Jordan

Adventures in Digital Archaeology & Open Access Antiquarianism

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

It’s funny how quickly time passes while studying time.

Two years ago, this weekend was spent with a laser scanner at the beach.

I’d finagled a mini-grant from the National Science Foundation for a project I like to call Sandcastles for Science, but whose full un-pronouncable name identified it as a project to test out laser scanning capabilities for handling the imaging resolutions of stratigraphic sediment on archaeological sites (see– even that was a mouthful).

As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, the beach was the nearest easy access place to play in the dirt and provided a perfect venue to open up the experiment to local kids and un-suspecting beach-goers who accidentally volunteered themselves for mini-science bootcamp. Willing audiences who would build me data castles, while my research assistant and I exposed them to archaeology, beach physics, the history of castles, laser scanning, sea-shell collecting, and all the other educational topics we could cram into our construction schpeals and posterboards. I like archaeological education outreach, so sue me. It gets written into almost every one of my projects somehow.

Sandcastles for Science was ultimately prep-work for a two month field season in Jordan, laser scanning sites in Faynan (and yes, even scanning Petra for one glorious day), as well as for a lovely bit of software development on visualizing temporal sequences in point clouds with one of my fabulous computer science colleagues.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

Last year, this weekend was spent in a frenzy of data digging and labwork

My team needed to pull together presentations for Italian officials to approve the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology’s upcoming field season at Palazzo Vecchio and the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, and a bevy of lovely sites in southern Italy with a team from the University of Calabria.

So it was a weekend slogging through back-data of point clouds from the Hall of the 500 in Palazzo Vecchio, emphasizing the layered multi-spectral imaging into the model, and how it definitely showed the cracks conservators needed to track to create preservation solutions, and how it maybe had a hidden Da Vinci lurking behind one of its walls. It was a weekend of lists for the upcoming season, of site logistics, and Italian language lessons (team lessons with an instructor +  DuoLingo = a surprising amount of success once we hit Italy for the two month madcap field season that was my fall of 2013).

And if you’d like to check out more pics and details of my wonderful and ridiculous work for a once-promising academic something, scope out my scrapbook blog Adventures in Digital Archaeology.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

But this year, this year was spent online- in a flurry of creative archaeological energy

This summer, I find myself graduated and out on my own, free to pursue my own projects, safely away from the boundary lines of academia and the rather unhealthy environment I had found myself in for a big chunk of this year.

Pulling ourselves back together, my favorite research colleague Vid and I cooked up a delightful dish that brings together all the digital archaeology flavors we’d been prepping before, but as part of a much grander and more colorful feast.

And so this weekend was spent running down the final lists of photographs, video media, and writing that needed to coalesce together into the FIRST archaeological technology driven Kickstarter.

Mushing together the laser scanning, point clouds, 3D models, and 3D printing,our project, Open Access Antiquarianism, proposes the construction of art exhibit built from re-purposed cultural heritage data using the digital visualization pipelines my colleague and I have been building to handle archaeological data.

A blend of 3D printed archaeological artifacts, furniture upholstered in fabric printed with archaeological LiDAR (literal armchair archaeology), interactive point cloud visualizations and other such extravagant re-workings of scientific data from open archives, the Cabinet of Curiosities Open Access Antiquarianism proposes offers an excellent opportunity to continue streamlining the point cloud and 3D modelling methodologies we’d been playing with for so long, while reaching a much much larger audience.

Because the larger global community needs to be engaged in the increasingly complicated discussions regarding ethical implementations of digitization and open access of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The public (and archaeologists themselves) need to understand the desperate desperate need for interdisciplinary and collaborative work and move away from the academic politics and needless power-plays that constantly bog such wonderful creative enterprises down. Archaeologists need to work more closely with technologists and engineers to develop useful and adaptable systems that preserve the past for the future (and often simultaneously end up building the surveying systems needed for the space-age future we all envision).

And the public needs to be aware of the wealth of data that is available to them in the increasingly larger and more wonderful online archives of museums and government institutions all over the world. The past has the potential to become increasingly and excitingly ubiquitous and something that plays a much stronger role in one’s everyday conception of time and space. It’s getting all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and the doctors of archaeology ought to be actively on the hunt for more and more Companions. Studying the past is no longer something that need be done by experts alone. In fact, we are drowning under such an avalanche of data, that it is imperative that more crowd-sourced archaeological ventures be launched to bear the brunt of analyzing everything that is already stacked up in the university basements of the world, let alone the incoming finds. Archaeologists can stay experts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk to the public and engage them more actively in what we’re up to. Enthusiasm should count more than correct use of erudite jargon. Even to those hipster archaeologists out there.

In some small artistic way, the Open Access Antiquarianism project would like to address all of these things, while expanding the research and technological collaborative possibilities to continue refining the much needed digital pipeline that takes things from the field through processing, archiving, studying, and out to engagement.

My collaborative and interdisciplinary digital archaeology and outreach isn’t the traditional archaeology. But its my archaeology. And more than that, its an archaeological practice of hope. Hope that archaeology will fully embrace the increasingly digitized and interdisciplinary future. Hope that archaeology will not fall prey to over-specialization and tenure. Hope that archaeologists will continue to try to document and in some small way understand the past, so that we can help make vital statistically based decisions for the future. Archaeology has such potential to aid technology development and global ecological policy, if only us archaeologists would reach out and grasp it instead of assuming it will fall into our laps.

If you’re intrigued/dismayed/excited/furious/amused or any one of the wonderful and ridiculous emotions human beings are capable of, please check out Open Access Antiquarianism on kickstarter and on Facebook.  We’d love your support, and if you love our concepts about tech development, archaeology, and art as a research and outreach driver, perhaps your collaboration as well. Get in touch!

To the erudite young men and women a-sitting on a-tell: may your trowels be ever muddy and your point clouds free of shadows.

Acres and acres of happy wishes to all the archaeologists of the world,

Ashley M. Richter

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we've designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we’ve designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.


Remote Sensing and Kites in Jordan

A contrast between Kites on the 1:50,000 map square of Umm el-Jimal on Hunting Aerial Survey imagery and in a screen capture on Google Earth.

A contrast between Kites on the 1:50,000 map square of Umm el-Jimal on Hunting Aerial Survey imagery and in a screen capture on Google Earth.

As you may have gathered from the many photographs we have taken in the Jordanian harra – lavafield (you can see some here), Kites in Jordan are found predominantly on the basalt lavafield. Due to the sharp contrast between the black rock and yellow sands these are often easily discernible in good resolution satellite imagery and even more so in the course of aerial photography conducted each year by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project (AAJ). Due to improved availability of good resolution satellite imagery over the Jordanian harra I recently embarked on a review of known features over the landscape in preparation for our upcoming field season in October. Due to the reasons mentioned, the majority of the harra was scrolled over relatively easily on my desktop, but it was not all a walk in the park.

The north western section of the harra was altogether more difficult to review. Our knowledge of site distribution in this area began with those traced on the 1:50,000 K737 maps. This was improved upon through an analysis of the Hunting Aerial Survey (HAS) photographs undertaken by Prof. David Kennedy in the RSAME project where the information gathered from the aerial survey photographs were transcribed onto acetate copies of the 1:50,000 map sheets. Many of these sites were reviewed through ground survey conducted in the Southern Hauran Survey Project (SHS) in the late 80s and into the 90s, and included a few Kites, and the AAJ project, beginning in 1997, has also flown over and documented many sites in the region.

Google Earth (GE) has allowed us to utilise an affordable platform through which to easily review sites identified and photographed by the project, as well as investigate new sites for future research and documentation. In its early years the remote areas of Jordan were not a particularly high priority for high resolution imagery however, and many site locations were transferred into GE based on what was originally mapped in the earlier surveys mentioned, or locations estimated from the flight track log of AAJ aerial reconnaissance. These sites were therefore in need of the review I was conducting in order to increase the accuracy of the site location we had recorded, but also to verify whether the site first identified from earlier surveys was indeed correct.

The four map squares in question – Quttein, Hibabiya, Hallabat and Jimal are now in high resolution in GE – a victory you would think that would make life easier, but no. Here the basalt is no longer a deep dark black that contrasts easily for identification, but its age has bleached it and in some cases developed a patina over the surface so that it resembles the colour of the landscape around it. Take satellite imagery in the middle of the day and what you have is a bleached out landscape where you are lucky to identify anything at all. Moreover – this area is increasingly being utilised for agriculture and many sites identified from imagery taken in 1953 are now underneath fields of green. My standard approach of panning back and forth in GE and verifying against our aerial imagery and contrasting to Bing Maps was just not going to cut it today.

Thanks to the laborious work of Research Assistants before me, we have created an overlay in GE of the distribution of all of the HAS photographs. Using this overlay I was able to go from site to site we had identified and pinned in GE and contrast it to what I could see in the HAS imagery and had been noted on the K737 acetates. Kites were by far the most numerous feature in this landscape on the fertile edge of the harra.

An important lesson was the fact that often some Kites visible on the satellite imagery were in no way or barely visible on the older HAS imagery, and some were visible on neither but clearly visible on the low oblique imagery of the AAJ project. As much as satellite imagery is an easy and resourceful tool, it definitely can not stand alone. Interestingly – and not something we come across often in Jordan, some of the historical GE satellite imagery showed up Kites easily identifiable on the HAS imagery as crop marks in the now fielded landscape. These would not have been so readily identified without the HAS imagery showing us where to look, but it is an important reminder that remote sensing techniques such as identifying crop marks that are applied in more lush landscapes may also be applied in Jordan at the right time of year, especially in agricultural landscapes like the Southern Hauran.

Rebecca Banks
for the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East
www.apaame.org

Epipalaeolithic Foragers in Azraq Project

Today, Lisa Maher is getting on a plane to return to her field project in Azraq, Jordan. It has been a fast and furious couple of days as the Codifi implementation team put some finishing touches on an alpha version of the EFAP1 Codifi database for her to play with on her iPad.

EFAP_1

For this season, Lisa and her team will continue to document everything using paper forms, but one of the cool factors for Codifi is the ability to put everything into “context” – forms, photos, videos, people, events. Lisa will use Scanner Pro – an iPad app that will “scan” anything and turn it into multipage PDFs – for adding her paper forms directly to the Locus database entries. This will save scads of time in post-excavation.

This season is an opportunity for Lisa to give digital recording a try and provide us with real-world feedback on the application. We know we will learn a lot from the experience. The plan is to take the feedback and help her to produce a type specification that can be slotted into her forthcoming grant applications.

efap_2

 

We will be reporting back with news as the season progresses on our blog!

A Day on the Ground for an Aerial Archaeology Project

APAAMEHello from the Research Assistant for the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East. To save my time and yours, we just call it APAAME. We are perhaps best known for the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project which has conducted a season of aerial reconnaissance in Jordan from a helicopter every year since 1997. Day of Archaeology has not caught us in the air however, but in the office.

I am writing this from our new office in New Barnett House on Little Clarendon St in Oxford. We are in the process of moving our entire archive to Oxford University from the University of Western Australia. Our large map collection is in mail tubes, and our complete collection of Hunting Aerial Survey diapositives of Jordan from 1953 are in 7 boxes against the wall, but the slides and printed photographs are unpacked – we just haven’t got shelving for them yet!

Fortunately, the majority of our collection is already digitised, and that is what I will be working with for the most of today. Glamorous I know – but flying in a helicopter taking thousands of photographs of archaeological sites for a month a year, and delving through archives to investigate collections with aerial photographs of the Middle East, leaves quite a bit of follow up work.

I have not even finished my first cup of coffee for the day and already I am fighting with Flickr. We use Flickr to host are on-line photographic database (www.flickr.com/apaame/collections). Flickr was chosen because it is relatively cheap and extremely accessible medium to host our ever-increasing archive. We have recently decided to upload our images with their full geo-referencing information, and so I am going through the backlog of updating around 61,000 images on Flickr with their geo-tags. I have to batch edit these photographs in Flickr, which is fine except the interface Flickr uses doesn’t seem to cope with handling too many images at once. *sigh* I’ll just get myself a cup of tea … Meanwhile, in the background, I have Adobe Light room where we catalogue all of our images updating the metadata in Flickr.

Why am I geo-tagging our Flickr images? Traditionally, you would search for a location by place-name, but this is extremely difficult for the Middle East due to variations in place names and transliteration from Arabic to English, let alone to other languages such as French and German. (The Graeco-Roman city of Gerasa – for example, has appeared (so far) with 13 different spellings of its ancient and modern name in various languages). If you know where a place is located on a map however, you can simply go to the map interface (www.flickr.com/apaame/map) and zoom in on the area of interest, and you will see whether we have any geo-tagged photographs for that area and what site reference we are using. Alternatively, if you have found a site of particular interest on our archive but don’t know where it is, you can open the map interface and see its location on a map.

While I am working over in one corner of our office tackling the everyday issues of managing a digital archive, Professor David Kennedy is in the other using the archive as part of his ongoing research. The digitisation of our archive has opened up an increasing amount of time that can be dedicated to analysis and research, and has meant an increasing output of publications. Currently David is researching the Hinterland of Roman Philadelphia, which involves the search for historical photography, maps and early explorers accounts of a landscape that is now largely built over. He is putting the final touches to a lecture inspired by this ongoing research that will be delivered at the ARAM conference on ‘The Decapolis’ at Oxford University’s Oriental Institute on Monday: ‘Brünnow and von Domaszewski in the Jordanian Decapolis’. The research for this lecture involved time spent in Princeton earlier this year where the photographic archive of Brünnow and von Domaszewski is held.

Now that I seem to have Flickr happily batch organising my geo-tagged items to be accessible to anyone, I am doing a bit of research on Content Management Systems and digital archaeology projects. APAAME is looking to evolve the way in which we manage our content and related data, but exactly what system we implement for what purpose is currently under investigation. Everyone has their areas of expertise, and so we are contacting those that have computer database, data mining and CMS operating know-how that might have some good advice for us. I am also keeping an eye on our twitter feed, that is particularly active today with everyone’s #dayofarch posts, as well as updating our blog with info about our new publication.

So that is what APAAME were up to on this day, 26 July 2013.
If you would like to contact us or keep in touch– please feel free to use one of the following methods
APAAME-classics@uwa.edu.au
Twitter: @APAAME
Blog: http://www.apaame.org
Flickr archive: www.flickr.com/apaame/collections

Exploring Petra’s Diversity

This year’s Day of Archaeology falls during the first half of the field season of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP). Managed by the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, BUPAP is a multi-disciplinary research project that hopes to understand the development of Petra and its surrounding landscapes diachronically, both through regional survey and excavation at individual sites.

The Petra Area and Wadi Silaysil Survey in action (Photo by Linda Gosner).

Portrayals of Petra have historically focused on the monumental city- images of the Siq, the royal tombs, the Treasury, and the Great Temple imbedded into popular culture through the likes of Indiana Jones and countless other representations. BUPAP looks to build upon this past research and public interest, to contextualize our understanding of Petra’s diversity, and to ask new questions of the city and its surroundings including periods and places that have generally received little academic attention. Our fieldwork is split into four interrelated projects: the Petra Upper Market Area (PUMA) involves excavation, geophysical survey, and architectural studies in the city center; the Petra Area and Wadi Silaysil Survey (PAWS) is an intensive and systematic regional survey focused on the area north of the city; the Bayda Islamic Village (BIV) features excavation and mapping of an Islamic settlement; and the Petra Routes Project (PRP) investigates local and regional communication and travel. These are four diverse and exciting projects which we hope will bring some new ideas to the study of the city.

Our excavation team hard at work.

The diversity of both the site and the project is also represented in our project team. We’re lucky to work with an international group of established scholars, graduate students, and professional architects from the US, Jordan, Malta, Canada, Italy, Germany, Colombia, and Macedonia. We also rely on strong ties to the local community to understand the site in both its ancient and modern context. Besides the obvious academic benefits of such a broad range of contributors, our international team also makes for a lively and enjoyable workday and dig house.

Since Friday is our day off, we don’t have much to report from site today- you can check out posts by our team members Andy Dufton or Allison Mickel to learn more about what our team gets up to during the break. You can also check in at our Facebook page if you’re interested in learning more about the project, or keeping up with our latest finds and updates.

A Day of Archaeologists

Much of archaeology, especially in academia, comes down to how you spend your summer vacation. After finishing up the first year of a PhD at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University, this summer I’ve been making the project circuit in Italy and Jordan, the latter as part of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project.

Today was the day off for the team, and met with a slow start after a late night of football and dancing under the stars on the roof of the dig house (aka Club Sayhoun). Day off or no day off, five of us were up early and ready for a six hour hike to Jebel Harun, the grave of Aaron (Arabic: Harun), brother of Moses. And what a hike it was- you can all check out Allison’s post detailing just why visiting the tomb has been a pilgrimage for almost two thousand years. To add to her sparkling narrative would hardly do it justice, so instead I’m going to focus on the archaeologists with whom I spent the day hiking to the top of the known Petra world.

The hiking team (from left to right): Sarah Craft, Andrew Moore, Linda Gosner, and Allison Mickel

Crafty just finished up the fourth year of her PhD at the Joukowsky Institute. She researches pilgrimage sites in central Turkey, so was mixing business and ‘pleasure’ in hiking up what seemed like 10000m in 30+ degree desert sun. She’s also been a great friend in my first year at Brown in showing me both the school and the city, and will be sorely missed this coming year as she lives in Istanbul with a fellowship at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations.

I just met Andrew this year at Petra, where he’s working for the first time after finishing his MA at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the last week I’ve already discovered he has a wicked sense of humour and, after today, I also know the man is a beast when it comes to an intense hike. I’m sure there must be some goat blood in his family tree somewhere.

Linda is another Brown student, so I’ve had the chance to get to know her pretty well in the last year. Aside from a shared love of dance (NB- she can actually dance, and I cannot), and a mutual hope for a Spain win against Italy on Sunday, we’ve also spent the last year in classes and brushing up on Latin to varying degrees of success. If I wanted to embarrass us both, I’d post the video of us re-enacting the opening scenes of the Lion King on the mountain today. I think this time discretion is the better part of valor.

Allison is another person I’ve had the good fortune to meet this season at Petra, and has just finished up her first year of a PhD at Stanford. We’ve already had some great chats about communicating archaeology to the public. I don’t know how she made it up the mountain after a serious bout of sickness yesterday, but after some strategic shady stops, a lot of water, and even more stairs we emerged victorious to greet the others and have some lunch.

Exhausted. A pilgrimage really is all about the journey.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the discussion of archaeology focusses on the archaeology itself- on the site, the materials, the landscape, the archive, the publication. But at least to me, the personal interactions on days like today leave a more lasting impression. Meeting and developing friendships with these people- the archaeologists, my peers- is the thing that is ultimately the most rewarding aspect of a career in archaeology. I’m looking forward to similar days of archaeological pilgrimage, both in the rest of my season with BUPAP and in the future.

Living a Day of Archaeology by Hiking to Jebel Harun

This is Jebel Harun:

It’s the supposed site where Aaron (Harun in Arabic) died during the Israelite’s Exodus from Egypt.  It’s the location of his tomb, and a mosque was built on the site in the 14th century.  You can see the gleaming white dome of the mosque from many points in the area around Petra, where I’m working this season with the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP).

Two years ago, I was working on a different project in the region, the Bir Madhkur Project, with Dr. Andrew M. Smith II (George Washington University).  Bir Madhkur is about 10 km northeast of Petra, and we talked many times about hiking to Jebel Harun.  But I never did.

So now, two years later, our dig house is walking distance from Petra’s city center—from which Jebel Harun is about a 6 hour round trip hike.  It is the perfect opportunity to accomplish things unaccomplished, to navigate more of this rocky landscape that always yields new discoveries and experiences: new tombs and shrines and beytels carved into the sandstone, more welcoming Bedouins urging you to take tea with them.  Today was our day off at BUPAP, and we planned all week to hike to Jebel Harun.

But then yesterday, I was hit with just another reality of the archaeological lifestyle: the tendency to get suddenly and violently ill.  It was graphic.  My body rejected even the smallest offerings of pita and water with astonishing force while I feverishly dreamt about mutant Bedouin dogs and riding a tractor to site.

And then, as quickly as I felt so sick, I felt much better.  I really, really wanted to hike to Jebel Harun.

I admit it. I was holding back before. This is Jebel Harun:

The hike was extremely difficult; not, as the Lonely Planet suggests, for the reasonably fit at all—more for those who have goat-blood coursing through their veins.  There were several times I was scoping the terrain for a safe helicopter landing. But ultimately, having lunch on top of Aaron’s tomb, being able to see Petra’s monastery from a perspective so few people get to see, looking around at that vast desert landscape and recognizing the tremendous capability of the various groups throughout history who have made it home—all of these things made every single dehydrated step entirely worthwhile.

And for me, this experience is entirely, fundamentally, archaeological.  So much of what we do involves preliminary assessment of resources, identifying sites, performing minimally invasive research like GPR and pedestrian survey—simply finding out what’s there.  Like my first archaeological project in Jordan, archaeologists spend a lot of time gathering the data necessary to make the case that intensive excavation—or conservation—should proceed.  We work extremely hard—and rightfully so—to justify our work since, as we so often repeat like a mantra, it integrally involves the destruction of cultural and historical resources.  We have the capability to determine, with a fair amount of certainty, whether we should excavate, whether this is the opportune moment to move forward, whether the benefits of digging in outweigh the costs.  And in the case of Jebel Harun—despite all the factors indicating this was not the opportune moment—the benefits most definitely outweighed the costs.

I’m certainly not implying that excavation is a perfect analogy to hiking up a mountain.  But as with excavation, there are some things that you can only learn by moving forward and doing.  I can tell you, for example, that the journey to the mosque at Jebel Harun is meant to be a pilgrimage. But no amount of descriptions of the loose rocks on steep inclines, no number of photographs of bleached goat skulls along the path can capture what that really means.

Like I said, my day today was fundamentally archaeological.  Even on a day off, living on an archaeological project, you breathe and eat and drink and sometimes upchuck archaeology.  But then you hike it, and it’s immediately clear why you dig it.

Managing the Monster

I’m Keeper of Collections at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, in London. The collection was founded back in 1937, and has over 80,000 objects from all around the world, with a sum total of two staff to manage the monster. Mine is an academic post, so I’m expected to combine teaching duties with museum work. My day is often an eclectic mix of activities – with my lecturer’s hat on I might be writing or giving lectures, marking, meeting with students, reviewing chapters my doctoral students have drafted, revising course handbooks, attending meetings or writing papers. But with my museum hat on I might be getting objects ready for other people’s handling sessions, cataloguing backlog material in the collections, updating our databases, writing a blog post for the collections, fielding research queries, supervising visiting researchers or finding jobs for my volunteers. I never really know what the day is going to throw at me, and when I do make plans I often find they get overturned the minute I get to my desk.

Today I have four researchers booked to visit the collections, so I’m hoping this will give me some free time to work on other things. But we shall see … (more…)