Arkansas

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10816-012-9142-7  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.

 

Professional, Avocational and Public Involvement in Archaeology in Arkansas

This year’s “Day of Archaeology” finds me attempting to reorder my life just following the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Summer Training Program.

The Arkansas Archeological Society (AAS) was formed in 1960. It is open to anyone—from any walk of life—who is interested in archaeology.  This year I dug alongside retired school teachers, firemen, administrative assistants, college students, engineers, electricians, high school students, retired mill workers, social workers, research foresters, park interpreters (and park superintendents)  and college English instructors.  Many of these so-called avocationals have been doing archaeology for more years than me (some longer than I’ve been alive).  Two of our long time volunteers this year were 86 years old.  Anna Parks has been coming to the AAS “Summer Dig” since the 1970s, and Van Schmutz shoveled all day long in the hot sun despite his age.  Our youngest was 9 years old— Andy Colman who came with her mom, Carolyn, from Chicago, Illinois to learn about archaeology.

The 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse is ever present during our work at Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas.

Way back in 1964, a series of weekend excavations began under the direction of University of Arkansas Museum archaeologists and AAS members.  In the late 1960s the AAS was instrumental in lobbying my organization—the Arkansas Archeological Survey—into existence.  Thus the Survey and Society began partnering on digs by 1967.  By 1972, what had begun as a series of weekend events had expanded into a 16-day training program with excavations at various sites across the state.  Some have claimed that it’s the oldest and best program of its type in the country.

For the second year in a row I had the honor of directing the AAS Summer Dig at Historic Washington State Park in the southwestern portion of the state of Arkansas in the southern United States.  Between June 9 and June 24, 2012 over 100 volunteers and staff helped me investigate the site of an 1830s commercial district on what would have then been the edge of western expansion of the United States (Washington was a border town with first Mexico and then the Republic of Texas until Texas was annexed in the late 1840s).

The AAS has been doing archaeology in Historic Washington State Park since 1980, but these last two years have focused on the merchant district for which we have very few historical documents.  There are no known photographs and only a single map from 1926—long after fires in the 1870s and 1880s put an end to this vibrant business area.  Over the last two field seasons we have recovered the remains of at least 6 different buildings,  4-6 cellars and/or trash pits and tens of thousands of artifacts that will help us tell the story of this once important regional hub on the edge of the “cotton frontier.”

The archaeology was great, but I am always amazed at the layers of public archaeology going on at these events.  On one level we are teaching

the volunteers how to be archaeologists—not only through digging but also through a series of half-day seminars taught in two sessions throughout the dig.  This year we offered Basic Excavation (for first time attendees), Basic Laboratory Procedures, Site Survey, Mapping, Human Osteology, Indians of Arkansas, and Establishing Time (a class that helps volunteers understand dating techniques used by archaeologists).

On a second level of public archaeology, the volunteers and professionals on site then educate the general public about the value and methods of archaeology.  As we were excavating in an Arkansas State Park this year this was done constantly as we has many curious visitors every day.  Although I was “running the show” I rarely had to stop my work to help explain things to visitors as one of my colleagues and/or volunteers would quickly rush in to take over (and even demonstrate) what we were doing.

Of course, although the dig ended on June 24, there is still much to do.  In these days following the 2012 Summer Training Program I (and Carl Carlson-Drexler, my Research Station Assistant) have been moving equipment, organizing paperwork and field notes…Today I’m captioning the hundreds of digital photographs taken during the dig.  The two years of digging in the merchant district in Historic Washington State Park has produced more than twice the amount of artifacts than I recovered during my dissertation research (and I poked at that site for almost a decade!)…so I now have my work cut out for me…

More pictures from the 2012 AAS Summer Training Program can be found here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcbrandon/sets/72157630003963231/

Pictures from last year’s dig (2011) can be found here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcbrandon/sets/72157627004408646/

Find out more about the Arkansas Archeological Society at their website: http://arkarch.org/

 

You can read more about the AAS work at Historic Washington State Park at my Farther Along blog:

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/dirty-laundry-cloth-artifact-bags-in-arkansas/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/more-digging-for-history/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/preliminary-results-of-the-2011-aas-summer-training-program-at-historic-washington-arkansas/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/digging-for-history-the-arkansas-archeological-society-training-program-returns-to-the-town-of-washington-in-southwest-arkansas/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/spring-break-dig-on-block-6-in-historic-washington-arkansas/

 

I can iz archaeologizt?

Where were you on the Day of Archaeology, 2011? I’ve spent my day (so far) moderating posts for the Day of Archaeology and spreading word about the event on social media. I suspect the other members of the organising committee for #dayofarch are stuck with the same predicament. We’ve been amazed by the response to the day; it’s great fun to be involved in something with such a wide breadth of contributions and such international interest.

As much as I like the metablogging aspect of dedicating a post to a day of reading other posts, spending a day overindulging in coffee and chatting online I’m left thinking “So what is there to discuss?” And yet things like today are not that different than how I’ve spent some of my time in my last 3 years as the head of digital at L – P : Archaeology. The task of collecting and organising data from archaeological projects, excavations or otherwise, and getting that data into a format which is useful to archaeologists and the public is an overwhelming one. I’ve worked with commercial excavations in London (Prescot Street); with research projects abroad (Villa Magna); with community-driven archaeological projects (Thames Discovery Programme); with international collaborations (FastiOnline). In all of the above there’s been a focus on engaging people with the past, on opening information to a wider audience, and encouraging new voices in the discussion.

I finish up my 6 years at L – P this month, today in fact although courtesy of some unused annual leave I’ve had my last week off, to begin a programme of (yet further) study at Brown University in the autumn. We’ve recently finished up a new release (v1.0!) of the ARK open source archaeological database system. If you’ve not heard about it already, or if you’re interested in this much-improved latest release, you can check out our website. The team from Villa Magna are working toward a comprehensive digital publication for the site stratigraphic narrative which, paired with ARK, will help future researchers to use the data from our excavations to ask new questions. The Thames Discovery Programme finishes up a stream of Heritage Lottery funding this September, passing the project on to the local volunteers originally trained by the project. Working with the team at Day of Archaeology, contacts and friends from the last six years, to encourage online discussion and narrative about archaeology serves as a pretty apropos bookend to this digital work.

Based solely on impressions external to the discipline (and some particularly old-school archaeologists), ‘archaeologists’ are the people in the trench with mattocks and trowels, the sandal-wearing beardies and the tweed-jacketed academics, occupying a space somewhere between Indiana Jones and Time Team in the imaginations of the public. But the profession covers so much more ground than that, and there are so many other important skills needed to make a successful project or to get the story of archaeology to the public. The characterisations above are no more the only archaeologists than are heart surgeons the only doctors, or robins the only birds. Archaeology as a discipline encorporates aspects of classics and history, anthropology, chemistry, computer science, geography, forensics/medicine… The list is, truly, endless. This variety of interdisciplinary interests results in a variety of interdisciplinary professionals, a variety of interesting jobs and a variety of interesting personalities. It is maintaining and expanding this variety that is most at risk when we talk of the impact of the global recession on the archaeology in education and in practice. Let’s hope the content from today’s posts helps both to reinforce the importance in protecting and enhancing our unique skillsets and to celebrate the diversity of archaeological practice.

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?