Geography

The other side of the viva! And working on the Silk Roads

My day started early, checking over my notes for a PhD viva I was examining this morning here at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

I don’t need to go into much detail of the experience as the candidate has already posted his experience of the process below (see James Doeser’s post “Pass – no corrections!”). It was an interesting thesis, and as James said, we had a lively discussion about the data gathered, the approaches and the outcomes. Sadly we failed to live up to his pre-viva fears that it could be “At worst … an aggressive demolition of a new researcher by two senior academics with egos and reputations to protect.” Damn – will try harder next time!

Now I’m back in the office working on a thematic study of the Silk Roads for ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments & Sites). It is a broad survey of the evidence for the Silk Roads between Asia and Europe through Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent. The aim of the study is to provide a platform to help the countries along the routes to develop a strategy for protecting, conserving and communicating this rich archaeology. In part it is hoped it will lead to multi-country nominations of sites (small as well as big) for the UNESCO World Heritage List, but mainly it is about sharing knowledge and experience amongst the countries. My role is to pull together existing information and synthesis this into a broad understanding of the routes and their impacts (great cities, the spread of religions, ideas and technologies, etc) – and the scale of diversity, change and adaption along the routes. It is a massive job (and a lot bigger than I’d planned it to be when I took the study on – but that is the fun of research, it takes you further and pushes you into new areas). The database behind the project has been assembled in a computer-based Geographic Information System (GIS), with a variety of maps, chronologies and information about places and empires. This will be distributed amongst the archaeologists working along the routes, but we also plan to make a lot of it available on the internet to everyone through Google Earth. I have a deadline for the draft report of the end of next week – so I need to get back to it!

However, some of the rest of my day will be spent organising things for an excavation, survey and site management project I run at Ancient Merv, in Turkmenistan (Central Asia). This is a long-running project on one of the great Silk Roads cities – in the 10th century CE Merv was perhaps the third largest city in the world! Today it is a World Heritage Site and managed by the Turkmenistan Ministry of Culture, who are our partners on the project. I’ll post up some info on the planning later today.

Tim Williams

Senior Lecturer, Institute of Archaeology, UCL

 

RCAHMS – Historic Land-use Assessment

The Historic Land-use Assessment (HLA) is a joint project between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland. It is an analysis of the present landscape, recording the visible traces of past land-use across Scotland, and presenting it as a digital map. The Scottish landscape is not, and has never been, static and has been managed, exploited and altered by past human activity over a long period of time. Evidence of some of this activity can still be traced on the ground today, though it is not always obvious to the untrained eye. HLA, therefore, aims to draw out this evidence from the present landscape and to provide a glimpse of the depth of time concealed within our landscape and immediate surroundings.

Paper and digital maps form the basis of the interpretation process and we consult a wide variety of materials to determine how the landscape has changed over time. The types of sources that we use include Ordnance Survey mapping, both current and historic, aerial photography, information from RCAHMS collections available through Canmore and any relevant written documentation. This information is used to determine the predominant current land-use of each part of the landscape and if there is any visible evidence for past land-use. In order to present this data, every part of the country has an Historic Land-use Type (the current land-use), of which there is a choice of 60, and up to three Relict Land-use types, of which there are 70. Each type is characterised by its period of origin, as well as its form and function. This data is collated, digitised and edited, and then made available via the HLA mapping website. Here a digital map of the data generated by the project can be viewed. The website also contains a number of supporting documents should anyone want to find out more about the project.

 HLA Officers Chris Nelson and Kirsty Millican at work. Kirsty is currently working on editing maps from Dumfriesshire, while Chris is busy interpreting the Lanarkshire area specifically Abington and Crawford.

 

 

Currently around 71% of the country is available to view and another 5%, the Galloway area, has been made available specially for Day of Archaeology!  We work by council area: Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire are ongoing at the moment, work will then move into the Scottish borders, Angus, Perthshire, Argyll, Invernesshire, Skye and finally finishing in Orkney.

Ultimately, the HLA project provides a valuable tool for interpreting and understanding the landscape. It helps us understand the historic dimension of the landscape, from traces of prehistoric settlement and agriculture to the more recent effects of intensive agriculture and industry. This historic landscape holds evidence of the distant past inaccessible to any other means of research and gives voice to aspects of life that do not usually figure in written history. This makes it invaluable as a resource for learning and education.

A day in the life of an Irish Managing Director / Archaeologist

My name is Colm Moloney and I am the Managing Director of Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd. We are one of the larger commercial archaeological companies operating in Ireland.

 

The office of Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd on Little Island in County Cork

In my working life Fridays tend to be meeting heavy but in July that all changes as the holiday season hits. This Friday (Day of Archaeology) I have a fine balance of some interesting archaeology and quite a lot of commercial activity. Here it is warts n’ all!

 

I started my day off at 8am in the office in Little island, County Cork preparing a news article for Seanda, the annual archaeology magazine of the Irish National Roads Authority. This summarises a group of 6 corn drying kilns from an amazing Early Christian site in County Tipperary.

 

At 10am I met with the Business Support Manager to have a look at the mail and discuss the forthcoming week and programming of work. Great news – we won tenders for three fieldwork projects!

 

Lunch is postponed as the archive for a site I will be writing up over the next year arrives at the office and needs to be stored away carefully. One box contains a complete and intact prehistoric pot. The most amazing things go through this office!

 

A complete and intact Bronze Age pot delivered to the office today

Next it was straight into an end of month financial review with the accountant and other directors. This involves checking that we have hit our financial targets for the month and then going through our forecasting for finance for the next 12 months. Once the forecasting is complete we meet with the sales team to discuss targets and what work we need to get in to keep the business going steady. While this may seem mundane and boring it is by far the most important part of my job particularly in the midst of a recession.

 

After lunch is spent working on the Bronze Age chapter for a monograph that we are writing on the archaeology of the N7 Nenagh to Limerick Road scheme for the National Roads Authority. Today I was producing a distribution map of Bronze Age settlements between Limerick city and Nenagh in County Tipperary – I love this part of my job!

 

This afternoon I have a strategy meeting for our new business – Know Thy Place Ltd. We started this in response to the recession and it is really starting to gather momentum. We are now looking at pushing the service in the USA and todays meeting will focus on how best to achieve this.  I have to admit this is all very exciting and it is great to be doing something positive to fight the recession.

 

My final tasks of the day involve reviewing the illustrations for an article I have written for the Tipperary County Journal with our Graphics Manager and making a start on a blog post for Know Thy Place on a family of troglodytes who lived in my home town of Midleton, County Cork during the early medieval period.

 

That was my day, I hope you enjoyed it!

Checking in on students

On the way back from the osteopathy clinic, I checked up on the 3 students that are just finishing  their 4-week placement course in the Egypt Centre — Swansea University’s museum of Egyptian antiquities. This is a brand new module, only open to students who passed our Introduction to Egyptian Archaeology module last year. They earn 20-credits towards level 3, and see what it is like to really work in a museum. It’s proven to be more work for me than expected, but once we get the bugs out it will run more smoothly. Next group starts end of August. Now, back to organising our digital heritage group!

Morning in Scotland

After a day of scorching sun, followed by a day of damp rain, we now wake to a day of white cloud.   perfect!

The Rampart Scotland fieldschool is into day 4.

18 folk from around the world, Canada, USA, Australia, Manchester , and local volunteers are working on the  iron age fort of Whitecastle in the foothills of the Lammermuirs in South East Scotland.

White Castle View

White Castle View

Off to site now, and some survey, erosion checking and digging…   I will keep you up to date.   But first off, I need to finish my coffee  and check my emails.   You see, I also run BAJR.   !    but that is another story. 

 

 

 

Archaeology + spatial geekery = archaeogeomancy

Survey at Stonehenge

Survey at Stonehenge

A few words of intro before the full and glorious meat of archaeological computery geekery that will ensue through the day. My name is Paul Cripps and I am the Geomatics Manager at Wessex Archaeology. The title of this post comes from my blog, Archaeogeomancy, where I usually talk about things I’m doing, researching or otherwise interested in, focussing on archaeological geomatics. Bit of a play on words there (as described here) based around the term geomatics. Many people ask me what is geomatics and I generally quote verbatim the rather good wikipedia entry:

Geomatics (also known as geospatial technology or geomatic engineering) is the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information, or spatially referenced information.

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