laser

A day of archaeological geomatics

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.
Image © Callen Lenz

Well, firstly, I can’t believe it’s been a year since last time! Doesn’t time fly? What’s happened since then I hear you cry? I’m still the Geomatics Manager for Wessex Archaeology, responsible for GIS and Survey. The big news is my desk is now paper free and I’m trying to keep to a paperless work regime, essential seeing as most of my workspace is taken up with computer equipment, leaving no room for unnecessary clutter. In the photo you can see not only my laptop but the recently rebuilt GISBEAST machine with it’s quad cores, 64-bit OS and 12Gb RAM, tooled up with all the software I need to do what I do. (more…)

Learning how to use a total station all over again!

The last time I used a total station was over two years ago at university and I think the highlight of that training was having fun being chased by the laser. However, two and a bit hours of training today and I can level it AND turn it on and off…. and some of those fancy bits in-between so I feel much more prepared for the copious amounts of surveying I will be involved in next week.
Apart from that I have been arranging finds washing and marking sessions, animal bone and environmental archaeology workshops for our fantastic community archaeologists.
My average working day is often completely unique in terms of what I get up too, that’s why I love working in archaeology so much! Some days I spend a lot of time answering and sending emails, largely to do with organising events for our community archaeology project. Some days are spent creating hand outs and guidance for the events and workshops that we run, and actually revising topics for myself so I can be more supportive in terms of answering questions for people. Then there are the days I spend actually supporting our volunteers in the workshops and activities that myself and our project team have organised. One of my main tasks in my current job role is trying to really engage the local community in archaeology, but that’s the easy part- they are all enthusiastic!
Some days… I dig!
Happy day of archaeology all!

Don Walker: Archaeological Help for Doctors

Caution: osteologists at work

The Digitised Diseases project, a collaboration between the University of Bradford, Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and the Royal College of Surgeons, is producing high resolution laser 3D scans of diseased human bones. These will be included in a medical resource website aimed at informing and teaching doctors and other professionals. The advantage of working with bone from archaeological sites and museum collections is that they can illustrate rare lesion types, some of which may not appear frequently in 21st century clinical medicine. Without access to antibiotics, sufferers of chronic diseases in the past could go on to develop the full extent of bony lesions. Having won JISC funding for the project, the team is currently selecting appropriate examples of pathological change for scanning. Following the excavation of a large number of burial grounds from different periods ofLondon’s history, MOLA is uniquely placed to provide interesting examples of disease for scanning. Each bone is entered into the database which produces an index number. They are then described, photographed and scanned. The photographs are then mapped onto the scans by gaming industry experts to produce the final textured 3D image. The illustrations below show scanned ‘blanks’ prior to photographic mapping.

Laser scanned image of a mature adult male with possible nasopharyngeal carcinoma from post-medieval Southwark, London

Laser scanned image of a right arm bone (humerus) with dwarfism from Medieval East London

 

For further information please see:-

@digidiseases

@_donwalker

http://www.facebook.com/MOLArchaeology

RCAHMS National Collection

The RCAHMS National Collection includes a wealth of material illustrating and recording all types of archaeological sites and monuments across Scotland ranging in date from the late upper Palaeolithic period to the present day.

People have been making a record of their heritage for centuries and the archaeological collections reflect this, ranging in date from the early 19th century to the present day. Included are perspective drawings, excavation drawings and photographs, site reports and notebooks, context cards, small finds cards and correspondence, as well as the latest digital technologies like laser scanning and 3D models.

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Another Day In The Life (Of An Archaeological Geophysicist)

When self-employed, a year just goes like that <clicks fingers>.

You may have read my Day of Archaeology blog post from last year.

I have since worked in a number of cemeteries searching for unmarked graves using geophysical methods. I spoke at the Cemeteries and Crematoria Association of Victoria conference in April (my first ever conference presentation) and am in the throws of writing my first paper about some work I did over the last year.

I have been undertaking geophysical surveys at the Creswick Cemetery (in Victoria, Australia) for the last year-and-a-bit, tracking down unmarked Chinese graves and an old homestead and associated features (rubbish pits, garden beds, etc.). In all this time, I have been able to test just about every geophysical method under the sun, and so am able to compare the effectiveness of certain methods at detecting certain types of archaeological features. I am hoping it will make a good read. Our data collection phase finished last week, so now it is (academic) reporting time. The client’s report has already been written and is publicly accessible for those interested.

Earlier this week, I had a computer issue and lost all of my tax data. Sadly, my taxes are due today. Hence, I spent the last four days doing nothing but my tax. Needless to say, this hasn’t been a very ‘archaeological’ week. Taxes were finished and submitted late last night, thankfully.

Today, though, I am driving back to Creswick, where three cemeteries nearby heard of my work and are interested in my surveying their empty land to look for any unmarked graves that may be present. Assessing each cemetery prior to providing them with a quotation will take me all of this weekend.

I have also branched out into geodetic surveying (i.e. creating maps of archaeological excavations and landscapes) using GIS, RTK GPS and robotic total stations. These technologies are certainly a far cry from the days of old, when we just used measuring tapes and a compass! I’ve also been using car- and tripod-mounted laser scanners to create full-colour three-dimensional models of archaeological sites, heritage structures and cemeteries (you’d be surprised by how many people want to look at what is written on headstones in a cemetery far, far away). I’m also looking into using airborne LiDAR for a major archaeological prospection project.

That’s about all for me for the year.

And, for those of you wondering, the big settlement project I was getting ready for last year ended up not getting any funding, so it didn’t happen. Anyone fancy donating some cash to the project?

Until next year… feel free to stalk me on my Facebook page , Twitter and my blog.

Live long and prosper.

The best laid plans…

Well, following on from my previous post, my Day of Archaeology turned out to be rather different than planned. This is certainly not an unusual occurrence; working in archaeological computing in a commercial environment, all manner of things can crop up and cause the most carefully planned day to head off in another direction altogether.

Firstly, my LiDAR data didn’t arrive so that bit went out of the window. And a whole bunch of meetings were convened, so a big chunk of the day was spent planning upcoming projects and working on management topics. I did end up doing a bit of survey support, preparing some survey instruments for the following weeks work and helping one of the Wessex Archaeology fieldwork teams with a GNSS problem they were having. I also devoted some time to preparing a submission for a metric survey project which will include some Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) and some Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM), a form of Reflectance Transformance Imaging (RTI). I also looked at the final specifications for another TLS project due to start fieldwork imminently. TLS is rapidly becoming the most efficient and cost effective means of capturing 3D metric data for recording and analysis of archaeological sites, structures and landscapes and one aspect of my job is managing such projects. I also currently do much of the processing, analysis and visualisation work on the resulting point clouds (and watch out for some videos of previous projects coming soon to the Wessex Archaeology Computing Blog).

A colour orthographic image of a castle, produced directly from Terrestrial Laser Scan data

A colour orthographic image of a castle, produced directly from Terrestrial Laser Scan data

But by far the best part of the day was spent doing one of my favourite activities: Systems design and development. I am currently building an integrated GIS & database application for managing and interpreting marine geophysics data. As with any good software application, it needs to effectively support the processes applied by the users, in this case the marine geophysics team. The data structure needs to be based around a solid and robust model of the information recorded; it needs to record not only the raw and interpreted data but the necessary Quality Assurance and metadata needed for analysis and reporting. I do enjoy this kind of work as it is creative and logical at the same time and to get it right, one needs to understand the detail and nuances of the processes being developed for, a good opportunity to find out more about different areas of archaeology (I have previously developed context recording systems for archaeological fieldwork, diver recording systems for marine archaeology and a variety of recording and analysis systems to support projects such as Environmental Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans).

My evening was indeed spent as planned finishing off a paper for publication. Whilst my main interest is in archaeological spatial technologies, I also have research interests in the application and development of data standards, thesauri and ontologies. My paper was based on how these various strands are coming together to support and arguably change the way in which archaeological theory is formulated, giving archaeologists the tools to discover information more easily and then develop more data driven theoretical assertions.

So a little bit different to what I had planned but I do hope still of interest to some.

The Row

The Row is a codename we use for one of our sites which may be the oldest provincial Jewish cemetery in the UK, the site has suffered badly from neglect, vandalism and hate attacks and was completely sealed off in the 1950s. Surrounded on all sides by industrial properties and wasteland, and unused since the early nineteenth century the site has turned into a jungle growing on top of an illegal dump. The charity set up to restore the cemetery relies entirely on donations so work has proceeded in fits and starts as and when the company and the charity manage to raise money. Recent successes have included obtaining free 3D laser scanning and polynomial photography for the surviving inscriptions.

Work today involves continuing the never-ending battle against the vegetation and dumped rubbish which has had free reign since Queen Victoria was on the throne and had reached heights of over 8’. One of our first visits to the site involved the sweat-drenched, machete-chopping and plank-battering a corridor through solid vegetation. It was amazing how much heat the mass of plant-life gave out and was indistinguishable from a tropical jungle, although we were on a northern industrial estate. Since then we have removed tons of plant waste and dumped rubbish. One of AAG’s major regrets for the site was the missed opportunity regarding the archaeology of garbage and the homeless camp built against one corner of the site, which had recently become abandoned. A 150+ year deposition of illegal dumping would have been a great exercise in garbage archaeology, and the archaeological studies of homeless sites in Minnesota by Larry Zimmerman was one of the most relevant studies of homelessness ever undertaken.

The layers of rubbish continue to turn up increasingly bizarre and nostalgic finds, high hopes for a Millennium Falcon were dashed on closer examination when it turned out to be a 2005-issue Burger King toy. The Goblet of Fire and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story on VHS are welcome finds and a mint condition plate from the DDR is an unexpected bonus. The site is a harsh one due to the lack of budget, but morale remains high. The gigantic nettles are capable of stinging double-gloved hands through heavy duty rubber gloves and pervasive ivy tripwires floor the unwary. Pain and frustration are released against the larger items of dumped rubbish pulled from the site, which are reduced to fragments and stuffed into rubble bags. The greatest hazard has proved to be the scran van which has disappeared in the last few days, possibly as a result of selling some extremely dubious chips. Few graduate jobs can involve so much physical work, and it always amazes me how much of the archaeologist’s day is spent cleaning things up, and doing the farmer’s walk while loaded down with tools, spoil, or samples. Moving gravestones and stonework onsite has to be done by hand as the site is like a sloping obstacle course and at certain points of the day resembles a World’s Strongest Man final.

As the day ends we climb out and do the best to cover our tracks with whatever materials are lying around, the ruptured bags of household rubbish seem to be the most effective. Recently we have used a fake dog turd and a plastic garden chair with one missing leg stolen to block gaps holes in the site perimeter, both now stolen. Where the three-legged garden chair is now we would love to know, we suspect it is somewhere near a pile of bricks capable of supporting it. We did admire the resolve of whoever took the leap of faith to pick up the fake turd.

Supporting students in the field

I have a strange job, and one that doesn’t exist at too many other universities. My official title is ‘Project and Fieldwork Officer’ and, along with my partner in crime Anthony in the role of Computing Officer, you could say we act as a sort of half-way-house between the students and the lecturers in the Department of Archaeology at York.

We spend a lot of our time teaching the undergraduate and postgraduate students techniques like survey, geophysics, and computing skills such as GIS, but invariably this doesn’t stop in class. As soon as a student decides to use a fieldwork technique, piece of kit, or computer in their dissertation, this means a lot of one-to-one support and coaching from us. This puts us in a nice position, as we really get to know the students well, in a more relaxed environment. It also means we are rewarded handsomely with wine and chocolate at the end of the year.

With the undergraduates away for the summer it’s quiet in the department, but there’s still plenty to do. The postgrads are still here, desperately trying to finish their dissertations and in need of GIS and other general computer help, but today I had other responsibilities.

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Day of Archaeology (Meetings)

Today is going to be spent pretty much inside, pretty much in Southampton, and pretty much in meetings, pretty much as usual. Still, the stuff is pretty interesting, at least as far as an archaeologist obsessed with computation and old things in sunny places thinks.

Today started with a couple of hours of editing. We have been working for a few years in the field of Reflectance Transformation Imaging. Last year the AHRC funded us to develop some new RTI systems and also to spread the word about the technology, particularly amongst archaeologists and experts in the study of ancient documents. This has been enormous fun. But I can start with a negative: the technology has its limitations – there is good experimental research demonstrating that other methods can be more accurate at the very fine level. But the considerable positives are – it is quick to do, can be very cheap, and definitely does the job if what you want to do is explore the subtle surface details of an object. If you want to measure to a micron, go elsewhere (and we have been – mostly to mu-Vis). But otherwise, grab a camera, a torch or flash gun, and a shiny ball (snooker balls work well) and get imaging. So, you’ll see from the RTISAD web page that we have been recording all sorts of objects with a load of interesting people. Whilst the project is winding down – I’m editing the report whilst writing this 🙂 – we are really keen to build new collaborations so please get in touch.

Next up I have a meeting with Les Carr in Electronics and Computer Science.  I am involved in a few projects with Les and lots of others here at Southampton to identify ways for us in the institution to manage our research data. Most recently we have built a couple of pilot systems in Sharepoint and EPrints and also trialled some tools to make deposit of data an easy process for researchers. The bottom line is that we need to make it even easier for researchers to look after their data, not only for fear of the disaster of losing it but also because it is our ethical and increasingly our legal responsibility. There are a lot of institutional and professional practice issues here, as well as more pragmatic stuff: its so much easier to keep your files in a bunch on the hard drive than beautifully ordered and attributed somewhere safe and central. So, for the last year funded by the JISC we have looked at research practice and policy within the institution, including talking to a lot of our archaeologists, and seeing how in the end we can join up data management here with the aspiration of also making deposit to the ADS easier and even more ingrained in researcher practice.

For lunch it is a supervision with Tom Frankland, a PhD student here working on the RCUK Digital Economy www.patina.ac.uk project. Tom has been busy on fieldwork in Italy and in the UK examining extant fieldwork practice and developing some interventions, particularly focussed on hierarchies and issues surrounding collaboration on site. There has been loads of work in the area of digital data capture on archaeological sites and we want to explore the impact of this on practice and the wider discipline, and also propose and consider the implications of some novel technologies. For a starting point on where we are coming from look at the cool work of Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry at MIT on SixthSense.  

Afternoon in my calendar is free so at the moment that means more RTI report editing and a bit of work on Science and Heritage PARNASSUS. This project is looking at environmental effects and adaptation measures needed for the protection of cultural heritage from climate change impact. We have been involved in some interesting survey work and also research into archaeological indicators for adaptations to climate change. Open on my laptop though is the policy document for data exchange and documentation. The project has a lot of partners gathering complementary but quite different information in the next few months so as ever the issue is thinking about how best to look after it and how to let one end of the data talk to the other.

Last part of today is timetabled for reviewing this month’s progress on the www.portusproject.org . We have been working at the port of Imperial Rome for the last decade or so and recently got funding from the AHRC for three years of analysis, limited fieldwork and publication. This has a strong digital component including building a succession of structural and visual computer graphic models of the various buildings, using information from geophysics, laser scanning, photogrammetry and so on. Thanks also to L-P Archaeology and their ARK 🙂 So, with more fieldwork at Catalhoyuk in Turkey coming up really soon, the iPhone pinging, and a nagging doubt that the car still won’t be fixed tonight it is time to stop writing 🙂 Day of Archaeology = top idea. Weekend looking like Beach + Rain.

Coffee and Geometry

My name is Gareth Beale, I am a Phd student and I am working in the office at the University of Southampton.

Things have started well today, the temperamental coffee machine worked like a charm after the usual spluttering and steaming.  

It is a rather gloomy summers day here in Southampton and I would dearly love to be digging at some far flung corner of the (southern) Roman Empire where temperamental coffee machines are nothing but a dim memory and there is a cafe on every corner stuffed full of espresso and pastries, but alas it is not to be. Instead we are talking 3D computer graphics. This will not come as a surprise to anybody who has spent any time at Southampton, but it may well come as a disappointment to anybody reading this post. 

I am currently engaged in the process of writing a chapter for my PhD on the subject of Physically Accurate computer graphics and thier potenital as archaeological research tools. This morning will be dedicated to the dicussion of the relative merits of different forms of 3D data acquisition, specifically, time of flight laser scanning, triangulation laser scanning and structured light scanning. 

More coffee anyone?