Archaeogeophysicist & Brit abroad

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

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

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

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

Conducting Archaeological Geophysics:

Kelsey Lowe- PostDoc Researcher

Kelsey and her data

Kelsey and her data

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

Abir Jrad- PostDoc Researcher

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

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

Carmen Cuenca-Garcia – PostDoc Researcher

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

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

Teaching and Training Activities:

Kayt Armstrong (me!) – PostDoc researcher

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

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

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

Developing Prospection Methods and Equipment:

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

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

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

Aerial Prospection and Photogrammetry:

Gianluca Cantoro- PostDoc Researcher

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

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

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

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

Augmented and Virtual Reality for Cultural Heritage:

Lemonia Argyriou- software engineer

Testing the Augmented Reality application

Testing the Augmented Reality application

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

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

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

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

Nikos Papadopoulos Jr – software engineer

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

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

And lots more besides:

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

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

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

Happy Day of Archaeology!

Kayt x

Geophysical Surveys for the Minor Centers Project

Hello! Kayt here, and this year I am finally in the field for the Day of Archaeology! I’m working with my colleagues Gijs and Tymon (who isn’t here because his third child is arriving any day now!) from the Minor Centers project at the University of Groningen in the Pontine Plain. The project is looking specifically at the role of minor central places in the economy of Roman Central Italy. You can read a lot more about the background of the project and access our fieldwork reports and papers on the project website.

We’re in Italy for a few weeks to do two things. First of all, Gijs is here with a team of student volunteers drawing and cataloging finds from fieldwalking surveys last Autumn and early this year. There is an awful lot of ceramic material associated with the sites we’re examining as part of the project, so they have a huge task! Yesterday they passed the 1,000th sherd drawn, and they still have crates and crates to process! It’s vital work though: we need a good understanding of the ceramics in order to date the sites we find, and if possible, understand their function. Sometimes we can locate sherds with a very specific purpose, like milk strainers used in cheese production. At other times we can identify production sites because we find by-products of industrial processes like iron slag or over-fired pottery that has a particular glassy surface. With a thorough understanding of the ceramic material, we can date our sites and say something about their function. If we can go one step further and identify pottery production sites and trace the clays and temper used in the pots, we can start to examine short-distance trade networks. We have a specialist joining the project in the Autumn to do just this! With all of these elements in place, we can build up a network of minor towns and road-stations trading with each other and over greater distances, and with the chronological data from the ceramics, we can examine how that network changed over time, perhaps in response to policies handed down from Rome.

Drawing progress at basecamp

Drawing progress at basecamp

I arrived two days ago with a team of topographical survey specialists from our institute to carry out a series of geophysical surveys on targets identified by the fieldwalking. The aim of our geophysical surveys is to understand the spatial limits and layout of the sites we find by fieldwalking, or that are already known from historical records and previous archaeological work. The reason we are braving almost 40 degree temperatures to do this, is because one of our key sites, Astura, lies within a major military base. We can only have access for survey in July and August, when the military (quite rightly) think it is too hot to work and go on shut-down. So we’ve been there today and yesterday. It’s painstaking work because the area is covered in dense forest. We have identified a series of open clearings that are probably in the area of the archaeological site and we are slowly surveying them with single-sensor handheld gradiometers. We can’t use the very fast cart-based systems with multiple sensors, in part because of all the trees and bushes, and because the more modern systems rely on dGPS: we have tree cover. This means we need to work on grids recorded in a total station and tied in to the ‘real world’ using reference points on things like buildings. This is why we have the specialist topographers with us! Sander and Erwin make my life a lot more simple. I only have to worry about the geophysics, and they take care of the rest, which is great. We did some work in the same area last year and identified two possible kilns or perhaps salt-production hearths and possible traces of walls. But the data from the last two days is disappointing: either we are outside the settlement area, or the buildings are too deeply buried or poorly contrasted for us to discover. We’ll have a discussion tonight about whether it is good to return tomorrow to finish the area free of trees, or whether we should move on to one of the inland sites near the via Appia. The picture below is one of the most open areas of the site, right by the sea. You can just about see the Torre Astura in the background, between the pine trees. The building you can see now is medieval but it occupies an area in use since well before the Roman period.

Magnetometers warming up this morning, with Torre Astura in the background

Magnetometers warming up this morning, with Torre Astura in the background

It is very hot and dusty work, and I am very grateful to my student volunteer Tom, who is giving up a chunk of his summer to help out. I wouldn’t change my job for all the tea in china though. Italy is an amazing country, with wonderful people and beautiful places to be outdoors working at. Today alone I’ve seen three different kinds of lizards and a wild boar and her stripey piglets running across the road to the site. Who knows what we’ll see tomorrow? Or find in the data? Perhaps a nice early christian church, or a roman cemetery? Maybe I’ll find the kilns Gijs really wants to go with his pottery! However, tonight we have a big festa in the town we are staying in to enjoy, because it is the feast of Santa Anna, who is locally venerated. If you want to keep in touch with what we are up to, you can follow me on twitter @girlwithtrowel – I try to update at least once a day from the field, sometimes more often.

Plots, Papers and Reports, Oh My!

Wieke surveying at Monte san Nicole


I woke up this morning very excited about the Day of Archaeology, and looked over the first few posts while I ate my breakfast at home. It was a good moment to reflect on the last eleven months, since Day of Archaeology 2011. I’ve moved out of the shipping container (!) and now have a lovely flat near the park. I also now work full time, have been appointed a second post-doc position for the ‘other’ 20% of my time within my department (looking at Roman Minor Centres in the Pontine region). Technically, they have my fridays, but in practice we’re more flexible than that as they’ll need me for whole weeks at a time later in the year, so I’ll be working on Rural Life stuff today…


09:00 – and I’ve just arrived at work by bike- almost all of my colleagues bike or walk to work, even if they come from further afield, they’ll use the train. I check my email then get to grips with my to-do list (after tweeting it!). I’m happy because I’ve been able to cross a couple of things off it this week. I had to drop everything to get our CAA 2012 paper written up, after delivering it in Southampton in March (I’ve been on two lots of fieldwork and short holiday since- and haven’t had time to update my blog), and we’ve been working on the final push to get two pilot geophysical studies published. The latter isn’t quite finished, but it’s at the point of having been sent off to be read by someone other than me and Martijn- my project leader. We’re both at the point with it where we can’t really judge it objectively any more. I’m glad it’s almost done- it’s very difficult to write up research you didn’t conduct yourself, and I really hope that I’ve done justice to the work of the people involved before me!

To Do List

09.30 – … my elation turns into a sinking feeling as I ponder my to-do list. It looks OK in the picture, but the thing is, each of the things on the list has it’s own, usually longer list on another bit of paper somewhere. I’d been in the middle of writing a report tying up all of the loose ends from our 2011 fieldwork, when CAA and fieldwork intervened. It is a tricky job because we had to work out a lot of the data-handling as we went, so I don’t have a standard set of methods that I can update with the incidental details- everything needs to be carefully explained, every decision made in the field, every bit of statistics or image correction applied afterwards.

10:00 – Ten AM on Friday is coffee and cake time for the whole institute, but I decide that today I have too much going on to take part in the chatter and socialising, and start looking at some raw data files for the report…

10:15 – and my computer spectacularly crashes, fortunately the only thing it wipes out is the start of this post, which word can’t recover when I get everything rebooted… and my email is misbehaving so I decide coffee is a good idea after all.


10:30 – and I’m back at my desk. I’m working on a file from a site where gradiometer surveys last July showed the presence of several (probably Bronze Age) structures on a small plateau. This data is a series of surface MS (magnetic susceptibility) readings taken on the topsoil by the team in October, when I wasn’t there. They made a small but critical error in how they decided to place the readings on the grid set up for the geophysical surveys. It’s not a major problem, but it means I have to do about an hour’s careful editing work on the data before I can get it loaded into a program that lets me plot the results in a plan view, to let me look at spatial variations and compare them to other data. Luckily, the field team kept excellent notes about exactly how they gathered the data, so while it takes time, I can be sure that I have the right readings in the right place by lunchtime. I write it all up carefully in the report, and make a note to myself to update and improve the training notes and protocols I hand out to our student helpers.


My morning’s work- the offset between the plot and the lines of the grid is intentional due to the mistake made collecting the data.


Writing it all up…

12:30 – and I go to lunch in one of the amazing old buildings at the heart of the university with my team. Today,the canteen has mosterd soup (a local speciality) that everyone loves. We chat about the football, and the weather in a mixture of English and Dutch, and then head back over to the Institute for the rest of the day.

13:30 – I’ve loaded the data into the plotting program and I’m making corrections to it (such as removing very high or low values, to better visualise subtle changes) when I hear a lot of commotion outside. It’s the bus being loaded with all the equipment needed by the teaching excavations at Crustumerium next month. It makes me grin, knowing people will soon be off to Italy, but for now I need to concentrate so it’s in with the earphones and on with the music.

14:30 – I have to admit I’ve been sneaking onto the Day of Archaeology site and following the #dayofarchtag on twitter. The LAARC guys give me a five minute break by tracking down the contents of shelf 666 for me. Turns out, it holds a neat little bone gaming die from Roman London. I love small finds, I don’t get to work with them very often- though on this current project I’m learning a lot about protohistoric pottery. I’m fascinated by the little everyday things that make it into the archaeological record, probably more so than the big and shiny things that make the headlines.

16:00 – I’ve finished with the first survey for the report. It takes a while to get everything into the GIS to compare it to the other surveys of the area we made in July, and information about pottery lying on the surface in October. I record everything I have done to the data, as well as the exact conditions it was collected under, then describe the pattern of values. Finally I write a short paragraph offering an archaeological interpretation of the data, taking into account everything we currently know about the site and the landscape. It’s really important to record things in this level of detail for any future researcher that needs to understand how the final plots were made, and why I concluded specific things about the site. It’s painstaking, and probably no-one will ever need to use it, but I’ve had the horrendous experience of trying to work with badly described geophysical data before, so I’m determined not to leave some potential future researcher in the same mess! I start with the next site. On this one, we did some surveys because workmen found a protohistoric storage vessel in a trench for an irrigation pipe, but the surveys didn’t show up anything structural. I still have to write them up in the same detail though!

The gradiometer survey of the same area

The gradiometer survey of the same area

17:00Corien, another PhD student knocks on mine and Wieke’s door. Wieke is the PhD student I work with- the geophysics I do is part of a wider project encompassing her PhD research. We normally work until 18:00 but Corien reminds us that it is Friday, and drags us off for a post-work drink. Our project leader Martijn comes along too, and we’re joined by another PhD student from another part of the faculty. We chat about the path PhD students are expected to follow- all three of them are at different stages, and it’s quite different to the UK in some ways, so interesting to me. At six we part company and head off on our bikes…

I’m about to submit this to the team at HQ, and while I wait for it go live I’m off to read as many of the other posts as I can fit in! Happy Day of Archaeology everyone.

Being a post-doc

Today, technically I’m not at work, but I’ll still be doing some archaeology! In March I started a post-doc (a research position design for someone fresh from their doctoral thesis) in the Netherlands. It was all very sudden- once I accepted the job I had about 5 weeks to up sticks and move to another country that I’d only visited once, and could only manage the absolute basics linguistically. The role is part time- four days a week, which is great because on my day off I can do some work on my own research- a PhD doesn’t stop when you graduate! I need to write papers based on my research, and get them published. This will be good for me; publishing lots is key to getting (and keeping) academic jobs- and ultimately I want to be a lecturer. It’s also very important for the subject. We’ve got an obligation, whether we work in commercial or ‘university’ or community archaeology, to get our results published and into the public domain.


Me doing borehole geophysics in Calabria

Me doing borehole geophysics in Calabria