Jess Ogden

Antiquities, databases and an atypical day at the British Museum

The Moorlands Staffordshire Trulla

The Moorlands pan, one of my favourite objects

For the last eight years, I have worked at the British Museum, following a couple of years working for a German Investment Bank in the City of London. I’m responsible for the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme‘s IT infrastructure and I provide advice to the British Museum on ICT issues when needed. The world of IT, is entirely self taught knowledge for me; at university I studied archaeology at undergraduate and post graduate levels, with a specific interest in maritime archaeology. It has been a sharp learning curve, and one that I think will always be challenging and disrupted by new technology. Of course, I’m open to offers to get back below the seas and excavate underwater again!

The department that I work for, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (and Treasure) is a DCMS funded project that records objects that have been found within the boundaries of England and Wales by members of the public. They voluntarily bring these objects forward to one of our 60 members of staff, who then record them on our database. You could say that this is at heart, public archaeology in action. This database now provides the basis for a massive amount of research within the university environment and it is very gratifying to see what people do with the database that I built. For example, the map below (produced in ArcView – I use QGIS at home) shows where coins of different periods are found by our contributors. Of course, I have to be very careful who has access to the full spatial co-ordinates, academics have to apply for access and I use some maths to obfuscate points on a map.

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

I’ve also been heavily involved with the #dayofarch project alongside friends and colleagues (we’re calling ourselves”Digital Archaeologists” ). The team working on this project were Matt Law and Lorna Richardson who came up with the plan, Tom Goskar, Jess Ogden, Stu Eve and Andy Dufton). I provided the project with server space, Google analytics, installation of the software and configuration of the software with Tom Goskar. The project has been amazing to work on, and we’ll hopefully be writing this up and getting a chapter on it into Lorna’s PhD.

My day is pretty varied and is either filled with writing funding bids, writing papers (CASPAR workshop papers on Archaeology on TV and Museums and Twitter at the moment), refactoring or writing new code, creating maps in various GIS packages, manipulating images (by script and hand), meetings with academics, TV people or colleagues. It is extremely different to my previous job, and it is probably why I’ve stuck with the role for such a long period. The database that I run, has been written from scratch and I’m currently transferring all my code to GitHub so that others can make use of my work. All the software that I either use or build has to be open-source. I have a very small budget for my IT work – £4000 per annum; is this the smallest budget for a National IT programme ever? I use products from Vanilla for our staff forum, from WordPress for our blogs and various framework packages like Zend Framework for our main website and database. As such, I spent only £48 on the site’s rebuild, the rest goes on server hosting and backup! At the moment, I am also working on a variety of funding proposals, a couple of JISC bids and I’m also looking for funding for the Video-Conferencing workshop that Elizabeth Warry refers to in her post. This is based around the discovery of the Frome hoard and forms the basis for her Masters’ dissertation that I’m supervising with Tim Schadla-Hall. Other people working on this include the British Museum’s education team and members of the Treasure Team. I’m also on various academic advisory boards, an honorary lecturer at UCL (currently helping to supervise Lorna Richardson’s PhD) and a Trustee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, a scholarly society based in Marylebone that has a wonderful collection of artefacts, maps and photos, and I’m currently involved in helping with a research bid for high resolution imagery of fragile documents which involves a wide array of partners.

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Currently we have records for over 720,000 objects which have been contributed by over 19,000 people in a 14 year time span. We get around 60,000 visitors per month to our site and around 3-10,000 objects recorded; the time of year has a great effect on this – harvest and seasons especially impact. The site was awarded ‘Best of the Web’ as a research tool or online collection at this year’s Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia. Something I’m extremely proud of for all our staff and contributors.  All of these records are released under a Creative Commons NC-BY-SA licence and we’ve had considerable success with a variety of digital projects. High profile finds that come up generate a huge amount of interest, and I’ve been trying to get suitable images for the Wikipedia community. We’re finding our relationship with them very beneficial and we now have lots of images in the Wikicommons.

With my wife, Katharine Kelland, I built the Staffordshire Hoard’s first website in 12 hours, and this was viewed by 1/4 million people in one day when we launched. I now use this model as a way for publicising other significant archaeological discoveries. I’m very lucky to work in the British Museum, I never thought I’d end up working there and you never tire of walking through the main gates and up the stairs to the Great Court. In the last few years I’ve been privileged to have seen amazing discoveries close up – the Hackney hoard, the Moorlands patera, the Staffordshire Hoard, the Frome Hoard, the Wheathampstead hoard, and the list goes on. I’ve even got to dress up as a gladiator and parade around the Great Court. Where else could you do this?

Proofing and my pudding

In what has turned out to be a day of coincidences, I have had a lovely surprise. A fat envelope containing the proofs of my forthcoming LAMAS article landed on our office doormat. I promise that this was not all planned in advance in some sort of dodgy attempt to make my Day of Archaeology sound more interesting!

My name is Guy Hunt. I am a partner at L – P : Archaeology, a British commercial archaeology practice. I have been with L – P since 1999 which is now starting to seem like quite a long time ago. My day to day work usually involves a mix of project management, website and digital archaeology and quite a bit of time spent at a desk. I have also just become a dad, so after a couple of weeks of paternity leave I have come back to a lot of work that I need to catch up on. (If you are expecting an email from me… and are reading this post thinking “why the blooming hell is Guy writing this and not replying to me!” don’t despair, I promise to be up to date by the end of Monday.)

My morning was spent trying to sort out a knotty javascript problem for a forthcoming website. This sort of thing can sometimes take an inordinate amount of time. The classic problem is caused by needing to code websites for a range of different browsers. All that hard work, you get things looking “just so” and then you have to test in Internet Explorer… grrrr.

Proofs (and a red pen)

This afternoon it was time to turn to something a little more archaeological, taking a look at those proofs. This is the (almost) final point in the life of a project that started out 12 years ago when I first joined L – P. The site is now the Grange City Hotel, but will always be known to us as “Cooper’s Row” (AKA: Coopers, Cooperz, Das Coop or Coopers la Rue). The site is located at the eponymous Cooper’s Row, at the eastern fringe of the City of London.

Despite an impressively roomy sounding 18,000 words this article is actually an incredibly ‘boiled down’ account of the archaeology of the site. The publication is the culmination of the work of hundreds of people, most of whom are sadly not mentioned by name in the article. The site includes a write up and synthesis of 4 sites (ASQ87, CPW99, CPQ03 and CRZ06). On top of the archaeological evidence from those sites, the paper also wraps up the current state of knowledge about the city wall in this area and prints two brand new elevation drawings of the wall.

ASQ87 was excavated over 20 years ago by the then Department of Urban Archaeology of the Museum of London (DUA) and the fact that I could go back and revive the records from this site is a testament to the quality of the original recording and record keeping. CPW99 was excavated in 1999 and 2000 by AOC archaeology, supervised by Diccon Hart who also supervised the CPQ03 site, this time directly for L – P. Diccon wrote up the stratigraphic sequences for both of these sites, doing all of the stratigraphic analysis (heavy duty number crunching!) as well as writing up the group narrative.

On top of the stratigraphic analysis, there was a huge range of material from all of the different specialists. To name just a few of the specialists, who hail mostly from the Museum of London: pottery (Lyn Blackmore & Amy Thorpe), registered finds (Geoff Egan and Angela Wardle) animal bones (Kevin Reilly). My job was to bring all of this material together and to try to hang it onto the framework provided by Chris Phillpott’s report on the documentary sources available for Cooper’s Row. As well as the text, our own GIS people Andy Dufton and Jess Ogden mangled our plans into gorgeous looking drawings. Finally Pete Rowsome did a very very well needed edit to the text adding detail and giving a well deserved ‘haircut’ to the shaggy parts.

So there you go, I wrote nearly 700 words and I didn’t even get a chance to thank any of the wonderful diggers and back office staff who made all this possible. Let me be absolutely clear: without you, none of this would be possible!

It’s great to see these proofs looking so lovely… and I am relieved to say, needing very little editing… now where is my pudding?