Landscape archaeology

Landscape archaeology and reproducible research at the 2017 Berlin Summer School

For this year’s Day of Archaeology, I’m writing about what I was up to the week before. This is because on the actual Day of Archaeology I am quietly working alone on my computer to prepare a lecture for undergraduates, write some text into a few publication drafts, and send/receive a bunch of emails. Not very exciting to look at and much less fun than what I was doing last week. Last week, I was at the 2017 Summer School on Reproducible Research in Landscape Archaeology at the Freie Universität Berlin (17-21 July), funded and jointly organized by Exc264 TopoiCRC1266, and ISAAKiel. With a group of 16 archaeologists and geographers from Berlin, Kiel and Cologne, we spent the week learning how to make our research more reproducible, and learning advanced geostatistics.

A Day at the Brodsworth Project 2015

A short introduction

The Brodsworth Project is a landscape archaeology project that focuses on the parish of Brodsworth and the seven parishes which surround it. The extensive land in this area has not been widely developed, nor has it been damaged by the quarrying or coal mining activities which have been widespread in South Yorkshire. The project began in 2001 when Colin Merrony of the University of Sheffield identified it as one of the few locations in South Yorkshire untouched by heavy industry. The University of Hull began working with the project in 2004, and alongside Sheffield developed the project more widely into an annual fieldschool, training undergraduates and engaging the local community. Elmet Archaeological Services Ltd, having formed during one such fieldschool in 2009 began hosting Elmet@Brodsworth in 2011. This extended the fieldschool to a six week period with the first two weeks providing access and training to community participants.

A range of archaeological work has been carried out in the area showing a potentially continuous human/landscape interaction from the prehistoric period, right through to the present day. This makes it both an ideal research area and site for a teaching fieldschool.

Brod 12 Bilham Grange

The main aims of the project are to investigate the settlement patterns of the area, including the transition between the prehistoric and Romano-British periods, as well looking into the origins of the Medieval villages in the area. The project also studies the development of the landscapes surrounding Brodsworth, Cusworth, Hickleton, Hooton Pagnall and High Melton which had a significant effect on the landscape and its inhabitants. The project utilises a range of archaeological techniques, including excavation, geophysics and other survey methods, fieldwalking and post-excavation processing. In addition to university students from Hull, Sheffield and Cardiff universities, local school children, communities, archaeological societies and many other groups have been involved in the Brodsworth Project.

Elmet’s role from 2011 has been to provide archaeological training to as many people as possible, including students on the part time University of Hull BA programme, and groups such as the Oaks group and WEA Digability groups.


At Elmet we work closely with communities to help them explore archaeology through project work and engagement activities, exploring a wide range of archaeological sites, time periods and themes. We provide both social and academic training and education for everyone within the community through the use of educational and recreational archaeological and historical studies. We believe in the ability of archaeology, history and heritage to act as major catalysts in social cohesion and as a vehicle to impart skills and experiences which are worthwhile in the modern world.

We have worked at various sites within the Brodsworth Project study area in past years, including prehistoric enclosures and burials at Bilham and Marr and a prisoner of war camp in the grounds of Hickleton Hall. This year we were working very close to the site of Brodworth Hall itself.

The 2015 season

This year we are looking at a field to the south of Brodsworth Hall, identified as potentially containing prehistoric field systems. Earlier in the week we marked out a grid of 20m x 20m squares covering 1.6 hectares and carried out a resistivity survey across the site. The results of this survey identified areas of interest, which then became the basis for a targeted test pitting strategy using 1m x 1m test pits. This resistivity survey will be continued throughout the fieldschool.

Brod 15 Geophys

The whole of the study area is demarcated into identifiable areas, each area having a code to distinguish them. Our location had previously had 3 test pits nearby, therefore we began our numbering at Test pit 4 which was placed to investigate an area of high resistance in grid square A2. Test pit 5 was located on area of very high resistance on the boundary between A3 and A4. Test pit 6 were located to examine linear features running through the boundary between A4 and A5 and finally test pit 7 was sited at a larger area of high resistance. Work on the test pits has been carried out throughout the week, and they were at varying stages of both excavation and recording by the time we reached the Day of Archaeology.

Our Day of Archaeology

The day started with people dividing into teams to work on each test pit.

Test pit 4 had begun to uncover a layer of intermixed limestone the previous day, which now needed removing to uncover what we suspected would be the natural limestone bedrock as seen in other test pits on the site. Russ and Jo volunteered to jump in and have a go!

Brod 15 Russ Test Pit 4   Brod 15 Jo Test Pit 4

Test pit 5 was ready to be drawn, having been photographed the day before. As the test pits were 1m x 1m it was a perfect chance to teach everyone how to draw a wraparound section. After being shown how to put the drawing together, as well as drawing techniques and conventions needed, Harvey and Wayne quickly started taking measurements and translating them into a detailed section drawing. These drawings form an essential part of our record of the site.

Harvey contexts Test Pit 6   Harvey Wayne and Phil drawing Test Pit 5

Test pit 6 needed cleaning back using trowels and brushes on the limestone natural before it could be photographed and drawn. Martin and Helen volunteered, and the test pit was ready for photographing before break. We quickly discovered that everyone on site was too short to get a good plan shot of the test pit, but luckily, Bronwen didn’t mind getting a piggy back so we could get a good photo! This was a great help as the aerial photo ladders were back at base.

Bronwen and MArtin photograph Test Pit 6

Bronwen was also busy in test pit 7, cleaning back another clay and limestone context with the help of Jake (who Bronwen likes to call Ryan 2). This was so that once it had been cleared, we could determine what to do next in the test pit. To the joy of both our volunteers on test pit 7, it all needed mattocking out!

Jake Test Pit 7   Bronwen Test Pit 7

Lunchtime brought the much loved tradition of fish and chip Friday, and there was much rejoicing!

fish and chips

Fuelled on copious amounts of chips and tea, in the afternoon everyone learnt how to use an auto set, or dumpy level. We use this to record the height of features and section lines relative to Ordnance Datum levels in order to give our drawings more accurate location and scale information, creating a 3D aspect to an otherwise 2D recording technique.


After photographing in the morning, test pit 6 was ready for drawing. Martin and Helen got started on the second wrap around section of the day, setting it up and starting to record points.

Martin and Helen draw Test Pit 6

Over in test pit 5, Harvey and Wayne were finishing up their drawing of the sections, and were now able to add in a level point for their string line, completing the record. Once this section drawing is complete, we will be able to draw a plan section using the offset method to record the base of the test pit, as well as more level points, resulting in a more complete record of the excavation and results found in the test pit.

Harvey and Wayne draw Test Pit 5

Back at test pit 4, the limestone and clay context had been cleaned back, enabling us to decide what to do next. From the way that this context appears in multiple test pits across site, the red clay which runs closely in between the limestone, as well as how the size of the limestone pieces increases the closer they get to the centre of the paleo channel that runs through the site, we think it could possibly be the remnants of glacial till, which would be swept along and left behind by the movement of a glacier.

Russ cleaning Test Pit 4

At the end of the day we narrowly missed the rain which swept across South Yorkshire shortly after we put our fences back up and carted all of our equipment back to base. We hope that everyone had as good a day of archaeology as we did, especially Bronwyn below with her happy archaeology face!

If you would like to read more about the Brodsworth Project 2015, you can read updates on our blog here, and take a look at the University of Sheffield and University of Hull project pages.


End of the day

The many researchers of the GeoSatReSeArch Lab: high tech archaeology!

For the last year (and for the next three weeks), I have been working with a team of archaeologists and scientists from related disciplines at the Laboratory of Geophysical – Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeo-environment (GeoSatReSeArch Lab), at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, in Rethymno on Crete. The lab and the IMS are part of the Greek research foundation, FORTH. The IMS is the only FORTH centre which deals with the humanities and social sciences. The other Institutes based at Heraklion, Patras and Ioannina, cover the fields of computer science and the natural and biomedical sciences. The specific purpose of IMS is to support and invigorate research in the field of the human and social sciences, as well as to promote the application of advanced technologies in the field.

In that respect, the Lab conducts its own research,  but also participates in collaborations with the Ephorate (the Greek State Archaeology service), Universities, Foreign Schools and many others. A key aspect of our work is showcasing the potential of high-tech methodologies in archaeology, and we do a lot of teaching and outreach work alongside the frontline scientific research.

After a year working here, I thought it would be interesting to make my ‘Day of Archaeology’ post about the whole lab, not just me, to give you all an idea of the diversity of the work we do and the projects we are involved in.

Conducting Archaeological Geophysics:

Kelsey Lowe- PostDoc Researcher

Kelsey and her data

Kelsey and her data

“While fieldwork generally beckons most of us this time of year, or at least myself, I find that today I am sitting comfortably at my desk processing geophysical data from a Middle Bronze Age site in Cyprus. As part of my current position at IMS, having the chance to work along other Mediterranean experts has provided a very unique experience, especially in regards to archaeological and geophysical interpretation of Bronze Age landscapes. Oh look, what do we have here?!? Architecture! Happy Processing!”

Abir Jrad- PostDoc Researcher

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

“Hello, I am Abir, I am not an archaeologist, but a geophysicist who has the pleasure to work with archaeologists  searching for buried archaeological features using geophysical methods. Today I will continue the processing of the data acquired in the last field work on the archaeological site of Kenchreai, in Greece! We combined several geophysical methods to prospect the studied area. As usual the main method was the gradiometry with the Sensys instrument. The gradiometry and also the electromagnetic acquisition show an anomaly with high magnetic gradient intensity and also a high magnetic susceptibility. In the location of this potential archaeological anomaly, we did a hand coring, to collect samples on a vertical profile. The samples collected were analyzed using the Bartington susceptibility meter in the Lab, which allowed us to measure the magnetic susceptibility at different frequencies. The correlation between the field geophysical data and the laboratory analysis will allow me to realize a constraint modelling for the suspected anomaly!

Carmen Cuenca-Garcia – PostDoc Researcher

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

“Hi there, this is Carmen reporting from her desk on Day A (see photo). Figure 1 above encapsulates today’s work, which is… more reporting. In this case, I am writing up the results of analyses of soil samples collected at several Neolithic tell-sites (or magoulas as they are called here in Greece). Before the soil sampling sampling, we surveyed the magoulas using a range of geophysical techniques during several fieldwork campaigns and got fantastic results. We analysed the soil samples using magnetic susceptibility and phosphate analysis, then we correlated the results with those from the geophysical surveys. This type of integrated analysis is extremely interesting and informative for archaeological prospection but it also involves lots of intense work: dealing with many and diverse types of datasets, stats, cross referencing many graphs, tables… which may be a wee bit tough to deal with when you are in a celebratory mood like today ☺ Such analysis also require lots of collaborative work and I particularly enjoy the enthusiastic chats I have with my colleague Abir Jrad, who is working with me on the correlations. Part A in Figure 1 shows a view of how you would find me if you pop into my office right now and part B is where I would rather like to be… outside, fieldworking and enjoying the anticipation of tasting the delicious and well-deserved Thessalian food after a days work on the top of a magoula!”

Teaching and Training Activities:

Kayt Armstrong (me!) – PostDoc researcher

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

“My day-to-day job at the lab is as the GIS officer for a project looking at the dynamics of settlement on Crete in the Early Byzantine period (roughly the 4th-9th centuries AD). Part of the goals of that project are to further the use of GIS, aerial prospection and other high-tech methodologies in Greece. As a result, I have two interns working with me at the moment, from the Archaeology programme at the University of Crete. They are making important contributions to the project, and in exchange learning database skills, GIS methods and how to survey using the latest RTK GPS equipment. Today they are testing some user manuals I have made for the team, so that the amazing high tech kit can continue to be used after I have left in August. My job isn’t just to bring in these skills to the project, but to train local archaeologists, students and researchers in them, so that they are taken up more widely in the profession. Pay it forward!”

Developing Prospection Methods and Equipment:

Apostolos Sarris- lab Director, Ian Moffat – Post Doc Researcher and Beatrice Giuzio- engineering student intern

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

“We  spent the day testing electromagnetic induction (EMI) instruments on the beach near Episkopi on the north coast of Crete.  EMI is a geophysical technique that is frequently used in archaeology to measure the conductivity and magnetic susceptibility of the soil to find archaeological sites and map the geology that contains them.  Despite the usefulness of this method, recent research has shown that EMI instruments are prone to drifting, that is that their data values change during the course of a day even when sitting in the same location.  To determine if this drift exists for the EMI instruments used at IMS we set them up near the beach and collected data continuously in the same location for 7 hours while monitoring changes in temperature.  This experiment showed two clear findings: 1) that the adjacent taverna has excellent seafood dishes, and 2) that the EMI instruments drift in ways that are not correlated to temperature change.  These findings suggest that much more research to understand drift is required, particularly when using EMI to map archaeological sites that are difficult to map with this method, such as those without extensive metal in the subsurface.”

Aerial Prospection and Photogrammetry:

Gianluca Cantoro- PostDoc Researcher

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

“My name is Gianluca and I am an aerial archaeologist and photo-interpreter. My job consists in looking into photographic archives in search for aerial images where archaeological traces can be identified. In combination with historical photographs study, I also undertake aerial survey myself with Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS or simply drones) or ultralight high-wing aircraft (usually something like a Cessna 172) over specific areas.

In the photo, I’m just back from one of these archaeological aerial surveys and I am sorting the pictures I took during the flight. You can see a map with notes I had in the plane, my ideal flight path and areas of interests, my pilot-flight kneeboards and my camera.

Once images have been synchronized with the GPS logger (so that each photograph holds the GPS location in the EXIF tags), they are entered in a digital database and then photogrammetrically processed, to obtain orthophotos and 3D models of the photographed areas (or potential “unknown” archaeological sites). A part of my work at the IMS I have developed software to make these tasks easier, which is free to use and downloadable here. ”

Augmented and Virtual Reality for Cultural Heritage:

Lemonia Argyriou- software engineer

Testing the Augmented Reality application

Testing the Augmented Reality application

“Working in Rethymno, Crete during summer … it’s  burning hot outside (34 degrees) and I’m finalising an Augmented Reality android educational app for Cultural Heritage.

At least things have become easier the last years after the release of the Unity3D, an extremely powerful and easy to use game platform. By the use also of AR APIs (such as Vuforia or Meteo), text, images and also small objects can be tracked and allow the triggering and presentation of 3D models along with 3D text and voice-over explanations. This leads to a more informative and immersive experience that could easily enhance the level of quality and edutainment in cultural heritage education.

The application I’m working on at the moment is accompanied by a printed map of Crete, displaying aerial photos of the most attractive ancient monuments on the island. By using an android mobile device and hovering over the location of a monument on the map, the relevant 3D model of the monument appears on the screen and can be observed from any side simply by moving closer or tilting the device. There is also a UI that allows the user to listen to the historical information of the specific monument in their preferred language (Greek or English), learning about their story of preservation and their role in the past.

That’s all by now…the beach is calling me 🙂 Day Of(f) Archaeology!”

Nikos Papadopoulos Jr – software engineer

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

“Hello there,  and many greetings from Rethymno, Crete. Although the day is suitable for going to the beach, I’m working in the lab developing a cultural heritage virtual navigation application for Koule Castle (Iraklion, Crete) based on natural human interaction. The specific application can capture simple user gestures, like steady walking or torso rotation and lean, with the use of a Microsoft Kinect sensor. The gestures are used for navigating in the virtual space of Koules castle offering the user a more immersive cultural experience. All of this this happens thanks to the Unity3D game platform and of course lots of coffee (sorry…programming). Time for some raki now :-)”

And lots more besides:

Quite a few of the scientists at the lab didn’t have time to write something today, or were off elsewhere doing fieldwork or attending meetings and workshops. Other ongoing activities at the lab include using near-surface geophysics to monitor pollution, complex systems and agent based models for historical and archaeological research, GIS classifications of landscapes in terms of geomorphology, risk-mapping, shallow marine geophysics, processing algorithms for GPR data…. I could go on!

I’ve had an amazing year here in Rethymno. I have learned so much, and hopefully I have given something back and passed on some skills to colleagues and students here. I’ll be keeping in touch with the lab team via their facebook page, and I hope to come back to use the huge archive of geophysical data they hold here for a project I am cooking up with my old Dutch colleagues 🙂

As it starts to cool down (a bit), I am going to shut down my computer and head for home, where I will spend what is left of the evening pouring over the other Day of Archaeology posts from around the world, and being very thankful I get to work in such an amazing community.

Happy Day of Archaeology!

Kayt x

Hidden landscapes and making places

“Local Government archaeology.” No! Don’t jump to the post about Sub-Roman ritual mud carvings in darkest pre-Shropshire just yet. This day has been about promoting the discovery of a hidden archaeological landscape and a partnership that is working to promote landscape conservation and creative design in placemaking and housing development.

One of the great pleasures of my job is seeing how discovery, research and interpretation of archaeological landscapes, their sites and artefacts is taken forward to create situations where conservation of the cultural/prehistoric/historic landscape is gaining greater status.

One area of great potential is in Green Infrastructure planning, which appeals to this landscape archaeologist because it is about connecting things up; big picture stuff, but not at the expense of the seemingly mundane yet ultimately special local sites. Traditionally, archaeology has not been part of Green Infrastructure planning with its focus on health, well-being and access nature. This is changing as those involved understand how the interaction between people and the environment has created the places we value. So, to see how a former Roman road will become a shared cycle way and footpath, bounded by hedgerows and trees that create great habitat for wildlife is, simply, wonderful.

As for the aforementioned hidden archaeological landscape, well, let me take you on a very short walk. Imaging a grey little road twisting its way through a large woodland area. Like so many other woodland lanes, but here you walk from the car into trees, no distance at all and yet through the undergrowth you see a group of pits, like small craters. These are the remnants of 17th century AD coal mining dating from just before the Industrial Revolution. Walk a little further and a prehistoric settlement enclosure looms on the wooded skyline. A great earthwork, yet it recedes quickly into the tangle of trees as you walk on. Back across the little grey lane and on a few paces more: a ruined farmstead appears set in fields that were carved out in the medieval period. The walk takes all of, say, ten minutes and yet you have discovered 1800 years of archaeology in that time. The Forest of Wyre has many similar discoveries and I am lucky that part of my job is about sharing and promoting the stories of this wonderful place.

Enjoy your discoveries and the Day of Archaeology that we all share.

Half a Day in the Life of an Archaeologist

Ok, my first ever participation at the Day of Archaeology, so maybe I should introduce what I am doing as an archaeologist first.

Maybe I am an example of a not-so-very-typical archaeologist – at least in my current project. I am a Prehistorian, specialized in landscape archaeology and the Early Iron Age in Middle Europe but at the moment I am leading a large European project. ArchaeoLandscapes Europe ( is dealing with existing inequalities in the use and expertise of various remote sensing methods and techniques in Europe, including Aerial Archaeology, Satellite Imagery, LiDAR/Airborne Laserscanning and Geophysics (though some might argue that Geophysics is not that much ‘remote’).


Engaging with kids, and tea with the vicar!

Well, I’ve finally had chance to breathe after a hectic morning…

I run a small company (Archaeology for Schools Ltd) which essentially teaches children from Key Stages 2 onwards, the basic principles of archaeology in a fun and engaging way. We usually tap into their current history topic, and so we jump between Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Egyptian archaeology. As well as this, I am currently exploring a number of different ways of getting young people more interested and involved in their local heritage, as well as writing a few academic pieces!

This morning was an 8am start in Chester, getting some photographs for a new project I am involved in (top secret!) followed by a meeting with the Vicar of St. Johns, Chester who incidentally has a degree in Egyptology and has dug a number of Ramesside period sites in Egypt (not your normal man of the cloth!). Our meeting was loosely about helping St Johns to engage with more schools. It’s one of the most stunning and unusual churches in the UK, but seems to get easily overshadowed as it sits beside Chester’s Roman amphitheatre. The real bee I have in my bonnet at present, is that the public’s perception of archaeology is all about excavation, which is widely inaccessible to most. Fieldwalking, landscape archaeology, records offices, maps and old buildings have as much to reveal about the past as excavation, and are all widely available and largely free. I’m amazed by how many people I know who purport to be interested in history or archaeology,  but have not took the time to walk around their local parish church…..rant over!!

School holidays are with us now, so I am using the time to do some of my own landscape fieldwork, having got hold of some nice LIDAR data-sets to play with. I’m also spending an hour today writing a proposal and a quote for a potential new customer.

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.