A day with Macedonian Archaeology “Arheo Park Brazda”

The archeological site “Gradiste – Brazda” is situated nearly 15 km north of Skopje, on a humble hill that rises over the village of Brazda. According to information (data) obtained through past researches, the site is classified as a fortified early antique settlement, dating from the 5th to the 3rd century BC and spreading over an area of 3.5 ha, which make it the largest settlement in the Skopje valley.

With the excavation of the monumental architectural edifice, known as “The Royal tomb” in 1986, the archeological site Gradiste claims a significant place in the archeological circles as well as the wider public.

brazda plan

With its specific characteristics, the Royal tomb at Brazda represents a unique instance of its kind on the wider Balkan peninsula.

It is a representative structure with a rectangular chamber with dimension of 9.8 by 6.6 meters and a dromos (passageway) with over 20 meters in length that steeply descends toward the west entrance of the tomb. The entire structure is built from large travertine blocks with an average weight of 500 to 1500 kg. Although it is a structure buried in the ground, the chamber blocks are decorated with a smooth rectangular frame encompassing the salient middle. The exquisite decoration of the rock, as well as the fact that the closest travertine mines are on a distance of 20 km from the site, are arguments enough to determine the economic power of the deceased and the settlement at large which was one of the more important settlements in the 5th century BC.


Nevertheless, the city’s name, its function, meaning and regional administrative status are still unknown. Who were the citizens of Gradiste? This cannot be determined with certainty as well. The presence of red-figure vases among the ceramic findings is a confirmation of the existence of cultural and economic relations with Athens. Whether it is a matter of colonists from the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula who inhabited the settlement or maybe it is a result of the driving development of the local Paionian inhabitants are question left to archeology to resolve.

The idea for the project or to turn this place into a tourist attraction so it finally receives the attention it deserves was born when we first visited this archeological site as archeology students. A monumental royal tomb dating from the 5th c. BC towered before us with it massive stone blocks, but the entrance to it was nearly impossible and the whole place was overgrown with wild vegetation and buried under year and years of piled garbage. There were no signposts or information panels, thus the visitor can neither be led to nor informed about the immense historical heritage that they unknowingly pass by. The general public was completely unaware of its existence and more importantly so was the world.

Picture3    Picture2

Picture1 DSCN6471


After many years and many tries to realize the wishful idea, in 2012 the association “Archaeologica” in partnership with the Museum of Macedonia and supported by ELEM through its social responsibility program, finally started working on the field in order to change the appearance (image) of this important cultural heritage turning it into the first archeological park in Macedonia – the Archeo Park Brazda.

The Archaeologica team toiled for months to arrange the site and its surroundings.

– The interior of the tomb and the passageway (dromos) were completely cleaned from wild vegetation and debris which increased the visibility of the site,


– The plateau in front of the tomb was cleared and leveled,


– An approach to the tomb was ensured by building an access path with two bridges,


– A small square was built and wooden benches were placed,


– A voluntary action was organized to clear the riverbeds of garbage


– The landscape around the park was horticultural refined


– Information panels and signposts were placed,

info tabla brazda

patokazna tabla brazda

– Informative flyers were printed and distributed

– The opening of the Arheo Park was covered by media – A web site about the park was developed (


We paid particular attention to using natural materials in the realization of the project, materials that do not stand out from their surroundings.

By opening the first archeological park in Macedonia, ”Arheo park Brazda”, we strive to bring archeology closer to our fellow citizens, to raise the standards of archeology in Macedonia and to simply enrich the offer of cultural landmarks.


The aim of the project is to protect as well as present a rare example from the world cultural heritage to raise the cultural and environmental awareness of the local authorities and the local population in the municipality of Chucher-Sandevo and to develop the tourism in this rural environment.

This kind of development and widening of the touristic offer of Skopje would contribute to the development of the village of Brazda se well, and of the surrounding area in this vivid and picturesque region.


The short distance to the city and the well organized road infrastructure enable a fast and simple approach to the attractive recreational locations such as, the village of Banjani, the village of Gornjani, restaurant Chardak, etc. Simultaneously, in the vicinity of village Brazda numerous cultural and historical monuments dating from the 14th to 19th century can be found, dispersed through the foothills of Skopska Crna Gora: the church of St. Nikita in Gornjani village, the church of Holy Salvation and the monastery of St. Archangel in Kuchevishte village, the churches of St.

George and St. Ilija in the village of Banjani, etc. And finally, by adding the Gradiste site to this group of cultural landmarks, we arrive at an unforgettable whole-day experience, a tourist walk through the past in Skopje and the vicinity, from the beginnings of ancient times to today.


The interest in this cultural monument significantly rose after mounting the signposts and the official opening of the “Arheo Park Brazda”. Apart from casual passersby that would learn about this place from the signpost, organized groups also visit the park. As the local inhabitants inform us, the site receives daily visits from foreign and domestic tourists who are in awe of everything this site has to offer from a cultural aspect as well as from the natural beauties that abound. The undertakings so far are just a part of the overall conceptual solution for this arheo park. Due to the heightened interest in the park, as well as the increased number of visitors, we are planning a realization of the second phase of the project that would include: setting up a wooden gazebo which would serve as an educational nest for the students of archeology and the pupils from primary schools located the vicinity of the site, as well as for larger groups of tourists; building access paths to Gradiste; setting up litter bins and additional horticultural enrichment along the paths and around the tent, as well as maintaining the park; mounting new signposts on key crossroads so as to alleviate access to the site, printing informative leaflets, etc.

We wholeheartedly hope that we will have an opportunity to realize these steps i.e. the second phase of the project, which would raise the Arheo park to world standards and contribute to the protection and promotion of the Gradiste site as a significant cultural inheritance, attract even higher numbers of foreign and domestic visitors, and encourage the development of rural tourism.

Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.


Loot Busters

What can we do about looting? Lots of people like to theorise, but I tend to prefer to be more practical.
I used to work on field projects, trying to prevent looting of archaeological sites on the ground. Partly because one project in Central Asia went very wrong – several archaeologists died, I was treated for PTSD – and partly because I realised that it was futile to try to police every square inch of land, often in war zones, I decided to try another approach.
Rather than trying to stop looting often done by poor people desperate to feed their families, I decided to try to identify the material and “burn” it at the art market, in effect prevent it from being fenced. My theory is that most (not all) art dealers and collectors are basically scrupulous people, who want to be able to collect but do not support looting.
So I came up with a very simple solution – to create a web site where all the material reported stolen could be listed and therefore identified. It sounds obvious, but no-one has done it before.  Rather than giving the site a long academic name I went for the catchier “Loot Busters” (and yes, it has been hard to resist adding the Ghostbusters theme tune to the web site):
Does it work? Surprisingly, yes. And most dealers are thrilled with the project, as it means they can identify the dodgy pieces. (Okay, a few are not happy with it). I keep thinking that, for example, Nazi loot has mostly been found by now, but a few weeks ago whilst going through the database of material stolen from Poland I noticed an 18th century piece which I happened to know was in a collection in London. Ditto a Venetian painting reported stolen by the Italians I’d seen with a London art dealer. And we’ve even found some antiquities!
There are various databases already of looted art, but most concentrate on one area – for example the exemplary Turkish Ministry of Culture web site which lists stolen Turkish material – or are hard to use. The Interpol Database only makes a couple of hundred of recently stolen items available to the public. The Art Loss Register makes no material available to unregistered users, and charges a great deal for searches – an academic wanting to look up a piece they spotted somewhere and think it stolen is unlikely to pay to check …  The Carabinieri Database is unwieldy, with very hard to use search parameters and more often than not returns this message:
These days there seem to the thousands of people working on cultural property, and dozens of conferences a year. Honestly, I don’t go to any of them – I hate theorising, and prefer practical projects.
I also don’t like the “gotcha” attitude of a lot of people who theorise about looting, so when Loot Busters find a looted piece we tell both the representative of the country from which it was stolen and whoever has it (dealer, collector or museum), so that they can sort it out – we also have a policy of confidentiality, so we can’t boast about our successes … sometimes frustrating, but keeping a low profile and letting whoever is returning the item take the credit works better in the long term.
This week I’ve been busy updating the web site, so it’s all sitting at the computer loading photos and typing … Plus we should send out another newsletter soon, so I’ll be working on that this week-end.
Most archaeologists’ main concern when it come to looting is Syria at the moment. We keep hearing reports of looting, but little precise information about pieces looted. We’ve posted photos of material that has been reported missing. Damascus Museum seems to be untouched, thank goodness, but Homs, Hama and Apamea have suffered badly. I found photos of the Hama and Apamea Museums on a web site, and the photographer, Dick Osseman, has kindly allowed us to re-post them.
This mosaic from Hama Museum is extraordinary, and pretty unique in showing women playing musical instruments – so it should be pretty easy to identify if it appears on the art market:
I’ve also been busy this week re-posting images from the Carabinieri Database of material stolen from Italy. It’s going a little slowly as I am trying to sort the material as I go into categories, and then sometimes I break them down further, but the material I’ve added can be accessed through the index here (lots more coming soon):
Some of the stolen material is so generic I doubt it will ever be possible to identify it (other material I wonder why anyone bothered to steal it, as the financial value probably won’t justify the crime). Other pieces, such as the mosaic above, is extraordinary – I was at a conference in Copenhagen in early May and several of the archaeologists were amazed at some of the stolen material, which they didn’t know about.
This Roman relief depicting a theatrical performance on the upper level and a horse race in a Circus below is pretty unique and would be easy to identify on the art market (see:
I try to make people aware of the more important pieces, so I often beg David Meadows to blog about pieces on his fabulous blog Rogue Classicism, which is on every archaeologist and Classicist’s must-read list. I’m hoping that he’ll blog this relief soon, just as he blogged this stolen Afghan glass vessel with a relief depiction of the Pharos of Alexandria (here):
I tend to downplay the excitement of dealing with looting and looted antiquities – it ain’t nothing like Lara Croft – because most of it is research rather than swinging from vines. One of the things I do love is going through the material and coming across items I probably would have missed, or which bear witness to history. This gold fibula, for example, can be very precisely dated to AD 306-7 by it’s inscription, and was owned by a supporter of Constantine in the years before he became the sole ruler of the empire (
This week has been quiet, just sitting at a computer, loading up information. Sometimes things are more exciting, for example when we find a looted item and trying amicably negotiate its return. I know collectors come in for a lot of criticism for buying looted antiquities, as do auction houses and dealers for selling them, but my experience has been that the vast majority of them co-operate when they are told they have looted items, and go out of their way to help.

A FLO’s Life

I have been the Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire since October 2008, and trying to give an account of what it is like to be an FLO, and the challenges, joys and bizarre incidents I have encountered over the last (almost) 4years in a one day diary post is impossible.

I am hosted in Northants County Council by the Archive and Heritage Service. This team includes the HER (Historic Environment Record) and the Record Office, who are generally archivists, and so although I am part of a team which curates and maintains the Historic resources of the county, I am very much alone in what I do. I handle, research and record archaeological artefacts discovered by members of the public. Being the only FLO in what is a relatively small county in the Midlands (when compared to my colleagues in Kent, Essex and the North) has its challenges and rewards like any other job.

Despite meaning to engineer my diary so that I had something interesting to report on for today, my diary is actually relatively quiet compared to other days where I do Finds Surgeries in museums and Council Offices across the county. Finds Surgeries allow  members of the public to meet me and bring me artefacts they have discovered, and want me to identify and record for them. 90% of these surgeries are used by metal detectorists, who deliberately search fields with the intention of discovering archaeological artefacts. The majority of whom do their own research and have a good understanding of what they have found, bringing them to me for the purposes of recording them for archaeological knowledge and research, rather than for ID alone.  But of that remaining 10% I am often delighted by the range of artefacts discovered accidentally by people digging their garden, or walking across the countryside, and who are genuinely amazed by what they have found. A case in point is PAS database record NARC-894AF2, found by a young lady when digging a rockery in her back garden and whose father very sheepishly brought it in to me at a Finds Surgery in Daventry, hoping he wasn’t embarrassing himself by bringing me a rock! In fact what he had brought me was a genuine Acheulian hand axe, dating to the Lower paeleolithic era and adding to our scant knowledge of Palaeolithic Northants. Yes, that was in 2009, so maybe I am cheating by mentioning it here – but it gives you the perfect case in point – you never know what is coming through the door in this job!

In an age when few museums have archaeological curators on staff to advise people on their finds, the FLO in most counties tend to be the first port of call for people with questions about archaeological artefacts and treasure. These questions range from wondering about a date and meaning of Willow pattern pottery in their back garden, to showing me flints found in the garden, driveway or field wondering if they are worked and of importance (very rarely the case, but it isn’t impossible and I’d always rather people double checked than didn’t try at all!), to large collections of metal detected artefacts from people who have detected for a long period of time and want to record them with the PAS. In between those categories are the metal detectorists who visit me every month to record their previous months finds, and we have a regular turn over of artefacts.

This type of collection is one which I am working my way through now. It has a range of pottery, Roman coins, medieval pennies and some post-medieval finds which I will not record but will offer the finder an ID for them by writing on the bag (“Georian fob” and the like). Each object is in a bag with the findspot location written on it, which is ideal. This collection is a accurate representation of the general finds from most fields. People get very excited over Treasure cases, and the discovery of a treasure case is sometimes the only press metal detecting and PAS gets. The reality is much less headline grabbing, but much more archaeologically significant.

After I have battled my way through that small collection, I have these large boxes of pottery to wade through from a field walker in Geddington which will probably, for the sake of time and my sanity, end up as a bulk report for the HER rather than an individual record for each sherd on the PAS database.

Fieldwalkers pottery collection


After that, I have approximately 25 emails to reply to, mostly from people wanting to know where to meet me so I can see their objects, or wanting to know how I am getting on with their objects and when can they have them back (I try for a 2 month turn around, but the more finds that come in, the harder this self-imposed deadline gets).

Then will be preparation for Monday’s Finds Research Group (FRG) meeting. I was asked to be on the FRG committee as a representative of the Post-Medieval period by the late, great Geoff Egan,who is still sorely missed. Post-Med to modern finds are often disregarded by archaeologists, and by my work with the FRG and Post-Med Arch I am trying to increase the realisation among the archaeological community that they are a valuable resource which will be lost to future generations if we don’t stop disregarding them now. I hope I can do Geoff proud on this! 🙂

It would be remiss of me to mention what I do in a day without mentioning the time I spend on Twitter, which in some jobs would be labelled as time wasting! But as an archaeologist –  in addition to finding out all about what Stephen Fry and John Prescott are up to on a daily basis during my coffee breaks – I have found it a massively valuable resource in finding out about research projects and exhibitions which I would have no idea about otherwise.  Social media is here to stay and should be used as a resource by everyone to communicate events and ideas. And judging by the really interesting post already up there from #dayofarch, many people are coming around to that.


Somerset Finds Liaison Officer

I’m hoping today will be quite quiet on the email / phone call front as Fridays often are, allowing me to get on with some finds. I’m afraid it makes for quite a boring day in the life, but the worn Roman coins and Post Medieval buckles are more representative of a FLO’s lot than shiny gold treasure, unfortunately.
I start the day with a discussion with a colleague about a new idea to possibly draw together a group of finds to make a short publication, however that will need to wait until my own time so I am trying to be good, put it to one side and focus on my proper work for the day.

I’m working on a group of finds from one finder. He is a metal detectorist so mostly metal finds but he also picks up pottery when he sees it. Helpfully he has bagged each find and labelled them with the field they came from and the date he found them. I start by checking them against the receipt to see that I have everything I should. As a FLO people put huge trust in us when they lend us their finds for recording and losing a find is one of every FLO’s worse nightmares.

Then I group them into piles. I realise some of the pot was put away slightly wet and although the bags were pierced it has still grown some mould so I get them out to dry off.

Normally I would finish the records and photograph the items before promoting them to public view but today I hope to promote them as I go along so you can see the progress. I’ll see if I can work out how to post the links to them but in the meantime just looking at and searching under SOMERSET as the county should bring up the most recent things recorded.

Aztec Archaeology at Calixtlahuaca, or Not One of My Better Days


I’m an archaeology graduate student working on lab analysis of Aztec artifacts in Toluca, Mexico.   In 2007 I was part of a team that spent six months excavating at the nearby site of Calixtlahuaca, and ever since then have been spending my summers sorting through an apparently never-ending amount of broken pottery.  Calixtlahuaca was an important city of the local Matlazinca culture before the Aztecs conquered it, so my research questions address how the Aztecs controlled their conquered provinces and whether this produced changes in how people in those provinces lived.  So far, I can tell you that tortillas became a lot more popular after the Aztecs arrived!

Disclaimer: Friday was not one of my better days, and should not be taken as representative.

Most my drama for the day occurred before I ever arrived at the lab in the morning.  First, my apartment was out of gas for the water heater and stove.  As several other posters have pointed out, archaeologists run on coffee, so the lack of hot water put a damper on things.  Then, my taxi got rear-ended half way out to the lab, in what was clearly a mutual-fault situation.  (Toluca drivers generally qualify as reckless even by Mexican standards, so I usually get in, pray, and tell myself that any taxi driver still on the road has to at least marginally competent.) The driver strapped the rear bumper back on, asked me if I was fine, and had the other party follow us until I got dropped off.  The two drivers were discussing who was going to pay for damages when I left them.

Our lab is located in a former hacienda that has been converted to hold several social-science graduate programs for the state (as opposed to the nation) of Mexico.  This last week, however, was a vacation week for the entire staff before the new semester starts, so most the usual services are canceled.  By the end of the week, the facilities were just about out of water.  (All Mexican buildings have large water storage tanks to even out irregularities in the water distribution schedule.  Many also have extra water brought in by tanker if they don’t receive enough from the local government.)  The power was also out all day for unrelated reasons, which meant that the coffee pot in the lab didn’t work either!

There were six of us in the lab for the day: myself, a student from a local university program, four women from the modern village of Calixtlahuaca, and the daughter of one of the staff members from the college.  Over the course of the day, we had two main things going on, with occasional side forays as distractions came up.  First, we were quickly skimming through bags of sherds from plowzone, erosional, mixed, or otherwise low value levels.  In these bags we noted ceramic types that date to particular periods, took out particularly good examples of types to add to our reference collection, and took out special items like whistles or figurines.  Even if we only pulled out a couple things from each bag, getting the catalog numbers onto the pieces themselves and then noted on two paper forms, took almost as long as skimming the whole bag did in the first place!

Second, we were doing full classifications of the pottery from more important contexts, like under floors or in trash pits.  Full classifications involve deciding what type of pot each sherd came from, and if it’s decorated, what type of decoration it has.  Besides basic cooking pots and bowls, we get fancy grinding bowls (the original food processors for making salsa!), a bunch of different types of incense burners, and the occasional pitcher, miniature pot, or tortilla griddle.  For the decorated types, some are local, some are Aztec, and a few are from other parts of Central Mexico.

At the end of the day, I went home to discover that my (non-archaeologist) housemate hadn’t had the gas tank refilled, so my whiplash-stiff neck had to go without a hot shower.

More on the Calixtlahuaca project can be found at:

Gaming the Past II

Well that paper I was working on earlier…

… is still going – but just some conclusions to go. I guess this highlights another verity of the archaeological life – sometimes the hours are a bit long! I’ve had a pretty enjoyable afternoon, though, delving into various discussion boards about Civilization and looking at some of the modifications (or ‘mods’) that players come up with for the game. All helpful for my argument that games are already a great way of engaging people in the past; they often have their problems, but many players devote a lot of time and energy to creatively adapting them, often to be more closely representative of different periods. Sometimes these modders are archaeologists too! (See, and Shawn Graham’s blog below).

So here are a couple of interesting things that people have done with Civilization and other computer strategy games:

New Bronze Age finds from the British Museum: why…

The point of all this is, of course, to produce a specialist report. In this case a Treasury Report for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (, that will eventually be published (previous Treasury Reports can be found here:


As a researcher, these are important, as in some cases they will be all that will ever be available or accessible in respect of the the finds in question, with some being returned to the owners rather than ending up in museum collections.

Accurate measurements, descriptions and typological assignations are important for assigning objects to specific periods, and must be reliable in order to be used as the basis for future arguments and interpretations about these past communities. Of course, accuracy, particularly when in a hurry, need not be pretty…


For example, in the 2005/2006 Treasury Report, a hoard from Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, was reported to have a hilt or handle fragment of a sword of Carp’s-Tongue type (the bottom row of swords in the below picture). This association meant that the hoard should be dated to somewhere late in the period c. 950-800 BC. The same phase as our hoard from Nottinghamshire. However, subsequent work during 2007-2011 on swords of this type in Iberia and France, have revealed a type of proto-Carp’s-Tongue sword, known as Type Huelva/St. Philbert (the top row of swords in the picture below). These swords, however, have been demonstrated to be dated to the period c. 1050-950 BC. This is the date of the Wilburton phase which, as we described in an earlier post (…: when… ), is the period prior to the one our Nottinghamshire hoard belongs to. Tiny changes such as these can require us to radically revise our ideas about what types of objects we believe might have been available to people at any particular time, and the connections and relationships that they may have represented.       

Such typological work on bronze objects, however, was for long out of fashion, snubbed and rejected by many in both the academic and commercial sector, in Britain. Less so on the Continent, however. This is partly because it was seen as a laborious and time consuming way of what is, so it was believed, merely cataloguing. But typology is and can be so much more. These tiny objects, whole and broken, represent the technological choices of the past communities that both produced them and consumed them, and the socio-political and economic conditions in which they existed.  These little pieces of metal, and all the tiny idiocracies of morphology, over which so many have laboured, are glimpses of styles and tastes, of changing fashions and fads. Aesthetics have always been important to people, not only as indicators of how we live but what we wish to communicate to others about ourselves, our choices and our relationship with our communities. What French ethologists have long called ‘technological choices’.

This Maussian approach to metalwork typology very much characterises the modern typological endeaver. But whereas contemporary archaeological theory has attempted ever more leaborate slights of hand to reveal the agency of the ‘individual’ in the archaeological record, Bronze Age researchers are mopre frequently orientated to revealing communities, of which such objects are highly evocative.

So much of what we own, use, and wear defines us. Whilst the accessibility today of such things might have radically changed, as might approaches to their production, the significance of these pretty little things for persons and communities is far from being representative of a ‘modern’ condition.  


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’.