Philadelphia

A summer of Archaeology, Animation and Visual Effects

By Justin Wu
Students Tracking Advanced Research Program
Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA (Posted by the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum webmaster)

I am a freshman studying at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design of Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) with a focus in Animation & Visual Effects. This summer I am participating in Drexel’s STARS (Students Tracking Advanced Research) program, working under Digital Media professor Dr. Glen Muschio to digitally revitalize and recreate archaeological sites for virtual preservation. This is quite the special opportunity for me to explore the digital media realm beyond animated films and video games, and into an important part of American history.

Our focus today is on the Dennis Farm, a historical site that was owned by a free African-American family since 1793 and remains with the Perkins-Dennis family. We are working with Denise Dennis, the 1st child of the 8th generation of the Perkins-Dennis’, archaeologist Dr. Patrice Jeppson, and archaeologist Wade Catts of John Milner Associates (JMA) to acquire information for digital preservation. Today, July 24th, my fellow student researcher, Zachary Stockmal and I analyzed the feature map of the Dennis Farm’s barn, which was provided by McVarish and Catts of JMA, for the scale and proposed layout of the barn. We compared the layout to photographs of the area we took two weeks prior on-site in preparation for accurate digital modeling and restoration. We hope to have a model in progress by the end of the summer.

My day of archaeology…

By Jed Levin, Chief, History Branch Independence National Historical Park Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA  (Posted by the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum webmaster)

Did I really spend over an hour today trying to arrange for a technician come to the park and install a tape backup drive on a new computer server…and then, spend additional time trying to figure out where we would house the darn thing once we finally go it set up? I did, and it is hard to reconcile those efforts with my job title.

I work for the US National Park Service where I serve as Park Archeologist and Chief Historian at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The park’s mission is to preserve sites associated with the founding and early history of the United States, and to interpret to those sites and their associated history to the public. In support of those goals Independence Park has had an active archeology program since the early 1950’s.

My day today was fairly typical, which is to say it was filled with tasks that often ranged far afield from what I thought I’d be doing when, decades ago, I first decided to become an archeologist. Also typical is the fact that, like many of the archeologists I know, I wear several hats. I split my time between managing the history program, which involves overseeing historical research conducted to fulfill the parks mission and coordinating the park’s efforts to comply with federal law and regulations related to the preservation of both cultural and natural resources. We have to carefully consider how what we do might affect everything from historic buildings and landscapes to archeological sites and air quality. And, yes, I am also responsible for the park’s archeological studies.

I started my day by checking my e-mail, then I gave a presentation to a group of high school students who are participating in a summer program here at the park that offers students the opportunity to explore history as they develop their writing and artistic skills. We talked about the President’s House site, one of our recent excavations here in the park.

After my adventure in IT, which I mentioned at the start, I spent much of the rest of the day reviewing two construction projects: one planned and one on-going. In one case I had to determine if a list of proposed last minute changes to the renovations to the underground museum in Franklin Court, a project nearing completion, might adversely affect archeological or historical resources on the site. The other project involved the same kind of review for a new underground power line the electric company wants to install.

Before the day was over, I did get to visit the park’s archeology lab were the staff and a dedicated group of volunteers are working to complete the cataloging and analysis of artifact recovered during excavation at the National Constitution Center site, here in the park. I went specifically to review the progress of our efforts to scan the thousands of pages of field notes and thousands of photographs that document the excavation of the National Constitution Center site. Once digitized, an electronic copy these irreplaceable paper and film records can used in the analysis and report production, while a complete backup copy of the data can be stored safely off-site, in case of a disaster. We still have a long way to go, but accumulated data for this project currently exceeds 275 gigabytes. Hence the need for that new server we are installing.

My days always end happily if I get to spend at least some time, however brief, in the lab (or, when we have an excavation underway, in the field). When I see the freshly turned earth or the trays of artifacts that the soil yielded up, it never fails to reignite the sense of excitement that first drew me to archeology. These tangible connections to the past fill me with wonder and raise countless questions.

Jed Levin

Historical Archaeology & Visual Art

I am an historical archaeologist who teaches at Cheyney University and at West Chester University, two campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education that are located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. I am not teaching during the summer term which gives me time to pursue my research which involves studying the public’s engagement with the archaeological resources in Independence National Historical Park (a U.S. National Park Service property commemorating the birthplace of American democracy). Today, June 27th, has been a ‘catch-up’ day for me where I had time to move ahead on several items on my ‘wanting to do’ list. First, I wrote to the editor of the “Images of the Past” column of the Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter (Benjamin Pykles) proposing a write-up about Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr.  Moore, a retired archaeologist and a Native American Chippewa, excavated in Philadelphia in the 1960’s at the site of Benjamin Franklin’s mansion.

Jackson Ward 'Smokey' Moore restoring a historic dish

Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr. in a National Park Service Public Affairs Photo, circa 1960. (Independence National Historical Park Archives).

My offer to undertake this write-up required researching the Newsletter’s back issues to determine the type of information expected for the column and I spent an hour doing this prior to contacting Pykles to make sure I had the kind of information wanted. I then turned to some on-going background research I’ve been doing for a possible book project that the art photographer John Edward Dowell Jr. and I have talked about doing. This would be a book designed for the general reader which would feature photographs John took during the excavation of the President’s House archaeological site in Independence Park. These photographs document the archaeological excavation and its findings about slavery and freedom at the birth of the American nation and, in doing so, they help create African American history. They are also art pieces made by a Black artist. Beyond documenting new American history evidence and documenting new African American history evidence, his photographs are art pieces (re’ artifacts) of black visual art. Today I spent time researching and considering how these images therefore fit into the history of Black visual art. After reading a significant portion of N.I. Painter’s Creating Black Americans I realized that Dowell’s President’s House archaeological site photographs not only help make Black history more visible but also help make black art history more “visible” and that this is something we would likely want our manuscript to address given that the history of black visual art, like African American history, has been ignored, overlooked, and excluded in the canon.

View of the President's House by J. E. Dowell

ne of artist John E. Dowell’s photographs of the President’s House Site in Independence Park (right center, above the blue tarp-covered, back dirt pile). Dowell takes large format images (2 x 5 – 4 x 20 feet) which are then digitally scanned to produce highly detailed, deeply contextualized, images. His photographic style is known to convey life in the urban metropolis and he uses both unique perspective and lighting — namely pictures shot from high-rise vantage points that are taken at sun-up and sun-down.

Later on in the day I began typing up the meeting notes taken during the last monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF). I am Secretary of that non-profit advocacy group and I post the meeting minutes on the PAF listserv. However, I am coordinating a local version of the Day of Archaeology for the PAF and I switched to work on this task. I am coordinating Philadelphia area Day of Archaeology contributions from local area archaeologists as well as members of the public during the period June 25th-June 28th. I will use these contributions to develop a new page of content for the PAF webpages at www.phillyarchaeology.orgthat will help demonstrate and explain what people in our area do with archaeology both at work and at play. I will also be forwarding the contributions to the coordinator of the international Day of Archaeology blogging project.

Philadelphia Archaeological Forum Logo

The logo of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum, which is based on a commonly found historic dish.



Betsy Ross’ Pitchers

I have been an archeologist in the U.S. National Park Service for 24 years (can it really be that long?), where I now serve as head of the History Branch at Independence National Historical Park (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Today, June 27th, I spent several hours working with colleagues preparing a small exhibit commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. This temporary exhibit will feature two ceramic pitchers we recovered in Independence Park during the excavations at the site where the National Constitution Center now stands. The pitchers were found in the bottom of a privy pit (outhouse) that once stood in the backyard
behind the house where Betsy Ross spent her last years.  Did Betsy throw them away?

Pitchers found in the bottom of a privy pit

Made in England between about 1816 and 1820, the pitchers bear images of two War of 1812 naval engagements in which the fledgling U. S. Navy was victorious over the mighty British Navy.  English potteries produced many such designs specifically for  export to the American market. In so doing, they were helping an adversary celebrate a victory over their own navy. I don’t know if they appreciated the irony in that. I do know that they were glad to find a willing market for their goods.  Whatever they meant to the British potters, for Betsy Ross’ family they probably marked the stirrings of national pride sparked by the War.
During the course of the day I also spent time meeting with a colleague from our maintenance staff trying to figure out the safest way to remove an obsolete 1970’s ventilation duct from inside the vault that protects some of the remains of Benjamin Franklin’s house at our in-ground archeology exhibit in Franklin Court. There was yet another meeting today. This last one involved deciding on how the archeologists and the museum curator in the park could best assist a team of faculty and students from Drexel University’s Digital Media program in adding accurate details to a 3D digital reconstruction of the 18th century house in which a African American coachman lived. The reconstruction is base on another site we excavated within the park.…and of course, as every day, there was lots and lots of paperwork to fill out. I do work for the government, after all.

Jed Levin
Independence National Historical Park
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Archaeology, Animation & Visual Effects

June 27, 2012

I’m a  freshman majoring in Animation and Visual Effects in the Digital Media Program, Westphal College, at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.  Today was my second day on a 10 week STAR Scholars Fellowship using archaeological evidence. The majority of my time will be spent modeling virtual furniture appropriate for the virtual interpretation of the 18th century Dexter House which was excavated in Independence National Historical Park. To better understand how the house may have been furnished Jason Kirk, Professor Muschio and I today visited the park to meet with Chief Curator, Karie Diethorn; Chief Historian and Park Archaeologist, Jed Levin and Deborah Miller, Park Archaeologist, to seek advice and guidance regarding appropriate furnishings.

NPS Archaeology Lab

Being new to the project, I didn’t have much to contribute to the meeting, other than take in all the information that was being communicated. The main discussion centered on where to find artifacts of the time period to use as models for Dexter house furnishings. I was impressed by the excitement and passion all expressed toward the project. The collaboration quickly came together as ideas flew back and forth, developing what would be in the house, and how it might look.  Field trips to historical sites and museums were planned to study suitable furnishings. The project still has a long way to go, but hopefully we can give people a historically accurate glimpse into the past using today’s technology and the expertise of Park archaeologists, curators and historians.

Joseph Tomasso

Freshman, Digital Media Program, STAR Scholar, Pennoni Honors College

Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Digital Media Technologies

I am a Digital Media student in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. I am currently interning in a six month Research Co-op under Dr. Glen Muschio. He and I are engaged in multiple projects aimed at preserving Philadelphia’s rich cultural heritage through the use of current and next-gen digital media technologies. This is a unique opportunity for me, as the Co-Op allows me to combine my passion for digital art and animation with my interest in history.

3D models of Dexter House, front and side

On Monday, June 25th, I finalized preparation of a 3D digital model and animated fly through of the James Oronoco Dexter House.  The archaeological remains of the house were discovered during archaeological excavation of the grounds now occupied by the National Constitutional Center in Independence National Historical Park.  Dexter, a manumitted slave, occupied the house in the 1790’s. The house was used as the meeting place for discussions that led to the formation of the African Episcopal Church, one of the first two Black Churches founded in Philadelphia.

Interior hearth of Dexter House

The 3D digital model of the house is based on the archeological record, public tax and insurance records and historical photographs of similar houses. The animation showcases the exterior of the property as well as portions of the unfinished interior. This is the third iteration of the model developed by Drexel Digital Media students including Sean Brown, Chester Cunanan, Jake Nichols, Christian Adams, Rachel Young and Colin Wagner.

Interior stairs at Dexter House

 

Jason Kir, Digital Media junior Westphal College

Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A Day of Archaeology from the City of Brotherly Love (And Beyond)

It’s been a typically diverse summer day for me. One of my ongoing projects deals with understanding the initial adoption of pottery technology by the Indian peoples of the Delaware Valley (between roughly 1600 BC and 1000 BC) and subsequent trends in the manufacture and use of pots. Today I reviewed a number of recently published articles on the subject and made arrangements to see collections of pottery from archaeological sites in New Jersey (Gloucester County) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). I also continued my review and organization of data from an ongoing excavation project I direct, along with graduate student Jeremy Koch, in the Lehigh River Gorge of Pennsylvania. This location is a fantastic layer cake of deposits left by Indian groups beginning around 11,300 years ago and ending in colonial times. The site was brought to our attention by amateur archaeologist, Del Beck, who was concerned about the site being looted. Del remains an important member of our research team along with my old friend and amateur archaeologist, Tommy Davies, and colleagues from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Clarion and Baylor universities. We are currently into our 5th year of investigations at the site and are collecting evidence of native cultures that is rarely seen in buried and undisturbed contexts in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to my next trip to the site later this week.

Michael Stewart, archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

 

For the record, I’m not an archaeologist. I manage the regional historic preservation program for the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. General Services Administration. The regional headquarters is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania although the region covers six states from New Jersey to Virginia. We undertake a number of projects for the federal government that involve ground disturbing activities and I manage the regional regulatory compliance, including archaeological investigations. On June 25, 26, and 27 I reported to a customer agency about the ongoing investigation of two historic archaeological sites at their project site in southern Virginia, sent copies of correspondence and archaeological resource identification reports to a couple of Native American tribes who expressed interest in being consulting parties to a Section 106 consultation, prepared a scope of work to direct an archaeological contractor to undertake a survey to identify whether or not there are archaeological resources present in a planned project area, and worked on slides describing how to incorporate archaeology into project planning for a training presentation I’ll be giving in a few months.

Donna Andrews, Regional Historic Preservation Officer, GSA Mid-Atlantic Region, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

 

In the evening of June 25, 2012, I edited a draft of a publication being prepared regarding a multi-component prehistoric site (28GL228) located in New Jersey immediately east of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA). The article will be published in the journal entitled Archaeology of Eastern North America and presented at the 2012 Eastern States Archaeological Federation meeting in Ohio (USA). The data from 28GL228 provides insight into Native American culture in the Philadelphia region. This project is being conducted on a volunteer basis.

Jesse Walker, MA, RPA

 

I, Poul Erik Graversen, MA (Masters), RPA (Registered Professional Archaeologist), spent most of my Monday, June 25, 2012, doing research for my PhD/Doctorate Degree.  I am currently living and working in New Jersey (USA), not far from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I grew up; however I attend the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.  Literature on free African Americans in the antebellum northeastern United States is sparse.  The literature that can be found on this very important topic has had little focus on the placement, layout, settlement patterns, and the archaeological record of these people.  My PhD dissertation aims to fill in the gaps of current scholarship focused on African American archaeology in the northeastern United States by means of an in depth analysis of both enslaved and free African American settlements in not only the northeastern United States, but in the southern United States and West Africa as well.  By analyzing the settlement patterns and socio-economic reasons behind the settlement patterns in other parts of the United States and the world, a clearer and more concise picture of the reasons behind the settlement patterns of free and enslaved African Americans in the northeastern United States will emerge.  Most of the information amassed in this regard up to this point stems from a historical perspective, with archaeological contributions and content lacking.  The new information gathered in this dissertation will shed light on the life-ways of these people via the archaeological record of both enslaved and free African American Diaspora in the northeastern United States of America and the ramifications of their extended exposure to European influence in North America. 

Poul Erik Graversen, MA, RPA PhD/Doctoral Candidate University of Leicester
Principle Investigator/Instructor Monmouth University New Jersey USA

 

Worked in the morning on several writing projects including my material culture based memoir: “Some Things of Value: A Childhood Through Objects”, my essay with my colleague Julie Steele on Valley Forge and Petersburg National Park Service sites, and some new stuff on American Mortuary practices inspired by my attendance and paper presentation at last week’s national meeting of the Association for Gravestone Studies held in Monmouth, New Jersey (USA). At about 10:30 am left Temple University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and went to Elfreth’s Alley [the oldest street in the USA) and discussed the excavations now underway, directed by my graduate student Deirdre Kelleher, ably assisted by two energetic volunteers and fellow student Matt Kalos. Three foundations have appeared (not the expected two) and need to be sorted out. Lots of stuff to think about there: the growth of 18th century Philadelphia, perhaps the first settlements there, the 19th century immigration and its impacts, all to be read through material culture; especially the remarkable surviving architecture. Greatly relieved not to get a speeding ticket as I journeyed back to Delaware City (Delaware, USA) where I answered some queries and agreed to some talks; including one on the Fourth of July!! My local historical society is busy trying to save a magnificent mid-18th century farmhouse on an imposing knoll surrounded by lowland farm ground and wetlands. Approved a draft to hopefully speed the preservation process along. Also reviewed the National Register nomination crafted by a group of us working at the Plank Log House in Marcus Hook, Pa., another early structure in the Delaware Valley. Regretfully decided that I could not attend the Fields of Conflict 7th Annual Meeting in Hungary this October. The day ended with a group response, led by my next door neighbor, to save an injured Great Blue Heron which found itself in front of our house. By 8:00 pm the heron was revived and taken care of at a friend’s animal hospital!

David G. Orr, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

I spent the day doing fieldwork at Elfreth’s Alley in Old City Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA) as part of my doctoral research.  Elfreth’s Alley, designated as a National Historical Landmark, is credited with being one of the oldest residential streets in the nation.  My research seeks to illuminate the lives of the inhabitants on the Alley, especially the many European immigrants who resided on the small street during the nineteenth century.  This summer, I am working behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley which house a small museum and gift shop.  During the day I worked with volunteers from the local community who came out to learn about and participate in the excavation.  I also spent time discussing my project with the many visitors who came to the Museum of Elfreth’s Alley.

Deirdre Kelleher, Doctoral Student, Temple University, Department of Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

I am a Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA) lecturer who teaches in three programs (Anthropology, Art History, Cultural Heritage); I also am a sole proprietor archaeological consultant with 25 years of archaeological experience – every day is always busy, diverse in the tasks and projects I work on, and linked with archaeology and anthropology. Today I: 1. Finished and submitted a review for a textbook on on Native American history and culture to a major publisher of archaeology and anthropology texts 2. Submitted an application to be listed as an independent archaeological consultant for the state of Pennsylvania 3. Gathered material for, and started writing a draft of, a syllabus for one of three courses I will be teaching next fall (“Cemeteries, Monuments, and Memorials: Cultural Heritage and Remembering the Dead”) 4. Wrote a short draft of an invited book contribution on the topic of an Alaskan archaeological site I helped to excavate in 1987 and 1994.

Katharine Woodhouse-Beyer

 

I just returned from a visit to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, where I viewed the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in which the accompanying artifacts of everyday life illuminate the scrolls themselves. I also was privileged to enjoy a preview of reconstructed transfer-printed creamware pitchers that will be included in an exhibit commemorating the War of 1812.  Curiosity about the images of naval engagements on these Philadelphia artifacts led me to explore similar prints offered on the websites of antique print dealers as well as on the Library of Congress Guide to the War of 1812. Researching Melungeons in aid of a relative’s family history quest, I examined Kenneth B. Tankersley’s work about the Red Bird River Shelter petroglyphs in Clay County, KY.

K. L. Brauer, Maryland, USA

 

June 26, 2012

Today, at Drexel University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA), I met with two Digital Media undergraduates developing digital assets representing the James Oronoco Dexter House, the site of which was excavated in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.  The 3D model will eventually serve as a virtual environment in which users interact with avatars and take part in “possible” conversations that led to the formation of the African Church, later known as, The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, which are known to have occurred in this home. Jason Kirk, a junior who received a Steinbright Career Development Center Research Co-op Award to work on the project, is completing the latest digital model.  Jason and I met with freshman Joseph Tomasso who received a Pennoni Honor’s College STAR (Students Tracking Advanced Research) Fellowship to work on the project. Today is Joe’s first day on the summer term Fellowship. He will develop digital 3D models of appropriate furniture and furnishings that will be used to populate the house.  Virtual artifacts will include ceramics recovered from the archaeological site that are believed to be associated with Dexter’s occupation.  The purpose of the meeting was to prepare for a session with Independence National Historical Park representatives on Wednesday, June 27th.  At that Park meeting we will review the house model and will discuss appropriate virtual furnishings with Park experts.  The model has been prepared with advice from archaeologists Jed Levin and Doug Mooney (who excavated and interpreted the Dexter House site) and guidance from Public Archaeologist, Patrice Jeppson and Karie Diethorn, Chief Curator Independence National Historical Park.

Glen Muschio, Associate Professor, Digital Media, Westphal College, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

Doing archaeology today has entailed a wide range of activities, some not always associated in the public’s mind with archaeology.  I work for a cultural resource management firm. Today’s work has included such mundane activities as reviewing contracts to perform archaeology in Bucks County and the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, USA; firming up logistical efforts to meet with a geomorphologist tomorrow in Delaware County (Pennsylvania); and checking time statements. Fortunately, the day also included putting the finishing touches on an archaeological monitoring report for work in Bucks County. This required nailing down dates for two artifacts found in association with a house foundation. I learned that Pennsylvania in the 1920s and 1930s stamped out automobile license plates with the year that they were issued. I also learned, through a historical marker database on the internet, that the Trenton Brewing company was incorporated in 1891 as a side line business of an ice company and stopped using the name by 1899. These two objects helped to bracket the date of the foundation that had been encountered.  In comparison to the mundane business aspect of doing archaeology, the historical information about the two artifacts, brightened my day.

Kenneth J. Basalik, Ph.D. Pennsylvania USA

 

6/28/12

I work for an engineering company in Pennsylvania (USA) and serve as the Vice President of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). In the course of the day I went over plans for field and laboratory work for a Phase II bridge replacement project that will be starting shortly outside of Philadelphia. I spent time researching the status of industrial archaeological sites in the city for an encyclopedia article. Indications are that in some neighborhoods in the city, between 1990 and 2007, as many of 50% of the documented and listed industrial archaeological sites were completely or partially demolished, or were abandoned or fell into disrepair. In other neighborhoods with higher property values, more sites were preserved by adaptive reuse. In addition, I spent a portion of the day reviewing and proofreading comments on a visit to a laboratory for a major urban archaeological project in Philadelphia.  In the evening, I attended the monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF), an organization that works to promote archaeology in the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia).  After the meeting, I began reviewing the report summary for Phase IB/II testing and the data recovery plan for a major highway project in the city. The goal will be to prepare comments on the documents for submission to the agency that is sponsoring the project, on behalf of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum.

Lauren Cook, Registered Professional Archaeologist, Philadelphia, PA

Penn Museum Archaeologist; Near East

I love being in the field, but this year I’m not excavating. My work is museum related for now, an important part of what we do. So, here’s my Day of Archaeology so far:

Got up around 6:30am and checked my email through my Blackberry. Found that our subcontract to the British Museum has gone through (much of what I do these days is done jointly with London and they are five hours ahead of me, so they have already begun work when I get up).

Got to the museum around 8:00am. I live nearby, which I like because I can walk to work. My computer is my secretary, so I checked on my ‘to do’ file. Yes, if I were more up-to-date I’d just use Google Calendar or some such, but I like having individual files for each day on my hard drive. I looked through the previous day making sure the most pressing things got done, deleting those items and assigning most pressing for today. I had a committee meeting for the Ur Project yesterday; I have to write up the minutes today for distribution to others on the project, that gets the most pressing mark for the morning.

 

Brad Hafford in his cluttered office, 524 Museum

 

Our project is taking legacy data, excavation material from 1922-1934, and modernizing, that is, recording it all digitally and uniting it in one place — the interweb. The excavation was a very important one, that of the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq and was conducted jointly by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Under laws of the day, artifacts collected were divided between the nascent state of Iraq with its newly founded National Museum and the two excavating institutions. Thus, half the artifacts are in Baghdad, the other half are split between Philadephia and London. But there is much more to an excavation than artifacts. There are also field notes, photographs, catalogues, letters, telegrams, receipts, drawings, watercolors, and so much more. We are digitizing and uniting all of this material. We want to create a site where anything and everything concerning Ur and its excavation can be accessed, researched, and gazed upon in wonder; all in open-source, freely accesible and linked data form.

Creating it takes time, patience, and money. It takes access to the artifacts and archives which are not solely spread among the three museums mentioned, but objects also secondarily sent to many smaller museums around the world, paricularly the Commonwealth at the time. There are Ur artifacts from our excavations as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. And many more in the UK: Almost 1000 artifacts are in the Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries. Not only that, but reconstructing the original numbering system for artifacts and photographs, and connecting that to the modern museum numbering systems, linking objects back to their original field records is not as easy as one might think. Our work is quite complicated. But also most worthwhile.

Museum cafe opens around 9am. Armed with coffee, and organized on my computer daily to-do list, I can face the rest of my day in confidence.

10:00am Eastern: Skype conference with British Museum colleagues. We’ve been trying now for some weeks to establish dates and room reservations for a project meeting near the end of the calendar year. Since this one needs to include funding agency, high-level museum administrators, principle investigators, other museum representatives, etc. it’s been difficult to mesh schedules. It’s also difficult to get space in the British Museum since it is in high demand.

Next we discussed the state of the merger of datasets between our two museums concerning Ur. It’s going slowly because we created our digital data from two sets of records divided by decades and the Atlantic. These records have to be meshed so that a unique identifier refers to each and every object. Then we have to get it all on a server so that both museums can access, update, and correct it. As I have probably already noted, re-unification is not easy. But we have great people on both sides of the pond working on it. Birmingham is on board and we’re starting the process of contacting the other institutions that have subsets of the Ur material. And of course we’re still trying to get the Iraq National Museum on board, but politics has gotten in the way for now.

More emails and arrangements have placed me at about the half-way point of my Day of Archaeology. More in part 2…

Antiquities, databases and an atypical day at the British Museum

The Moorlands Staffordshire Trulla

The Moorlands pan, one of my favourite objects

For the last eight years, I have worked at the British Museum, following a couple of years working for a German Investment Bank in the City of London. I’m responsible for the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme‘s IT infrastructure and I provide advice to the British Museum on ICT issues when needed. The world of IT, is entirely self taught knowledge for me; at university I studied archaeology at undergraduate and post graduate levels, with a specific interest in maritime archaeology. It has been a sharp learning curve, and one that I think will always be challenging and disrupted by new technology. Of course, I’m open to offers to get back below the seas and excavate underwater again!

The department that I work for, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (and Treasure) is a DCMS funded project that records objects that have been found within the boundaries of England and Wales by members of the public. They voluntarily bring these objects forward to one of our 60 members of staff, who then record them on our database. You could say that this is at heart, public archaeology in action. This database now provides the basis for a massive amount of research within the university environment and it is very gratifying to see what people do with the database that I built. For example, the map below (produced in ArcView – I use QGIS at home) shows where coins of different periods are found by our contributors. Of course, I have to be very careful who has access to the full spatial co-ordinates, academics have to apply for access and I use some maths to obfuscate points on a map.

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

I’ve also been heavily involved with the #dayofarch project alongside friends and colleagues (we’re calling ourselves”Digital Archaeologists” ). The team working on this project were Matt Law and Lorna Richardson who came up with the plan, Tom Goskar, Jess Ogden, Stu Eve and Andy Dufton). I provided the project with server space, Google analytics, installation of the software and configuration of the software with Tom Goskar. The project has been amazing to work on, and we’ll hopefully be writing this up and getting a chapter on it into Lorna’s PhD.

My day is pretty varied and is either filled with writing funding bids, writing papers (CASPAR workshop papers on Archaeology on TV and Museums and Twitter at the moment), refactoring or writing new code, creating maps in various GIS packages, manipulating images (by script and hand), meetings with academics, TV people or colleagues. It is extremely different to my previous job, and it is probably why I’ve stuck with the role for such a long period. The database that I run, has been written from scratch and I’m currently transferring all my code to GitHub so that others can make use of my work. All the software that I either use or build has to be open-source. I have a very small budget for my IT work – £4000 per annum; is this the smallest budget for a National IT programme ever? I use products from Vanilla for our staff forum, from WordPress for our blogs and various framework packages like Zend Framework for our main website and database. As such, I spent only £48 on the site’s rebuild, the rest goes on server hosting and backup! At the moment, I am also working on a variety of funding proposals, a couple of JISC bids and I’m also looking for funding for the Video-Conferencing workshop that Elizabeth Warry refers to in her post. This is based around the discovery of the Frome hoard and forms the basis for her Masters’ dissertation that I’m supervising with Tim Schadla-Hall. Other people working on this include the British Museum’s education team and members of the Treasure Team. I’m also on various academic advisory boards, an honorary lecturer at UCL (currently helping to supervise Lorna Richardson’s PhD) and a Trustee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, a scholarly society based in Marylebone that has a wonderful collection of artefacts, maps and photos, and I’m currently involved in helping with a research bid for high resolution imagery of fragile documents which involves a wide array of partners.

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Currently we have records for over 720,000 objects which have been contributed by over 19,000 people in a 14 year time span. We get around 60,000 visitors per month to our site and around 3-10,000 objects recorded; the time of year has a great effect on this – harvest and seasons especially impact. The site was awarded ‘Best of the Web’ as a research tool or online collection at this year’s Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia. Something I’m extremely proud of for all our staff and contributors.  All of these records are released under a Creative Commons NC-BY-SA licence and we’ve had considerable success with a variety of digital projects. High profile finds that come up generate a huge amount of interest, and I’ve been trying to get suitable images for the Wikipedia community. We’re finding our relationship with them very beneficial and we now have lots of images in the Wikicommons.

With my wife, Katharine Kelland, I built the Staffordshire Hoard’s first website in 12 hours, and this was viewed by 1/4 million people in one day when we launched. I now use this model as a way for publicising other significant archaeological discoveries. I’m very lucky to work in the British Museum, I never thought I’d end up working there and you never tire of walking through the main gates and up the stairs to the Great Court. In the last few years I’ve been privileged to have seen amazing discoveries close up – the Hackney hoard, the Moorlands patera, the Staffordshire Hoard, the Frome Hoard, the Wheathampstead hoard, and the list goes on. I’ve even got to dress up as a gladiator and parade around the Great Court. Where else could you do this?