UCL Institute of Archaeology

Space and identity research in Berlin

Topoi House Dahlem

Topoi Haus Dahlem. Photo: Bernd Wannenmacher / FU.

I am a lecturer in Roman Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, but today I’m in the midst of a short research visit to the Topoi Excellence Cluster at Freie Universität Berlin. Topoi is a large research cluster dedicated to the study of space and knowledge in antiquity, and has a full programme of workshops and meetings which bring together researchers from many disciplines and institutions. I’m here as a Senior Fellow for a month, working with Dr Kerstin Hofmann and colleagues in the key topic group ‘Identities: space and knowledge related identification’. In addition to getting on with my own research on Roman Britain, it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to discuss various issues in the archaeology of identity with scholars based here. While there are many points of contact, there are also of course differences in the traditions of study into past identity in the UK/US and Germany, and it’s really interesting to learn more about these. So today is mainly a mix of research and discussion in the Topoi House in Dahlem, as well as keeping in touch with my postgraduate students in London. I should also say that it’s quite exciting to be in Germany when the national team is doing rather well in a certain global sports tournament!

A day in the life of the MicroPasts project

Writing to you from the UCL Institute of Archaeology on a rather grim London day, the MicroPasts team does not rest for a moment! Our project has been engaging the public with real academic and museum-related tasks, by creating a fun and dynamic crowd-sourcing platform with several applications. Teaming up with the British Museum, our first tasks were related to a magnificent collection of British Bronze Age metal finds (covering ca. 2500-800BC). We started off with two major types of tasks: the first one is document transcription, and the second is the careful masking of object photos, as a step in the process of 3D modelling.

But what can contributors actually do on our platform?

If you like the challenge of deciphering old handwriting and the digitisation of beautifully handcrafted index cards, one of the several transcription application could be just for you. Each application actually represents a real physical drawer located at the British Museum. These drawers form the National Bronze Implements Index – a catalogue of about 30,000 index cards of metal objects discovered mainly in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries. These have never been digitised, so you can help British Museum curators to get this really important job done! The transcription application enables you to type the text you see on these cards (such as object type, measurements, collection, date of discovery, condition, etc.), as well as marking its findspot on a dynamic map (if exact location of discovery is known). A digital database of all these finds will complement the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, which includes a large part of metalwork discovered in England and Wales since 2003. This will result in a mega-database of prehistoric metal finds – probably the most comprehensive in the world!

An index card of one of the Arreton Down Hoard objects

An index card of one of the Arreton Down Hoard objects

There’s another type of application for you, if you fancy 3D modelling. We have three photo-masking applications – two are of Bronze Age metal objects such as axes or spears, and one of an Egyptian funerary figurine – a shabti. But what is photo-masking anyway? It is an important step in the creation of 3D models using Structure-from-Motion technique. With SfM, you don’t need to be a 3D expert to create high-quality 3D models. You need to take photos (using a regular camera!) of an object of your liking, or even a landscape feature, following simple guidelines. The object should be photographed from about 40-50 angles (or more if you really want to), with sufficient overlap. And this is where photo-masking comes in. Before processing your photos via 3D-modelling software (e.g. PhotoScan or VisualSfM), it is much better (especially for artefact-scale work) to tell the software where the object ends and where the background begins. Separating the object from the background can be done by drawing an outline polygon of the object. This can be done on the MicroPasts platform! Then the raw images and their ‘masks’ can be uploaded to the software, and you can go on and create your 3D model by building a dense cloud, mesh and texture. While the MicroPasts team are still doing most of these things – you can help us by creating really good quality photo masks. We will then create the models and make them available to you!

A screenshot of our photo-masking application - this spear is from the Arreton Down Hoard

A screenshot of our photo-masking application – this spear is from the Arreton Down Hoard

But MicroPasts is not only about helping out with tasks – it’s also about learning and skill building. If you’re interested in the themes covered by our project, you can learn more about them on our Learning Resources page. We regularly write blog posts and tutorials on topics such as 3D modelling or British prehistory. In addition, we have a community forum where you could ask us anything you like, and if you have ideas for research using the data created on MicroPasts – we are really keen to hear. We are keen to develop and take forward MicroPasts with our community! Obviously, all data created on our platform is freely accessible for anyone – just have a look at our Data Centre page. We’re also working on another component – a crowd-funding platform, where joint academic-community projects could raise funds from interested members of the public. You will be able to contribute to something that you are passionate about, or start a crowd-funding appeal of your own.

So if you’re also rained in, why not go to micropasts.org and check it out? If you have any questions or feedback, we’re happy to help!


The MicroPasts team:

Adi, Chiara, Andy and Dan

A day with the UCL Institute of Archaeology Library: 29th July 2011

Books, books, books. Journals, conference proceedings, technical reports,  e-resources. And lots more.

Institute of Archaeology Library

Institute of Archaeology Library

You might wonder why a library wants to contribute to the Day of Archaeology and what our relevancy might be. But libraries, especially specialist libraries like the UCL Institute of Archaeology, are vital for archaeological research and have been part of archaeology since the beginning – the Society of Antiquaries Library was founded in 1751!  Researchers – students, academic staff, commercial researchers and even interested members of the general public – come to libraries to  find the factual information and the theoretical frameworks that drive and structure their work. It’s also here that the final published results of excavations and fieldwork – site reports – end up!

So if you want to find out a little bit more about what we do and what our customers use our facilities to research, read on!

 Our day…

My day starts at 8.30 a.m. I have an hour before the library opens and I usually take this time to open up, sort out the ‘reshelving’ (books used in the library or returned during the previous day) and have a look round for any problems, potential areas of work or to get ideas about how to improve our working space and collections. Ian, one of our shelvers, has been working on periodicals (journals) ‘weeding’ and created some extra space for both the periodicals and the

Egyptology shelves

Egyptology shelves

Edwards Egyptology Library.  I work through the Egyptology collection, assessing where we need to shift the books to leave space for growth – I estimate we have space for 3-5 years’ growth overall that can be distributed amongst the shelves. Most humanities and social sciences research libraries have space problems and we’re no exception. Because so many of our books and journals are used for research as well as teaching, we can’t send older material to Stores, as it needs to be on the shelves for researchers to consult. We’re trying to make space where possible by sending journals that are also available electronically to Stores – ‘weeding them’. Electronic access means that we can still provide access to key resources, but we don’t have to have them physically on the shelves.

Yu-ju Lin and Paul Majewski, two of our library assistants, arrive and the library opens at 9.30 a.m. Paul starts work on the virtual exhibitions page we’re building to accompany a Friends of the Petrie Museum exhibition that will be opening in the library in September.

Yu-Ju Lin

Yu-Ju and the missing book

Yu-ju goes out to look for missing books. In a library with over 70,000 books and 800 periodical sets (I’ve no idea how many actual individual volumes of these we have!) books can easily become mislaid. So shelf tidying and looking for books reported missing to us each week is a vital part of our work. It’s a good day – she finds an important missing book needed by the Ancient History department straight away.

I look through my emails and answer any enquiries. These can be from our current students and staff about their library records and our collections, but also from other researchers asking about our archive material (which is held by UCL Special Collections), staff and students from other universities asking about using our collections or from members of the public who just want answers to archaeological questions. There aren’t too many today, so I start working through our Accessions List (the list of new books that have arrived in the library that month) highlighting some for our Ancient World/Archaeology blog. Once I’ve done this, I continue some on-going work with free online journals. I have a long list of free electronic resources from AWOL (Ancient World Online) that I’m working through looking for digital duplicates of our paper resources. Where possible, we try to always provide digital access to resources – students and staff can get to the 24/7 and pressure on our paper copies – both in terms of use and preservation (general state of repair) – is lessened.

Ricky Estwick

Ricky Estwick

Ricky Estwick comes with our delivery of mail from elsewhere in UCL Library Services. Although we’re a library in our own right, we’re also part of UCL Library Services and our work flows and patterns fit in to the larger structure of the organisation. We don’t for example, do our own cataloguing. This is done in a central cataloguing unit to ensure standardisation across UCL’s library collections and so our material is in line with global information standards. Ricky brings books and periodicals that have arrived for us from different libraries, as well as materials from cataloguing, acquisitions and Stores.

Scott Stetkiewicz comes to the Issue Desk to ask about obtaining materials from Scottish excavations for his MSc dissertation on slag analysis. We have a look through the resources available in the library and online through English Heritage, the Archaeological Data Service and Heritage Gateway.

Stuart Brookes comes in to borrow books for his project ‘landscapes of governance: assembly sites in England, 5th – 11th centuries’.  (more…)

It’s viva day

Hello folks. This morning I have my PhD viva, so today is quite a significant day of archaeology for me.

A PhD is a postgraduate research degree that usually takes around three or four years to complete. In my case it has taken seven! (Mostly due to the fact that I have been working throughout that time.) The aim of a PhD is to produce a thesis of around 100,000 words in length that demonstrates the candidate’s ability to undertake independent critical research and makes an original contribution to knowledge in the field. The viva is the means by which PhD candidates and their work are examined. Today it’s my turn to go through this process. I have taken the morning off work (I am a researcher at the Arts Council) to come to the UCL Institute of Archaeology where I undertook my research.

I have been involved in archaeology since the mid 1990s and I came to London to do an undergraduate degree in archaeology in 1999. I haven’t stopped since! Over the years my research has moved from digging holes and examining artefacts to looking at the way in which archaeology connects with people’s everyday lives. My PhD research looked at government policy. Essentially, my thesis attempts to answer the question “why do we have laws that preserve some material remains of the past and not others?”.

The viva is at 10am and should last around an hour. There will be four people in the room: two examiners, my PhD supervisor and myself. I will have to defend the method, theory and findings in my research. The best kind of viva is a stimulating and challenging discussion between three researchers (the supervisor has to keep quiet!); the worst is an aggressive demolition of a new researcher by two senior academics with egos and reputations to protect. I expect that most vivas tend to resemble the former rather than the latter.

I will post again at lunchtime to let you know how I get on. Fingers crossed!