remote sensing

The many researchers of the GeoSatReSeArch Lab: high tech archaeology!

For the last year (and for the next three weeks), I have been working with a team of archaeologists and scientists from related disciplines at the Laboratory of Geophysical – Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeo-environment (GeoSatReSeArch Lab), at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, in Rethymno on Crete. The lab and the IMS are part of the Greek research foundation, FORTH. The IMS is the only FORTH centre which deals with the humanities and social sciences. The other Institutes based at Heraklion, Patras and Ioannina, cover the fields of computer science and the natural and biomedical sciences. The specific purpose of IMS is to support and invigorate research in the field of the human and social sciences, as well as to promote the application of advanced technologies in the field.

In that respect, the Lab conducts its own research,  but also participates in collaborations with the Ephorate (the Greek State Archaeology service), Universities, Foreign Schools and many others. A key aspect of our work is showcasing the potential of high-tech methodologies in archaeology, and we do a lot of teaching and outreach work alongside the frontline scientific research.

After a year working here, I thought it would be interesting to make my ‘Day of Archaeology’ post about the whole lab, not just me, to give you all an idea of the diversity of the work we do and the projects we are involved in.

Conducting Archaeological Geophysics:

Kelsey Lowe- PostDoc Researcher

Kelsey and her data

Kelsey and her data

“While fieldwork generally beckons most of us this time of year, or at least myself, I find that today I am sitting comfortably at my desk processing geophysical data from a Middle Bronze Age site in Cyprus. As part of my current position at IMS, having the chance to work along other Mediterranean experts has provided a very unique experience, especially in regards to archaeological and geophysical interpretation of Bronze Age landscapes. Oh look, what do we have here?!? Architecture! Happy Processing!”

Abir Jrad- PostDoc Researcher

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

“Hello, I am Abir, I am not an archaeologist, but a geophysicist who has the pleasure to work with archaeologists  searching for buried archaeological features using geophysical methods. Today I will continue the processing of the data acquired in the last field work on the archaeological site of Kenchreai, in Greece! We combined several geophysical methods to prospect the studied area. As usual the main method was the gradiometry with the Sensys instrument. The gradiometry and also the electromagnetic acquisition show an anomaly with high magnetic gradient intensity and also a high magnetic susceptibility. In the location of this potential archaeological anomaly, we did a hand coring, to collect samples on a vertical profile. The samples collected were analyzed using the Bartington susceptibility meter in the Lab, which allowed us to measure the magnetic susceptibility at different frequencies. The correlation between the field geophysical data and the laboratory analysis will allow me to realize a constraint modelling for the suspected anomaly!

Carmen Cuenca-Garcia – PostDoc Researcher

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

“Hi there, this is Carmen reporting from her desk on Day A (see photo). Figure 1 above encapsulates today’s work, which is… more reporting. In this case, I am writing up the results of analyses of soil samples collected at several Neolithic tell-sites (or magoulas as they are called here in Greece). Before the soil sampling sampling, we surveyed the magoulas using a range of geophysical techniques during several fieldwork campaigns and got fantastic results. We analysed the soil samples using magnetic susceptibility and phosphate analysis, then we correlated the results with those from the geophysical surveys. This type of integrated analysis is extremely interesting and informative for archaeological prospection but it also involves lots of intense work: dealing with many and diverse types of datasets, stats, cross referencing many graphs, tables… which may be a wee bit tough to deal with when you are in a celebratory mood like today ☺ Such analysis also require lots of collaborative work and I particularly enjoy the enthusiastic chats I have with my colleague Abir Jrad, who is working with me on the correlations. Part A in Figure 1 shows a view of how you would find me if you pop into my office right now and part B is where I would rather like to be… outside, fieldworking and enjoying the anticipation of tasting the delicious and well-deserved Thessalian food after a days work on the top of a magoula!”

Teaching and Training Activities:

Kayt Armstrong (me!) – PostDoc researcher

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

“My day-to-day job at the lab is as the GIS officer for a project looking at the dynamics of settlement on Crete in the Early Byzantine period (roughly the 4th-9th centuries AD). Part of the goals of that project are to further the use of GIS, aerial prospection and other high-tech methodologies in Greece. As a result, I have two interns working with me at the moment, from the Archaeology programme at the University of Crete. They are making important contributions to the project, and in exchange learning database skills, GIS methods and how to survey using the latest RTK GPS equipment. Today they are testing some user manuals I have made for the team, so that the amazing high tech kit can continue to be used after I have left in August. My job isn’t just to bring in these skills to the project, but to train local archaeologists, students and researchers in them, so that they are taken up more widely in the profession. Pay it forward!”

Developing Prospection Methods and Equipment:

Apostolos Sarris- lab Director, Ian Moffat – Post Doc Researcher and Beatrice Giuzio- engineering student intern

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

“We  spent the day testing electromagnetic induction (EMI) instruments on the beach near Episkopi on the north coast of Crete.  EMI is a geophysical technique that is frequently used in archaeology to measure the conductivity and magnetic susceptibility of the soil to find archaeological sites and map the geology that contains them.  Despite the usefulness of this method, recent research has shown that EMI instruments are prone to drifting, that is that their data values change during the course of a day even when sitting in the same location.  To determine if this drift exists for the EMI instruments used at IMS we set them up near the beach and collected data continuously in the same location for 7 hours while monitoring changes in temperature.  This experiment showed two clear findings: 1) that the adjacent taverna has excellent seafood dishes, and 2) that the EMI instruments drift in ways that are not correlated to temperature change.  These findings suggest that much more research to understand drift is required, particularly when using EMI to map archaeological sites that are difficult to map with this method, such as those without extensive metal in the subsurface.”

Aerial Prospection and Photogrammetry:

Gianluca Cantoro- PostDoc Researcher

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

“My name is Gianluca and I am an aerial archaeologist and photo-interpreter. My job consists in looking into photographic archives in search for aerial images where archaeological traces can be identified. In combination with historical photographs study, I also undertake aerial survey myself with Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS or simply drones) or ultralight high-wing aircraft (usually something like a Cessna 172) over specific areas.

In the photo, I’m just back from one of these archaeological aerial surveys and I am sorting the pictures I took during the flight. You can see a map with notes I had in the plane, my ideal flight path and areas of interests, my pilot-flight kneeboards and my camera.

Once images have been synchronized with the GPS logger (so that each photograph holds the GPS location in the EXIF tags), they are entered in a digital database and then photogrammetrically processed, to obtain orthophotos and 3D models of the photographed areas (or potential “unknown” archaeological sites). A part of my work at the IMS I have developed software to make these tasks easier, which is free to use and downloadable here. ”

Augmented and Virtual Reality for Cultural Heritage:

Lemonia Argyriou- software engineer

Testing the Augmented Reality application

Testing the Augmented Reality application

“Working in Rethymno, Crete during summer … it’s  burning hot outside (34 degrees) and I’m finalising an Augmented Reality android educational app for Cultural Heritage.

At least things have become easier the last years after the release of the Unity3D, an extremely powerful and easy to use game platform. By the use also of AR APIs (such as Vuforia or Meteo), text, images and also small objects can be tracked and allow the triggering and presentation of 3D models along with 3D text and voice-over explanations. This leads to a more informative and immersive experience that could easily enhance the level of quality and edutainment in cultural heritage education.

The application I’m working on at the moment is accompanied by a printed map of Crete, displaying aerial photos of the most attractive ancient monuments on the island. By using an android mobile device and hovering over the location of a monument on the map, the relevant 3D model of the monument appears on the screen and can be observed from any side simply by moving closer or tilting the device. There is also a UI that allows the user to listen to the historical information of the specific monument in their preferred language (Greek or English), learning about their story of preservation and their role in the past.

That’s all by now…the beach is calling me 🙂 Day Of(f) Archaeology!”

Nikos Papadopoulos Jr – software engineer

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

“Hello there,  and many greetings from Rethymno, Crete. Although the day is suitable for going to the beach, I’m working in the lab developing a cultural heritage virtual navigation application for Koule Castle (Iraklion, Crete) based on natural human interaction. The specific application can capture simple user gestures, like steady walking or torso rotation and lean, with the use of a Microsoft Kinect sensor. The gestures are used for navigating in the virtual space of Koules castle offering the user a more immersive cultural experience. All of this this happens thanks to the Unity3D game platform and of course lots of coffee (sorry…programming). Time for some raki now :-)”

And lots more besides:

Quite a few of the scientists at the lab didn’t have time to write something today, or were off elsewhere doing fieldwork or attending meetings and workshops. Other ongoing activities at the lab include using near-surface geophysics to monitor pollution, complex systems and agent based models for historical and archaeological research, GIS classifications of landscapes in terms of geomorphology, risk-mapping, shallow marine geophysics, processing algorithms for GPR data…. I could go on!

I’ve had an amazing year here in Rethymno. I have learned so much, and hopefully I have given something back and passed on some skills to colleagues and students here. I’ll be keeping in touch with the lab team via their facebook page, and I hope to come back to use the huge archive of geophysical data they hold here for a project I am cooking up with my old Dutch colleagues 🙂

As it starts to cool down (a bit), I am going to shut down my computer and head for home, where I will spend what is left of the evening pouring over the other Day of Archaeology posts from around the world, and being very thankful I get to work in such an amazing community.

Happy Day of Archaeology!

Kayt x

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

ArchaeoLandscapes Europe

Increasing Public Appreciation, Understanding and Conservation of the Landscape and the Archaeological Heritage of Europe

Archaeology can be so fascinating – digs in nice and exotic places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, teaching students and learning from students, telling stories about the past to the public.

But I am sitting in my office in Frankfurt/Main (Germany) today and trying to cope with our new website. The old one was hacked a while ago to be used for DoS attacks on another server so we had to take it offline. We used that opportunity to refresh the old page so now I am working on tinkering the new site a bit, adding content here and there, trying to find mistakes and replacing some placeholder images with pictures from the project before the site will go live again as soon as the provider has managed the domain transfer.

Sounds all rather boring but in the end it’s exactly part of the things I like so much in archaeology: teaching and telling stories! And the background of the webpage of course is the project ArchaeoLandscapes Europe (ArcLand), funded by the EU culture programme for 5 years (sept 2010 – sept 2015) to foster all kinds of remote sensing and surveying techniques, to spread the knowledge all over Europe within the archaeological community and of course also to the broader public. It’s about telling the public that archaeology is more than a dig in a temple in the jungle or an investigation of a pyramid. It’s also – and mainly (?) – about understanding the history of a landscape and the people that lived in it, it’s about trying to find out how people could cope with their environs and which traces they left – and it’s about finding these traces. From the air (aerial archaeology, LiDAR, satellite imagery) and from the ground (geophysics, field walking) and in all cases non-invasive.

From left to right: near infrared aerial image - rob aerial image - LiDAR scan - geomagnetic survey

From left to right: near infrared aerial image – rob aerial image – LiDAR scan – geomagnetic survey

And yes, this is absolutely fascinating – and it brings me to many nice (though not always exotic) places where I meet new people and old friends, where I experience new and well known cultures and where I have the opportunity to tell the stories that are relevant within the framework of the project. It is talking to archaeologists who know a lot about the remote sensing and surveying techniques and learning a lot from them, it is talking to students to make them aware of the fantastic options of these techniques and it is talking to the public to share the fascination that I still feel when I look at a newly discovered site on an aerial image, on a landscape palimpsest on a LiDAR scan or on the hidden subsoil feature visible in the geophysical data.

I really feel very happy when I can see that the grants that our project provided helped students and young researchers to experience new techniques, to exchange knowledge and expertise with other people and to meet people from different areas of Europe to widen their (cultural) perspective. And I am happy to see that all these activities have always been a lot of fun for all those that have been involved.


ArcLand partners meeting in Amersfoort (NL) in 2013

Sure, it’s a EU project which means that there is a lot of administrational work to do. The EU is supporting us with a lot of money and I can understand that they want to make sure that this money is well spend. Still, I am swearing a lot over time sheets and lists of invoices and all that. But that is a very fair price for all the options this support offers to many people all over Europe and abroad! And it shows that Europe is more than a bunch of bureaucrats that only care about the bend of bananas to be imported into the EU! Seeing all these people from the Baltic to the Iberian Peninsula, from Ireland to the Balkan getting together, learning from each other , exchanging ideas and enjoying themselves at our workshops, at our conferences or when visiting our travelling exhibition really makes me feel the the idea of a joint and peaceful Europe is worth all that money.

So all in all, working on a webpage is not that bad, it’s raining outside anyway, so I am sitting in my dry office and I know that the work that I am doing is one tessera in the large archaeological mosaic. Watch out for our webpage to go live again hopefully soon!

Aerial Survey of Archaeological Excavations Using Quad-Rotor and Hex-Rotor Aircraft – Arch Aerial

My name is Ryan Baker, and I’m the founder of Arch Aerial LLC, a group dedicated to developing easy to use aerial photography platforms for research applications.  During the 2013 field season we had teams all over the world working at archaeological excavations, but this week our final project for the summer is wrapping up at the Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project in Murlo, Italy.


On all of our projects this field season, we use quad and hex-rotor helicopters designed by our team to conduct aerial imaging of archaeological sites of varying scale.  Friday, July 26th, 2013 was a typical day of work in Murlo: here at Poggio Civitate we begin with the thirty-minute walk through the Tuscan countryside to the site on the top of the hill.  After arriving at the trenches for the 2013 field season, we immediately take aerial orthorectified photographs of the entire excavation area.  Capturing the necessary photos takes around five minutes, and once they are offloaded from the camera’s memory card, our technicians begin 3D modeling the excavation area on site using 3D photogrammetry software. Producing the 3D model of the excavation area takes around 20 minutes, and the excavation director is able to use this model to assess the progress of excavation and direct site staff on how to proceed for the day.  In addition to 3D modeling of the excavation area, we are also able to do 3D modeling of artifacts using land-based photography.  Below you can see an example of this in the form of a 3D model of a roofing antefix.

Screen Shot 2013-07-27 at 5.25.55 PM

Once the 3D model of the excavation area is complete, our team continues survey of the entirety of the hill.  One of our main goals for this season at Poggio Civitate is to produce both 2D and 3D imaging of the whole of Poggio Civitate and the surrounding area.  Survey flights occupy the rest of the morning, and then around lunch our team leaves the hill to begin processing data from the first half of the day.  For the remainder of the afternoon, our Field Operators georeference locus photos, finalize 3D models from the excavation area, and compile 2D and 3D imaging for the comprehensive view of Poggio Civitate and its surroundings.


In addition to Poggio Civitate our teams have conducted aerial imaging at the San Giovenale Tom Survey run by the Swedish Institute in Rome, and the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project at the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area.  The video below was not made with footage from July 26th 2013, but it depicts a typical day of survey at the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project and the 3D models we were able to produce while working there.

Arch Aerial at PfBAP – Dos Hombres on Vimeo.

Although this isn’t all we do in terms of remote sensing, it gives a glimpse into the world of aerial survey and how it can be applied to the field of archaeology. Looking forward to sharing a year’s worth of developments on the next Day of Archaeology!

Interested taking a closer look at our work from this field season? Check out for more videos and updates from the field.


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…)

Excavating an Archaeologist’s Desk

In honor of the Day of Archaeology, in which we endeavor to display the “wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe” (Day of Archaeology 2012 [archaeologists cite things]), I’m throwing this together as an archaeologist who embraces three different roles within the profession, has worked across 10 states and 3 foreign countries (Mexico, Cuba, and the British Virgin Islands), and still hasn’t finished graduate school (much to the chagrin of many, including myself).
To convey this complex existence, I’m choosing an archaeological metaphor and excavating my desk. My workspace is, to no surprise, a reflection of the many things that occupy my time, pique my interest, and, I hope, lead to some insight into the pasts of the common people of history, a group that counts my ancestors, German and Welsh immigrants, among its numbers. I have imposed a classification system on the contents of my desk, by which I will unpack the contents and, in turn, my life as an archaeologist working in the SAU Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Indiana Jones once told a student (while running from the KGB) “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.” While I fully endorse this sentiment, you must realize that a lot of archaeological research involves bookwork. We read a lot about the work of our forebears as a way to help orient our own research, building on and modifying that which came before, and to avoid scientific dead-ends. The books on my desk include those oriented towards:
Dissertation: I am a doctoral candidate at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, the cradle of historical archaeology in the United States. I am trying to knock out a dissertation that will be the final step in my formalized education. This requires both books on epistemological issues relevant to the way I do research, such as Tim Murray’s Time and Archaeology or Anders Andrén’s Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. Combining the clarity of thinking derived from such sources with the results of fieldwork are then combined with the insight derived from other books, such as D.W. Meinig’s The Shaping of America and Kenneth Lewis’s The American Frontier to produce a document that will add to the historiography of southwest Arkansas and the American West… and earn me a diploma (please please please).
Teaching: I just finished teaching two classes at Southern Arkansas University, one a survey of world archaeology and the other a criminal justice research methods class. The detritus from preparing the lectures, including Catherine Hakim’s Research Design and Henn et al’s A Critical Introduction to Social Research still haven’t left my desk. They’re actually checked out from the University of Arkansas (5 hours away), so the next time I get called up to the coordinating office in Fayetteville, I’ll drop them off.
Methods: We demonstrate our competence as archaeologists in the field, showing each other and the cosmos that we can dig properly (carefully and fast), map precisely, and document our findings appropriately. I’ve got Hester et al’s Field Methods in Archaeology on my book rack for reference, and the bookshelves surrounding my desk are full of books on aerial remote sensing and LiDAR research.
Conference preparation:  One of the high points of any archaeologist’s professional year is a conference. For me, that usually means the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings, though in my current position the Arkansas Archeological Society conference is important as well. I’d like to go to the Fields of Conflict conference this year, but Budapest is a bit out of the range of my wallet (my truck needs work…). This week, I’ve been pulling together a session for the SHA with colleagues and classmates at William & Mary, and I’ve been using the abstract books from past conferences and De Cunzo and Jameson’s Unlocking the Past to write abstracts and encourage the session to take form.
Fieldwork Papers
As mentioned above, proper note taking is an integral part of archaeology. Documentation of context is key. It separates us from looters, provides a basis for scientific work, and is a backstop for ideas and information that might otherwise get missed. If ideas were baseballs, an archaeological dig is like being a catcher behind home plate, facing a battalion of pitching machines. Even if you’re Johnny Bench, you can only hold so many of those baseballs at once. Paperwork is like having a canvas bag to put those ideaballs (I’m liking this metaphor less and less) in so you don’t lose them. On my desk may be found
–        A green 3-ring binder from Area B of the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Training Dig, directed by my boss/friend/mentor Jamie Brandon. See his post here on the dig itself. The stack of papers inside is probably 2 inches thick. All of that came from two weeks in the field. It’s a lot of stuff to sift through, but every sweat-stained word is archaeological gold.
–        Field books. I see three, though there may be more buried in there somewhere. These nifty little books, usually with yellow covers, have waxed pages, making them resilient in rainy or sweaty conditions, and are the place where we jot our notes about the project we’re working on. My field book from the Society Dig contains the shot log for our surveyor’s total station, so we have a redundant copy of all that information. I also have my field book for site visits done on behalf of the Survey. The notes I take in the field can then be transposed into either a site form, which I submit by way of report to the Survey, or included in subsequent publications on that research. Writing notes, particularly under hot or busy conditions, is one of the disciplines that archaeologists must learn. As with so many other things, when it comes to notes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. In some positions, such as federal jobs, field books are part of the paperwork associated with a project and subject to subpoena and other legal strictures, so don’t draw too many cartoons about gophers in them.
The final big section of research-related equipment can be classed as technology.  Technological advancements in computing, remote sensing (Johnson 2005), data sharing (Kansa 2012), and numerous other fronts in the past twenty years is revolutionizing archaeology. The very fact of this blog post, the internet, and personal computing is evidence of this. Hallmarks of this advancement are, of course, found on my desk.
–        Computer: Shocking, I know. Nowadays, computers are everywhere and used in most pursuits, but mine is special, consarnit! First, it’s a laptop on a dock, which is necessary given the high mobility of many archaeologists. Since you can’t bring sites to you, we have to go to the sites, often for extended periods of time. We just finished two weeks at Historic Washington State Park, and in the last year, I’ve spent weeks at Toltec Mounds, Wallace’s Ferry, and Prairie Grove, all in Arkansas, as well as making numerous trips to the Coordinating Office in Fayetteville. My Army job was just like that, as was my time with the NPS, just that in the federal gigs, the projects are usually spread over greater areas. Laptops are essential in taking our computing power along with. Crucial to that computing power is the software held on the machine, particularly, in my case…
–        Geographic information system (GIS) software. I do a lot of work with spatial documentation and analysis, so I need mapping software. Being able to document the location of sites and areas within sites is an important part of the documentation process.
–          Scanner: I scan lots of things, primarily to make back-ups (hard to lose all copies of a document) and to share them with colleagues. Information sharing is a big part of the research process, as those who share your interests and expertise are not likely under the same roof as you. This is partly why conferences are so important. Information exchange stimulates, as Poirot liked to call them, “the little grey cells” and advance the discipline. Scanners help make that possible.
–        Telephone: Again, rather mundane, but an important part of my job. The Arkansas Archeological Survey does a lot of public outreach work for people of all walks of life from across the state. My station covers 11 counties in southwest Arkansas, and I get calls to come out and look at sites or assist colleagues at museums and parks in the area with public outreach work (come to the Red River Heritage Symposium at Historic Washington State Park on the 28th of July). Much of that begins with a phone call.
As this all should indicate, I spend a LOT of time working, well more than 40 hours a week. As a result, I spend a lot of time in the office or in the field, and my desk contents reflect that.
–        Coffee mug and empty Coke/Diet Coke cans: I am a caffeine addict, plain and simple. I often get little more than 5 hours of sleep a night, and with as stacked of a to-do list as I have, it’s rather unavoidable. I can’t keep up with a friend, who runs on five cappuccinos a day, but there are times when I wonder how awesome that feels. I’m guessing “pretty.”
–        Mulerider Baseball cup: Our host institution and my erstwhile employer, Southern Arkansas University has a great baseball team, and the Muleriders just won the GAC Championship… again. Great job, guys! One of the ways I avoid having the pressures of all of these jobs and responsibilities burn me out is by having a mental outlet. For me, that’s baseball and hockey. We don’t get much of the latter down here. However, the baseball stadium is right across the parking lot from the office (really, I can see it from my desk), and those evening games are a nice break from the grind.
–        Yellow duct tape: Why yellow, you might ask? Because every station in the Survey system was allocated a color to mark their equipment with so that we could tell whose stuff is whose when we collaborate on projects. Our station’s color is yellow, Henderson State’s is orange, Toltec’s is blue, etc. etc. etc. Marking things as ours helps avoid confusion and trowel fights.
–        Field hat: I saved this for last because it’s one of my favorite things. For archaeologists, the attachments we form with crucial bits of equipment can be very strong. Many people still have their first trowels, and carefully guard them (think of a mitt for a baseball player). They’re things, but they’re things intimately tied up in the art of our discipline, and that makes them special. For me, there are three things that fall into this category. My trowel is the first, and I keep it distinct from all other trowels by wrapping the handle in hockey stick tape. The second is my Brunton pocket transit (think a compass on steroids with neon flames shooting down its hood), which is not only a very useful bit of equipment, it was also my father’s when he was doing his dissertation, and that carries great meaning to me. Finally, there is my field hat, a mid-crown cattleman with a 4” brim from Sunbody Hats in Houston, Texas. No matter how hot it gets, it’s always a little cooler under this thing, and it was a wedding gift from Jimmy Pryor, the owner of Sunbody and a childhood friend. It’s a link to home and my wife all at once, and it cheers me up when I’ve been out on a project for a couple of weeks and starting to get a little barn sour.
Now, having looked at these piles for a few hours while writing this, it may be time to do some cleaning…
Andrén, Anders
1997     Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. New York: Plenum Press
Day of Archaeology
2012    About the Project. Electronic resource (, accessed 29 June 2012).
De Cunzo, Lu Ann and John H. Jameson, Jr.
2005     Unlocking the Past: Celebrating Historical Archaeology in North America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Hakim, Catherine
2000     Research Design: Successful Designs for Social and Economic Research. New York: Routledge.
Henn, Matt, Mark Weinstein, and Nick Foard
2006     A Critical Introduction to Social Research. Los Angeles: Sage.
Hester, Thomas R., Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder
2009     Field Methods in Archaeology. 7th edition. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Lewis, Kenneth
1984     The American Frontier: An Archaeological Study of Settlement Pattern and Process. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Meinig, D.W.
1988     The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 2: Continental America, 1800-1867. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Murray, Tim, editor
1999     Time and Archaeology. New York: Routledge.

Half a Day in the Life of an Archaeologist

Ok, my first ever participation at the Day of Archaeology, so maybe I should introduce what I am doing as an archaeologist first.

Maybe I am an example of a not-so-very-typical archaeologist – at least in my current project. I am a Prehistorian, specialized in landscape archaeology and the Early Iron Age in Middle Europe but at the moment I am leading a large European project. ArchaeoLandscapes Europe ( is dealing with existing inequalities in the use and expertise of various remote sensing methods and techniques in Europe, including Aerial Archaeology, Satellite Imagery, LiDAR/Airborne Laserscanning and Geophysics (though some might argue that Geophysics is not that much ‘remote’).


Writing a press pack for the British Science Festival

I’ve spent most of today writing the press pack for the British Science Festival. Engagement with journalists is important. Journalists provide the opportunity for you to get your information out to a wider audience. The challenge is to take complex data and interpretations and find a way to present it to journalists in a way which is both accessible and allows them to weave a narrative which is interesting to their readers.

Here it is….  Apologies to those who do other archaeological prospection work: you may think it’s a bit biased towards aerial approaches. It is, but that’s the very issue for a press release.

This draft will be sent through to the University of Leeds press office prior to submission to the British Science Festival.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum. Re-used under a creative commons share-a-like licence from DART_Project.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum. Re-used under a creative commons share-a-like licence from DART_Project.

I’m sure I left it somewhere: discovering our heritage through scientific prospection

Anthony Beck – School of Computing, University of Leeds

A presentation for the British Science Festival in Session 56: Exploring new archaeological worlds, 12 September 2011.

Can you provide a brief introduction to the topic of your presentation?

Guidance: This should be more than an abstract or one-paragraph summary of your research. We would anticipate the summary of your presentation to be in the region of 1000 – 1500 words. Two to three sides is ideal. It is an opportunity to introduce the main findings of the work/research described in your presentation, as well as to include relevant background information and to fit your work within the wider context. It should contain specific information (e.g. data, number of people included in any studies, etc) that would enable a journalist to accurately write a story about your work, without them having to hunt around for details elsewhere. Due to time constraints journalists are rarely able to attend the talk itself, which is why press papers are so important – therefore the details you provide shouldn’t assume that the journalist will be attending your talk.

Summary/Abstract (174 words): Multi-spectral and hyper-spectral sensors offer immense potential as archaeological prospection tools. The sensors are sensitive to emitted or reflected radiation over different areas (wavelengths) of the electromagnetic spectrum. Their two major advantages are that they have the potential to detect archaeological sites and monuments (henceforth archaeological residues) that are undetectable in the visible wavelengths and that they may extend the window of opportunity for their detection. For example, localised crop stress and vigour variations, which underpin crop-mark formation, are sometimes better expressed in the near-infrared than in the visible. In addition, multi/hyper-spectral data collected from different platforms (aerial and satellite) under different conditions can be used to generate ancillary themes that aid interpretation (e.g. soil, geology and land-use layers). However, multi/hyper-spectral sensors are relatively expensive and require systematic surveys under ‘appropriate conditions’ in order to be successful. It is this latter point which is critical: there is a poor understanding of the spatial, environmental and seasonal contrast dynamics that determine an ‘appropriate condition’ and therefore whether features of archaeological interest can be detected.

Text (1423 words): Although there are many examples of upstanding architecture, the vast majority of archaeological residues are expressed on the ground surface or buried and essentially invisible to the human eye. However, traces can be identified via changes in chemical, physical and biological attributes (either directly or by proxy) through, for example, changes in phosphorous content, clusters of artefacts and cropmarks. In the UK, the practice of using remote sensing techniques for detecting archaeological sites and visualizing archaeological landscapes has traditionally been based on low altitude aerial photography using film emulsions sensitive at optical and sometimes near-infrared wavelengths. The underlying premise of remote sensing is that interpreters can extract information about objects and features by studying the measurements from a sensor system. Both oblique and vertical aerial photographs have been used extensively for archaeological reconnaissance and mapping all over the world. Early aerial photographers helped to refine the instruments and establish methods that are still in use today. O.G.S. Crawford in particular established methods of site classification and wrote about the effects of weather, season, soil moisture and crop type on photographic return. Today, these aerial approaches are accepted as a cost-effective, non-invasive technique for the reconnaissance and survey of monuments.

However, recording using traditional observer directed reconnaissance and aerial photography is not without its problems. The reliance on a small component of the electromagnetic spectrum raises a number of issues. The small spectral window can introduce a significant bias as only certain residues under specific conditions express contrasts in these wavelengths. The over-reliance on the visual component of the electromagnetic spectrum has had a significant impact on data capture. The collection technique and technology mitigate against using any other sensor (peripatetic surveys are directed by visual observation from a plane and collected using an optical system, a camera out of a window: this technique will never allow the detection of the multitude of archaeological residues whose contrast expression can not be seen by the human eye – i.e. is outside the optical).  This presentation will introduce multi and hyper-spectral remote sensing (including the important resolving characteristics of the sensors) and the nature of the archaeological problems to which they can be applied. This is followed with a brief description of the DART project: a UK research project designed to improve the understanding of the application and the factors underpinning archaeological detection.

The main advantage to multi and hyperspectral imaging is that more of the electromagnetic spectrum is sampled at potentially finer spectral granularity; hence, there is more information about the objects under study. The main disadvantages are cost and complexity.  Unfortunately the archaeological application of this technology is under-researched: there is little understanding of the physical, chemical, biological and environmental processes that determine whether archaeological residues will be identified in one or any sensor. Hence, knowledge of which techniques will detect which components of the archaeological domain and under what conditions is poorly understood. Most multi and hyperspectral analysts use spectral signatures to accurately identify different vegetation and geology types. Unfortunately archaeological sites do not exhibit spectral signatures that can be used for generic detection purposes. Archaeological sites and features are created by localised formation and deformation processes. For example, as a mud-brick built farmstead erodes, the silt, sand, clay, large clasts and organics in the mud-brick along with other anthropogenic debris are incorporated into the soil. This produces localised variations in soil particle size and structure. This impacts on drainage and changes localised crop stress and vigour responses, which in turn changes reflectance characteristics.

Multispectral sensors address some of these problems because they are able to ‘look’ simultaneously at a wide range of different wavelengths. Wavelengths in the near and short-wave infrared add important collateral information to the visual wavelengths and improve the ability to discriminate vegetation stress and soil, moisture and temperature variations than either the human eye or photographic film. Narrow band spectral imaging can often help to enhance or distinguish different features on the ground or provide information on their state of health or ambient conditions according to their particular absorption and reflectance properties or their spectral signature.

This increased sensitivity is crucial for contrast detection. For example, cropmarks are an instance of localised variations in vegetation stress or vigour correlated with subsurface archaeological features. Wavelengths outside the visible are also sensitive to changes in vegetation health. Theoretically, exploiting relevant areas of the electromagnetic spectrum at the appropriate degree of granularity will mean that crop stress or vigour relating to subsurface archaeological residues can be expressed  more clearly and also that it can be detected both earlier and later in the growing cycle. Therefore, the window of opportunity for detecting archaeological features can be dramatically extended by using wavelengths outside the visible. This increased sensitivity means that archaeological contrasts can also be detected in soils and crops that have been traditionally categorised as marginal or unresponsive to aerial archaeological prospection. This is a significant improvement over traditional techniques.

We can hypothesise that archaeological residues produce localised contrasts in the landscape matrix which can be detected using an appropriate sensor under appropriate conditions. However, little is known about how different archaeological residues contrast with their local environment, how these contrasts are expressed in the electromagnetic spectrum, or how environmental, and other localised factors such as soil or vegetation, impact on contrast magnitude (over space and time).   This requires an understanding of both the nature of the residues and the landscape matrix within which they exist.

The Detection of Archaeological residues using Remote Sensing Techniques (DART) project ( will focus on analysing factors that influence archaeological residue contrast dynamics. DART aims to determine how different remote sensing technologies detect contrast caused by different underlying factors under dynamic environmental conditions. This understanding will allow the optimal deployment of the different sensors.  By combining the results from a battery of sensors, each optimally deployed when the archaeological residues have the greatest likelihood of being detected, the maximal knowledge of archaeological residues can be achieved.

DART will address the following research issues:

  • What are the factors that produce archaeological contrasts?
  • How do these contrast processes vary over space and time?
  • What causes these variations?
  • How can we best detect these contrasts (sensors and conditions)?

The key will be to understand how archaeological residues differ from, and dynamically interact with, the localised soils/sediments and vegetation/crop and how these differences can be detected. Archaeological residue interaction models will be developed and tested under a range of different environmental, seasonal and crop conditions. In-situ measurements will be taken using probes and sensors, and samples will be taken for laboratory analysis. Standard geotechnical tests will be conducted such as density, grain size distribution, organic content, magnetic susceptibility, dielectric permittivity, geochemistry, pH and conductivity. Permanent in-situ probes will measure temperature gradient, density and soil moisture variations through a soil profile. In addition, each site will be visited regularly for measuring earth resistance, soil colour, conductivity, dielectric permittivity, hand-held spectro-radiometry, GPR transects and ambient climatic data. Traditional aerial flyovers and bespoke hyperspectral surveys will be commissioned.

Remote sensing can provide an impressive picture of the archaeological landscape without the need for invasive or expensive survey methods. The true potential of multispectral remote sensing, including thermal imaging, is still not clear and needs to be evaluated to test responsiveness under a broad range of climatic and ground conditions. Further research is likely to produce sensors capable of resolving relatively small features such as post-holes and shallow pits. When used appropriately, remote sensing provides a basis for testing hypotheses of landscape evolution that may be further explored by ground survey, geophysical survey or excavation. Large-scale airborne and satellite surveys can provide the framework on which planning policy and excavation strategies can be established. In addition, computer enhancement and the increased spectral resolution of the digital data places less dependency on the time of year for revealing archaeological features.

Remote sensing is increasingly important to many areas of archaeological enquiry from prospection through to management. It is therefore essential that it is not applied inappropriately. The inappropriate application of a single sensor could produce minimal results or the dogmatic application of that sensor will have diminishing archaeological returns. The combination of different sensors with different characteristics can produce profound interpretative synergies. Multiple sensors should be evaluated on the basis of ‘fitness for purpose’. Fitness for purpose in this context refers to the cost/benefit returns of each sensor and should be based upon an understanding of the nature of the archaeological residues, the sensor characteristics and the environmental characteristics of the landscape

What is new and interesting about your work?

Guidance: This should clearly summarise the main conclusions of your work, the key findings. This helps journalists (and the British Science Association Press Office) quickly identify key outcomes and is an important section to fill out. I’d suggest 100-200 words for this section.

Text (338 words): Geophysical and Aerial survey have substantially increased our understanding of the nature and distribution of archaeology remains. However, there is variable understanding of the physical, chemical, biological and environmental factors which produce the archaeological contrasts that are detected by the sensor technologies. These factors vary geographically, seasonally and throughout the day, meaning that the ability to detect features changes over time and space. This is not yet well understood. The DART project is a three year AHRC/EPSRC funded project with 25 partners from a range of disciplines.

Detection techniques rely on the ability of a sensor to measure the contrast between an archaeological residue and its immediate surroundings or matrix. Detection is influenced by many factors – changes in precipitation, temperature, crop stress/type, soil type and structure, and land management techniques. DART will increase the foundational knowledge about the remote sensing of sub-surface archaeological remains. To determine contrast factors, samples and measurements are taken on and around different sub-surface archaeological features at different times of the day and year to ensure that a representative range of conditions is covered. Field measurements include geophysical and hyperspectral surveys, thermal profiling, soil moisture and spectral reflectance. Laboratory analysis of samples includes geochemistry and particle size. This will result in a comprehensive knowledgebase.

During analysis the key will be to understand the dynamic interaction between soils, vegetation and archaeological residues and how these affect detection with sensing devices. This requires understanding how the archaeology differs from, and dynamically interacts with, the localised soils and vegetation and how these differences can be detected.

DART is an Open Science project. Open science is the idea that scientific knowledge of all kinds should be openly shared as early as is practical in the discovery process. By scientific knowledge “of all kinds” we include journal articles, data, code, online software tools, questions, ideas, and speculations; anything which can be considered knowledge. The “as is practical” clause is included because very often there are other factors (legal, ethical, social, etc) that must be considered prior to opening access.

What is the key finding of the work/research described in your presentation?

Guidance: What is it that would make someone sit up and listen? One way to approach this question is to imagine that you are talking to a journalist about your work – what are the key pieces of information that you would want to convey? Please do fill this out. Even if there is no ‘new’ research in your presentation, what message do you wish to convey, or what new angle will you present? Remember that whilst the research may not be new to you, there is every possibility that the journalists won’t have heard it before. I’d suggest 100-200 words for this section.

Text (317 words): The DART project is producing foundational research which will ensure that heritage/archaeological curators and policy makers are prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century and beyond. Current landscape detection techniques can be either too small scale or biased. For example, traditional aerial survey is biased in that it is mainly responsive on well draining soils. This means that difficult environments, like clays and pasture, have not been targeted. It is also possible that after a century of flying, in different environmental conditions, a point of saturation has been reached: no previously unobserved features are being detected – this does not mean that there are no new archaeological residues to discover, rather that no more can be detected with that particular sensor configuration. The DART knowledgebase will allow more effective decision making and management.

This work is particularly timely given the advances made in precision agriculture remote sensing and the application of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Precision agriculture approaches are being used to increase yield by regulating crop growth to ameliorate extreme and non-ideal conditions (the very conditions under which ’never before seen’ archaeological features are observed). Advances in precision agriculture have the potential to significantly reduce the overall impact of traditional aerial archaeological approaches. An understanding of the underlying processes and dynamics in key crops and soils will help policy makers understand the potential impact of these developments and so determine curation and land-management policies more effectively. This will underpin the development of a framework for improving the detection of archaeological features through the more complete understanding of soil change, species phenology and the impact of different stress conditions on detection.

As an alternative: we have managed to exploit the new technology during the driest spring in Cambridgeshire since 1910. Whilst we are still analysing the results, the hyperspectral images have the opportunity to revolutionise our understanding of the buried landscape particularly in the clay areas.

What is the relevance of your work to a general audience?

Guidance: Think about in what way(s) the work is relevant to the general population, why it’s important. I’d suggest including around 100-200 words for this section.

Text (153 words):   The DART project is all about improving the underlying knowledge about process so that more archaeology can be detected. This will lead to better information and knowledge (for the public, for industry and for managers), which will lead to better decision making and policy formation.

In addition the DART Project is an Open Science initiative. Where practicable all science objects (data, algorithms, illustrations etc.) will be made openly available. An open license means that the outputs can be reused in a broadly unfettered way (be that for research, teaching and learning, personal edification etc.). Initiatives like Open Science in conjunction with the internet and social media are changing the research landscape. Research is become ever more open and collaborative. Consumers of research are participating in a conversation, not listening to a lecture. This more sophisticated form of engagement can increase impact and engagement dramatically. This will significantly change the way universities ‘do business’.

Working on the DART project: Hyperspectral remote sensing and archaeology

My name is David Stott and I am a PhD student at the University of Leeds. I’m working on the DART project, which is looking at improving our understanding of how archaeological deposits are detected using remote sensing techniques. This work is important, as remote sensing allows us to prospect for archaeological features and understand the nature of archaeological landscapes. This is crucial as better knowledge about the nature and location of significant cultural heritage sites enables us to protect them by mitigating human actions and environmental processes that place them at risk.