Archaeological Geosemantics, the final chapter

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

GSTAR IV: Return of the GeoJSON

Following on from my Days of Archaeology in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (and for the last time), the bulk of my Day of Archaeology this year focussed on my doctoral research, writing up my thesis on Geosemantic Technologies for Archaeological Research (GSTAR). It’s been a busy three years but the project is nearing completion and will hopefully inform heritage management and research strategy over the coming years.

The aim of the project was to show how geosemantic technologies can be used to provide a framework for working with heritage data in a range of research contexts. To this end, I have built a demonstrator application which is based around a map (obvs!) for the Stonehenge landscape and which draws data from Historic Environment Records, museums and project archives, allowing users to ask questions across these diverse resources taking advantage of the semantic goodness of Linked Geospatial Data, thesauri and ontologies. Geosemantic ‘glue’ was used to integrate horizontally between resources (such as monuments and artefacts found within or nearby) and vertically (ie between excavation records and monument/event HER records and museum collection records).

The ontologies used were the CIDOC CRM, CRM-EH and GeoSPARQL which allow the concepts used by the various sources to be aligned whilst the terminology provided by the thesauri (published using SKOS) allow for the various terms used to document these concepts to be related. In other words, the semantic tools allow for the different sources to be made interoperable and queryable with the results displayed and interacted with on a map.

Moving forward, the approach taken and successfully demonstrated could be scaled up to act as the basis for the next generation of heritage information portals; think of the Heritage Gateway but with some additional bells and whistles:

  • the ability to undertake proper geospatial queries and analysis, even where there is no GIS data
  • spatial queries mediated using geospatial semantics, to get away from purely Cartesian views of space dependent on geometry and the problems that entails for historic information
  • complex querying across all of the participating providers, with differences in terminology ironed out

The demonstrator application is built using a range of standard web and geospatial technologies. Currently, the accessioning process for data is largely manual, built using the STELLAR Toolkit to process outputs from MODES and HBSMR, two major software packages used in museums and HERs respectively. A next step would be to automate this, which would be fairly straightforward from a technological if not a political perspective. If an automated pipeline could be implemented across all the HBSMR and MODES using institutions and organisations, this would cover an enormous amount of heritage information and, combined with a map based portal and live feeds to desktop GIS, would greatly improve the way in which we undertake all kinds of research activities, both in academic and commercial contexts.

Information from site archives was a little tricksier, as one might expect; such data does not typically get archived in a readily useable fashion unlike information found within the structured systems used for managing Historic Environment Record data or museums collections. However, with ongoing work relating to the digital capture and sharing of fieldwork information through OASIS, HERALD and the broader Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS), we are undoubtedly moving towards a time when this becomes not just possible but the norm. When this happens (and note I say when not if!), we can start to extend Linked Data principles more fully to our information resources, so monument records can be directly built up from linked fieldwork records, museum collection artefact records can be layered on top of linked excavation finds records and, on top of all this, our Research Agendas and Frameworks can be truly data driven, dynamic resources drawing directly on this web of Linked Data, informing and informed by ongoing research and our shared knowledge of the past, across all of our information resources.

The use of such geosemantic ‘glue’ allows for a much more intelligent approach to finding and working with geospatial information from heterogenous sources split across numerous providers. Take the following query for example:

Show me all the Bronze Age mounds where dolerite has been found during excavations and carved chalk balls were discovered nearby.

Using the HeritageData Periods thesaurus, it is possible to mediate different uses of language across sources to describe time-spans relating to the Bronze Age, using broader, narrower and/or related terms. We can use the FISH Event Types Thesaurus to find event records relating to interventions (including excavations) and draw on the project archives for these to check for finds of dolerite, potentially using geological ontologies such as GEON to mediate identifications of rock types. Using the FISH Object Types Thesaurus, it is possible to do the same for chalk balls or any other artefact type. Geospatial information may well not exist for these objects as recorded in museums collections, most likely not in the form of British National Grid coordinates at least, particularly where they were discovered in antiquity. But we do often have some basic spatial information such as an associated location (eg Stonehenge), parish (eg Amesbury) or named place (eg Stonehenge Road); in such cases we can use the Ordnance Survey Linked Data plus some of the spatial relationships defined by the Simple Features specification (used by the GeoSPARQL ontology) to perform a spatial query using these index terms via a bit of geosemantic magic. Moving forward, we can align our research questions with such resources and queries so, for example, if the dating of carved chalk balls (typically thought of as of Neolithic origin) were to change, we can use the same approach to identify contexts where such changes would have a knock on effect or where our broader understanding of deposits, sites and complexes may also need to be updated or where new research questions arise. So this may be the end of the GSTAR project, but it’s only just the beginning for the use of such approaches within the heritage sector.

Many thanks again to everyone who has helped, contributed and otherwise supported this research project along the way, particularly:

  • Doug Tudhope, Alex Lohfink, Mark Ware & Ceri Binding (University of South Wales)
  • Chris Brayne (Wessex Archaeology)
  • David Dawson (Wiltshire Museum)
  • Adrian Green (Salisbury Museum)
  • Keith May (Historic England)
  • Melanie PomeroyKellinger (Wiltshire Council)

What’s it like working in a research team in archaeology?

I work on stone tools and soil chemistry from a site in Yorkshire called Flixton Island 2 as well as a little bit of work on another much bigger and better known nearby site called Star Carr – and yes, it can be dull at times (putting soils out to dry is never thrilling, though oddly calming) but the results about what they can tell us about how people were living tens of thousands of years ago can be really exciting. These sites are both from the Mesolithic period, when we were still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Britain. It’s all about getting down to the nitty gritty, day-to-day lives of people in the past.


‘Vesuvius, fare well until my return.’ A Non-Invasive Archaeological Research Project on the Shops of Roman Pompeii.

Via delle Scuole, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker.

Via delle Scuole streetscape in Region 8, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

Vesuvius and I have a little one-to-one chat each time I visit Pompeii in southern Italy. It’s the first thing and the last thing I do on every fieldwork and research visit. Without Vesuvius I couldn’t be the archaeologist and researcher that I am. 

As a Roman archaeologist specialising in socio-cultural and economic examinations of ancient Pompeii and the early Roman Empire I have visited the ancient city countless times in the past 15 years. I feel like I know the city like the back of my hand: entering at the Porta Marina gate, sharing greetings with the Pompeii superintendency staff and custodians who I haven’t seen in a number of months or years, climbing the steep Via Marina road leading into the city that widens into the city as you arrive at the forum. Turn left and it’s the backdrop to the Capitoline Triad temple remains: Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that catastrophically destroyed and preserved the Roman city, a small town that wasn’t of particular great importance in the Roman Empire. The violent eruption of AD 79 had a myriad of consequences, covering the city in several metres of ash and pumice after a 24 hour long bombardment and killing those who had not escaped the city and burying the contents of their homes, businesses, religious sites and theatres entirely.

Nearly two thousand years later the city was ‘rediscovered’ (although it had never properly been lost) under the Bourbon rulers of Naples in 1748. Ten years earlier the ancient city of Herculaneum had been found and the fever of antiquarianism was rising. Excavation revealed surprisingly familiar aspects of an ancient civilisation: statuary, belongings, homes, and so on. Despite early use of backfilling, a practice in which materials excavated, such as soil, are returned to the opened areas, Pompeii eventually became the open air museum that we understand it as today. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a city frozen in time. Since Day 1 of its burial the site has been subject to a slow, natural decomposition in addition to destruction carried out by humans, both in antiquity and from 1748 onwards.

My research, mostly carried out as part of a PhD degree, focuses upon the lesser studied shops and workshops, also known as tabernae, which fronted many of the homes along major arteries in the city. These small structures are important because they tell us about what everyday life was like for non-elite Romans, slaves and freedmen (ex-slaves) in terms of where they worked, their trades and crafts, their eating and drinking habits, and, in a few cases, where they may have lived. An insight into Roman shops at Pompeii provides an understanding of population, society, culture, urban planning, trade, and commerce. It also tells us quite a lot about the impact of war and Roman colonisation, slavery, migration, patronage, art, neighbourhood development and industrialisation across the city.


A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

In light of city’s size, I have chosen to work in a quarter known today as Region 8, just south of the forum and Via dell’Abbondanza, close to the two theatres of the Entertainment District, and bordered by the city wall and the Porta Marina and Porta Stabia gates. Most tourists to the city will walk by my shops without noticing their presence or their importance to the city, although they might notice the shops with counters looking like taverns. The majority of the 93 shops in this area are small structures under four rooms in total. Some are directly connected to the elite houses (popularly known as villas, but correctly identified as domus) that were owned by families of local political importance who also maintained commercial interests, which is in contrast to incorrect 19th & 20th century views that Roman elites avoided direct trade and monetary dealings.

One particular aspect of shops is a favourite of mine: the architecture. Quite a lot of my time is spent at my desk in England analysing field research carried out site and the architecture is often the most revealing because 18th & 19th century excavation records rarely include recordings of finds from the shops despite being rich sources of materials and decorated buildings in their own right. Archaeologists often refer to this type of analysis as non-invasive research’ because it doesn’t require further excavation and damage to ancient structures and landscapes. Pompeii is an excellent site to carry out this type of approach because the wealth of material and speed of early excavations means that much remains to be interpreted from exposed buildings and their contents. It is quite a lot like putting a massive puzzle back together when you don’t have an entire understanding of what that puzzle is meant to be.

To keep track of the extensive number of photographs, plans, archival records and my own analysis findings I developed a digital database (along with some generous assistance from Derek Littlewood, @eggboxderek). I love reading the walls for the information that they provide, with or without their finished decoration, revealing building phases and additions, and most importantly telling archaeologists about reconstruction following the seismic activity, including earthquakes, leading up to the fatal eruption in AD 79. Even details such as the simple thresholds set within shop doorways are thrilling: I can understand how and when these doorways and their doors operated, learn about Roman carpentry and locks and take part in scholarly debates around differences between mezzanines and upper floors and why their different terminology and definitions affect their use.


Database, Tabernae of Roman Pompeii. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

Database record for 8.4.27, The tabernae of Roman Pompeii: shops & workshops of Region VIII. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

And while my PhD research isn’t a group project, I depend on the regular exchanges of ideas and discussion of new developments at Pompeii with a number of other researchers. Some of the especially important individuals, projects, and publications, that have impacted my area of research in the recent past include Dr Joanne Berry, Drs Steven Ellis and Eric Poehler of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, Dr Sophie Hay (@pompei79), and many, many others.

Sera Baker is currently completing a PhD at The University of Nottingham, UK. She enjoys discussing Roman archaeology on her Twitter feed, @seraecbaker. To learn more about Pompeii take a look at the official archaeological website from the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia (English & Italian; for most complete information use the Italian site).

Part-time PhDing, parenting & computer fails

The Day of Archaeology is Friday 29th July 2016, a day that I usually spend with my 3 year old son. So, instead I am writing about what I am doing today, Thursday 28th, which is slightly more archaeologically focused.

I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester, studying part time, and doing childcare the rest of the time. My research is on the social and economic impacts and effects of the construction of the Thames Embankment at Chelsea in the 1870s. You can read more about my work here.

When I signed up for the Day of Archaeology I had anticipated that I would be processing my fieldwork survey data, and that my blog entry would include writing about some of the interesting features I had found, photographed and inspected on the Chelsea foreshore.

Barge bed on the Chelsea foreshore (Photo: Hanna Steyne)

19th century chalk barge bed on the Chelsea foreshore (Photo: Hanna Steyne)

Unfortunately, I have been experiencing some Windows 10 induced problems connecting to the University network, as I work from home most of the time, and have therefore been working on other things. They are, however, probably fairly representative of the work that archaeology PhD students and academic archaeologists get up to, and so I will tell you what I’ve been doing anyway.

Last year I accidentally offered to write a chapter about the Industrial Archaeology of Inland Waterways. I am always fairly militant about making sure that archaeological and heritage discussions include maritime and shipping perspectives, whether that is ensuring that the Transatlantic Slave Trade be discussed in exhibitions about cotton (I’m looking at you NT Quarry Bank Mill) or that a volume on Industrial Archaeology includes discussion about the significant role that inland water transport played in success of the industrialisation of Britain. And so I find myself filling a gap.

My chapter aims to place the canal and inland waterway network centrally in the field of industrial archaeology. It, hopefully, will provide a brief overview of their development in relation to industrialisation, a brief description of the archaeology of inland waterways, an overview of previous work and an assessment of the current state of research – not specifically in relation to the minutiae of canal workings, but more focused on the role of shipping and waterways within industrial archaeological research.

The topic should be fairly straightforward for me, given the site of my PhD research is an inland riverside port site. My background is in coastal and underwater archaeology, and as if by osmosis I have accumulated a general working knowledge of both coastal and inland ports. I also live very close to the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals, but somehow this doesn’t seem enough to write about the complexities of canals and inland waterways in relation to industrialisation in Britain. As with most things in life, there is always more to learn. Anyway, I am writing it, and I shall not shirk the opportunity I have been given!

Whilst I am only part way through writing the chapter, my feelings are that inland waterways have been somewhat side-lined, in a manner reminiscent of coastal and maritime archaeology. Generally, inland waterways have not been of interest to maritime archaeologists, and yet because of their watery and boat related nature, have tended to be eschewed by terrestrial archaeologists within academic contexts. There are experts on canals, but much of the expertise seems to lie with non‑professionals or archaeologists in commercial units, much like Industrial archaeology more widely, and Maritime Archaeology in the olden days. This expertise is largely being developed ‘on the job’ as few UK Universities specifically teach post-medieval and Industrial Archaeology. Commercial archaeology is playing an important role in the contemporary study of canals and canal related infrastructure, and many other aspects of Industrial Archaeology, and there are many examples of excellent work – excavation, research and publication. With ever more regeneration (or gentrification depending on your perspective) projects in ex-industrial areas, many of which are close to or adjacent to canals and inland navigations, it will be interesting to see how an increasing demand for commercial archaeologists with expertise in the industrial period will be met with only a handful of UK universities teaching these periods. Anyway, I digress.

Writing a book chapter is a new and interesting experience for me. I have written journal articles before, but books, especially for edited volumes, seem to be quite a different kettle of fish. Where journal articles tend to present methodological developments, results of research, or specific theoretical ponderings, writing a book chapter seems to be more akin to essay writing. The aim being to present both an overview of current work, site types and yet also find space to include your own assessment and analysis of the current state of research and where you would like to see it go. All in 5000ish words. Handling such a small word limit also seems to be quite a challenge for me at the moment. The PhD process requires constant writing, but although I will be working on a specific chapter, I have not been paying too much attention to work limits. Instead I have focused more on ensuring that all relevant thoughts, tangents and ponderings are written down, concisely, with acceptance that they may or may not be included in the final write up. After working for four years in government, I thought I was pretty good at writing concisely. It seems two years of a PhD have undone this. Oh well.

The other thing I am working on today is also fairly typical of both PhD students and academics, but another first for me; writing a book review for publication. Excitingly, I was approached to write a review of Crossrail/MoLA’s book The Thames Iron Works 1837-1912 on the archaeological work at the Limmo Peninsula. Whilst the writing part is only 600-800 words and therefore should not take too long, I also actually have to read the book. Quickly! So, to the local café it is for tea, quiet and some serious critical reading.

Because neither of my tasks today involve pretty pictures, I have instead included some of the objects we found on the Chelsea foreshore! Hopefully I will be processing my survey data soon. I plan to update my own blog with results from fieldwork soon.

19th century objects on the Chelsea Foreshore (Photos Hanna Steyne & Daphne Keen).

19th century objects on the Chelsea Foreshore. Left: Thames Sailing Barge Rudder. Top Right: Small ceramic fragment. Bottom Right: Glass Container/Mortar (Photos Hanna Steyne & Daphne Keen).

Another Day in BioArCh: A Photo Diary

My Day of Archaeology started fairly early as I had a lot I wanted to get done before the weekend. As ever, nothing went to plan, but it was still a productive day and I got a big job ticked off my to-do list, which I think is always a nice way (if a rare way) to end the week. My name is Keri Rowsell, and I’m currently in the first year of my PhD at the University of York, based in BioArCh.


Day of Archaeology – What have Archaeovision been doing? A Computational perspective

From James Miles:

As a relatively new commercial company we have had a lot of success within a number of research projects utilising computational methods in archaeology. We began the year by recoding the Insula Dell’ara Coeli in Rome, a second century building that can be found at the foot of the Capitoline hill. This was followed by a number of imaging related projects such as our Rode Imaging project, our photogrammetry work for the National museum of Estonia, Deerhurst Church and Salisbury Cathedral, included a 3D print of part of the medieval frieze found in the chapter house. Combined with other laser scanning projects such as the work completed at the Lady of Kazan church in Tallinn and the Ice House at Beaulieu, it has been a very busy year for us.


3D print of the Medieval Frieze

As those who specialise in computational methods, the majority of our time is spent in front of a computer, staring blankly at a screen waiting for our software to work and to stop crashing. Today has been no different! Archaeovision is split into three organisations, we have a company in England, a company in Estonia and a non-profit organisation that allows us to apply for research grants. We have therefore been working on a number of different projects within one day. James who is based in the UK has spent the majority of the day working on his PhD trying to process laser scan models for use within structural analysis tests and finalise a few of his thesis chapters. At the same time he been working on the admin side of the business, dealing with emails, invoices and trying to arrange our storage system. He has recently returned from California where he was part of a research led project looking at Chumash archaeology run by the University of Central Lancashire. His involvement was based on the recording of a number of different cave systems and he will spend this evening going through the scan data, tidying the data and creating virtual replicas of the areas required.



Californian landscape

Attached to our UK company are Tom Goskar and Paul Cripps. Both act as consultants for us and both have already posted about their ongoing work. Tom’s focused on his medieval and web based work whilst Paul’s mentioned his work on his automation project and LiDAR project. Tom and Paul are both experts in their field and it’s a privilege to be able to work with them. Part of the emails that James has been dealing with today is through a future calibration project that follows Paul’s LiDAR work. We are in the final stages of negotiating terms and hopefully this will be underway shortly. At the same time James and Hembo, who is a partner of the business, have been dealing with a request for a website design, again today was spent trying to finalise the details of the work and understand fully what our client wants. Hembo has an extensive background in web based technology and has spent most of the day working on the website for the 2016’s CAA conference that is taking place in Oslo, Norway. Hembo manages this website, along with many others, throughout the year. Today Hembo has been focussing on the Open Conference System for the CAA conference, trying to streamline the submission process for next year’s papers. Hembo has also recently returned from Italy through his involvement in the Portus Project and has been working on the archive system used on site.


Connected to out Estonian team, Kaarel has managed to find time away from the computer and has spent the day completing a survey in south west Estonia. Andres has spent the day working on his Haapsalu Episcopal Castle project which captured an incredible 404 scans over a two day period. He has been tidying up the model for use within a Building Information Model and has been establishing if any areas need further recording. His work made the national news this week which has been great for the company. Connected to this, James was also interviewed during the week in regard to the Ein Gedi scrolls because of his experience with Computed Tomography scanning. The article that the interview was used for was published today on the Smithsonian website. Although the majority of the interview was not used, it has been a good day for us in terms of publicity and for the University of Southampton which James is connected to.


Laser scan model of Haapsalu Castle

For most of us our day has been spent inside. On plus side for those of us in the UK, we have avoided the rain and have a fondness for coffee. A perfect combination for the long days’ worth of processing data and dealing with admin. Tomorrow involves more of the same but we will get to play about with some photogrammetric modelling that needs to be completed for one of our ongoing projects.

A day drawn in my… life

It is 18:53 when I start writing this year… First moment I can actually stop for a bit and do something else. I have been procrastinating a bit this morning, I recognize it. Once I started seeing all these posts popping up my timeline I couldn’t resist. But today my life is not about the day of Archaeology like last year… unfortunately I have another enterprise to go for. Well, two of them.

My day started at 7:13 with the noise of the air conditioning machine of my neighbor running as always. I have the feeling he pays alone for one full salary in the electricity company… 24/7 AC running during the summer. Light was already too much to fall asleep again, so I woke up and went for a short run. It was already 25º outside. Now it is 33º (we are lucky today). Cereals for breakfast, toilet routine (yes, archaeologists also poop if you ever doubted it), and time to start working.

What am I doing now? A f****** PhD. I really hate some moments of my life lately. Basically those when I am writing the thesis. I love the topic, I even like what I write, but when you have a sword over your head you don’t enjoy it at all. The sword, a deadline. The deadline, November. Today is the 173rd day since I started writing —you can follow it in Instagram. Work does not let me write that much, so I really don’t know how many of these days I actually used for the PhD. Not many.

Some Instagram pictures of my PhD diary

Some Instagram pictures of my PhD diary

Actually, at noon I went to pick up a book in the print. One of the activities I do in my company (JAS Arqueología) is the editorial and this month I have had a lot of work. The book is the Spanish edition of Archaeology and the senses, by Yannis Hamilakis. A year and a half to finish it… but worth. After lifting 9 boxes of books, preparing some mailing for the distributors and all that, it was already lunchtime.

Front cover of the Spanish edition of Yannis Hamilakis book; Archaeology and the senses

Front cover of the Spanish edition of Yannis Hamilakis book; Archaeology and the senses

I guess you don’t need to know what I ate… but gazpacho is a great fresh soup for the summer… And thanks to the energy it provides, I managed to finish (like really finish) one chapter of my thesis right now! Yeah! So now, maybe some dinner and more PhD? I love my life lately, did I say it? And well, I guess the life of an archaeologist is not always fun in the field, or fun in the lab, or fun at all 😉

My screen... with Annex 1 of the PhD thesis

My screen… with Annex 1 of the PhD thesis

A Digital Day of Archaeology

Wooston Castle Local Relief Model draped over a 3D Digital Terrain Model, all based on LiDAR data and available on Sketchfab

Wooston Castle Local Relief Model draped over a 3D Digital Terrain Model, all based on LiDAR data and available on Sketchfab

As is usual for me, my day comprises working on digital heritage projects, as in my previous Days of Archaeology (2011a, 2011b, 2012, 2013 and 2014). So no archaeological features were harmed in the making of this post!

Although on one current project, my GSTAR doctoral research, I am indeed working with archaeological excavation data from the archives of Wessex Archaeology combined with museums collections data from Wiltshire Museum and also heritage inventory data from the Wiltshire Historic Environment Record. This project is nearing completion (thesis due for submission April-ish next year!) and having already shown that geospatial information can be published and used in Semantic Web / Linked Data contexts through the integration of ontologies, I’m currently building demonstrators to show how data can then be used to undertake archaeological research through framing fairly complex archaeological research questions as spatial queries asked across the range of resources I’ve included.

Today however, I’m working mainly on Archaeogeomancy commercial projects as I do one day a week. And thanks to the wonders of digital technologies, I’m working out of Bristol for a change; my first Day of Archaeology away from Salisbury. It’s been a busy week this week, clocking up quite a few miles, as Monday and Tuesday were spent at the Pelagios Linked Pasts event held at Kings College London where a diverse group from across the world spent a very productive couple of days talking about Linked Data with particular emphasis on people, places, space and time.

This morning’s tasks focussed on an automation project involving planning applications. I’m building a system which consumes planning data collated by Glenigan, classifies it according to type of project (as defined by the client) and then pushes out regional and property specific maps and summaries on a weekly/monthly basis for a list of properties which may be affected by these planning applications. This allows specialists in each region to assess each planning application and make recommendations regarding any responses needed. So whilst not the shiniest and most academically interesting of projects, it is the kind of GIS based systems development and automation that can really make a difference by freeing up staff time from the mundane production of such maps and reports.

This afternoon’s tasks will focus on another system I’m developing, this time to assist with the analysis and interpretation of LiDAR data. I’m building a toolkit which incorporates a select range of visualisation techniques requested by the client including Local Relief Maps, Principal Components Analysis and the usual hillshades, slope, etc. The toolkit is to be deployed to users who are not necessarily experts in the analysis and interpretation of LiDAR data or GIS so needs to be simple to use with many variables preset and also needs to be integrated within their corporate GIS solution rather than be a standalone application. The first batch of tools mentioned above are all complete and working nicely; this afternoon’s mission is to wrap up the Openness and Sky View Factor visualisations.

Indeed, it’s been great working with LiDAR data again lately. When thinking of a suitable image for this year’s Day of Archaeology post, the one shown above immediately leapt to mind. It shows a screenshot of the output of the Local Relief Model (LRM) tool I built draped over the Digital Terrain Model (DTM) for a rather lovely hillfort as viewed on Sketchfab. I mention this because disseminating informative views of LiDAR data has long been problematic, but platforms such as Sketchfab allow us to composite 3D and 2D products and then share them in an interactive way with anyone who has a web browser and an internet connection without the need for any specialist software at all. Nice.

‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Confessions of a newly minted self-employed archaeologist.

My name is Nick and I’ve been a professional archaeologist for the last 15 years.  I’ve been lucky enough to be employed continuously for much of that time when I wasn’t studying and have the opportunity to work across the UK, Ireland and in the Middle East. When I saw the tweets promoting this years ‘Day of Archaeology’, I thought why not, I have time to write a blog post. This was a bit of a change from the last few years and I was surprised to find when I re-logged in its been four years since I last participated. This should probably not be surprising seeing as in that time I have been working full time, undertaking part time PhD research, writing papers for journals, giving papers for conferences and, oh yes, having a life. A busy schedule isn’t unusual for budding or experienced archaeologists, because essentially we do it because it’s the job we love, the profession we choose and so we do all that we can. But can that level of workload be sustainable in the long run?

For me the answer was no, in order to do a good job at work, write papers and pursue research, the actual process of writing and finishing my PhD was falling behind. So after thinking about it for a long time and talking with a supportive partner and family, I decided to make a change and a couple of weeks ago I quit my full time, well paid (with benefits) consultancy job to focus on writing up my PhD full time. A bit risky I know, essentially I still have bills to pay and money to think about it, but it was also the best decision I ever made. I’m now a doctoral student and freelance archaeologist and here are the reasons why it is so great.

  1. Time. Once you re-prioritise what is important and how you spend your time, a massive weight is lifted off your shoulders. The guilt you feel whenever your down the pub and should be writing eases off (doesn’t disappear entirely I’m afraid) and you know you are spending 40+ hours a week dedicated to what you want, for me it’s my PhD research. Essentially you can spend the time you want on the projects you love.
  2. Finding the love for archaeology again. I’ve spent 15 years working as a commercial archaeologist and have the luck to work on a number of really interesting sites. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s worked in the commercial sector would admit, there are some really boring jobs you have to do in some pretty awful places. Once I moved onto consultancy, you have to deal with some clients (not all) who don’t want to spend money on archaeology, which is a difficult place to be. I guess the problem is that sometimes you feel pretty far detached from the archaeology that you love and the reason why you do the job in the first place. Once you re-prioritise you focus on those projects that you really want to do and you rediscover that love for archaeology. It’s a pretty great feeling and massively motivating.
  3. Working freelance is a great challenge. It can sound a bit daunting with all the things that you have to sort out (tax issues, keeping accounts etc), however, there are a lot of great guides out there to help (BAJR, CIfA and HMRC). I’ve made some great friends in archaeology who have been there to help and send some work my way. I’ve also been looking into some part time teaching jobs, which is something I love to do from when I did PGTA work at UCL.

So essentially my Day of Archaeology, unlike all those other years when I couldn’t control where I was, is doing whatever I want. While there are some uncertain times ahead I’m doing all I can to get my PhD research done and forge a new path in the following months, and hopefully years. So today is filled with writing for me, doing some research on the landscape context on Iron Age oppidum surrounding Chichester, which will mean my head will be in some books and I’ll be typing away on the laptop. Perhaps not the most exciting day in archaeology overall but it is a pretty great one for me.

You call *this* archaeology?!

The scene is one I’m sure many of you have watched a hundred times: Indiana Jones punches a Nazi off a tank and Henry Jones Sr (aka the magnificent Sean Connery) pops his head up and exclaims “So, you call this archaeology?” Archaeology is of course a great many things, but punching bad guys off war machines is not one them (or at least I’ve never been involved in anything like that!)

Regardless, this scene, and the Indiana Jones films in general, forms one of my favourite cinematic moments for its brilliantly ludicrous nature and unashamedly ironic humour. Last week I presented it to a group of Year 12s I was teaching to exemplify how Hollywood tries to glamorise and manipulate “archaeology” into palatable cinematography. Indiana Jones was by no means the first, and was certainly not the last, to do this, and whilst what I do day-to-day is almost certainly not thrilling enough for Steven Spielberg, archaeology must surely be one of the more engaging and varied subjects out there and holds our interest as a connection with our past.

The Day of Archaeology (i.e. today!) celebrates the variety of my profession and is meant to be a medium for me to offer an insight to all you lovely readers into my daily archaeological life (on a side note, that’s actually the point of my entire blog!) Unfortunately, if I charted my routine for Friday 24th July 2015, it would inevitably begin at 8:30am with a picture of me reading and typing at my desk with a mug of tea and a full lunch box, and end at 5pm with a picture of me reading and typing at my desk with three mugs of tea and an empty lunch box. It’s sad but it is true.

I’m pleased to say I don’t spend every day like this though. “Why yes”, I hear you say, “you of course must spend some time digging”. I am under no pretences that when I tell people I study archaeology, the immediate vision that forms in their heads is of me in a field on my hands and knees starring in a Time Team-esque scene finding something glamorous and newsworthy in only three days. Ironically enough, I actually hardly ever do that.

But it's been known to happen

But it’s been known to happen (Author’s photo)

So what is it I actually do then?! My main task, in fact the main objective of my PhD, revolves around studying and interpreting objects in museums, and my mugs of tea and empty lunch boxes are all casualties of my intellectual pursuit to actually do this well enough to have my opinions respected (or at least tolerated!) Museums are overflowing with material, the majority of which is never presented to the public, and I travel around with my bag of important archaeological equipment (ok it’s essentially a pair of calipers, kitchen weighing scales and a camera in a H&M bag) studying relevant artefacts, offering my thoughts, and utilising what I’ve learnt to present this information to other academics in the form of a long tedious text that even I will probably never read in full. This is just one element of what I do and love though.

Check out the concentration

Check out the concentration (Author’s photo)

Increasingly over the last few months I’ve been taking time away from the screens and museums in order to get my hands dirty with Experimental Archaeology (which is essentially the study and replication of prehistoric activities), whether this entails chiselling stone, hitting swords with rocks, smelting ores into metal, sewing bellows, starting fires, dressing up, sleeping in roundhouses… This is a relatively new passion of mine that continually grows and many of my friends and family I’ve spoken to definitely would never regard this as “archaeology”. I’m fortunate to have these opportunities and they definitely add some excitement to my PhD that people can relate too.

Heating and destroying objects (22)

See me doing some important PhD research by smashing sword replicas with a hammer (Author’s photo)

More and more my daily routine incorporates some form of teaching or passing on my growing knowledge and personally I think that’s perhaps the most important part of what I do at the moment. There’s no point learning all this stuff if I’m not passing it on to others. One of my friends recently told me that having read about my recent trip to Butser Farm his new favourite word is “Archaeometallurgy”, and whilst I doubt he could now explain to people what it is, it’s great that he’s at least remembered that there’s more to archaeology that meets the eye! Besides, I love doing it – students are generally a pleasure to teach and in many ways it’s as challenging to have them grill me on my subject as it is to have academics do it.

Plus it gives me the opportunity to legitimately get up to ridiculous antics

Plus it gives me legitimate opportunity to engage in ridiculous antics (Author’s photo)

So no, I don’t have a fedora, whip, and mythical artefacts (sadly), and no, I don’t have “just three days to do it”. What I do have is a trusty laptop, a library of resources, many museums of objects, and three years to get my PhD done, and right now I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had by studying a subject that is increasingly challenging and diverse on a day-by-day basis, even if it isn’t what Henry Jones Sr might consider “archaeology”.