I need some guidance…

…actually, I don’t. I’ve spent a bit of time over the last couple of weeks thinking about what to commit to ‘paper’ for my Day of Archaeology piece but, in the end, the logical thing to write about has been sat in front of me for the last ten days. As a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) my days can be quite diverse. The core of my job involves working on digital archives deposited with ADS from a variety of commercial or research projects. These datasets can range from small ‘report and image’ type archives from small-scale evaluation work through to large, complex datasets from bigger projects. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months working on the datasets from the ACCORD project and we’re just waiting on the final sign-off from the depositors before we can release the archive. The project focussed largely on Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and 3D models from photogrammetry, so lots and lots of images together with some interesting 3D data. For more info see the paper on the project’s methodology in the CAA 2014 Proceedings…and keep an eye out in the next few weeks for the archive!

But what I’ve mostly been focussed on is guidelines. Over the last couple of years I’ve been working on two tasks for the ARIADNE project looking at Good Practice and guidelines within the fourteen ARIADNE partner organisations across Europe. The initial task was to survey guidance and expertise across the partners and to summarise this in a report (available via the ARIADNE website). The results of the survey allowed key areas of expertise (or areas needing guidance) to be identified and to form the basis for the second task, the creation of new guides and contributions to the Guides to Good Practice. I’ve spent much of this week (and last) finalising a report on the work that has been undertaken on the Guides. A guide on dendrochronological data and the TRiDaS data standard has been contributed by DANS in the Netherlands alongside new case studies for dendro data and large datasets (again from DANS and from DAI in Germany). There’s also a guide looking at 3D datasets (ADS with DAI and DANS) in the pipeline along with an RTI guide and a new case study. It’s been great to work with so many European partners on areas of shared interest and benefit, something that I know we all hope can continue despite recent developments in the UK.

Helen Stocks-Morgan: Discussing the Significance of Beaulieu, Chelmsford

An open area excavation with archaeologists working on site

On site at Beaulieu, near Chelmsford

I spent the day writing a site report for an excavation we did at Beaulieu, Chelmsford in Essex. For all excavations and project we do we have to write a site report and compile an archive of the site records which are then deposits with the County’s Historic Environment Record (HER). This means that in the future people can go back to our excavations and know exactly what we found and help them with any future research. These are available to the general public with summaries of all previous known archaeology available on the Heritage Gateway and the individual HERs can be contacted / visited if more detailed information is required. Part of the process of compiling this archive is to write a report which is a detailed account of what we found and is the most studied part of the site archive that people and future archaeologists will look at as it contains all the information and eventually will be available online on the ADS website.

The first part for the site report gives an introduction as to what happened on site and provides a summary of the known archaeology in the area. The second part gives the results of our excavation, this is then followed by a discussion of what we found and its significance in the wider landscape and to the known archaeology of that period. The discussion was what I am writing today and writing this blog is giving me a break from trying to work out what some confusing brick linears are and how they formed part of the landscape in one of Henry VIII’s summer palaces.

Helen Stocks-Morgan is a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our fieldwork services, visit our website:

Archiving Ipswich

Two years after posting about my work on the Silbury Hill digital archive, in ‘AN ADS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY’, and I’m still busy working as a Digital Archivist with the ADS!

For the past few months, I have been working on the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive, deposited by Suffolk County Council, which covers 34 sites, excavated between 1974 and 1990.


Excavation at St Stephen’s Lane, Ipswich 1987-1988

To give a quick summary of the work so far, the data first needed to be accessioned into our systems which involved all of the usual checks for viruses, removing spaces from file names, sorting the data into 34 separate collections and sifting out duplicates etc.  The archive packages were then created which involved migrating the files to their preservation and dissemination formats and creating file-level metadata using DROID.  The different representations of the files were linked together using object ids in our database and all of the archiving processes were documented before the coverage and location metadata were added to the individual site collections.

Though time consuming, due to the quantity of data, this process was fairly simple as most of the file names were created consistently and contained the site code.  Those that didn’t have descriptive file names could be found in the site database and sorted according to the information there.

The next job was to create the interfaces; again, this was fairly simple for the individual sites as they were made using a template which retrieves the relevant information from our database allowing the pages to be consistent and easily updateable.

The Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive called for a more innovative approach, however, in order to allow the users greater flexibility with regards to searching, so the depositors requested a map interface as well as a way to query information from their core database.  The map interface was the most complex part of the process and involved a steep learning curve for me as it involved applications, software and code that I had not previously used such as JavaScript, OpenLayers, GeoServer and QGIS.  The resulting map allows the user to view the features excavated on the 34 sites and retrieve information such as feature type and period as well as linking through to the project archive for that site.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

So, as to what I’m up to today…

The next, and final step, is to create the page that queries the database.  For the past couple of weeks I have been sorting the data from the core database into a form that will fit into the ADS object tables, cleaning and consolidating period, monument and subject terms and, where possible, matching them to recognised thesauri such as the English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus.

Today will be a continuation of that process and hopefully, by the end of the day, all of the information required by the query pages will be added to our database tables so that I can begin to build that part of the interface next week.  If all goes to plan, the user should be able to view specific files based on searches by period, monument/feature type, find type, context, site location etc. with more specialist information, such as pottery identification, being available directly from the core database tables which will be available for download in their entirety.  Fingers crossed that it does all go to plan!

So, that’s my Day of Archaeology 2015, keep a look out for ADS announcements regarding the release of the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive sometime over the next few weeks and check out the posts from my ADS colleagues Jo Gilham and Georgie Field!

BIAB – distraction and abstraction


For the past couple of months I have been working on how the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography (BIAB) might look once to it moves to us at ADS from CBA. The actual move will not be until next year but it certainly helps to plan, this planning phase is supported by Historic England. I’ll spend my day of archaeology on a number of the tasks identified as part of the project.

First a quick check of the running total of completed surveys: 286. The survey is aimed at asking anyone and everyone within the historic environment community if they have heard of BIAB and how often they use it and what they value about it. It’s been out for a week now and this is quite a healthy result so far. Whilst checking the numbers I usually get a little distracted looking at what the general trends are. I try not to spend too much time on this as full analysis will have to wait until the survey closes on the 23rd August but here are today’s nuggets:

Do different sectors of the community use different bibliographic tools (apart from BIAB of course)…

Academic users three favourite other tools are:, Google Scholar and their local university library catalogue

Other bibliographic tools used by academic user of BIAB

Other bibliographic tools used by academic users of BIAB

Where as archaeological consultants and contractors top three other tools are: Google search (not Scholar), and their local university library catalogue

Other bibliographic tools used by commercial archaeologist who use BIAB

Other bibliographic tools used by commercial archaeologist who use BIAB

So some overlap but a different focus which might be to do with researching different types of questions perhaps!

Please complete the BIAB survey now – if you haven’t already, of course!

Aside from survey watching, I am trying to find a source for continuing to populate BIAB with not just records of archaeological publications but also more importantly the abstracts. I had heard anecdotally that what people really liked about BIAB was that it had abstracts giving information on the content of the book or journal article but that has been backed up by the survey results so far as well. In this quest I have found that although you can get downloadable bibliographic citation data from lots of different sources, library catalogues, COPAC, JSTOR, CrossRef to mention a few, the abstracts come only from the publishers websites so I am in discussions with the publishers to see if the abstracts can be downloaded in bulk in order to populate BIAB in the future.

Up until now BIAB has been updated by hand with a small group of freelance abstractors creating records and handcrafting abstracts for each publication, including some very small and local journals. This is no longer a sustainable way of updating BIAB and hence the project looking into updating it more automatically in the future.

The last thing I will be looking at today is probably the least interesting to many people but I like databases and designing a database structure to fit all the needs of the users and the data is to me quite fun! So I’m looking at what tweaks need to be made to the structure of the existing BIAB database in order to make it work well with the rest of the systems here at ADS.  That’s a task for a pen and paper and will get me away from my computer screen for a short while.

I hope you enjoyed your day of archaeology too!

NEARCH and ADS looking forward to Day of Archaeology 2015!

ADS LogoOk wait, isn’t this Day of Archaeology 2014? It’s time to think about 2015 already?!

Yes!…and 2016, 2017 and 2018, as the New Scenarios for a Community-involved Archaeology (NEARCH) project prepares to work with the Day of Archaeology from next year. NEARCH follows on from the ACE project, which aimed to promote contemporary archaeology at a European level, by emphasising its cultural, scientific, and economic dimensions, including its manifold interest for the wider public. Conducted by the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), the NEARCH project, supported by the European Commission Culture programme, is a European-wide cooperation network of 14 partners from 10 countries willing to explore these changes and their consequences. More specifically, NEARCH aims to study the different dimensions of public participation in archaeology today, and to propose new ways of working and cooperating in a profession strongly concerned by the current economic crisis.

The main themes of the NEARCH project are:

A. Archaeology for the community: informing and involving people
B. Archaeology and the imaginary: crossroads between science and art
C. Archaeology and knowledge: teaching and sharing information
D. Archaeology in a changing economy: towards sustainability
E. European archaeology and the world: dependencies and mutual development

The NEARCH project is delighted to be joining forces with the Day of Archaeology, and while this work technically falls under theme A, it has relevance across every theme. ADS is coordinating the collaboration, and we are currently discussing how best to work together. Broadly though, the first year will likely entail working across our collective networks to ensure greater participation from archaeologists across Europe, and providing translations for the ‘How to take part’ sections of the website, so that more people can post in their native language if they so choose. In the following years we hope to also explore creative ways for people across Europe to use the site.

Looking forward to next year!

EU Culture Logo



The NEARCH project has been funded with the support of the European Commission.

Photo above titled: From fragments to pixels: digital representation of a tomb painting of the 4th century BC, Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece by Pierre Buch © Buch Edition. From the ACE Portal for Publications and Outputs.

A day of archaeology in the peatlands of Ireland II

The view across Killaderry Bog. Co. Galway.

You can find part I of this post here.

Getting to the site

It’s a two hour drive from my base in Kildare to Killaderry, part of the trip is on the new Motorways built during the Celtic Tiger period but once you cross the Shannon these roads run out and you are back on the old single carriageways and narrow bridges that characterise the country.

The excavations

I Arrived at Killaderry, Co. Galway just after 11am and Jane Whitaker of ADS showed me around. These are raised bogs, which means they developed from ancient lakes. The natural vegetation has been removed by milling so they give the impression of solidified dark brown lakes. The only visible features are the long and deep drains extending into the distance that break up the bog into long narrow fields. The figures of archaeologists in reflective yellow safety gear can be seen beside shallow excavation cuttings filling out recording sheets. The trackways are spread around the bog and it takes a long time to walk out to them and then from site to site. This year 13 sites were excavated in Killaderry Bog and 3 in Castlegar. Dan Young from Reading University is busily taking samples from around the trackways for environmental analysis. When it rains this can be a bleak place as there’s no cover. In a hot summer there’s no shade from the sun. The peat dries out and can become airborne and tractors and harvesters create mini-dust-storms as they pass.

A section of a trackway prepared for environmental sampling at Killaderry Bog. Co. Galway.

The trackways have a wide date range from the Bronze Age right through to the fifteenth century AD. The longer trackways tend to cross the bogs at their narrowest points linking areas of dryland. In a number of cases trackways follow the routes that were established at earlier periods. There are other alignments of trackway that are being investigated this season that will soon be dated and will provide more detail. At this stage the evidence indicates that this routeway through Killaderry bog was in use for at least two thousand years and is probably the preserved wetland part of an ancient road network that existed in this area. Investigation of the nearby River Suck also has the potential to identify ancient fording points and possibly the remains of bridges. There have been interesting finds, a Late Bronze Age wooden shovel, a rough-out for a handled bowl and a spoon that resembles a chisel. Now that the season’s fieldwork has come to an end the next part of work, the post-ex phase, begins.

Final recording of cuttings and samples at Killaderry Bog. Co. Galway.

A day of archaeology in the peatlands of Ireland

View Killaderry& Castlegar in a larger map

About me
As an archaeologist my work ranges widely from advising developers how to avoid impacts on archaeology and built heritage, to the preparation of the cultural heritage sections of environmental impact assessments, to the commissioning of field-based investigations such as geophysical survey and the traditional archaeological excavation. Part of my professional work involves overseeing the archaeological programme of Bord na Móna, where I act as Project Archaeologist. Bord na Móna is the commercial Semi-state body with responsibility for the development of the Irish national peat resource. Bord na Móna owns and manages more than 80,000 ha of land spread across Ireland. Most of this is peatland which has preserved a wealth of organic archaeological and palaeoenvironmental material. Once thought to be areas of wilderness we now know that the bogs were used by people for thousands of years.