Is automatic pottery recognition possible?

Every day is getting shorter, never seems to find the time …. for pottery classification.


Yes, I know, pottery classification is of fundamental importance for the comprehension and dating of the archaeological contexts, for understanding production, trade flows and social interactions, but it also requires complex skills and it is a very time consuming activity, both for researchers and professionals.

To be honest, I always been able to assess the rough date of a pottery assemblage giving a cursory glance at it, thanks to a long practice in archaeological survey, but I must admit that I get bored easily during the quantification activity. During my ten years’ experience in Italian development-led archaeology, pottery quantification was rarely paid for what it’s worth in hours of work. So to recognise and to quantify potsherds was not only time consuming, but it was often a loss of money for my business.

From the beginning of July I’m working at the MAPPA Lab (digital Methodology APPlied to the Archaeology) of the Dipartimento di Civiltà e forme del sapere, of the University of Pisa, on a research project called ArchAIDE.

ArchAIDE logoArchAIDE is a Horizon 2020 supported IA project aimed to support the recognition and classification of archaeological potsherds with innovative computer-based tools, able to provide the user with features for the semi-automatic description and matching of potsherds over the huge existing ceramic catalogues.

These objectives will be achieved through the development of an as-automatic-as-possible procedure to transform the paper catalogues in a digital description, to be used as a data pool for search and retrieval process; a tool (mainly designed for mobile devices) that will support archaeologists in recognising and classifying potsherds during excavation and post-excavation analysis, through an easy-to-use interface and efficient algorithms for characterization, search and retrieval of the visual/geometrical correspondences; an automatic procedure to derive a complete potsherd’s identity card by transforming the data collected into a formatted electronic document, printable or visual; a web-based real-time data visualization to improve access to archaeological heritage and generate new understanding; an open archive to allow the archival and re-use of archaeological data, transforming them into common heritage and permitting economic sustainability.

Perhaps, you are thinking we are a bit too ambitious. Maybe you are right, but I believe that this tool will be able to revolutionise archaeologists habits, behaviours and expectations, meeting real user needs and generating economic benefits, reducing time and costs, but it will also be able to create societal benefits from cultural heritage, improving access, re-use and exploitation of the digital cultural heritage in a sustainable way.

Do you think is an hard task for a small Lab? Yes, definitively.

In fact, we only coordinate the project, but the hard stuff will be done by our partners coming both from research Institution and from SMEs: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche – ISTI (Italy), Tel Aviv University (Israel), University of York (United Kingdom), Universitat de Barcelona (Spain); Universitaet zu Koeln (Germany); Baraka Arqueologos s.l. (Spain); Elements – Centro de gestio i difusio de patrimoni cultural (Spain); Inera srl (Italy).

Stay tuned, we will inform you about our progresses.

We are working at the web site of the project, we will ready in autumn! Now you can follow us on facebook (, twitter (@ArchAIDEproject) and in coming days on Instagram and Youtube.

Open School of Archaeological Data

MIndHere we are! At the MAPPA Lab preparing the last details (not so little, sigh) for the first Open School of Archaeological Data.

This year we decided to offer a free opportunity to 10 scholars to work with archaeological open data. We’ll start next Monday (July, 14th) and we’ll finish on Friday (July, 18th). We received 37 applications. The quality was really high, so we admitted 4 more students at the school. We believe this as a great responsibility: 14 archaeologists want to study how to find, to download, to use, to reuse, to publish data in open formats.

We have an ambitious project: to create a new generation of Italian archaeologists a collaborative generation able to work with a trowel, and to share and manipulate data, because we believe that archaeological data are public, are expensive to produce and for this they must be recycled.

We don’t want to teach, but to share our experience. We’ll have in front of us a little group of young scholars with a relevant starting curriculum; they must share their experience between them and with us.

For the first step we’ll be transforming data from native formats to more useful formats, for example using Tabula for liberating tables locked inside pdf files, or making web data extraction easily with software like . After the data mining, we will work with OpenRefine, a powerful tool for working with messy data: is there someone that thinks that archaeological data aren’t messy? We will clean and transform them from one format into another; we’ll geocode tabular data starting from a simple address and analyse the spatial properties of archaeological data. In 2002, Wheatly and Gillings wrote that «Contrary to popular mythology, contemporary professional archaeologists may spend more time using GIS than a trowel». Using qGIS we’ll explore the archaeological data, and with the help of the mathematician Nevio Dubbini we’ll apply to them statistical, geostatistical and mathematical models,

Working with data is useful only if archaeologists will be able to communicate their result to the archaeological community, but mainly to the community of the citizens: archaeologists have a public role in modern society that data can reinforce. So, Francesca Anichini will lead us in the world of storytelling: how to visualise the data via infographics or through graphs that permit to explore networks and complex systems in a dynamic manner using Gephi, whilst Fabio Viola will talk about Datagamification (an exciting topic!).

Archaeologists are open data user, but also open data producer: Matteo Lorenzini will lead us in the world of metadata and Linked Open Data, whilst Francesca Anichini will make us aware of the ethical and legal aspects connected with the opening of the archaeological data and of the importance of using licenses.

Is this geek archaeology? Maybe, but we are all living in geek world!