University of California

Adventures in Digital Archaeology & Open Access Antiquarianism

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

It’s funny how quickly time passes while studying time.

Two years ago, this weekend was spent with a laser scanner at the beach.

I’d finagled a mini-grant from the National Science Foundation for a project I like to call Sandcastles for Science, but whose full un-pronouncable name identified it as a project to test out laser scanning capabilities for handling the imaging resolutions of stratigraphic sediment on archaeological sites (see– even that was a mouthful).

As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, the beach was the nearest easy access place to play in the dirt and provided a perfect venue to open up the experiment to local kids and un-suspecting beach-goers who accidentally volunteered themselves for mini-science bootcamp. Willing audiences who would build me data castles, while my research assistant and I exposed them to archaeology, beach physics, the history of castles, laser scanning, sea-shell collecting, and all the other educational topics we could cram into our construction schpeals and posterboards. I like archaeological education outreach, so sue me. It gets written into almost every one of my projects somehow.

Sandcastles for Science was ultimately prep-work for a two month field season in Jordan, laser scanning sites in Faynan (and yes, even scanning Petra for one glorious day), as well as for a lovely bit of software development on visualizing temporal sequences in point clouds with one of my fabulous computer science colleagues.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

Last year, this weekend was spent in a frenzy of data digging and labwork

My team needed to pull together presentations for Italian officials to approve the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology’s upcoming field season at Palazzo Vecchio and the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, and a bevy of lovely sites in southern Italy with a team from the University of Calabria.

So it was a weekend slogging through back-data of point clouds from the Hall of the 500 in Palazzo Vecchio, emphasizing the layered multi-spectral imaging into the model, and how it definitely showed the cracks conservators needed to track to create preservation solutions, and how it maybe had a hidden Da Vinci lurking behind one of its walls. It was a weekend of lists for the upcoming season, of site logistics, and Italian language lessons (team lessons with an instructor +  DuoLingo = a surprising amount of success once we hit Italy for the two month madcap field season that was my fall of 2013).

And if you’d like to check out more pics and details of my wonderful and ridiculous work for a once-promising academic something, scope out my scrapbook blog Adventures in Digital Archaeology.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

But this year, this year was spent online- in a flurry of creative archaeological energy

This summer, I find myself graduated and out on my own, free to pursue my own projects, safely away from the boundary lines of academia and the rather unhealthy environment I had found myself in for a big chunk of this year.

Pulling ourselves back together, my favorite research colleague Vid and I cooked up a delightful dish that brings together all the digital archaeology flavors we’d been prepping before, but as part of a much grander and more colorful feast.

And so this weekend was spent running down the final lists of photographs, video media, and writing that needed to coalesce together into the FIRST archaeological technology driven Kickstarter.

Mushing together the laser scanning, point clouds, 3D models, and 3D printing,our project, Open Access Antiquarianism, proposes the construction of art exhibit built from re-purposed cultural heritage data using the digital visualization pipelines my colleague and I have been building to handle archaeological data.

A blend of 3D printed archaeological artifacts, furniture upholstered in fabric printed with archaeological LiDAR (literal armchair archaeology), interactive point cloud visualizations and other such extravagant re-workings of scientific data from open archives, the Cabinet of Curiosities Open Access Antiquarianism proposes offers an excellent opportunity to continue streamlining the point cloud and 3D modelling methodologies we’d been playing with for so long, while reaching a much much larger audience.

Because the larger global community needs to be engaged in the increasingly complicated discussions regarding ethical implementations of digitization and open access of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The public (and archaeologists themselves) need to understand the desperate desperate need for interdisciplinary and collaborative work and move away from the academic politics and needless power-plays that constantly bog such wonderful creative enterprises down. Archaeologists need to work more closely with technologists and engineers to develop useful and adaptable systems that preserve the past for the future (and often simultaneously end up building the surveying systems needed for the space-age future we all envision).

And the public needs to be aware of the wealth of data that is available to them in the increasingly larger and more wonderful online archives of museums and government institutions all over the world. The past has the potential to become increasingly and excitingly ubiquitous and something that plays a much stronger role in one’s everyday conception of time and space. It’s getting all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and the doctors of archaeology ought to be actively on the hunt for more and more Companions. Studying the past is no longer something that need be done by experts alone. In fact, we are drowning under such an avalanche of data, that it is imperative that more crowd-sourced archaeological ventures be launched to bear the brunt of analyzing everything that is already stacked up in the university basements of the world, let alone the incoming finds. Archaeologists can stay experts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk to the public and engage them more actively in what we’re up to. Enthusiasm should count more than correct use of erudite jargon. Even to those hipster archaeologists out there.

In some small artistic way, the Open Access Antiquarianism project would like to address all of these things, while expanding the research and technological collaborative possibilities to continue refining the much needed digital pipeline that takes things from the field through processing, archiving, studying, and out to engagement.

My collaborative and interdisciplinary digital archaeology and outreach isn’t the traditional archaeology. But its my archaeology. And more than that, its an archaeological practice of hope. Hope that archaeology will fully embrace the increasingly digitized and interdisciplinary future. Hope that archaeology will not fall prey to over-specialization and tenure. Hope that archaeologists will continue to try to document and in some small way understand the past, so that we can help make vital statistically based decisions for the future. Archaeology has such potential to aid technology development and global ecological policy, if only us archaeologists would reach out and grasp it instead of assuming it will fall into our laps.

If you’re intrigued/dismayed/excited/furious/amused or any one of the wonderful and ridiculous emotions human beings are capable of, please check out Open Access Antiquarianism on kickstarter and on Facebook.  We’d love your support, and if you love our concepts about tech development, archaeology, and art as a research and outreach driver, perhaps your collaboration as well. Get in touch!

To the erudite young men and women a-sitting on a-tell: may your trowels be ever muddy and your point clouds free of shadows.

Acres and acres of happy wishes to all the archaeologists of the world,

Ashley M. Richter

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we've designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we’ve designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.


Medieval Knights, Their Trash, and Urban Gardens Before They Were Trendy

I’m sitting in sunny California, in the Classics Library at University of California, Berkeley, and I’m thinking about sunny Italy. For 5 years (2006-2010) I spent Julys living in a Boy Scout camp in Sgurgola, Italy, about an hour south of Rome, field-directing the excavations of Villamagna. [See more about our project here: http://www.villa-magna.org]. And for the past three years I have spent Julys working on the material we excavated, working on the stratigraphy and working with finds specialists who were studying the pottery, glass, animal bones, environmental remains, coins, small finds and the human remains from the cemetery. This summer we are finishing the manuscript. I can tell you a bit about where we are for medieval Villamagna and what I’m doing today, and then I’ll tell you about my other project, which I’m working on in my spare time: urban gardens in medieval Italy.

DIGGING (AND WRITING) VILLAMAGNA

Our project at Villamagna looked at a site over time. In the Roman period, one of the 2nd-century emperors (Hadrian, probably) built a large country house, surrounded by vineyards and forests for hunting. The buildings of that villa are still visible in some places on the site, and what was clear even before we started digging was that throughout the middle ages people had lived among the Roman ruins–the church on the site was built and rebuilt several times in the middle ages reusing Roman bricks, columns and other pieces, and we knew there was a monastery in the area from some medieval parchment documents at the Cathedral archive. Digging was great fun. We had a super team of people from Italy, America, Britain, Belgium, Algeria, Sweden, Canada; these ranged from local high school kids to a volunteer excavator who could excavate a skeleton in minutes, perfectly (it took me hours, imperfectly). The results were very exciting. We could see an early medieval phase of occupation, with high-status pottery, in the Roman building. The monastery buildings were there, including the cloister and a huge underground cistern (a storage container for water). We found a huge cemetery in front of the church, dating mostly from the late middle ages, with hundreds of skeletons; it is now the largest excavated medieval cemetery in Italy.

At the moment, I am working with a research assistant here at Berkeley and the other editors of the project, Lisa Fentress and Marco Maiuro, to pull together the work of the entire team into a publication which makes sense of the thousands and thousands of pieces of data we have collected. Let me give you an example:

Villamagna Medieval Spur

A riding spur found at Villamagna

This is O 700, a spur which came from SU 4291 (we called contexts stratigraphic units, SUs). This was a deposit of rubble and silty soil which accumulated in the well house of the monastery cloister.

Screenshot of ARK SU 4291

This is page for SU 4291 on the database ARK, an open source online recording system, which L – P Archaeology custom fit to our project, and which stores all of our archaeological data. http://ark.lparchaeology.com/

 

Giorgio Rascaglia tells me that the pottery from this deposit dates to the latter half of the fourteenth century, and this fits with what the stratigraphy suggests about the abandonment of the monastic buildings and their conversion to an elite residence next to the church, and also what some medieval parchments record. A bull of Pope Boniface VIII from 1297 suppressed the monastery of Villamagna and gave its properties to the bishop of Anagni, and then in the 14th century, various bishops argued with one local family, the Caetani–perhaps the most powerful family in medieval Central Italy–over their occupation of the property. The Caetani, or some of their homines (their men), were probably the ones living in these buildings and stabling their horses nearby. We found four other spurs from this period (our Finds specialist, Tyler Franconi, tells me that spurs like this, with a rowell, were common from the 14th century onwards) in this and related deposits, as well as a pair of bone dice for when the knights were playing games, and lots of broken drinking glasses, which Barbara Lepri has studied (these are her drawings):

Medieval Glass (Drawings by Barbara Lepri)

Barbara Lepri’s depiction of fragments of medieval drinking glasses found at the site

The final publication will include a website, based on ARK, with the records of our Objects, Pottery, Glass, single-context stratigraphy, as well as a printed volume with essays by Giorgio, Tyler, Barbara, and myself on this material. Today, we have been editing the footnotes and checking the bibliographic formats for essays on early medieval liturgical sculpture and ninth-century pottery and revising maps of the area from the Roman and medieval periods [thank goodness for http://pleiades.stoa.org/].

URBAN GARDENING IN MEDIEVAL ITALY

As I have been in the Bay Area, I’ve become quite interested in urban gardening. Here in Berkeley it is high-status display horticulture in a foodie society (people have raised garden beds in the front of their Craftsman homes, with rows of broccoli and the most elegant heirloom tomatoes you’ve ever seen) and in Oakland, it is activism and community-organisation in the economically blighted parts of the city, where there are no grocery stores which have fresh food. Among some of the immigrant populations of Oakland, like the Hmong, community gardens have provided people places to grow familiar plants not available elsewhere, speak native languages, and help the elderly to socialise. I assumed, initially, that many of the urban gardens of Oakland were built on derelict land, gaps in the urban fabric of the city created by abandoned houses or unused lots. (Some of them were.) I wondered if the urban gardens of early medieval Rome were not similar, and I wondered what I could learn about the past based on the example of the present. So I set out to collect the evidence of early medieval urban gardens not only in Rome but all over Italy, to see who owned gardens, where they were, and to determine if they were household kitchen gardens or market gardens. I also went looking for ‘dark earth’ in archaeological reports. That is the archaeological deposit characteristic of early medieval cities, with thick (.70-3.0+ m) dark soil, few inclusions of potsherds or other materials, and little or no internal stratigraphy. These have been interpreted as abandonment and decay of organic materials used in late antique and early medieval buildings, but more recent thinking suggests that they are actually the archaeological remains of cultivation.

I have spent the past few months looking through property documents from Italy up to about 1100, and archaeological reports for major cities: Milan, Verona, Lucca, Rome, Naples, Salerno, Ravenna. What I have found is this: there were urban gardens within the walls of every early medieval city, more in Rome (which was of course the largest city in medieval Europe), fewer in Salerno (which was very small indeed). These were not, on the whole, owned by the poor, or by people who rented houses, but by the elite who owned their own houses, and constituted significant social and economic potential for growing food and providing it/selling it to others.

Doc. 82 in the Regesta Sublacense, is a good example of what I have been looking for. The ‘humble monk’ Crescenzio Murcapullo gave his property on the Caelian hill in Rome to the nearby monastery of S. Erasmo in 1003:

‘It is a one-story house entirely tiled and shingled, with an oven inside it and a yard and a vined pergola in front of it. Also a garden with fruit trees next to it, with right of passage to a public road, and with all things pertaining to these, located in the region called ‘porta metrovia,’ where I Crescenzio up to now have lived. One one side is the garden of Iohannes Folle. On the other side is the garden of Iohannes, priest and cardinal. And the third and fourth sides are surrounded by public roads.’

In the same document he bequeathed a grain-field measuring 13 moggi outside the nearby Porta Metronia, in the Prata Deci (Decenniae), which was surrounded by four other grain fields. Crescenzius himself appeared as neighbour to other parcels which ended up at S. Erasmo, as a renter of other parcels, and then the donor of this land. This seems a rather plush residence and it clearly included land designed for growing grain, vine, fruit trees and vegetables. The urban plot would have been 6900 m2, and his extramural field over 4 times that. Given a ballpark-estimate that in pre-industrial Europe, 40 m2 would grow the vegetables for a single person for an entire year (this is the figure that German agronomists working on Constantinople use), this monk had a very sizeable plot, indeed.

Like this example from Rome, these gardens were mostly owned by churchmen. This may be an issue of the documentation (the vast majority of property documents from the period record properties which eventually came to the hands of churches or monasteries), but it also may reflect new social values which emerged in relation to changes in social structures. Abbots and bishops–and priests as well–became powerful figures in early medieval cities, and one of the ways in which they negotiated their new status was by showing themselves to be good managers of estates–a new book by Kristina Sessa  makes this point very clearly. As good estate managers, they provided for their households and their dependents, and also provided charity for the poor and for pilgrims. The gardens attached to their houses, and the many gardens inside monasteries, helped them to do that. Towards the central middle ages, in the eleventh century, populations of Italian cities grew, and so too their economies. Where there had been lots of empty lots in cities and very little in the way of a market for foodstuffs and firewood, in the eleventh century these were sold off and rented out to new people and there were market gardens, mostly outside city walls. Historians have often made the gardens out to be subsistence-level food-production in the gaps left among decaying Roman buildings. I think, however, that they were controlled by the cities’ elites and while the mustard-greens and onions of these gardens may indeed have fed the poor, they did so through a new system of redistribution organised by the cities’ churches.

Archaeology Remixed: The History of El Presidio de San Francisco, California Goes Digital

Ruth Tringham (professor) – “Busy day today at the SF Presidio. Usual San Francisco fog, then sunny with wind – lovely summer… Today we started off the discussion of how we are going to share our project to create microhistories about archaeology and cultural heritage at the SF Presidio. Since this is a class on Digital Documentation, it’s no surprise that we chose digital on-line platforms. We started off with Erica’s [Pallo] experience of her yummy foody blogs and do’s and dont’s of blogging. This was followed by Elena’s [Toffalori] technical guide through the ins and outs of WordPress. What a coincidence – unplanned – with the Day of Archaeology. Pure serendipity. There are no coincidences, you say; well maybe not…….Then plotting with dreams and realistic visions of what our tour of El Presidio, Funston Ave and El Polin will look like on the Web, on an iPad, and/or iPhone. Michael [Ashley] and I brainstorming very constructively and loudly as usual, making dreams come true.”

Michael Ashley (instructor) – “I was psyched about a ‘day in the life of’ archaeologists worldwide’ since I first heard about it from Lorna and friends. We spend the day digging deep into digital archaeology in our course at the Presidio of San Francisco. The student team had fabulous ideas on how to put together a virtual visit of past Presidio life with new technologies such as gigapixel imaging and Google Earth. I was pulled into a great discussion with Presidio staff about how to plan a 3-way documentation of the Officer’s Club, originally an adobe structure that’s spent most of its modern life shrouded in wood and sheetrock. Cyark will laser scan the interior, and CoDA will work with Presidio staff to produce color accurate photogrammetry and gigapixel imaging. We are working to meld practical digital techniques with real world archaeological problems, and have a lot of fun in the process. Thanks, Lorna and all for getting the Day of Archaeology rolling, and congratulations!

Instructors and students shooting a gigapan panorama in the SF Presidio Park  - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Instructors and students shooting a gigapan panorama in the SF Presidio Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Erica Pallo (CoDA intern) – “Digital Documentation for Archaeology: Documenting, Representing, and Interpreting Cultural Heritage at the San Francisco, California Presidio. So much is said in a name, and this one just so happens to be the title of the academic course we are hosting at the University of California in Berkeley. Teaching students of Archaeology the nitty gritty of the discipline, carrying out our official work-related projects both past and present, and in general just being excited about the implications and applications archaeology has to offer are all in a day’s work for us, so heck, we here at CoDA are chuck full of bright ideas for making archaeology happen habitually. Organizing our class for a special undertaking such as today’s – though it was a complete coincidence that this occasion fell on a pre-scheduled class day – where all of us Archaeo types can get together via the World Wide Web to celebrate all the ideals we hold dear, sounds like sweet success to our virtual ears!

UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at the Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Michael Ashley (standing) gives instruction to the UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at El Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

As a constant way to chronicle our class’s documentation of El Presidio de San Francisco , I write a weekly blog that assesses the skills learned, trials and tribulations of making archaeology digital, and feedback from the voices of the students themselves as they enter (sometimes with trepidation) into the multi-faceted world of cultural heritage preservation. Today I gave a crash course on blogging as a way to educate, but also to ease some fears and stir up excitement for future possibilities in the field. Below I carry on with my routine methodology of having the class participants – students, interns, professors, other CoDA staff – share a little insight into their stance on digital documentation of cultural heritage, only this time I am pleased to say it includes their general enthusiasm for the Day of Archaeology. Welcome to the class!”

Elena Toffalori (CoDA staff) – “Today I had the chance to cut in on the conversation about blogging and archaeology in this amazing course. Based on my experience of web development with the CoDA Website I followed Ruth Tringham and Erica Pallo and gave a first introduction to Content Management Systems and more “geeky-technical” details involved in blogging and publishing contents on the web, as I have done already in a series of posts on our blog section. Having to work with media and building narratives, and especially when handling cultural heritage-related data, it is particularly important to take care of our data and metadata, so that details such as copyright attribution, contextual information, and tracking to the original file are made possible and lawfully pursued. This is one of the major challenges young cultural heritage specialists have to face to help dragging the discipline into the XXI century!”

Ioan Chelu (student)“We’ve all been in that class with the instructor who’s lectures consist of reciting monotonously from dry, old textbooks. BORING. How do you make archaeology interesting for the greater public? How do you form connections with them, at large? How do we connect this dry, old subject of archaeology with new, modern technology? These are the questions we’ve been asking and answering today.”

Chris Fussell (student) – “Organizing multiple angles of history via interactive multimedia feels a bit daunting and exciting. Using Google Earth to generate a tour of the Presidio with images, text stories, movies all while placing all of this information spatially with the ability to travel vast distances will allow one to virtually travel to the past. There is so little of the original Presidio left at the site in San Francisco. Most of it is sealed under a parking lot or a part of the WWI era officers club. I think what we are doing is allowing as much accesses to the past as possible at this time and perhaps more. A historic place or artifact cannot simply speak for itself; it needs a touch of humanity, a story, something that makes it relevant to today, a connection that unites current residents of San Francisco and visitors from around the world. People generate history through events, through action. We are often left with the result but not the need, the idea, the planning, the consequences, the effort and use of what was made in the past. How do we bring this out in our project for the Presidio? I guess that is what I will be finding out through my and my teamates efforts and actions.”

UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at the Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Discussions among the students of UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at El Presidio de San Francisco National Park about the uses of digital technology in Archaeology - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Cyrena Giordano (student) – “What did I do today? I learned about blogging and how intricate and interlaced blogging communities can be. Also, how blogging can be a faster and semi-professional way to get one’s writing out to the public. Moreover how blogging can be, in a sense, a replacement for a resume or even a book.  This was really interesting to me.”

Luke Morris (student) – “Determination of blogging value, enhancing dissemination of digital data and its interpretation: clearly the future of archaeology.”

Adam Grab (student) – “Today was an informative session in digitally codifying archaeological information. We experienced the benefits and disadvantages of proprietary versus open source blogging, as far as customization and access to data is concerned. It’s amazing how much free reign is possible when you know the right kinds of editing.”

Francesca Favila (student) – “My mind was BLOWN by the discussions of html and php and blogging that took place in class today. My capabilities using the internet are limited, to say the least.”

Nicholas Joy (student) “Today was a great class. We learned about how to digitize our data in either a blog, html, or .org format. Today was important because not only does this information pertain to just archeology, but with so many digital links we learn they can be used in many areas out in life. Happy Archeology Day to all.”

UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at the Presidio de San Francisco National Park - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

(Non-techy) tools of the trade for students in UC Berkeley Anthro 136e Summer 2011 course at El Presidio de San Francisco National Park as they plot areas on a map for their upcoming class project - ©2011 Center for Digital Archaeology, Berkeley CA. Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Debbie James (student) – “Hml, css, php…what? Okay, I understand what a blog is…sort of. Very interesting, but still need to catch up with the modern world. Happy Archaeology Day!”

Cheryl Guerrero (student) – “Acronyms flying fast and furious today, but think I was able to hang on to a few of them…HTML, CSS, and PHP, which used to be ‘personal home page’ but I don’t think that applies anymore.  Still learning about techie terms, hosting sites and blogging, but seems to be a slow process…”

Connor Rowe (CoDA staff) – “Well, today was a lovely day experimenting in the latest panorama viewing technologies coming out of the German-speaking world. Trying to get around the Apple/Adobe wars and get our panorama to view in the iOS Safari is so far unsuccessful, but we will persevere! In a side note, I came across a neat little trick that allows those of us running Macs to turn our desktop Safari into an iPad/iPhone Safari emulator. Try Safari > Preferences > Advanced and check the box that says “Show Develop menu in menu bar,” then, at the top of the screen you should see Develop, from which you will change your User Agent. For the good news, we finally remembered to bring the Magic Gold Cable (DV/FireWire 800) from our Berkeley lab out to the Presidio so that we can finally get started on the log&capture&compression process for the student vids.”