a suburb of the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna. Using the awesome open source GIS package Quantum GIS have been able to establish where in this suburb industrial activity took place, where new, unknown working areas may be located, and, to a certain extent, how raw materials as well as finished goods have been distributed. My research aims and objectives can be found on my website.

The distribution of metal artefacts in the Main City North

The site, which is located in Middle Egypt, is currently being excavated by Barry Kemp and the Amarna Trust, this has been the case since the 1970s, but it has been subject to excavations since the 1890s, when Petrie undertook work at Amarna.   I was extremely lucky to participate in the Spring 2012 excavation season at Amarna. A preliminary report, written by Barry Kemp can be found here, and I have also published my own photos on Picasa.

The house of Pawah at Amarna

The famous bust of Nefertiti was discovered on December 6th 1911 by Ludwig Borchardt and his team within the house of the sculptor Thutmose (within the Main City North) and was subsequently brought to Berlin, which is why the 100th anniversary of its discovery will be marked with an exhibition on Amarna, which I am looking forward to visit.