Good Morning – 2016 with CART

The Colchester Archaeological Team (CART) has recently had opportunity to help protect even more archaeological resources in Fairfax County by working on projects across the county. The team misses Old Colchester Park and Preserve and plans to return to OCPP, but we are happy to dedicate ourselves to being a county archaeological research team.

This morning, the Colchester Archaeological Research Team separated to tackle different tasks. A couple of staff went out to the field with a transit in order to map and record details of current field work, a few hopped on a computer, others are busy processing artifacts.

Erica sits at a table and catalogs historic artifacts.

Erica D’Elia, CART Assistant Lab Director, cataloging historic artifacts

Digitally recording land use across Scotland

I’m Mike Middleton and I work as an archaeologist for Historic Environment Scotland in the Data and Recording team, with specific responsibility for mapping. I work on two major projects; the Historic Land-use Assessment – a map of the current and relict land-use of Scotland – and a project looking to map the records in the National Record of the Historic Environment.

In my work I use sources such as historic maps, aerial photography and field survey data to try and map the known extent of sites and historic landscapes. I also work with and train colleagues so as to build mapping into their field projects.

One of our most exciting developments this year has been the completion of the Historic Land-use Assessment to give us full nationwide coverage for the first time. This has allowed us to work in partnership with the National Library of Scotland to produce a Land-use Viewer showing the change in Scotland’s land-use since the 1930s.

Showing the change in Scotland’s land-use since the 1930's.

Showing the change in Scotland’s land-use since the 1930’s.

The maps highlight changing land use and in particular the urban and forest expansion during this period, as well as the impact of infrastructure projects such as hydro schemes and bridges.

Having a nationwide land-use map allows us to quantify and monitor land-use change. By understanding what land-use change is happening we can start to think about how it impacts on the historic environment and this is turn can inform how we manage and target resources.

I got into archaeology because I grew up in Shetland – an area particularly rich in archaeology. As my career has developed I’ve come to see how archaeology is a finite resource, susceptible to land-use change. By working in archaeological mapping I feel I’m contributing by mapping the scale of the resource and by attempting to understand how land-use change is impacting on our historic environment.


Scotland: Land-use Viewer


Canmore: The National Record of the Historic Environment

Morning Coffee

Starting the day with manuscript editing over coffee and breakfast, working on evidence of ancient astronomy.  My interests in archaeology and astronomy preceded combining them.  Inevitably, archaeoastronomy caught my interest.  When my research focus shifted from Mesoamerican codices to rock art–to start reading the story from the beginning so to speak, Fajada Butte and Chaco Canyon caught my attention.  I found the codices overwhelming and indecipherable.  Rock art wasn’t any easier, but it is a much larger sample of the original “writing” and it is still in place, in context and I enjoyed a year spent in the Southwest desert “reading” the sites.  After noting a specific glyph was distributed on a north-south line I examined Southwest ruins and found a concentration of major sites on a meridian.  I named it the Chaco Meridian, drew a map, and, considering the finding significant, notarized the map and sent a copy to a few archaeologists.  Thus I was drawn into a new area of research decades ago, site-to-site relationships of ancient monuments, what I term archaeogeodesy.  Archaeology has a way of leading the researcher down new and unexpected paths of exploration and of learning.

Learning archaeology has been a long road with many branches.  To study the past, especially if your focus is past knowledge, your level of knowledge has to match the topic.  Archaeologists focused on ceramics become experts in ceramics, those focused on subsistence learn agriculture, etc.  At one point I did not know the word geodesy existed, albeit I knew about navigation, surveying, and cartography.  Our paradigms blind us to what other cultures knew and I did not suspect past cultures placed their largest monuments at specific latitudes or in relation to distant monuments.  Bit by bit, the archaeological evidence forces the researcher to learn what the ancients knew.  This process can hit a wall when the evidence demonstrates that past knowledge may exceed one’s one and the knowledge of one’s own culture.  I hit that wall when my research results indicated past civilizations had determined longitude accurately.  How else could they place major monuments in relation to each other when direct survey between them wasn’t possible.  My knowledge was inadequate to explain how this was accomplished without modern tools.

Analysis of site-to-site relationships also yielded evidence of accurate heliocentric astronomy and precise knowledge of astronomy constants.  How did ancient civilizations determine astronomy constants?  Since modern astronomy offered no solutions, I had to figure it out the way they did, using reasoning.  So now I’m trying to figure out how to communicate all this to a culture generally lacking literacy in these areas.  No one said archaeology would be easy.  Most certainly no one said we might lack enough knowledge to understand aspects of the past or that we would have to expand our own knowledge to do so.  I really need that morning coffee because somehow I ended up an archaeologist.

Archiving Ipswich

Two years after posting about my work on the Silbury Hill digital archive, in ‘AN ADS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY’, and I’m still busy working as a Digital Archivist with the ADS!

For the past few months, I have been working on the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive, deposited by Suffolk County Council, which covers 34 sites, excavated between 1974 and 1990.


Excavation at St Stephen’s Lane, Ipswich 1987-1988

To give a quick summary of the work so far, the data first needed to be accessioned into our systems which involved all of the usual checks for viruses, removing spaces from file names, sorting the data into 34 separate collections and sifting out duplicates etc.  The archive packages were then created which involved migrating the files to their preservation and dissemination formats and creating file-level metadata using DROID.  The different representations of the files were linked together using object ids in our database and all of the archiving processes were documented before the coverage and location metadata were added to the individual site collections.

Though time consuming, due to the quantity of data, this process was fairly simple as most of the file names were created consistently and contained the site code.  Those that didn’t have descriptive file names could be found in the site database and sorted according to the information there.

The next job was to create the interfaces; again, this was fairly simple for the individual sites as they were made using a template which retrieves the relevant information from our database allowing the pages to be consistent and easily updateable.

The Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive called for a more innovative approach, however, in order to allow the users greater flexibility with regards to searching, so the depositors requested a map interface as well as a way to query information from their core database.  The map interface was the most complex part of the process and involved a steep learning curve for me as it involved applications, software and code that I had not previously used such as JavaScript, OpenLayers, GeoServer and QGIS.  The resulting map allows the user to view the features excavated on the 34 sites and retrieve information such as feature type and period as well as linking through to the project archive for that site.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

So, as to what I’m up to today…

The next, and final step, is to create the page that queries the database.  For the past couple of weeks I have been sorting the data from the core database into a form that will fit into the ADS object tables, cleaning and consolidating period, monument and subject terms and, where possible, matching them to recognised thesauri such as the English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus.

Today will be a continuation of that process and hopefully, by the end of the day, all of the information required by the query pages will be added to our database tables so that I can begin to build that part of the interface next week.  If all goes to plan, the user should be able to view specific files based on searches by period, monument/feature type, find type, context, site location etc. with more specialist information, such as pottery identification, being available directly from the core database tables which will be available for download in their entirety.  Fingers crossed that it does all go to plan!

So, that’s my Day of Archaeology 2015, keep a look out for ADS announcements regarding the release of the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive sometime over the next few weeks and check out the posts from my ADS colleagues Jo Gilham and Georgie Field!

CeRPHAAL team mapping and analyzing traditional hydraulic systems

CeRPHAAL team, partner of MEMOLA project, working with the mapping and analyzing of the traditional hydraulic systems recorded during the field survey of May- June undertaken in the territory of the Upper Vjosa Valley, where are included the irrigation channels, water-powered mills, reservoirs, water pumping stations, etc. At the same time, we are evaluating the historic and current land use and parcelization based on field and historical data.

CeRPHAAL team working with the mapping and analyzing of the traditional hydraulic systems.

CeRPHAAL team working with the mapping and analyzing of the traditional hydraulic systems.

CeRPHAAL team studying the traditional irrigation systems of Upper Vjosa Valley

CeRPHAAL team studying the traditional irrigation systems of Upper Vjosa Valley

Starting the Day of Archaeology in New York with Mapping

The Public Archaeology Facility crew is starting the field day by setting up test units and mapping on a precontact site in Central New York.   Our survey last year identified this site and we have returned this summer to get a better idea on the context and materials present on the site.  All this information will help us determine if the site is eligible of the National Register of Historic Places. Mapping and laying out test  units   Mapping and laying out test units

Indianahannah and the Desk Based Adventure

Name:  Hannah Smith

What do you do?
Currently I’m working on the Historic Land-use Assessment project. HLA is a joint project between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland. It is an analysis of the present landscape, recording the visible traces of past land-use across Scotland, and presenting it as a digital map. My day is spent in front of a computer, working with digital sources in a GIS. This suits me well, I was always a bit of a fair weather archaeologist!

How did you get here?
I studied Archaeology at Glasgow University, and then went on to complete a Masters in Professional Archaeology there as well. As a student, I volunteered as a placement supervisor on the Hungate site in York with York Archaeological Trust. Working with YAT gave me the best crash course in field archaeology I could have asked for. Although I think the biggest thing I took away was that I preferred to work indoors!!


Dangerously close to that murky water!

I began volunteering as soon as I could, as I knew it would be difficult to find a job in archaeology. I volunteered with Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust after I graduated, helping their HER officer, and with various research projects. I was then really lucky to get an HLF workplace learning bursary in Information Management at RCAHMS in 2011.

What’s your background?
I’ve worked in various posts at RCAHMS since 2011. After completing my bursary in Information Management, I began working with the HLA project, before moving on to a data management role with Project Adair, and then working as Data and Standards officer within the Data and Recording section.

HLA mapping in progess

HLA mapping in progess

Favourite part of your job? 
I’ve enjoyed working on many different projects and in different sections at RCAHMS. It’s allowed me to gain a better understanding of all of the work undertaken by staff here. Also helping to produce our Day of Archaeology posts with staff is always a highlight.

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
Volunteer as much as you can.

Say yes. Even when you’re in a job, say yes to everything that comes your way.

Keep at it. Jobs are often few and far between, but you’ll be surprised at the range of archaeology jobs out there and the ways you can enter this field as a career.

Wish I hadn't said yes here, too many midges!

Wish I hadn’t said yes here, too many midges!


Mapping the Archaeology of Scotland

Name: Mike Middleton

What do you do? 
I make archaeological maps. I work in the data section meaning I work with three RCAHMS maps:

  • Canmore (the index to the RCAHMS collection) which to me is lots of distribution maps all in one. Filtering Canmore can help us map regionality.

Defining Scotland's Places - Roman

How did you get here? 
I studied Archaeology at Glasgow then went to France where my wife and I busked and volunteered on archaeological sites for a while before I got a job as a field archaeologist with the French state archaeology service (AFAN – Now INRAP). After seven years I returned to Scotland where I worked freelance for a bit before becoming a manager with Headland Archaeology Ltd. in Edinburgh. I joined RCAHMS in 2008.

Mike digging in France

Mike digging in France

Favourite part of your job? 
The favourite part of my job is the sense of discovery. I interact with the data in Canmore a lot meaning I’m always learning new things but by far the best part of my job is when we get out into the field and visit sites. That’s when you really get to learn about sites and landscapes.

What did university not teach you?
How to dig. I learnt that in Yorkshire volunteering on the Heslerton Parish Project. Thank you Dominic Powlesland!

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
Volunteer for everything…experience counts!

Dig as much as you can while at university.

Dig as much as you can after university.

Make sure you have other strings to our bow for when your knees go!