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.

Pete Rauxloh: A Busy Day in Archaeological IT

05:40 Youngest child cannot sleep anymore too light, too hot, tells her father (who was asleep)

06:00-07:30 Start up children make breakfast, iron shirts, make breakfast, packed-lunches, and package them off to school.  Feed fish, rabbit, cat and washing machine in that order, make beds, shut windows lock back door pedal off to work

08:15 Arrive at work – strong westerly wind makes going tough – and so many of those Boris bikes to avoid!

08:30 – Check inbox and general helpdesk call queue down to 8, my queue – generally full of slower burn more tricky development tasks – sticks at a belligerent 12.

08:40 Tried to understand a change in Microsoft pricing structure for charities which would affect any new licence purchases we wished to make.

09:00 Passed on message to Rafel  – our engineer who works for the outsourced helpdesk team – from Jazz (my colleague in IT) that Jazz will be watching all 6’2″ of Maria Sharapova on court number 1 at Wimbledon today while we bake in the office.

Jazz’s day of archaeology

10:00 Finally nail the MS licensing issue.  We need to have more than 10% of our income from charitable donation to qualify for their special pricing, which while we don’t now we could do in a few years with the launch of the new MOLA charitable foundation about which I am very excited.  This could be a great resource and banner for so much of the community outreach, applied research, educational and capacity building ideas in UK and abroad which we need to get further into.

11.00 Short discussion re the new MOLA website.  We want to re-align our website to focus on the needs of our major clients so we can build revenue in this area and thereby have the financial momentum to keep the organisation healthy and to allow us to really get involved in those engaging, worthy and ultimately valuable activities such as research partnership project, volunteer inclusion programmes and community engagement, which are generally less lucrative. New website has to have a more user-friendly authoring interface and we need to understand our audience, their language how they’re likely to navigate our site. We then need to have that information architecture translated in to a web site design then get the thing built and tested. We have some short deadlines and I am suspicious of external consultants not being as frank as we need them to be about what we absolutely must do as opposed to what we could do. Am reminded of Paul Theroux who wrote in the Mosquito Coast about Amazonian Indians seeing a block of ice for the first time produced by a massive homemade fridge built by Harrison Ford, that ‘ any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,’ and worry that some consultants assume that the same is true of arcane knowledge, and hope that punters will pay for their advice because they don’t understand it. We need to be on our guard for half-naked emperors, people!

11.15 More responses received on familiarity with Office 2010 poll, conducted by email; looks like 1 in 5 people have never used it.  One commented it was rubbish and should be thrown out, but I pointed out he’d said the same things when we migrated from a Unix Word editor to our first Word for Windows in 1995.

11:20 My turn to make Rafel tea, into which 7 spoonfuls of sugar are shovelled; reminded of Jazz’s idea to deduct costs from monthly helpdesk payment to cover this wanton consumption; we’ll call it  a saccharine levy

Talk about a sweet tooth

11:30 Start manipulating a surface model of the City of London and the home boroughs interpolated from about three thousand modern spot heights.  Aiming to use this as an upper surface then interpolate beneath it a surface representing the top of natural (aka the bottom of archaeology). This is interpolated from archaeological and geological borehole data and the thousands of deposit survival forms, which are filled out at the end of excavations, recording the height at which geological layers were encountered. First results encouraging, notwithstanding concerns over identification of truncation (which would show geological deposits as being un-naturally deep) and I have a satisfactory wedge of cheese, which very roughly represents the layer of archaeological deposits overlying the two hills of the City.  Enthused and with the idea of Eskimos cutting out ice blocks from the surface of a lake in my head, I experiment with extruding building footprints downwards to represent the pieces of cheese (or ice) which have gone,  due to cutting of basements.  Having pleaded for a sample city building height data from a friendly supplier,  am able to extrude a small area of the city upwards, and render things so you can see the bit above and the bit below ground.  It’s all pretty vague of course, but it may do as a proof of concept for EH and archaeological advisors to have them contemplate the benefit of a decent basement data collection project.  Fingers crossed.

Layer of archaeological deposits overlying the two hills of the City

13:30-14:00  Helped Rafel  bring 16 new PCs and monitors up from the goods yard. As if by magic  Jamie turns up with a pallet truck which saves us using our cake-trolley, and I drag the lot through the middle of the office. Am greeted like Vespasian in Triumph entering Rome; everyone always wants a new PC.  Piled them up on the desk and had our photograph taken – sent to Jazz on number 1 court to show him how we suffer while he is enjoying himself (Maria was winning).

Hail the conquering heroes!

An update from our correspondent in the field

14:15 – Laura says it is 32 degrees in the office – we mumble about the cost of fans and electricity used to push the hot air about our un-air conditioned “air conditioned” offices

14:25 I eat three digestive biscuits and remember I’ve had no lunch again – it’s the heat!

14.30 15:15 Discuss with Sarah next week’s Geomatics seminar on one recent and one current mapping project.  These involved digitally stitching together scanned version of 16th and 18th century maps, georeferencing them, and the extracting a road and place network from them which were then given an identify by relating them spatially to an existing index which had been located on the individual scans. Phew, we wrote a blog about it too you can see it here

This picture is an example of how good a fit we were able to get between adjoining sheets of the 1746 Rocque map through cunning manipulation of the sheet scans to allow for the differential shrinkage and warping that map sheet experienced since they were made.

Fleet prison with a lovely horizontal seam going straight through it

And now… the seam is gone

The movie (linked below) shows a traverse of the street network of London c.1746 used during processing to check that the graph was truly connected, but it also has geo-social research applications interested in proximity, distribution and so forth.

Traverse of the street network of London c.1746

16:00 Fill out a change control form to inform IT and the outsourced helpdesk of a server re-boot I want to do tomorrow.  We have a problem with old GIS files that access data on an older server (which we want to decommission) hanging when that server is switched off, rather than failing gracefully by opening but without the unreachable layers. Purpose of shutdown is so I can log the TCP connections the old GIS file tries to make as it starts up.  This should help diagnose the problem.

16:15 Query Jamie on uncertainties regarding the modification wanted to the dendrochronological recording form on our central database. This one was around date ranges.  Do we need and if so which fields ought we to be using to record the date range of the tree? – i.e. acorn to death, the date range of the archaeological feature of which the timber is part, or the lifespan of the tree.  How to best record an estimate or actual lifespan if the entire record of rings is not present which it often isn’t.  Sometimes we can also identify timbers from the same tree (as possible amongst the massive Roman and Medieval oak waterfront  timbers recently excavated on a large site on the Thames foreshore), but how best to record? Appears to be a one to many situation but to avoid a horrible Cartesian product,  the likely SOP is that timbers from the same tree are mapped to that with the lowest context number; on the logic that the lowest one is more likely be the first discovered.

Timber structure on recent Thames foreshore site

16:45 Prepare screen shots for staff meeting, and recruit Steph and Nigel to enthuse about on-going vitality of our Facebook and Twitter streams. Much interest indicated following our discussion of the Shakespearian Curtain Theatre in Hackney. This was a major find and such a well-timed one. Named after the nearby Curtain Close, it was the main venue for Shakespeare’s plays between 1597 and 1599 until the Globe was completed in Southwark. Popular recent posts include other small wonders such as the discovery of a bricked-up collection of head-gear and other apparel during our work at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Curtain Theatre foundations (those knobbly things which make up a yard area are Sheep knuckle bones)

17:00 We say good bye to an old colleague who is retiring after 30 years work with MOLA.  Andrew was an old mentor of mine when I first arrived as a green student, in the then Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) 22 years ago. Having been used to excavations on the wide open spaces of Salisbury plain, I probably drove him mad with all my questions about how the DUA dig this complex urban stratigraphy, and how they understand what it is they have dug.  Getting my head around all the procedures that had been devised to allow accurate but also time-effective recording.  He was all over it and remained so.  A great archaeologist and friend, I will miss him.  Carol, our bubbly receptionist, does him proud with a wonderful homemade cake which she produces for all leavers – the woman is a diamond.

17:30  Intense discussion with training supplier on subject of Application Express, a data entry environment  for Oracle databases that’s totally web-based and would be a valuable tool in our tactic to move more data entry into the field to reduce double-handling of information. The big idea is to re-appraise the paper recording sheets used on site for various types of context (a valuable exercise on its own) and then from that look at what could be usefully recorded digitally.  Don’t want to record stuff digitally simply because we can, there has to be a purpose and a benefit.  That benefit should be in greater efficiency, but equally I want to ease some of the more mundane aspect of recording.  For example change a prompt requiring a discursive response, which analytically does not have great value, into a tick-box.  Want to do this as we need to get our archaeologists, especially the younger ones coming into the profession more engaged with the process of thinking what it all means.  We don’t want people just filling out checklists, we want them engaged, and enfranchised, and if we can give them more time to do that by streamlining the data collection then that will really help.

17:40-18.30  Have third and final cup of tea, update helpdesk call list with work done, restart the computer, turn off the screens and pedal for home.

Waterlogged Day, Waterlogged Wood….

My name is Anne Crone and I am a post-excavation project manager at AOC Archaeology Group, working in their Loanhead office in Scotland. I am currently managing a number of large post-excavation projects, the most important of which is the Cults Landscape Project – important to me because I also carried out the fieldwork in partnership with my colleague, Graeme Cavers, and because it has enabled me to ‘indulge’ many of my research interests, in crannogs, waterlogged wood and dendrochronology.


The Cults Loch crannog under excavation


The fieldwork project has involved the excavation of a number of sites in and around Cults Loch, a small kettlehole loch at Castle Kennedy, near Stranraer in south-west Scotland. The project arose out of the initiative of the Scottish Wetland Archaeology Programme, the aim of which was to more fully integrate wetland archaeology into more mainstream ‘dryland’ archaeology. So we selected a landscape in which the archaeological sites appear to cluster around the loch and within which there were two crannogs – these are man-made islands found only in Scotland and Ireland and which are repositories of all sorts of waterlogged organic goodies!  We have excavated one of the crannogs which sits on a little man-made promontory jutting out into the loch, the promontory fort that lies on the other side of the loch, overlooking the crannog, and one of the palisaded enclosures that lies on the grassland around the loch.

And now we are halfway through the post-excavation programme.  We know that this is a later prehistoric landscape because we have 1st millennium BC radiocarbon dates from the promontory fort and crannog. But more exciting – I have been able to dendro-date some of the oak timbers from the crannog and we now know that most of the building activity took place in the 2nd and 3rd decades of the 5th century BC, and that there was refurbishment of the causeway in 193 BC – for me these more specific dates bring the occupants more clearly into focus…

Today – well, it started off with a 3 mile walk to work – usually a great start when I can think through my schedule for the day – but today the heavens opened and I was soaked by the time I arrived at the office! After drying out I settled down at my desk to read the report on the soil micromorphology from the crannog which my colleague Lynne Roy has just finished. As project manager I need to edit and check each report before it is sent out to the client, in this case Historic Scotland, but as the archaeologist I also want to read it for the insights it will give me into the taphonomy of the deposits on the crannog. And it is really fascinating! We found large patches of laminated plant litter, interspersed with gravel and sand layers which we interpreted as floor coverings that had been repeatedly renewed. Lynne’s analysis has revealed that the occupants probably cleaned away as much as possible of the dirty floor coverings before scattering over a sand and gravel subfloor and then laying down fresh plant litter. She can tell which surfaces were exposed for a length of time while others were covered almost immediately. And her work on the hearth debris indicates that peat turves were probably the main form of fuel on the site.


Recording timbers in the warehouse


Like many archaeologists the majority of my time is spent at my desk, writing reports, editing reports, filling in/updating spreadsheets, and dealing with emails. So it is a pleasure to be able to don my lab coat and spend some time in our warehouse handling waterlogged wood. I am currently writing the report on the structural timbers from the crannog. The majority of the timbers were undressed logs or roundwood stakes, mostly of alder and oak, so most of the recording and sampling was done on the crannog. Samples for dendro and species identification were brought back to the lab but we only brought back complete timbers which displayed interesting carpentry details and were worthy of conservation. I have been completing the recording of these timbers and deciding which ones should be illustrated for the final report. There are some interesting timbers in the assemblage –large horizontal timbers with square mortises, presumably to take vertical posts, but what is the function of the horizontal timbers which have very narrow notches cut diagonally across them? Next week I will be off to the library to look for comparanda and to find explanations for some of the more unusual aspects of the assemblage

Read more about Cults Loch here