From Waterloo to St Pancras

At the end of my long Day of Archaeology 2015, I find myself travelling back to the UK from the battlefield of Waterloo. I didn’t have a chance to change out of my site clothes, and so here I sit (rather fragrantly) on the Eurostar barrelling my way through the countryside of a number of different nations, all of whose history was rewritten on the 18th June 1815. This year I am very fortunate to be able to participate in the Waterloo Uncovered (WU) project, an amazing multi-national project that is exploring the archaeological record of perhaps one of the most written about battles in history.

Our aim is to use the archaeological remains to either support or challenge the many eye-witness accounts of the battle, and so far we have been doing rather well. The project team is made up of a multi-national mix of professional archaeologists, students, volunteers along with soldiers and support staff from the British Army and RAF (some still serving and some injured veterans). To read more about the project and our ongoing results please visit here: or Or go and read the project Day of Archaeology post.

So what did I do today? I’m part of the team running the data management, survey, GIS and database on the project. I’m joined by my colleagues at L – P : Archaeology, Mike Johnson (@humebug) and Cornelius Barton. We are responsible for making sure that all of the 100s of recording sheets, finds, photographs and survey points all make sense and are put into the digital system (which can be seen here: here).

The working day started by arriving at the Chateau of Hougoumont and letting ourselves into the walled garden, where we set up the GPS base station (kindly supplied by OptiCal!).

Setting up the GPS base station

Setting up the GPS base station

Mike then went off with one of the veterans to start recording finds and trench extents while I was drafted into a ‘Command’ meeting (there is a lot of military speak on this project!)– to discuss how the week has gone and so far and our plans for next week.

I then set myself up in the site office (in the Gardener’s House of the Chateau complex – best site office I have ever been in!) , and worked with one of the Dutch students, who is looking at tying the places mentioned in the eye-witness accounts to real geographic locations.

The Site Hut

The Site Hut

A morning of messing about with some coding problems for our embodied GIS app and then I finally managed to get out and see what was going on on site. We set out some more transects for the metal detectorists (who have recovered nearly 700 finds now, of which approx. 200 are musketballs), and then I went to check on a few of the trenches. The location of two of these trenches were based on my suggestions and related to features showing up in the historic maps – so the pressure was on for them to find something… one of them hit what we were looking for dead on [what looks like a fenceline or gateway that may have been used as a gap in the hedge for the French to break through to the wall of Hougoumont [or it may just be a modern drain…]] and the second revealed a big fat nothing [it should have been a star-shaped garden feature with possible central fountain/statue].

The afternoon was spent doing some photogrammetry of a section of the garden wall, recording some trench sections using a 3D scanner and remotely [via radio] helping Mike delve into the guts of an old Sokkia electronic theodolite so we could change the units recorded for the angles from gon [there are 400 gon in a circle] to degrees [a good old 360 degree circle].

A 3D scan of a late 18th century brandy bottle

A 3D scan of a late 18th century brandy bottle

The day drew to a close with the excavation of a brandy bottle that has been tantalising us in the section for the past couple of days – it came out whole and even still had some liquid inside… it is probably water, but by the end of the day we were all rather gasping for some hard liquor. I did a quick 3D scan of it using some new Kickstarter kit that I brought along to play with (the Structure Sensor) – and then headed off to Brussels station to jump on the Eurostar. A weekend off, and then back to it first thing Monday. Amazing project, amazing people – and it has to be said – being an archaeologist on a day like today is also pretty amazing!


Wrestling Pythons, Blending Grass and Proofing Papers

Today has been a pretty normal day in my current archaeological life. I am in the final year of my PhD and so have been battling away infront of a laptop (like many others) trying to make sense of archaeological data and say something new and interesting about the past.

I am lucky in that I live in Cambridge, and so had a lovely cycle ride this morning across the meadows, past the cows, to install myself into the Cambridge University Library (UL). This is one of the joys of being a student in the UK, even though I am doing my PhD at UCL in London I am more than welcome to come and use the library in Cambridge for free which is not only great for books – it also has an excellent tea room.

Bronze Age Huts in QGIS

My PhD is on the Bronze Age hut settlements on Bodmin Moor, I am using Augmented Reality to examine the locations of the huts and how they fit into the landscape. This involves a lot of GIS work and also some 3D modelling. I have a lovely GIS dataset of the Bronze Age hut locations and a pretty decent elevation model. When out in the field archaeologists use quite few tools, but the trowel is probably the most useful. When in front of the computer archaeologists also use a lot of tools – today I was using the Python framework to script a way to get GRASS data into blender so that I could load virtual models of the huts into Unity3D to view them in my ARK database to then finally use Vuforia and Unity3D to display it in the real world. Today my most useful tool is Textmate.

Bodmin Moor in blender

Basically what I am trying to do is import 2D GIS data into a 3D gaming engine, that I can then use to explore the data and (using Augmented Reality) ‘overlay’ that onto the real world. The important thing is to ensure the spatial coordinates are preserved when it is imported into the gaming engine – otherwise the on-site GPS location won’t work during the Aug. Reality stage. So the distances, heights and topography seen int he gaming engine representation are as close to the real world as possible (at least the real as modelled in the GIS!). To keep track of the huts and their associated data I have been using the ARK database system (created by Day of Archaeology sponsors  L – P : Archaeology). ARK brings all of the various bits together  – data from the literature, basic dimensions of the huts, spatial data and also the 3D representation. I’ve been getting some pretty good results from my experiments and seem to have cracked the workflow – I’ll put up a proper walkthrough on my blog once the script is all sorted out as I think it will probably be pretty useful for others to see and use. In the meantime I have made a very small screencast to show the huts within ARK and Unity – which I think it pretty cool. For those of a techy bent, ARK is sending the Unity3D plugin the id of the hut currently being viewed and Unity is then figuring out where that hut is in the virtual world and placing the ‘player’ inside it.

Wow that was all a bit techy – sorry about that!

So as promised in the title of the post then – here is a link to some wrestling pythons…

and someone blending grass..

and the paper proofing is a bit more boring…

Today I also approved the final author proofs of an article on my research that is going to be published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. Apparently when they have made my suggested corrections (c. 1 week) it should be available at:  for people who have personal or institutional subscriptions to the journal, very exciting!

Right back to the coding… only an hour before I get chucked out of the library.


Early Morning or Late Night?

Well my Day of Archaeology isn’t over quite yet… I am tasked with the night shift for the DoA (having a very young child means I’m awake at weird times anyway!) and doing it really makes me realise what a global phenomenon archaeology is.

Here I am lying in bed at 04:03BST reading about all the very cool things that people got up to today in loads of countries around the world.

It’s been a great day, waking up all those hours ago to read about people’s days in Australia and now be approving posts from Hawaii! I think what is really clear from all of the posts is that whilst Archaeology might not be the best paid profession in the world, there is boredom, slog, bad weather, and even flat tires or broken equipment and yet everyone still seems to be having fun sometimes cake and most of all enjoying sharing their love of archaeology with their local and global community.

So, well done and thank you World for sharing your Day with us it’s been quite a ride and hopefully everyone feels like they have been part of something important. The archive of peoples days will stay here (who knows we may even print it out!) and archaeologists and anthropologists and historians of the future will dig it up and will know the state of the worldwide archaeological profession on the 29th of July 2011. They will probably also wonder why we were so interested in cats

I can hear the birds starting to sing outside – looks like it’s officially the 30th here in the UK, the posts coming in over the next couple of hours can be handled by the morning shift. Time for a few hours kip and then back at it.. Everyone knows the 30th is International Gin and Tonic Day right?

It’s Friday… Friday… Which Seat Can I take?

As dear Rebecca Black so eloquently said (covering Dylan of course) – it’s Friday, which seat can I take?

I have two archaeological hats to wear, I am a Partner in L – P : Archaeology and I am also undertaking a PhD at UCL.

It is an amazing position to be in and the straddling of the academic and commercial world really makes my archaeological life interesting and the constant crossover gives some pretty cool insights into how things work together. That and my five-week old kid means I am pretty busy most of the time!

Today I am sitting in both seats. This morning I have been working on the PhD, I am looking at using Augmented Reality (AR) to aid in Phenomenological Investigation of Landscapes. What that means in the real world is that I get to play with iPads and gaming-engines, making archaeological information appear in the landscape. AR is slowly becoming a widely-used technique (especially in the advertising world) and indeed many archaeologists are getting in on the act. The Museum of London has just released StreetMuseum Londinium which allows users to wander around the streets of London with their smart-phone, ‘seeing’ where various artefacts, etc. have been discovered. Today I have been attempting to move some of my AR work over to a new SDK released for iOS by Qualcomm to aid in marker-based AR. Ideally later today or at the weekend I will take the iPad out into the landscape (the local park with my boy in his buggy) and actually make some stuff appear outside – instead of having to sit at the computer futzing around. Before I do that though, I have to get my head around quaternion mathematics, accelerometers and gyroscopes, then meshing this all with GPS and vision-based analysis. It’s pretty fun in a sick masochistic kind of way, but it does seem quite far from archaeology at the moment!

This afternoon I will have to move seats and put on my L – P : Hat. It is the end of the month and therefore its time to take a good look at the finances for the past month and what contracts we currently have on, etc. As L – P is owned and run by the partners themselves, it means that we all have to do a bit of everything – this is a great way of working and means we can really turn our hand to anything. Although we are spread over 4 offices in the UK, we are all great friends and working with everyone here is an absolute pleasure. It is great fun working with such amazing people in a very dynamic sector and doing work to a highly academic standard in a commercial framework. I mean doing archaeology, constantly learning new things, working with mates AND getting paid for it – not a bad Day!

However, times have been a bit rocky recently for commercial archaeology, and although it seems as if UK PLC. is pulling itself slowly out of the recession, new planning laws are being drawn up that may or may not make it better for archaeologists. There are constant stories of planning departments closing, units going bust and people out of work. We are all really at a turning point at the moment in commercial archaeology and so this afternoon I will also be taking the time to look over the new proposed National Planning Framework and seeing how this is going to affect the sector. I urge everyone else to do the same, the Government is asking for consultation responses, so please do take a look and contact the IfA and let them know what you think about the document and how we can change it to make it better for the needs of the sector.

Right back to my seat… front or back?