Of bubbles & badges: Yesnaby Art & Archaeology Research Project

Yesnaby Art & Archaeology Research Project

Fieldwork: 20–31 July 2015, Yesnaby, Orkney:

The Yesnaby Art & Archaeology Research Project (YAARP) is envisaged as a multi-year art and archaeology project, based in Orkney within the Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands. The project aims to investigate the landscape of Yesnaby, in the West Mainland of Orkney, as a means of developing our understanding and public awareness of this important but comparatively unknown archaeological landscape. 2015 is the first year of fieldwork and a combination of magnetic survey alongside visual arts practice is being undertaken. The core area of interest this year are the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age landscapes, comprising settlement, field systems, and other traces of human activity, in the area of the Peerie Hill on the south side of the valley.

YAARP was devised, and is led by, Dr James Moore and Rik Hammond. James is a lecturer at the Archaeology Institute University of the Highlands and Islands, whose main research interests are in landscape archaeology, geophysical and field survey, and later British Prehistory, principally in Atlantic Scotland. He is particularly interested in the integration of traditional survey techniques, phenomenological and experiential approaches, and artistic practice in recording, interpreting and presenting archaeological landscapes. Rik is a visual artist based in Orkney who works in a wide range of media – including drawing, video, digital/data-derived media and time-based interaction/intervention. Between 2011 and 2012, he was the Orkney World Heritage Site artist-in-residence and continues to work alongside archaeologists and other heritage professionals at sites in Orkney, such as the Ness of Brodgar, The Cairns excavations and The Orkney Museum. Rik and James began collaborating in 2011 and YAARP is the culmination of a development in their shared practice and research.

This year, the YAARP fieldwork team also includes: Emma Aitken, Christopher Gee, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Sorcha Kirker, Colin Mitchell, Julie Ritch and Holly Young – a mix of volunteers, undergraduate and post-graduate students and staff from the University of the Highlands and Islands.

On the Day of Archaeology 2015, Rik kept hand-written notes throughout the day:

6.30am: Alarm. Up to make a cup of tea, feed the cat and hens, and make a packed lunch. Forecast is for a fine day. Walking boots still a bit damp from yesterday’s wet weather, but newspaper scrunched-up inside overnight has helped. Check the YAARP Facebook page on the iPad whilst the kettle boils – 136 Likes. Take various batteries off charge and look inside the fridge to decide what to put in my buns. Banana for breakfast.


Banana for breakfast

YAARP DoA Diary 2

Preparing my packed lunch

7.00am: Make a cuppa for my partner and feed the cat (who didn’t get fed earlier and is now complaining). Put batteries in handheld Garmin GPSr, camera and video camera – and while I remember, rescue work trousers from the tumble dryer (they were also damp last night from yesterday’s rain). Finish getting dressed. Wearing much of the same clothes as yesterday – layers, ready for any weather (it is Orkney, despite being late July). Turn on GPSr (we’ve been tracking our movements all week during YAARP fieldwork, for use in developing visuals/maps etc.).

7.30am: Pack bags for the day. Two small rucksacks with packed lunch, flask, water bottles, cameras, sketchbook and pencils/pens, iPad, mini-tripod, waterproofs, hat, gloves, project paperwork, sunscreen and insect repellent – plus various bits and pieces like phone, penknife, whistle, torch, plasters etc. Oh, and three bubble making wands, our project badges (which have now arrived in the post) and a book on artists’ postcards… but more on those later.

7.45am: Head out and walk up to the top of the village (I live in St Margaret’s Hope on the island of South Ronaldsay, in Orkney) to meet fellow YAARP project team member Colin, who lives nearby and is driving us to Kirkwall where the Archaeology Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) is located.

YAARP DoA Diary 3

St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

YAARP DoA Diary 4

Crossing the Churchill Barriers on the way to Kirkwall

8.20am: Arrive Archaeology Institute at Orkney College UHI and meet the rest of the fieldwork team for today: UHI archaeology students Holly and Sorcha, and co-deviser and project director Dr James Moore (we also currently comprise Emma, Christopher, Sarah Jane and Julie, who aren’t with us today). Load the site van with project equipment (a Trimble paired global positioning system and two dual sensor Bartington Grad601-2 fluxgate gradiometers, laptop, tripod, field pegs, bamboo canes, ranging poles, plus project’s camera, GPSr and iPad) and our own kit. We head off to Yesnaby via a quick stop at the Kirkwall Co-Op.

Sorcha and Holly load the van with equipment

Sorcha and Holly load the van with equipment

Our transport, library and refuge from the weather for the day

Our transport, library and refuge from the weather for the day

9.20am: We pass our colleagues at the Ness of Brodgar archaeological excavations in Stenness and give them a wave, before opening our ‘Provocations & Interventions’ envelope for the day (a random envelope each day, containing a creative task or challenge for the team to consider, develop or complete – written by me and the contents unknown to the rest of the team). Today’s intervention is to site the location of our lunch break at least 500m away from where we ordinarily eat, in order to encourage us to break habit and experience the site from a different perspective.

Passing the Ness of Brodgar

Passing the Ness of Brodgar

The Ness of Brodgar excavations

The Ness of Brodgar excavations

YAARP Provocations & Interventions - a daily, random sealed envelope with a task

YAARP Provocations & Interventions

9.35am: Arrive on site in Yesnaby – through farm gate and up track to park up by the derelict farm of Roundadee (a few hundred metres west of the fields we are surveying and just north of Peerie Hill and Cringla Fiold, aka Kringlafiold). It’s a fine, warm day out in Yesnaby and the views are glorious – west to the Atlantic and the famous Yesnaby cliffs and east towards the top of the Stenness loch, Brodgar and the Orphir hills in the distance. It’s a welcome change to the intermittent heavy rain, wind and overcast skies of the last couple of days and the team are in a bright, positive mood. We all apply sunscreen and insect repellent – the abundant horse-flies have been hungry this week and aren’t likely to leave us alone today. Before carrying the surveying equipment to the field, I pass out our new YAARP badges (plus a few I had made following The Cairns archaeological excavations last month, where we’ve also all been) and we discuss the plans for today. After a few photographs, Holly, Sorcha and James remove their badges (unwillingly), as they’re working with the gradiometers and need to be non-magnetic, otherwise it’ll distort the data being collected. Colin volunteers to be on pegging-out duty – continuing to lay out plastic stakes in a grid pattern across the field – and has also brought along his own experimental, open-source GPS, to calibrate with the station point we’ve marked in the field. Sorcha and Holly are doing the magnetic surveying today. Sorcha hasn’t used a gradiometer before, so is given instruction on how by James. Holly has had her training (and has taken to geophysics like a duck to water), so sets off to continue work. I put up the camping chairs and set the video camera up on a tripod to film some of the movement around the field. I also take the opportunity to scribble down a few notes for this diary.

YAARP DoA Diary 10

The gate to Roundadee

The new  YAARP badge

The new YAARP badge

Sorcha & Holly excited to receive their badges

Sorcha & Holly excited to receive their badges

 11.00am: It’s 11am by the time we’re properly under-way today – a bit later than usual. We’re all scattered around the large field (Field ‘1’ – our geophysics project number is ‘595’) – so we have to shout to speak to one another and it’s a bit like a giant, loud game of ‘telephone’. I spend some time photographing everyone and listening to James instructing Sorcha on how to use her gradiometer (I should be having a go next week). Weather warm and fine. Horse-flies are feasting on us.

James instructing Sorcha in the use of a gradiometer

James instructing Sorcha in the use of a gradiometer

Sorcha & Holly conducting geophysics in Field 1

Field 1: Sorcha & Holly conducting geophysics – James & Colin in the distance

1.00pm: We break for lunch just before 1 and decide to eat in the field today (as it’s around 500m away from where we usually break by the van). During lunch Sorcha proposes we discuss her idea for a YAARP themed board-game (an idea which came from creative discussions the previous day around mapping, landscape interpretation, the history of Yesnaby, possible project postcards and heritage merchandising). James had also proposed we develop avatars or symbolic pictograms representing ourselves and this ties in with possible fictional board-game characters or superheroes. We come up with names for our alternate personae. I show Sorcha and Holly the book on artists’ postcards (we put together an idea yesterday for a YAARP one, using GPS tracks to create a map of the site, and including ourselves and named locations in the area). Most of our breaks have been group discussions about art and archaeology – where there’s cross-over and comparisons. Having a small, tight-knit fieldwork team has aided this. We watch James download the data from the gradiometers to the laptop, while he eats his sandwiches and we all have a look at the results via the Geoplot software. Colin shows us his home-made, kit form GPS and connects it up via Bluetooth to his smartphone and tablet, linking it into Google Earth and QGIS software. We talk about the comparisons between low-cost tech solutions, potentially suitable for community archaeology projects etc. and expensive, professional gear. He picks up a signal on his smartphone and checks the YAARP Facebook page where we have a message from a page follower who remembers the derelict farm Roundadee when it was inhabited. We learn about an outbuilding’s roof which was covered in toy doll’s heads! On the way back to the van – heading out to Skaill, beside Skara Brae, to use the public toilets – we glance over to the ruins of the outbuilding, now overgrown with thistles and nettles. Perhaps later…

The derelict farm of Roundadee

The derelict farm of Roundadee

Colin photographing his GPS set-up for the project Facebook page

Colin photographing his GPS set-up for the project Facebook page

2.30pm: We’re all back in the field by now (it takes a while to drive out to Skaill and back and due to the size of our team, follow the ‘if one person needs to go, we all go’ approach, for safety). Colin’s dutifully pulling out field pegs, in lines up and down the field, and Holly and Sorcha are determined to attempt to finish surveying the (rather large) field today. It’s all been about ‘lines’ today. I must bring in Tim Ingold’s book ‘Lines: A Brief History’ to add to the project library we have in the back of the site van (which includes Colin Renfrew’s ‘Figuring It Out: What Are We? Where Do We Come From? The Parallel Visions of Artists and Archaeologists’, ‘Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory’ by Lucy Lippard, Merlin Coverley’s ‘Psychogeography’, ‘Stone Worlds: Narratives and Reflexivity in Landscape Archaeology’ by Barbara Bender, Sue Hamilton and Christopher Tilley and ‘Counter-tourism: The Handbook’ by Crab Man (aka Phil Smith), amongst others). Despite not having much time in the field to read, the idea of the project library/reading list is to encourage discussions and further research by the team.

Field 1

Field 1

4.00pm: As it’s Friday, the end of our first week (and still sunny and warm), I bring out the bubble-making wands. James has a go (despite naming himself ‘The Beard’ in our alternate persona project, we begin to call him ‘Bubble Boy’) before we get Colin up from the bottom of the field to help fill the air around Holly and Sorcha with bubbles as they continue to survey with the gradiometers. It’s slightly surreal, but great fun – the idea being to get some photographs with the landscape around us altered in some way. We all agree that we need more and bigger bubbles in the future (e.g. the huge white bubble in the 60s TV series The Prisoner)! Sorcha finishes her work and joins in with the bubble making – and for a moment we witness an interesting psychogeographic moment where Holly is continuing to walk around following the strict grid pattern (at a steady, controlled pace) as she surveys with her gradiometer… combined with Sorcha, drifting about, lost in bubbles – with no idea where she is going or where she is. It’s still and almost silent up in the field beside Peerie Hill. The only sounds are the birds, the odd moo and bleet from livestock nearby and our laughing.



Holly & Sorcha - with bubbles

Holly & Sorcha – with bubbles

Colin & James - with bubbles

Colin & James – with bubbles

Sorcha drifting with bubbles - Holly surveying

Sorcha drifting with bubbles – Holly surveying

5.30pm: It’s probably gone 5 by the time we leave site and head back to Orkney College UHI to unpack the van and head our different ways home. James and I are meeting up tonight, with our partners, for a regular tabletop gaming session (maybe one day we’ll be play-testing a YAARP board-game). Until Monday…

Geoplot data of Field 1 (24 July 2015)

Geoplot data of Field 1 (24 July 2015)


The Cave of the Hundred Mammoths

Mammoth rock art from the Rouffignac cave, France from the Bradshaw Foundation archive

Mammoth rock art from the Rouffignac cave, France from the Bradshaw Foundation archive

Today we are in the office preparing a new section on the Upper Palaeolithic cave art of Rouffignac in the French Dordogne, with its 100 beautiful mammoths and other animal depictions.

Having visited the cave last year, I am now in front of the Mac with my Art and Design Director Ben Dickins, finalising the text and editing some amazing images from the artists of our Palaeolithic past.

The cave contains over 250 engravings and cave drawings, but we want to get across the cave experience: it’s vast and deep, and would have taken the original artists 45 minutes to walk to the end in flickering torch light, where they created a superb panel of art on the ceiling of the End Chamber.

To be in the cave is a special and humbling experience; it is a liminal moment that transcends time, and this is what we are trying to capture!

This is a typical day for us as we continue to document the prehistoric cave paintings and petroglyphs which we make available to all on our site Bradshaw Foundation online archive

The Day of Archaeology 2015 is a fantastic idea; it allows us to see what our colleagues are up to around the world, and discover things we might have missed.

Back to my desk, coffee and mammoths. Have a great day!

Peter Robinson
Editor, Bradshaw Foundation


Adventures in Digital Archaeology & Open Access Antiquarianism

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

It’s funny how quickly time passes while studying time.

Two years ago, this weekend was spent with a laser scanner at the beach.

I’d finagled a mini-grant from the National Science Foundation for a project I like to call Sandcastles for Science, but whose full un-pronouncable name identified it as a project to test out laser scanning capabilities for handling the imaging resolutions of stratigraphic sediment on archaeological sites (see– even that was a mouthful).

As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, the beach was the nearest easy access place to play in the dirt and provided a perfect venue to open up the experiment to local kids and un-suspecting beach-goers who accidentally volunteered themselves for mini-science bootcamp. Willing audiences who would build me data castles, while my research assistant and I exposed them to archaeology, beach physics, the history of castles, laser scanning, sea-shell collecting, and all the other educational topics we could cram into our construction schpeals and posterboards. I like archaeological education outreach, so sue me. It gets written into almost every one of my projects somehow.

Sandcastles for Science was ultimately prep-work for a two month field season in Jordan, laser scanning sites in Faynan (and yes, even scanning Petra for one glorious day), as well as for a lovely bit of software development on visualizing temporal sequences in point clouds with one of my fabulous computer science colleagues.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

Last year, this weekend was spent in a frenzy of data digging and labwork

My team needed to pull together presentations for Italian officials to approve the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology’s upcoming field season at Palazzo Vecchio and the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, and a bevy of lovely sites in southern Italy with a team from the University of Calabria.

So it was a weekend slogging through back-data of point clouds from the Hall of the 500 in Palazzo Vecchio, emphasizing the layered multi-spectral imaging into the model, and how it definitely showed the cracks conservators needed to track to create preservation solutions, and how it maybe had a hidden Da Vinci lurking behind one of its walls. It was a weekend of lists for the upcoming season, of site logistics, and Italian language lessons (team lessons with an instructor +  DuoLingo = a surprising amount of success once we hit Italy for the two month madcap field season that was my fall of 2013).

And if you’d like to check out more pics and details of my wonderful and ridiculous work for a once-promising academic something, scope out my scrapbook blog Adventures in Digital Archaeology.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

But this year, this year was spent online- in a flurry of creative archaeological energy

This summer, I find myself graduated and out on my own, free to pursue my own projects, safely away from the boundary lines of academia and the rather unhealthy environment I had found myself in for a big chunk of this year.

Pulling ourselves back together, my favorite research colleague Vid and I cooked up a delightful dish that brings together all the digital archaeology flavors we’d been prepping before, but as part of a much grander and more colorful feast.

And so this weekend was spent running down the final lists of photographs, video media, and writing that needed to coalesce together into the FIRST archaeological technology driven Kickstarter.

Mushing together the laser scanning, point clouds, 3D models, and 3D printing,our project, Open Access Antiquarianism, proposes the construction of art exhibit built from re-purposed cultural heritage data using the digital visualization pipelines my colleague and I have been building to handle archaeological data.

A blend of 3D printed archaeological artifacts, furniture upholstered in fabric printed with archaeological LiDAR (literal armchair archaeology), interactive point cloud visualizations and other such extravagant re-workings of scientific data from open archives, the Cabinet of Curiosities Open Access Antiquarianism proposes offers an excellent opportunity to continue streamlining the point cloud and 3D modelling methodologies we’d been playing with for so long, while reaching a much much larger audience.

Because the larger global community needs to be engaged in the increasingly complicated discussions regarding ethical implementations of digitization and open access of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The public (and archaeologists themselves) need to understand the desperate desperate need for interdisciplinary and collaborative work and move away from the academic politics and needless power-plays that constantly bog such wonderful creative enterprises down. Archaeologists need to work more closely with technologists and engineers to develop useful and adaptable systems that preserve the past for the future (and often simultaneously end up building the surveying systems needed for the space-age future we all envision).

And the public needs to be aware of the wealth of data that is available to them in the increasingly larger and more wonderful online archives of museums and government institutions all over the world. The past has the potential to become increasingly and excitingly ubiquitous and something that plays a much stronger role in one’s everyday conception of time and space. It’s getting all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and the doctors of archaeology ought to be actively on the hunt for more and more Companions. Studying the past is no longer something that need be done by experts alone. In fact, we are drowning under such an avalanche of data, that it is imperative that more crowd-sourced archaeological ventures be launched to bear the brunt of analyzing everything that is already stacked up in the university basements of the world, let alone the incoming finds. Archaeologists can stay experts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk to the public and engage them more actively in what we’re up to. Enthusiasm should count more than correct use of erudite jargon. Even to those hipster archaeologists out there.

In some small artistic way, the Open Access Antiquarianism project would like to address all of these things, while expanding the research and technological collaborative possibilities to continue refining the much needed digital pipeline that takes things from the field through processing, archiving, studying, and out to engagement.

My collaborative and interdisciplinary digital archaeology and outreach isn’t the traditional archaeology. But its my archaeology. And more than that, its an archaeological practice of hope. Hope that archaeology will fully embrace the increasingly digitized and interdisciplinary future. Hope that archaeology will not fall prey to over-specialization and tenure. Hope that archaeologists will continue to try to document and in some small way understand the past, so that we can help make vital statistically based decisions for the future. Archaeology has such potential to aid technology development and global ecological policy, if only us archaeologists would reach out and grasp it instead of assuming it will fall into our laps.

If you’re intrigued/dismayed/excited/furious/amused or any one of the wonderful and ridiculous emotions human beings are capable of, please check out Open Access Antiquarianism on kickstarter and on Facebook.  We’d love your support, and if you love our concepts about tech development, archaeology, and art as a research and outreach driver, perhaps your collaboration as well. Get in touch!

To the erudite young men and women a-sitting on a-tell: may your trowels be ever muddy and your point clouds free of shadows.

Acres and acres of happy wishes to all the archaeologists of the world,

Ashley M. Richter

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we've designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we’ve designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.