Settlements, Shielings & Sunshine: Archaeological Survey at NTS Torridon

Torridon. One of the most dramatic landscapes in the United Kingdom. Driving to it, from the south or the east is an unforgettable journey. Three massive mountains, Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe rise suddenly from the shore of the deep sea loch to over 1000m in height, looming over you and totally dominating the area.

Beinn Alligin & Liathac seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

Beinn Alligin & Liathach seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

The National Trust for Scotland looks after over 6,000ha of land on the north side of Loch Torridon. Along with the plants, animals, birds, footpaths & upland landscape that we manage, there are also a huge amount of archaeological remains. The majority of these are 18th and 19th century settlement and farming remains; there are very little prehistoric remains on the north side of the Loch, but plenty on the southside. Perhaps it is because prehistoric folk settled and used the same land that is still settled and in use today, thus all traces have been removed. You can find out more about the archaeology sites here

In March, I was lucky enough to lead a National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp where we carried out condition monitoring and survey work across a number of the settlements and shieling sites. This is incredibly useful heritage management work, as it allows us to see the overall picture of change of the archaeological resource & to develop a management plan to deal with all sorts of threats such as bracken & vegetation growth, erosion, burrowing and collapse.

For the condition monitoring I have developed an Android tablet based system which utilises the Open Data Kit to allow us to remotely collect the data, and then submit it to a server when we have an internet connection. Internally, we’ve found the system to be incredibly robust and useful, and much simpler to use and get data back from than paper based systems.

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

In total we monitored 191 sites and structures over 5 days and from this developed a really good understanding of what is affecting the archaeological remains and how.

Condition Data, Torridon

Condition Data, Torridon

I have previously written about the Data Enhancement project I work on at the Trust; the GPS survey work at Torridon has allowed us to enhance our GIS data and polygons, which means we have better and more detailed information when managing our Torridon estate. We now know the exact location and extent of a wide range of structures, dykes and cultivation remains whereas previously we had them as point data or even described as “left of the structure” “below the area of woodland” and so forth.

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Through doing this work we have also recorded remains that are quite obvious on the ground for for a variety of reasons had never been recorded and utilised aerial imagery from a range of sources to map some of the more ephemeral remains such as cultivation ridges and furrows. I have also been able to compare the remains to the historic Ordnance Survey mapping available from the National Library of Scotland which allows us to (being to) understand when buildings were built, in use and abandoned.

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

We also discovered a couple of possible new sites such as a cup marked boulder, which is very exiciting.

I need to thank the volunteers, Danji, Kathy, Joanna, Will, Thomas, Abbie, Barry & Jim who made this work possible and who took to the work with such great enthusiasm and interest.

It wasn't all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.

It wasn’t all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.


Heather Stoddart and Ali McCaig – Measured Survey for Historic Environment Scotland

Heather Stoddart, Measured Survey Manager, Architecture and Industry Section and Ali McCaig, Measured Survey Manager, Landscape Section at Historic Environment Scotland

We have chosen an Industrial Archaeological site on the River Clyde called Hyndford Mills, near Lanark, which we are surveying as part of an HES programme called ‘Discovering the Clyde’

The site sits very close to the river and floods regularly. It consists of a series of roofless buildings and archaeological remains that have been excavated by a local community group the Clydesdale Mills Society.

Panorama view of Hyndford Mills © HES

On our first visit, we explored the site and discussed the general interpretation with Miriam McDonald, Industrial Survey Manager at HES and with representatives from the Clydesdale Mills Society. At that point we agreed on the end product that we wanted to achieve – a detailed plan of the extent of the site which will show the upstanding walls, lades, tail-race and ground works in reasonable detail.

Hyndford Mills is quite a complex site, with multiple phasing. It appears on Pont’s map of Glasgow and the County of Lanark (Pont 34, c.1583-96)  and may be much older still. The site has been used for many small-scale industrial and agricultural processes over many generations including grain milling, flax processing and animal bone crushing (for agricultural manure).

To start this survey we used two different techniques, alidade and GPS. The GPS was used to set out framework control for the site and to collect data which is used to create the detailed scaled plan and a sectional elevation drawing. The initial task was to undertake two alidade surveys which we did together, involving Ali on the survey staff and Heather on the survey board, recording the survey points. This allowed us both to discuss the survey points that needed to be taken and our evolving interpretation of the site. Once the framework of the site was complete, we split up to record and plan the features in more detail. The end product will form an annotated scaled plan and sectional elevation at 1:200.

A detailed photographic survey of the site was also undertaken by Steve Wallace, Field Photography Projects Manager at HES.

Ali producing a scaled plan at one of the mill buildings at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES

Ali producing a scaled plan at one of the mill buildings at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES


Heather adding finishing touches to one of the scaled plans at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES

Heather adding finishing touches to one of the scaled plans at Hyndford Mills, Lanark © HES

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:

Geophysical surveys, Castles, Ice Cream and Sun

Hi from the team at ArchaeoPhysica!

We are an archaeological geophysics company based in Herefordshire, working nationwide and internationally. Much of the work we conduct is magnetometer survey, and we specialise in extra sensitive caesium vapour magnetometers, which we tow on a GPS guided sled array system behind a quad bike. This allows us to cover vast areas of land in a very efficient manner, compared to traditional walking magnetometer surveys (it’s also more fun!).


The towed caesium vapour, GPS guided magnetometer sled

The day started extremely well, with the team situated down in Cornwall to conduct a commercial magnetometer survey over a mixture of pasture and just cropped fields (the harvest is very early this year) in advance of a proposed development. Luckily the weather was a warm 20oC so survey was extremely pleasant indeed. By lunchtime, the survey of two fields (approximately 5ha) was complete. To celebrate, the team headed to Launceston to see the castle, and have some fish and chips!

 A quick lunch break around Launceston Castle

A quick lunch break around Launceston Castle

Believe it or not, our next destination was Callestick Ice Cream Farm an hour away, to meet up with a new client who aims to create an archaeological community research project across many areas in Cornwall (and to taste the local produce). After a successful meeting, the team were back to work again to present the geophysics equipment and survey a 3ha field. The local farmer and his very interested grandchildren also came and visited the site, some budding future geophysicists no doubt!

Research links: Another satisfied customer

Research links: Another satisfied customer

Robert Fry, Martin Roseveare, Anne Roseveare, Sam Purvis & Dale Rouse

Twitter: @archaeophysica

Less Glamorous Summer of One College Professor

By now it should be clear that college professors don’t really have summers off. Some of my colleagues have posted about their summer fieldwork, teaching, or writing, but many of us are also preparing for the coming academic year.

Starting this fall, I am entering into a partnership with the local National Park Service to provide them with archaeological expertise and my students with real-world experience in cultural resource management. On the surface that seems like great fun, and it is, but it also a lot of work. I’ve spent weeks upgrading an archaeology lab to handle the influx of projects, artifacts, and student workers. This takes time, money, and a large dose of patience.



How difficult is it to order trays for the archaeology lab?

For example, I ordered 24 trays to hold artifacts for analysis. A week after placing the order I received a large box with one tray in it. Several phone calls later it was clear that if I returned this one tray they would send out a new set of 24. Single tray returned and one week later I received another large box with one tray in it. Phone calls… return single tray again… 24 trays arrive three weeks after placing the order. (If you think that is crazy, you don’t want to know how many emails it takes to get an electrical outlet installed.)



These birds crashed into my office window and now they are part of my comparative collection.

Within archaeology I specialize in bone identification. Preparing to teach forensic anthropology this spring means many hours spent in the lab sorting bones that have become unorganized over the past year. Boxes, bags, labels, and a good music playlist make time fly by as I work to re-associate a femur with a tibia and a clavicle with a sternum. Once the human collection is reorganized it is time to clean off some of the new animal skeletons and get them in color coded and labeled boxes. Until last week I had 15 animals decomposing in my backyard. Now I have two.



A geocache was hidden against the outside wall of this crypt but it looks like people have broken into it.


Because my love of the outdoors goes along with my love for archaeology, I am taking breaks from all this lab and administrative work to go geocaching. This spring I am teaching a new course called Maps, Culture, and Archaeology. I hope to use geocaching to teach students how to navigate with paper maps and with handheld GPS units. That means I need to get better at geocaching and setup the new GPS units. The last cache I found was at this crypt – coordinates are N 40° 49.994 W 083° 07.923


My Day of Archaeology may not have been glamorous but I accomplished a lot of things that will help make the next academic year run more smoothly.

A day in the life of an amatuer Conflict Archaeologist with a poorly cat!


So, I booked the day off work from the day job for Day of Archaeology. I bought the t-shirt, and planned things to do.  Then, Thursday, one of the myriad pet cats falls ill!  Two trips to the vet Thursday: injections, creams and special food.

Four o’clock this morning poorly cat told me it was time to get up.  She was already pre-booked for another appointment today, so plans had to change!

The original plan was to meet up with Peter, a nearby local historian. We initially made contact a couple of months back via twitter when Peter had historical evidence of WW1 military practice trenches in the area; as I have a Masters degree in Conflict Archaeology I contacted him, and we managed to trace some of the trenches. These have now been entered onto the Homefront Legacy website. Our plan today had been to look for another set of trenches nearby which have previously been identified via aerial photography with the hope of finding and surveying them and getting the existing HER record for them updated. Unfortunately the cat’s poor health required me to stay with her prior to her next vet visit; Peter helpfully agreed that cats come first, so we agreed to reschedule to another date (Peter, if you read this, thank you!).

So, with time to spend at home, it seemed a good idea to catch up on some of the archaeo tasks I have had on the ‘to-do’ list:

First up, several other sites to log on the Homefront Legacy website.

First one added was the WW1 German POW camp in Watlington: this one formed part of the basis of my Masters dissertation. I have a fantastic map I bought by chance. It’s a 1912 OS map which was annotated with notes and marks by the Camp Commandant at the camp in question. It’s a grand piece of material culture, and it enabled me to find the location of the camp when used in conjunction with records at the National Archives at Kew, so the location of the camp is now on the Homefront Legacy website.  Of the 500 or so camps in UK during WW1, very few are in the HER, so pleased to add another one and get it out in the public domain.

Also added two other sites to the website; both of them WW1 Auxilliary Hospitals run by Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments, both of them in Berkshire.

213[-== ‘q    fu#
(the line above was helpfully added by one of the other cats walking across my laptop!)

Anyhow, sites added to website, and now its time for cat’s next vet visit. Once she gets home she has her first meal in a nearly two days!

Home again, and back to another outstanding  task.

I have a cunning plan.  Normal handheld GPS is accurate to 6 or 7 metres; a nice GPS which is accurate to less than a metre costs thousands of pounds. I want one, but don’t have the cash, so I am going to make my own! I have a GPS chip, accurate to 25cm, but has no software interface and no logging mechanism of any sort. So the plan is: GPS chip, connected to a Raspberry Pi, a battery pack and and a small monitor, all mounted onto a surveying pole. So, theoretically 25cm-accurate GPS for about £400, about 10% the cost, the only problem being creating the programming to interface with the chip, and log the results.

I hate programming (I failed my computer studies o-level back in days of yore!), so I have been delaying doing this. After some time scratching my head over a piece of  freeware programming software, I now have something that interfaces with the chip and will record coordinates coupled with notes and time and date – so quite happy with that progress, still need to connect the pieces together, but the end is in sight.

That done, and the cat is looking much improved, so I decided that it would be in order to go out for a bit.

A WW1 document I have suggests there should be (yet more) military practice trenches a few miles away. I’m keen to find them; I’m a trustee of a local heritage and archaeology charity.  I’m looking for a feature which I could use to do some sort of community archaeology event over the heritage weekend in September.

The records don’t give a very clear idea of the location, and the site is 350ha; nonetheless, walking around the area and getting a feel for the landscape is always a good starting point (and given the sunny weather, quite pleasant regardless of the outcome).

I didn’t find WW1 trenches (but I didn’t expect to on the first visit!)

I did find out contact details for a local conservation organisation who work on the piece of land, so I have contacted them to see if they are aware of anything.

Whilst I didn’t find WW1 trenches, I did find something. I’m not yet sure what yet.  I found little underground dugouts (7 of them). By general condition of the metal I would think they are post WW2, and they don’t look dissimilar to one of the diagrams in my WW2 Royal Engineers manual. So, I am interested to find out what they actually are, and they may yet prove to be a suitable project instead of the trenches.

The cat is now much better now; I’m hoping if she continues to improve at the current rate she will be well enough for me to still go away for mesolithic excavations in a week or two.

All in all, didn’t do what I intended to; but still managed to do some useful stuff. I didn’t find what I was looking for; but did still find something interesting with questions to answer.

Investigating the peat bogs of Ireland

I am the Bord Na Móna Project Archaeologist and this year we are inaugurating a new 3 year campaign of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental investigations in the peatlands of Ireland.

Re-locating sites in peatland

Re-locating sites in peatland, Cloonshannagh Bog, Co. Roscommon.

The Irish peatlands because of their waterlogged anaerobic environment are an internationally important repository of archaeological sites and artefacts as well as ancient environmental and climatic biofacts. They preserve evidence ranging from human remains, settlements and trackways and platforms to food and artefacts, plants, pollen, insects, amoeba and even the fallout from ancient volcanic eruptions.

Bord Na Móna is the state sponsored company with interests in energy, fuel supply, horticulture, waste management and the environmental markets, and has the responsibility to manage a large part of Ireland’s peat resource. The company owns and manages some 80,000 hectares of lands, the majority of which are peatlands. Archaeological survey of the peatlands over the last 30 years has resulted in the discovery of many archaeological sites and structures preserved within peat. Bord Na Móna has the responsibility to organise and finance the archaeological investigation of its peatlands in advance of peat harvesting. My role as Project Archaeologist is to work, under the terms of the Code of Practice between the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Museum of Ireland and Bord na Móna and identify the archaeological sites to be investigated. I am responsible for developing a programme of investigations and assisting with the selection of archaeological consultants to carry out the work through the EU tender framework. I also manage the implementation and delivery of the project investigations including analysis and reporting. Over the next 3 years we will be investigating more than a hundred archaeological sites in bogs in counties Longford, Offaly, Roscommon and Westmeath.

Medieval leather shoe from  Toar Bog, Co. Westmeath.

Medieval leather shoe found in Toar Bog, Co. Westmeath.

This week we are advancing the work by precisely re-locating and marking sites to be investigated. This will allow us to identify the best places to open excavation cuttings. The work involves finding the coordinates of the monuments identified during earlier surveys with GPS, checking their condition and deciding on the optimal placement of excavation trenches. The work is physically demanding and requires walking long distances over the bog and jumping across dozens of deep water-filled drains. The monuments include trackways and platforms that range in date from the Neolithic to the Medieval period and are visible at various depths in the faces of the drains and sometimes on the surface. Sometimes in the course of the work we make a new find, like the Medieval leather shoe illustrated above, that was identified by a keen-eyed member of the team earlier in the week. The moccasin shoe had a leather sole and was probably lost when an earlier bog walker stepped into a bog hole. Unable to retrieve it they had to make the long trudge back home with only a single shoe. Luckily we made it back with all our boots and equipment intact! The shoe will be conserved and analysed and sent to the National Museum for permanent curation.

A Day On Two Sites

Hello I’m Cornelius, one of the partners at L – P: Archaeology. I’ve been doing commercial archaeology for 25 years now, and I know that the following short story will be very familiar to a lot of you, but anyone who has never been involved in a trenching evaluation be warned- this rollercoaster ride of thrills, despair and elation is not for the faint hearted. Some images may contain brickearth.

As described in my earlier post, we are currently conducting a 5% sample evaluation below a car-park in Egham, Surrey. First thing this morning we broke the tarmac on a fresh new trench, full of possibilities. We started to machine away the modern overburden deposits below the surface, taking care to avoid the large water pipe we knew to be in the trench. As our very skilled machine driver was doing this I got a call from another site.

51 miles away to the south lies the lovely house of Brambletye in Keston. An extension is currently being built on the house, which involves digging some small but deep footings. As the house lies next to the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Keston Roman Tombs, even very small scale work needs to be watched closely, so I leave the trench in the capable hands of my colleague Mike and zoom off down the M25.

When I get to Brambletye the crew have a small 3-ton digger ready, and have soon dug the footing. There is absolutely nothing in it but natural clay, with not even a stray sherd of Roman pot in the topsoil. My disappointment is offset by a very fine cup of tea, and then back to Egham to look at the trench.

In my absence Mike has cleaned and recorded the trench beautifully. A single linear feature in the trench has been sectioned, and is clearly a wall footing of early 20th century origin- possibly the wall of the doctors surgery we were told about by the very helpful staff at Egham Museum, who were kind enough to show us their collection of old maps. There is no other archaeology visible in the trench, so I survey it using a Smartrover GPS system and we fill it back in. I lock up the site and head home to write up the days results. Which are that I have driven about 150 miles, shifted a few hundred tons of earth and found nothing of archaeological interest whatsoever.

But it was mostly sunny, and I was out in the fresh air, and I got a close look at a very cool Roman tomb complex. And the tea was very good.

Altogether a fine day.

Photos copyright L – P : Archaeology

Wrestling Pythons, Blending Grass and Proofing Papers

Today has been a pretty normal day in my current archaeological life. I am in the final year of my PhD and so have been battling away infront of a laptop (like many others) trying to make sense of archaeological data and say something new and interesting about the past.

I am lucky in that I live in Cambridge, and so had a lovely cycle ride this morning across the meadows, past the cows, to install myself into the Cambridge University Library (UL). This is one of the joys of being a student in the UK, even though I am doing my PhD at UCL in London I am more than welcome to come and use the library in Cambridge for free which is not only great for books – it also has an excellent tea room.

Bronze Age Huts in QGIS

My PhD is on the Bronze Age hut settlements on Bodmin Moor, I am using Augmented Reality to examine the locations of the huts and how they fit into the landscape. This involves a lot of GIS work and also some 3D modelling. I have a lovely GIS dataset of the Bronze Age hut locations and a pretty decent elevation model. When out in the field archaeologists use quite few tools, but the trowel is probably the most useful. When in front of the computer archaeologists also use a lot of tools – today I was using the Python framework to script a way to get GRASS data into blender so that I could load virtual models of the huts into Unity3D to view them in my ARK database to then finally use Vuforia and Unity3D to display it in the real world. Today my most useful tool is Textmate.

Bodmin Moor in blender

Basically what I am trying to do is import 2D GIS data into a 3D gaming engine, that I can then use to explore the data and (using Augmented Reality) ‘overlay’ that onto the real world. The important thing is to ensure the spatial coordinates are preserved when it is imported into the gaming engine – otherwise the on-site GPS location won’t work during the Aug. Reality stage. So the distances, heights and topography seen int he gaming engine representation are as close to the real world as possible (at least the real as modelled in the GIS!). To keep track of the huts and their associated data I have been using the ARK database system (created by Day of Archaeology sponsors  L – P : Archaeology). ARK brings all of the various bits together  – data from the literature, basic dimensions of the huts, spatial data and also the 3D representation. I’ve been getting some pretty good results from my experiments and seem to have cracked the workflow – I’ll put up a proper walkthrough on my blog once the script is all sorted out as I think it will probably be pretty useful for others to see and use. In the meantime I have made a very small screencast to show the huts within ARK and Unity – which I think it pretty cool. For those of a techy bent, ARK is sending the Unity3D plugin the id of the hut currently being viewed and Unity is then figuring out where that hut is in the virtual world and placing the ‘player’ inside it.

Wow that was all a bit techy – sorry about that!

So as promised in the title of the post then – here is a link to some wrestling pythons…

and someone blending grass..

and the paper proofing is a bit more boring…

Today I also approved the final author proofs of an article on my research that is going to be published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. Apparently when they have made my suggested corrections (c. 1 week) it should be available at:  for people who have personal or institutional subscriptions to the journal, very exciting!

Right back to the coding… only an hour before I get chucked out of the library.


Archaeology down South: between Buenos Aires and Patagonia

Right now it’s winter here in Argentina and we are nearing the end of the first term at the Universidad de Buenos Aires where I teach a year long course in Research Design. Facing me is a pile of my student’s projects to finish correcting by Monday, our last class before the winter break. It is often frustrating but, then again, immensely satisfying when our students finally develop the knack and learn how to put together a solid research proposal. What I most enjoy are the original ideas they bring each year, and being able to keep up with new subjects or research in regions I have little time for otherwise. I enjoy teaching and tutoring.

My time in Buenos Aires is mostly dedicated to carrying out analyses and writing about our research in the archaeology of Originary Peoples in Southern Patagonia. The research year for me “begins” in April after our return from the field and I have to begin to download, classify and label all our digital information (photos, GPS data) as well as digitize our field notes. A lot of this goes into Dropbox so all our team can easily access our database. All this last week I have been going over our field notes trying to inventory and choose more samples to date the archaeological deposits. We also have to plan for time writing up our research as well as preparing for two conference presentations programmed for October. All of a sudden the year seems already too short. (more…)