Northamptonshire

Dave Brown: Ringing in a New Era of Recording

My Job

I am a Geomatics Supervisor working in the quite newly formed Geomatics team at Oxford Archaeology East. My job has a great mix of both field and office work and often involves new forms of technology and experimental techniques and recording systems.

Over the past 5 or so years the company has changed from using primarily hand-drawn recording methods to a much more widespread use of digital recording. As a result, the divide between ongoing site work & what was traditionally post-excavation has become blurred. The Geomatics team pretty much operates within this blurred zone between field teams and graphics/post-excavation teams.

A car boot full of survey equipment

The essential tools of my trade! The car radio is permanently tuned to Planet Rock.

I enjoy the diversity of my role. On a daily basis I may travel across the Eastern Region to set out evaluation trenches or visit ongoing excavations. Or I may be inside creating trench designs or digitising site plans.

Today I am in the office catching up on my survey processing and working on some site plans for a large project recently completed in Norfolk.

One site in particular is very interesting. It has evidence of Bronze Age activity, including round structures within enclosures and remarkable post hole alignments.

A plan of archaeological features surveyed at a site

A site plan from a large project recently completed in Norfolk

The archaeological features were planned on site using Leica DGPS. Every feature was accurately planned, including all of the postholes, well over 1000 of them!

The data was sent to me & after processing I imported it into AutoCAD. I’m am currently tidying the plan and adding other data.

Archaeologists in hi-vis recording and surveying on site

The field team in action! Note GPS recording in background.

It is hard to imagine how long the process of recording all of these postholes would have taken with traditional methods.

Special Feature!- photogrammetry doesn’t quite ring true

One of the most exciting recording techniques we have recently started to use is photogrammetry. It involves taking a series of photographs which can be processed and manipulated by sophisticated software to create scaled photorealistic 3D models of objects and georeferenced orthophotos of archaeological sites (amongst other things). It means we can record sites by the use of drones even!

This technique is new to me, so one evening earlier this week, partly as a training exercise, I decided to attempt the recording of some church bells. As part of a restoration project funded by local donations and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Nassington Bell Project will see the restoration and overhaul of the existing 5 bells and frame and the casting of a new bell.

As part of this project two out of tune bells will be recast and I thought it would be good to preserve a record of their original form. Unfortunately, the bells are 40ft up in the small, dimly lit belfry!

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

Having gained access to the belfry I placed markers on the bells to help the software and put up bed sheets to mask out unwanted parts of the bell frame.

photographing-bell

Bell 4 cast in 1642 by Thomas Norris of Stamford, weighing approx.. ¼ tonne

I have run the data through the OAE’s Agisoft software overnight and I’m astonished by the results! I had to use a flash for every shot. I thought the smooth regular shape of the bell would also cause problems.

photo-composite

Each blue rectangle represents the position of my camera. I used only a basic digital SLR and its inbuilt flash

More processing and experimenting is required but, for a first attempt, I am quite pleased. I intend to upload the model to Sketchfab eventually to make it more freely available.

finished-bell

Doesn’t quite ring true- there is currently a hole in the top of the model!

The End

Thanks for making it to the end of this blog! I hope it has given you some idea of the diversity of roles and interests in archaeology. Dave

Dave Brown is a Geomatics Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist geomatics services, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/specialist-services/16-oxford-archaeologys-services/fieldwork/21-geomatics

Visard mask

mask 2 mask 3

Continuing from my previous post (Go with the FLO) another find I spoke about this morning was one of my favourite finds I have recorded on the PAS database – a Post-Medieval Visard mask.

Recorded back in 2010, NARC-151A67 was brought to me by a builder demolishing an interior wall in a 16th century cottage near Daventry. Folded in half and placed on a flat stone inside the wall infill, which consisted of horse hair, mud, straw, etc, was a mask. The mask is black velvet exterior, a white silk interior and a pressed paper middle layer giving it structure. Sewn just inside the mouth was a small black glass bead.

At first thinking this must be a Victorian Halloween mask, some research soon showed that this was an almost unique Post-Medeival artefact. The only object quite like it belonged to a 17th century doll, housed at the V&A museum. The Lady Clapham doll has a complete contemporary wardrobe, including a miniature mask almost identical to the full-sized Daventry mask. This gave me a potential date.

Concealed objects are not unusual inside older houses. Shoes are a common item discovered behind walls, under thatched roofs and under floorboards. There are a couple of potential reasons for concealed objects – to ward off evil spirits and witches (the theory being that if someone is afraid of being cursed by witches, you place a prayer or spell on one of their garments and conceal it to draw the evil spirits away from the individual) , or a way of keeping your ancestors close to the family. Of course, not everything is superstitious or ritual in archaeology – objects can just end up accidentally swept up or discarded as rubbish.

Looking for references to these masks being worn, some paintings appear to show women wearing them. The de Longhi paintings Al Rodotto (1751)and la Rhinocerous (1785) (both links taken from Wikimedia) feature women wearing these masks. And in ‘Omnium Poene Gentium Habitus’ by Abraham de Bruyn, published in 1581, the line: “in this fashion noble women either ride or walk up and down.” is accompanied by an image depicting a lady wearing a mask with holes cut for the eyes (image taken from www.houseffg.org)

So what we appear to have is a mask that has survived in Daventry due to its superstition-led deposition inside a house in Daventry, and a mask type that was common among gentlewomen in France and Italy between c.1560 and c.1751.

It is possible that the masks were worn to shield noble women from the weather when out of doors, to avoid sun and wind burn in order to keep a pale complexion. The mask could also hide a womans identity when out in public. But of course, held on with a bead between the teeth, the woman could not speak when wearing the mask. Raising interesting questions about women’s actual role at social functions – were they meant to be neither seen nor heard in some social situations?

Quite an important and interesting find for the local area – and further evidence that, as a FLO, you never quite know what will be landing on your desk next!

Despite being found in 2010, this does fit in with 2015 Day of Archaeology because I have spend some of today looking into the mask for a talk on Concealed Objects that I will be contributing to at Northampton Museum in September. I have also today written an email to the owner of the mask to discuss the possibility of it being loaned to the V&A and put on display with is miniature counterpart, and to allow for further research. Proof that once something has been recorded on the PAS database, it isn’t forgotten. Research continues and all our over 1 million records are there to be used into the future.

Definitely Not a Typical Day For Me!

I am an archaeologist and would love to say I work as one but I can’t no jobs around where I live!  I was inspired to do a degree in Archaeology and Landscape History mainly by watching Time Team! Another success story for Mick Aston as I graduated in 2008.  I do a lot of volunteer work for various organisations including a lot of Heritage work for the Northamptonshire Museums and Historic Houses Forum.

I, along with another committee member, have been organising an Awards Ceremony in the county.  We have a VIP attending, one of the Royal family, and on Friday I met up with his personal protection officer and Northamptonshire Police, just to make sure the venue was secure etc.. All very interesting.  It has been a lot of work to organise.

The day before, Thursday,  I had the chance to visit the Time Team excavation in a local town which was rather fabulous, had a chat with Tim Taylor (what a nice man).  The day after the 29th, I had co-organised a visit for the CBA (Council for British Archaeology) East Midlands to the Prebendal Manor at Nassington which was a great success, lovely weather, lunch, Manor and walk to a site of an Anglo-Saxon burial ground.  We had 35 members attend the day and the star of the show was ‘cat’ sitting in the window of the 15th Century Manor!