Day of Archaeology with the EAMENA project

Friday is usually the day when a traditional Monday to Friday 9-5 worker is closing off their week of work and getting ready for two days of luxurious weekend, right? Well, not so for this archaeologist. It is a busy time of year for us – it is summer and all the universities are on teaching breaks, but we are not using the opportunity to conduct fieldwork. We are busy at our computers getting ready for a conference: the opportunity to get together with other specialists, share ideas and research, and gain active feedback. Tomorrow I, along with two of my EAMENA colleagues (Michael Fradley and Andrea Zerbini) and our research collaborator Jérémie Schiettecatte (CNRS), are presenting at the Seminar for Arabian Studies at The British Museum.

We will tell you all about the conference in a later blog (on our EAMENA website where you can also find out more about our project) – for here and now for the Day of Archaeology I would like to give you a hint about all the work that is going into our presentation.

Map prepared by Andrea Zerbini.

Map prepared by Andrea Zerbini.

We (the EAMENA project) have chosen three case study areas in different regions of Yemen to conduct a remote survey assessment of archaeological/heritage sites using publicly accessible satellite imagery. Ground surveys had been conducted in all of these areas and we are using the results of these studies as comparative data sets. Tomorrow we will be presenting our initial findings and what we can learn by comparing our data with the previous studies. This tests the validity of EAMENA’s remote approach for a regional assessment of Yemen’s archaeology, allows us to develop methods to improve our methodology, and demonstrates what benefits can be gained by a collaborative approach between remote and ground surveys.

Collaborating internationally on such a large study is a feat of communication – endless emails, shared online folders and documents, and video calls. Working in a team on our research has the benefit that we can all work to our strengths and complement each other’s approaches. The EAMENA team conducted the initial satellite imagery survey of more than 20,000 square kilometres of the landscape. Jérémie’s insight and familiarity with the archaeology of Yemen on the ground has been a huge benefit in understanding and processing the potential sites located by the remote survey. Andrea has been working on producing maps of the site distributions in ArcGIS, and these have been a revelation. They demonstrate visually the benefits of a regional approach to gathering data and quickly demonstrate differences in extents and concentrations of sites. This last week of finalising the presentation of our initial results into just 20 minutes has been intense. The difficulty today is making sure we are all on the same page when it comes time to present. I am constantly switching back between everyone’s notes on what we wish to cover during our presentation and making sure that the presentation comes together as a cohesive whole.

So why Yemen? The EAMENA project considered it appropriate to start investigating the archaeology of the region as a priority when reports began to indicate that incidental and possible targeted damage to archaeological and heritage sites was escalating in 2015 due to the civil war which had broken out in March. UNESCO called for an ‘Emergency Action Plan for the Safeguarding of Yemen’s Cultural Heritage’ in July 2015. The general unrest of the region has also contributed to a possible renewed wave of damage to local shrines. The vulnerability of the region at this point in time was compounded when two cyclones made landfall in late 2015 (for comparative satellite imagery of Cyclone Chapala’s impact see the NASA Earth Observatory website).

These disasters alerted us to the need for an assessment of the archaeology and heritage across the region as a whole, focusing not just on damage through conflict, but damage as the result of all activity. This could be used not only to inform current heritage priorities for local and international parties during this time of conflict, but those in the future, when Yemen will rebuild and development will occur with the potential for massive investment in infrastructure. Our first step was to start approaching researchers and specialists who have been working in Yemen, as well as the international (e.g. UNESCO) and national organisations (e.g. Yemen’s General Organisation for Antiquities and Museums (GOAM)) currently involved. Jérémie Schiettecatte was the first individual researcher to start an active collaboration with EAMENA. To date we have c. 35,500 sites for Yemen entered into our database which we have developed from the ARCHES platform. Another potential c. 8,600 sites will be added to these from the case studies we have most recently conducted.

A screenshot of the EAMENA ARCHES platform with distribution of currently entered sites for Yemen.

A screenshot of the EAMENA ARCHES platform with distribution of currently entered sites for Yemen.

Attending this conference is a way for us to present our preliminary results in a forum of specialists on the region. The feedback we receive will be integral in informing our research approach. It is also incredibly important for us to form networks and partnerships with the people and specialists of the regions we are investigating. Preparing the presentation material on top of our normal project work is demanding, but the dividends are extremely beneficial and well worth the effort.

Day of Archaeology: It’s the Small Things

An adorable point.

Possibly an Abajo or Dolores Contracting Stem.

Bushwhacking through miles of dense gamble oak and a variety of prickly shrubs for a seemingly endless survey, can dampen the mood of the hardiest of archaeologists.  Yesterday, I found myself covered in bruises and scratches, questioning the sanity of whoever thought surveying the side of a steep ridge with practically zero visibility was a good idea.  And it was 98 degrees and humid.  I was beyond grumpy.  I kept asking myself, ‘why am I doing this?!  How is this worth the trouble?!’  But then a bright white bit of stone caught my eye.  There, right on my transect, was quite possibly the tiniest projectile point I have ever observed on a survey.  This adorable bit of chalcedony snapped me out of my declining mood, reminding me of why I was out there in the first place: to observe and record the past.

Archéologie d’un village de Touraine

Bonjour ! Nous sommes Jean-Philippe Chimier et Nicolas Fouillet, tous deux archéologues à l’Inrap et membres permanents du Laboratoire Archéologie et Territoires de l’UMR 7324 Citeres (université de Tours). C’est à ce double titre que nous dirigeons un programme de recherche sur le village d’Esvres (Centre – Val-de-Loire, France). Ces recherches ont pour objectif l’étude du village dans « la longue durée », des premières occupations du site à la période gauloise à aujourd’hui. La particularité de ces travaux est de mêler archéologie préventive et archéologie programmée. Ces dernières sont constituées de prospections au sol, de sondages archéologiques, d’études de documents d’archives, d’inventaire du patrimoine bâti et d’une enquête documentaire. Au total, ce sont près de 50 chercheurs qui ont travaillé sur le programme depuis sa mise en place en 2011.

Esvres, le centre-bourg © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap, 2012

Esvres, le centre-bourg © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap, 2012

L’étude du village dans sa globalité a nécessité une immersion au sein de la communauté, qu’ils s’agissent des élus, des agents communaux et bien-sûr de ses habitants. C’est aux Esvriens, sans qui nous n’aurions pas pu écrire cette page d’histoire, que l’équipe archéologique souhaite rendre hommage à l’occasion de ce « Day of Archaeology ».

Les habitats et les habitants.

Une partie des opérations programmées correspond à la réalisation de sondages manuels ou d’observations architecturales chez les particuliers. Nous avons globalement été accueillis avec bienveillance, mais gagner la confiance des habitants est un travail qui s’est construit doucement, au fur et à mesure des campagnes de terrain. Il nous a fallu constituer un réseau à partir des quelques contacts que nous avions initialement.

Surveillance de travaux au chevet de l’église et visite spontanée des riverains. © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

Surveillance de travaux au chevet de l’église et visite spontanée des riverains. © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

Sondage chez un particulier, et dans le cimetière gallo-romain ! © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

Sondage chez un particulier, et dans le cimetière gallo-romain ! © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

Relevé d’une cave au scanner 3D © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

Relevé d’une cave au scanner 3D © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

C’est la municipalité qui a apporté les premières clefs en organisant en 2009 une exposition sur les premières fouilles préventives. Depuis lors, nous avons travaillé en collaboration avec les différents services : la culture bien sûr, mais aussi l’urbanisme, les services techniques et la police municipale. Esvres possède aussi un réseau associatif actif et dense qui a permis de nous faire connaître. Nous avons rencontré les membres d’associations diverses (randonnée, parents d’élèves, conseil économique de la paroisse…), mais c’est surtout grâce à l’association locale pour la défense du patrimoine (ASPE) que nous avons pu entrer en contact avec des particuliers motivés et intéressés qui nous ont donné accès à leur propriété.
Il nous a aussi fallu rencontrer les habitants par nous-mêmes, en expliquant au cas par cas ‑ et au porte à porte ! ‑ la nature et les objectifs de nos travaux. Malgré nos appréhensions, nous avons rarement été déçus et en tous cas jamais mal reçus !
La réalisation de prospections pédestres sur des terres agricoles a nécessité de pousser la porte des fermes pour avoir l’autorisation d’accéder aux champs. Par l’intermédiaire des viticulteurs d’Esvres qui nous ont  accueillis chaleureusement, nous avons pu facilement collaborer avec les autres agriculteurs.

Prospections pédestres au milieu des vignes avec des stagiaires de l’université de Tours. © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

Prospections pédestres au milieu des vignes avec des stagiaires de l’université de Tours. © Jean-Philippe Chimier, Inrap

Les sondages archéologiques manuels, aussi limités soient-ils (jusqu’à 3 m²), ont révélé l’extension d’un habitat gaulois et antique et ont permis d’explorer les occupations médiévales du village. L’étude des bâtiments du bourg a mis en évidence une série de maisons anciennes, dont certaines dateraient de la fin Moyen Âge (vers 1500). Elles sont souvent dissimulées au milieu de constructions plus récentes et nous avons quelquefois eu de bonnes surprises, au détour d’une trappe oubliée.

Rendre aux Esvriens ce qui appartient aux Esvriens

Même si à notre sens, restituer à tous le résultat de nos études doit être la finalité de toute recherche archéologique, c’est encore plus vrai dans le cadre de ce programme. Depuis le début nous avons tenu à informer les Esvriens de l’avancée de nos travaux. Chaque mois de septembre, lors de Journées européennes du Patrimoine, l’équipe propose plusieurs interventions. Une d’elles est toujours consacrée au bilan des travaux de terrain de l’année en cours et au moins une autre communication présente un thème ou une période particulière. En juin, lors de Journées nationales de l’Archéologie (JNA), nous évoquons l’histoire et l’archéologie d’Esvres lors d’une « archéo-balade », une sorte de visite-conférence du village qui remporte toujours un franc succès malgré un nombre de places limitées. En 2014, toujours lors des JNA, une rencontre a été organisée avec les chercheurs de l’équipe qui ont présenté leurs travaux. Ouverte à tous le samedi, elle était réservée aux enfants des écoles la veille et, on l’espère, aura permis de créer de nombreuses vocations…

« Archéo-balade » durant les Journées nationales de l’Archéologie 2013. © Laurent Petit, Inrap, 2013

« Archéo-balade » durant les Journées nationales de l’Archéologie 2013. © Laurent Petit, Inrap, 2013

Les Journées nationales de l’Archéologie 2016, rencontre avec les villageois. © Denis Godignon, Inrap

Les Journées nationales de l’Archéologie 2016, rencontre avec les villageois. © Denis Godignon, Inrap

Les Journées nationales de l’Archéologie 2016, initiation à la céramologie. © Nicolas Fouillet, Inrap

Les Journées nationales de l’Archéologie 2016, initiation à la céramologie. © Nicolas Fouillet, Inrap

2016 constitue la fin du programme de terrain mais pas la fin de nos recherches sur Esvres, il reste encore à réaliser la synthèse de toute cette documentation. De retour en laboratoire, comment valoriser nos travaux à venir ? Sans doute via internet qui permettra de garder un contact à distance avec nos interlocuteurs du terrain (vous en êtes peut-être la preuve en lisant ces lignes !) et de s’ouvrir à d’autres lecteurs, Esvriens ou non.

Jean-Philippe Chimier et Nicolas Fouillet, Inrap / UMR 7324 Citeres-LAT


No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey

No Man's Sky Archaeological Survey mission patch

Mission patch design by the author

On 9 August 2016, the No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey (NMSAS) will mark the first time archaeologists have attempted to record in an archaeological way virtual material culture in a procedurally generated universe. One goal of the 3-year project includes documenting machine-created material culture, or how worlds, cultures, artifacts, built environments, lore/history, and even spoken and written language are created by algorithms created from over 800,000 lines of code. Another goal is to attempt to observe and identify emergent behaviors from the complexity of the code and player interaction with it, documenting game-created “artifacts” (i.e., glitches) and unexpected interactions that are more a part of the deep syntax of the game itself rather than the virtual environments it creates.

(image: Hello Games)

(Image: Hello Games)

For those readers who do not know about No Man’s Sky, this is a video game created by Hello Games (Guildford, UK) for PlayStation 4 and PC, which has, for all intents and purposes, created a universe-sized virtual universe of billions-and-billions of planet-sized planets to explore on a 1:1 scale. Some of these planets have virtual life, and some of those planets will have sentient life paired with non-natural constructions, architecture, and artifacts both large and small, old and new. The reason NMS has received so much attention is that every bit of the game (including audio) is procedurally generated. The developer has created a large set of rules and design elements that will combine to create unique spaces to discover. So how will this look in the game, and how will the game “interpret” those rules to create material culture on-the-fly? Our team of archaeologists wants to know.


(Image: Hello Games)

Because the universe is life-size, it will be impossible to explore all worlds. For this reason, I wanted to conduct an archaeological survey that would planet-hop towards the center of the universe. The team’s survey methods are directly derived from two real-world survey projects, the Pyla-Koutspoetria Archaeological Survey and the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. Both surveys use modern surveying methods on how/where to survey, what to observe and collect, as well as a new way of thinking about object typologies, “chronotypes.” I scaled these projects’ methodologies to apply them to surveying entire systems, and borrowed (with permission from Bill Caraher) the survey and fieldwalker forms used, converting them for conducting surveys on a planetary scale.

Our surveyors will select promising planets to orbit, and will complete several orbits prior to flying their survey spacecraft over the surface of these worlds, geotagging surface features for further study. Following the completion of several flyovers, the surveyors will touch down and conduct a handful of fieldwalking surveys, noting types/numbers of artifacts within 1 sq. km (or more), repeating a few times on the planet’s surface, again tagging features while taking screenshots and video. We expect that some surveys will yield sites that require proper excavation, and it is our hope to return to these worlds to map and dig. For the time being, the team will only survey.


Regarding data collection, NMSAS has partnered with FAIMS (Field Acquired Information Management System) to create a set of custom/bespoke online forms, which run on Android devices as well as PC and Mac desktop clients. FAIMS has provided tools to several archaeological projects, the NMSAS being the first one to 100% occupy a virtual world. One set of forms pertains to orbital and suborbital transects, and the other set of forms pertains to fieldwalking units conducted post-transect. The two screengrabs below show only a portion of each form.

Portion of the Transect form created for NMSAS by FAIMS

Portion of the Transect form created for NMSAS by FAIMS



Portion of the Unit form created for NMSAS by FAIMS

The data collected by each survey team member is automatically synced with the FAIMS server, which is instantly available to all other surveyors. Ultimately the data and media collected will be ported over to the online Open Access archaeological publication platform, Open Context.

Open Context

The NMSAS team look forward to sharing its findings with anyone who wants to see them. After the first month or so of initial exploration, the team will create and publish a white paper explaining best-practices along with a standardized, working vocabulary and typology for the crowdsourced side of the project. After the first three months, we will publish a preliminary report online and Open Access, followed by a one-year report of the project so far.

Members of the team will blog, tweet, and stream their progress. At the start, the main communication channels for the NMSAS project are @nmsarchaeology on Twitter at NMSArchaeology on Twitch. Email can be sent to the team as well. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

NEEDS: If you have GIS expertise and an interest in exploring the game archaeologically, please send an email to the above address. Also, if you have modding experience via Steam, we need to discuss the construction of probes and drones for use on planets, and for interstellar survey.

To learn more about the archaeology of No Man’s Sky, click here. To read the NMSAS Code of Ethics for the survey team, click here.

Settlements, Shielings & Sunshine: Archaeological Survey at NTS Torridon

Torridon. One of the most dramatic landscapes in the United Kingdom. Driving to it, from the south or the east is an unforgettable journey. Three massive mountains, Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe rise suddenly from the shore of the deep sea loch to over 1000m in height, looming over you and totally dominating the area.

Beinn Alligin & Liathac seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

Beinn Alligin & Liathach seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

The National Trust for Scotland looks after over 6,000ha of land on the north side of Loch Torridon. Along with the plants, animals, birds, footpaths & upland landscape that we manage, there are also a huge amount of archaeological remains. The majority of these are 18th and 19th century settlement and farming remains; there are very little prehistoric remains on the north side of the Loch, but plenty on the southside. Perhaps it is because prehistoric folk settled and used the same land that is still settled and in use today, thus all traces have been removed. You can find out more about the archaeology sites here

In March, I was lucky enough to lead a National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp where we carried out condition monitoring and survey work across a number of the settlements and shieling sites. This is incredibly useful heritage management work, as it allows us to see the overall picture of change of the archaeological resource & to develop a management plan to deal with all sorts of threats such as bracken & vegetation growth, erosion, burrowing and collapse.

For the condition monitoring I have developed an Android tablet based system which utilises the Open Data Kit to allow us to remotely collect the data, and then submit it to a server when we have an internet connection. Internally, we’ve found the system to be incredibly robust and useful, and much simpler to use and get data back from than paper based systems.

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

In total we monitored 191 sites and structures over 5 days and from this developed a really good understanding of what is affecting the archaeological remains and how.

Condition Data, Torridon

Condition Data, Torridon

I have previously written about the Data Enhancement project I work on at the Trust; the GPS survey work at Torridon has allowed us to enhance our GIS data and polygons, which means we have better and more detailed information when managing our Torridon estate. We now know the exact location and extent of a wide range of structures, dykes and cultivation remains whereas previously we had them as point data or even described as “left of the structure” “below the area of woodland” and so forth.

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Through doing this work we have also recorded remains that are quite obvious on the ground for for a variety of reasons had never been recorded and utilised aerial imagery from a range of sources to map some of the more ephemeral remains such as cultivation ridges and furrows. I have also been able to compare the remains to the historic Ordnance Survey mapping available from the National Library of Scotland which allows us to (being to) understand when buildings were built, in use and abandoned.

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

We also discovered a couple of possible new sites such as a cup marked boulder, which is very exiciting.

I need to thank the volunteers, Danji, Kathy, Joanna, Will, Thomas, Abbie, Barry & Jim who made this work possible and who took to the work with such great enthusiasm and interest.

It wasn't all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.

It wasn’t all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.


Monte Miravete project – 19th century Archaeology in Murcia (Spain).

Hi everybody,

Monte Miravete Project is a project based on the study of a 19th century forgotten remains. Nobody took a look at this site, where we have found more than 84 structures and 27 quarries of the mining in the region, which was important to the maintenance of the traditional lifestyles in the so-called La Huerta. Here we mix immaterial and material Heritage, and also the use of ethnographic data by the old people of the town of Torreagüera and the archaeological method of survey.


In addition to this, we have started a dissemination campaign, because we are carrying out the project under own our money, without more support than that given by Cajamurcia Foundation to the dissemination of the project.

To study these structures is essential to exploit the sporadic tourism in the area represented in the walkers and hikers, and also to protect the remains which are in high danger of disappearance.


To preserve the remains to show to the young people and local communities, and to recover the experiences of the old people who lived there is to create consciousness about the Past and the memory of past experiences. Last but not least, to create a new framework to develop projects of Contemporary Archaeology or Archaeology of Contemporary Past is very interesting in this project.


In our first campaign, this survey runs until the 20th of August. Come on!

Thank you!

José A. Mármol


Fieldwork: community survey at Tell Balata, Palestine

Hello again! As you might remember, for last year’s Day of Archaeology I wrote a blog on my fieldwork in Southern Germany, as part of the European NEARCH project and as part of my PhD Research at the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University. This year’s blog entry comes from the same project and is included, partly, in my PhD Research as well. Therefore, I will not include the results of the fieldwork but instead focus on the practicalities of doing a community survey and, perhaps more importantly, the fun one can when have doing fieldwork in a foreign country.

During the summer of last year, in August, a party of four, including yours truly, departed from Schiphol Amsterdam. Their destination? An old town called Balata, which is situated within one of the largest cities in the West Bank: Nablus. Within that old town, an even older town once stood proud between the mountains Gerizim and Ebal, functioning as a cultureal hotspot and trade hub directing traffic from east to west. Identified as the ancient city of Shechem, archaeological remains date back as far as the 4th millenium BC: The Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages. During the decades that followed, the city collapsed multiple times and its remaining ruins formed a small hill: a so-called ‘tell’. Some of those ruins are still visible today; the park is open for visitors and has a website as well. Together with the old town of Nablus, the park is listed on the UNESCO tentative list since 2012, in preparation for its inclusion as World Heritage.

View on the East Gate at the Tell Balata Archaeologicl Park

View on the East Gate at the Tell Balata Archaeological Park

Within the NEARCH project, a team of specialists from various European countries are investigating the effects of World Heritage inscription on the local communities living on, or near those inscribed sites. Because the Faculty of Archaeology has a long running relationship with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities – MOTA-DACH, a plan was proposed to, together with the local authorities there, perform a pilot-study on the possible effects of World Heritage inscription. Both the specialists within the team as well as the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities agreed and a fieldwork project was prepared for August 2015 for Tell Balata.

This was the first research project within NEARCH to focus on those effects, so a new and commensurable survey needed to be created. This was done based on theories and methodologies from the field of social impact analysis within the cultural heritage sector. Inspiration for creating the list of questions came, for example, from ‘Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participating in the Arts’, a book written by François Matarasso in 1997. Within this study, Matarasso lists a large number of indicators, or topics which can be measured, under 6 different themes connected to social impact, such as social cohesion, personal development and local image and identity. However, for this survey questions about the impact of World Heritage inscription and specific questions about the daily use of the Tell needed to be included as well. For example, questions such as ‘how often do you visit the site?’, ‘do you feel connected to the site?’ and ‘Do you experience positive effects from the park for the neighbourhood?’ were included. The final questionnaire was translated into Arabic since the plan was to venture into the neighbourhood ourselves, with the help of a local volunteer acting as translator.

To perform the survey as best as we could – aiming at a high number of response but also at a high quality of those responses, we split into four groups of two – each researcher having his or her own translator hailing from Balata itself or from Nablus. We then ventured into the surrounding area of the tell and performed the surveys with the local community members, who were often very willing to help and offered us more Arabic coffee and tea than we could ever drink. The responses to the questions were very helpful to get an insight into the social and economic impact and often revealed interesting information on people’s relation to the archaeological site. There were for instance multiple older people who still remembered helping to excavate at the site during the 70’s and 80’s. Younger interviewees mostly know the site as a place to relax, walk through or play football. Being in the Palestine for the first time in my life, the fieldwork made a huge impact on me. I vividly recall the first day of the fieldwork, when I was invited to a birthday celebration party of 2 siblings of a very large family. This resulted in me having pleasant talks with about a dozen family members – almost all at once – while eating delicious foods and drinking excellent coffee. They were overwhelmingly friendly and hospitable (and proved to be a rich source for survey responses as well); I had great fun, but was also terribly exhausted at the end of that day from all the impressions!

The four areas we surveyd.

The four areas surveyed

By the end of the fieldwork, the four of us had gathered more than 200 survey responses from 4 different areas of the old town, an incredible result thanks in no small part to the translators who not only translated for us the responses to the questions, but also helped us to get accustomed to local traditions, culture and the surroundings. The results from these surveys are currently being researched by the Faculty of Archaeology and will be published next year, but a teaser will of course be published on the Day of Archaeology’s 2017 edition, so keep an eye out for that!

Ma’a Salama!

Of kurgans and more… a day of survey in eastern Georgia

Early wake up this morning: 6 am and we are ready to start our day of survey in the valleys of eastern Georgia!

The sunrise in Sighnaghi

The sunrise in Sighnaghi (Kakheti)

Today the EKAS (Early Kurgan archaeological survey) team is heading to the Iori valley, a quite desolated but promising area for our research aims. EKAS is a two-year project investigating mid-Early Bronze Age burial sites in southern Caucasus, related to my PhD research topic and funded by the University of Melbourne Fieldwork grant. The period of our interest is characterised by the deposition of community leaders in barrows, also locally known as kurgans. The aim of our project is to map and record these mounds for a better understanding of the relation between these features and the landscape.

The Iori valley is wide and barren and it is crossed approximately NW-SE by one of the tributaries of the Kura river, the Iori. Several sloping hills placed on each side of the valley surround an otherwise flat countryside. Numerous mounds, either natural or artificial, stand out clearly in the landscape.

After a preliminary analysis of satellite images and Soviet topomaps, we first drove across the stunning sunflower and wheat fields which currently cover a large portion of this area of Georgia. In doing this we detected several areas of interest, which we surveyed today. First going uphill, we walked several fields with different degrees of visibility: one field has been particularly rich in finds. A bag full of obsidian and few flint flakes, some of these natural and some worked, was collected. Particularly relevant is that obsidian is not attested locally; the nearest sources exploited since the Palaeolithic are located in a radius of more than 200 km.

Saba and Sofia fieldwalking

Saba and Sofia fieldwalking

We continued descending the hills towards the Iori, surveying various mounds and small hills. Some of these were clearly natural and did not show any sign of anthropic activity (apart from the daily passage of shepherds and their flocks). On others we found pottery sherds and obsidian flakes, possibly attesting the use of them as burial sites. One of these in fact was a burial mound and traces of previous excavation are still visible.

One of the surveyed mounds

One of the surveyed mounds

What also captured our interest while surveying the boundless fields of the Iori valley was a ridge mountain with caves and cavities overlooking the whole area.

The cave mountain

The cave mountain

The entire team became excited while later getting confirmation from a local farmer working his fields that villagers previously visited this mountain and retrieved some archaeological finds (deposited at the local museum of Sighnaghi). Here’s our destination for tomorrow…

Day of Archaeology 2015 | Catching up with the past

Hi, I’m Spence, a freelance archaeologist in England who hovers between commercial fieldwork contracts, supporting community archaeology projects, analysing prehistoric lithics assemblages, and editing the odd journal (e.g. CBA Yorkshire). I’ve a penchant for the Mesolithic period and the intriguing transition to the Neolithic, especially in north-east England where, by the end of the summer, I’ll have thirteen new radiocarbon date determinations for ongoing research (and publication in due course) for the North York Moors; there’s only one recent one today. I’ll perhaps leave that for the 2016 DoA though I am giddy with excitement.


Marden Henge open day

Marden Henge open day

Like some other posts, today is not the usual—although the nature of free-lancing makes for a diverse suite of activities—since the weather is dire and I’m between commercial projects at the moment. That said, July has been a great month to visit some UK Festival of Archaeology events such as the exciting excavations by University of Reading at Marden Henge in Wiltshire. The bigger henge, located between Avebury, Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, is actually about ten times the size (area) of Stonehenge and offers students the chance to hone their fieldwork skills on an annual training excavation. I also managed to drop into the last season of excavations at Roman Binchester in County Durham—utterly astounding Roman archaeology. What’s great about all these events, whether excavations, museums, re-enactments, is the wonderful public turnout. For an archaeologist it’s also like “coming home to the family”, always with indulgence by the project teams who go out of their way to explain what’s happening and why.

Back to today, forward to the past

Lithics! We found evidence for at least Late Mesolithic-Early Neolithic activity (informal photo) with evidence too for Early Mesolithic activity in the direct catchment

So, oppressed by the weather (not that it would stop most commercial fieldwork), and a little under the weather, I’m catching up on a small project that saw field-walking with volunteers earlier in the year. What that means, indoors, is analysing and recording the lithics (mostly flint tools and debitage, and the odd bit of natural of course), their attributes, metrics, and taking photographs as part of a permanent record of what was recovered—both as part of our mini-project and by previous collectors and field-workers who have been generous enough to contribute their finds for recording as part of a cohesive archive.

Light and dark

One of the challenges is that I can’t readily, at this stage, reveal the location of the work. The farmers, like many in the region and nationally, have been plagued by folks who have walked their land without permission, removing finds that will never be publicly shared and so never inform us all about past activity in our region. It’s a place until now, a mix of upland and lowland, that has remained a relative ‘blank sheet’ in terms of evidence for human activity from the end of the last glacial period (Holocene) through prehistory and up to the post-medieval period. The landowners, while absolutely passionate about their interest in the archaeology of their area, are therefore sensitive about public dissemination that might encourage the less savoury activities  of  ‘treasure-hunters’, a minority of folk, who operate in the dark zone and never share their discoveries, even to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). Part of our project has been to work with the landowners to mitigate these sensitivities while both being able to feed back our findings to them as well as placing information in the Historic Environment Record (HER) in such a way as to inform future planning and conservation decisions and bona fide research.

Unashamed exploitation of pensioners: mam making flags

This is an area where there is a constant stream of developer applications that are increasingly invading the greenbelt, and so the accuracy of the HER is critical as part of the planning process. Needless to say, what we have found ourselves, together with previous as yet unrecorded fieldwork, does provide a narrative (remember the blank sheet) of human presence from at least the Late Mesolithic into the Neolithic and Bronze Age, pre-Roman Iron Age, Medieval period (12th-15th century pot) right up to the clay pipes, golf ball and a rather lurid red shower cap of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Our aim is to provide a framed finds-case with objects across ten thousand years of activity, a report for the landowners, an academic-quality report, a HER record submitted via OASIS, and an archive (paper, digital and finds) for the local archive-accepting museum (a rare thing these days). We’re mindful of how many finds—alluding to landowner sensitivities—are never recorded, and I know of very many in my research area. Our ‘blank sheet’ landscape is actually full of activity, and risk!

Methods and standards

Line-walking at 2m intervals, flagging all finds: “if in doubt, bag it”

What we did achieve, by way of best practice in fieldwork (here fieldwalking) is 100% coverage of two very large lowland fields, after ploughing and weathering. Line-based fieldwalking at 2m intervals saw the flagging-and-bagging of finds and then their recording with GPS and Total Station to 3D centimetre accuracy and plumbed into the OS National Grid. We can now see clusters of lithics, for example, that might—with permissions of course—merit some further activity such as test-pitting and, in a semi-wetland context, environmental sampling.

Fashionable surveying courtesy of our friends at Solstice Heritage

Unfortunately, the previous fieldwork was on the look-out for later prehistoric and Romano-British material and didn’t have the recording resolution of our current work. Hence, things like prehistoric lithics have only been recording by a general field-location or Grid Reference (albeit with “clusters” of finds noted). We’re now able to place those observations into a far more detailed record using GIS mapping. Moreover, and based on future potential, we can look confidently at new research questions and fieldwork activities that will add a richness to the ‘blank sheet’ where, in reality, every period is attested. How we do archive and communicate that, without encouraging the ‘dark side’, is an interesting journey. What we have done I hope, by way of example in the whole project planning and participation—from research aims through to archive and dissemination—is encourage the well-meaning fieldworkers in our area to buy-in to the benefits of systematic recording and, with our greenbelt at such risk, the importance of placing finds at least into the HER database.

Upland espionage


The spoils of flinters

While well-meaning fieldwork in agricultural areas can see the removal of all or some of the archaeological record without sufficent recording (often only recorded by field and resulting in massive private collections), we’ve a few shady characters who operate in the uplands (moorlands) too—the flinters. Sometimes, but rarely, and by involvement in systematically-conducted fieldwork projects, it is possible to convince these folks of the importance of good recording, expert oversight, or even leaving their finds where they are. Whatever is encountered is always going to be a sample of a sample of a sample. However, the unrecorded removal of artefacts—often cherry-picking the choice pieces in the case of lithics—prevents us even being able to characterise what might be going on, archaeologically. Leaving a small mound of debitage, having removed ‘nice bits’, and doing so without landowner permission, is still all too common.

One message?

If I have one message, as part of this year’s Day of Archaeology, it is to try convince everybody that, beyond the legal aspects of doing anything on somebody else’s land:

  • Our Heritage is ultimately shared, very fragile and loses meaning if it doesn’t have context
  • Understanding our local human past helps build a Shared Narrative
  • That our shared narrative supports a Sense of Place for a community, in space and in time, a value of Our Place
  • That value in Our Heritage makes Our Place attractive to live in, visit, invest in, develop and protect
  • Offers opportunities for Community participation, at any interest level, in projects and activities, and a sense of Wellbeing

Happy Day of Archaeology!

Mesolithic Spence

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

From James Miles:

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


3D print of the Medieval Frieze

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



Californian landscape

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


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


Laser scan model of Haapsalu Castle

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