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iArchaeology

Using an iPad at Pompeii

As the Google tricycle tricycles around Rome Apple is off to Pompeii. A new advertisement on the Apple website shows a team of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati under Dr. Steven Ellis using 6 iPads helping to record the findings of a new site near the main thoroughfare of Pompeii.

I’m a little worried for my chum Joseph over at Digital Finds who has had an on-site digital recording system ready to go in 6 months for the last 3 years. However I’m sure he’ll manage to pick at least a few holes in using (the) iPad for just this sort of thing.

I haven’t used iDraw but can’t really imagine drawing detailed 1:20 plans with my stubby finger on a nice shiny screen especially when the British winter starts to hit. Two of the photos are used for reference – wall construction techniques and ‘to establish the chronological context of  pottery’ using a program which seems to draw Harris Matrices. Well, I’m sure it’s nice to have something to help one remember the difference between a wall that’s squared random to one that is squared, built to courses  but a couple of days on an urban or industrial site will hammer that sort of thing home. I’m not sure, however, that the fellow using (the) iPad for his pottery analysis really needs to be leaning on a wall on site, surely those finds’ people like being tucked up inside somewhere with a bit of Radio 2 gently eroding their sanity, but there you.

I suppose the main problem with this is that I’m just jealous. I did have a quick play with (an) iPad in Sydney airport recently and got bored relatively quickly I did however leave this venerable blog as the homepage on its browser so maybe some good will come from these overgrown iPhones, we shall see (but probably not on site in the UK in the next few months).

So back in Britain after my sojourn in the antipodes has left me jobless down in Cornwall. I popped into the Cornwall Historic Environment Service to ask for some volunteer work with them but ironically they were too busy to get me started. Sso off to an interview with the RCAHMS in Edinburgh I went  to work on a Historic Land Use Assessment project which, as I found out yesterday, has left me jobless for a little longer, there we go.

Suffering from insomnia, not from the economic uncertainty of being without an income or the larger problem of any Giddensian existential uncertainty about, well whatever, I watched a bit of BBC News 24 this morning. And how exciting it was, there was an archaeological headline (well, almost) about Rome, or some insidious multinational taking pictures of Rome anyway. There they were, people, like the above photo, peddling around in a rather wobbly fashion going where no (tri)cycling paparazzi has gone before, the Roman Forum. Apparently this will be more detailed than ‘either Stonehenge or Pompeii’, we shall have to wait until the end of the year for the results. Hopefully it means I won’t have to actually go to Rome and can enjoy the world of tourism safely from my kitchen.

Here is a short video of the Google tricycles in action (with a rather snappy soundtrack),

The BBC story  is available here.

So…Australia…

It’s been a while since I came to Australia and there’s not been alot of posts, but I’m back (if the digital realm conforms to spatial metaphors). I arrived in Sydney about four months ago and stayed there for 4 days. I didn’t like Sydney that much, the Opera House and harbour were nice but generally it is quite a bland, generic western city (apparently one of the reasons it was used in the Matrix).  Being more of a countryside person this may be to be expected but I did quite like Melbourne which I visited recently and shall be returning to soon. The one particular thing I noticed about Sydney (unlike most modern European cities) was the lack of churches.  Possibly it was just the lack of older buildings, churches being the most obvious representations of this.  Oh yes and Sydney introduced me to the Australian phenomenon of hideously annoying pedestrian crossing sirens.  These are only my immediate impressions as I rapidly departed for Albury, a country city (sic), on the banks of the River Murray.

Indigeneous Excavation

I’ve been working on a  bypass section of the Hume Highway which connects Sydney to Melbourne. A walkover survey was previously conducted for the collection and recording of Indigenous artefacts. In this area of New South Wales the huge majority of these are made of quartz and consist of knapped cores and flakes with a few blades of chert and the occasional pieces of hammerstone.  The areas identified are referred to as ‘Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Sites’. An anthropological survey, with local elders, was also undertaken which sought ‘Aboriginal Cultural Sites’ which, I understand, are known from social memory and were avoided by the highway expansion.

The Aboriginal cultural heritage sites were generally found on spurs of land jutting into the floodplain of small creeks, all on post-contact cleared  farmland used for grazing.  We dug 1m² squares at 15m intervals along 5m offset staggered transects down to Pleistocene clay deposits which mark the beginning of local human habitation. This was done by professional archaeologists and an equal number of Aboriginal cultural representatives, reps, who ‘have an interest in the heritage of the area’. The test pits were dug by hand in bulk, initally, with all the excavated material sieved  with water and the artefacts found kept, given a basic analysis and counted. The pits with larger than average,  amounts of quartz flakes, cores and debitage, for that site,  were enlarged 1m² at a time and in spits determined by the depth of the underlying clays, these were referred to as  ‘open areas’. The length of time spent increasing the sizes of open areas was not dependent on declining numbers of artefacts but on the time allocated to each site.

This project finished last week, and to be honest I was rather glad. Everyone I worked with was friendly, but the lack of features was disappointing especially after the novelty of digging metre square holes in fields wore off. I did learn more about stone artefacts which previously I knew little about and my sections, previously ok,  have have improved to an almost ridiculous degree. I may come back with some gripes about the methodology later but am currently travelling about Tasmania in a campervan and it’s dinner time. The next post should not be so long in the writing, thanks loyal readers!


Hello, thoughts on Australia coming soon, lots of square holes, which reminded me of QR codes, two dimensional barcodes that many (post) modern phones can read. And here it is!

Yes, I’m going to be a Man at Work! That’s why there haven’t been many posts recently as I’ve been planning a trip to Australia. Well it isn’t a trip, I’ve been invited to work on a town bypass scheme digging Aboriginal sites, this is all I really know at present,

“Town bypasses will be constructed around the towns of Tarcutta and Woomargama in regional NSW. Each bypass will travel through greenfield areas, crossing prominent hills, creeks and significant stretches of land. Over 50 Aboriginal archaeological sites have been identified within the proposed route of the various bypasses. Some of these sites are very significant ceremonial places, gender specific locations (e.g. women’s sites, initiation sites) or representative examples of the region’s archaeological past yielding thousands of artefacts.”

Sounds interesting, it’s a bypass near the towns of Wagga Wagga and Albury Wodonga and I’ll be working with Aboriginal archaeologists as well. So I might give a digger’s eye view of digging in Oz as well as the usual fascinating news that normally populate the pages of A Place Odyssey, you lucky people!

The Los Angeles Times recently  had an online article showing two photos of the same place in downtown LA 50 years apart. At first it’s hard to convince oneself they are the same scene, ironically the only parts which seem the same are roads – which are in constant motion! It is amazing that in quite a relatively short space of time such changes can occur, and this isn’t on the edges of a city in the process of being built.

It makes me think of what Levi-Strauss said of cities in the New World,

The cities of the New World have one characteristic in common: that they pass from first youth to decrepitude with no intermediary stage. One of my Brazilian girl-students returned in tears from her first visit to France: whiteness and cleanness were the criteria by which she judged a city, and Paris, with its blackened buildings, had seemed to her filthy and repugnant. But American cities never offer that holiday-state, outside of time, to which great monuments can transport us; nor do they transcend the primary urban function and become objects of contemplation and reflection. What struck me about New York, or Chicago, or their southerly counterpart Sao Paulo, was not the absence of ‘ancient remains’; this is, on the contrary, a positive element in their significance. So far from joining those European tourists who go into sulks because they cannot add another thirteenth-century cathedral to their collection, I am delighted to adapt myself to a system that has no backward dimension in time; and I enjoy having a different form of civilization to interpret. If I err, it is in the opposite sense: as these are new cities, and cities whose newness is their whole being and their justification, I find it difficult to forgive them for not staying new for ever. The older a European city is, the more highly we regard it; in America, every year brings with it an element of disgrace. For they are not merely ‘newly built’; they are built for renewal, and the sooner the better. When a new quarter is run up it doesn’t look like a city, as we understand the word; it’s too brilliant, too new, too high-spirited. It reminds us more of our fairgrounds and temporary international exhibitions. But these are buildings that stay up long after our exhibitions would have closed, and they don’t last well: facades begin to peel off, rain and soot leave their marks, the style goes out of fashion, and the original lay-out is undermined when someone loses patience and tears down the building next door. It is not a case of new dries contrasted with old, but rather of cities whose cycle of evolution is very rapid as against others whose cycle of evolution is slow. Certain European cities are dying off slowly and peacefully; the cities of the New World have a perpetual high temperature, a chronic illness which prevents them, for all their everlasting youthfulness, from ever being entirely well.

What astonished me in Sao Paulo in 1935, and in New York and Chicago in 1941, was not their newness, but the rapidity with which time’s ravages had set in. I knew that these cities had started ten centuries behind our own, but I had not realized, somehow, that large areas in them were already fifty years old and were not ashamed to let it be seen. For their only ornament was their youth, and youth is as fugitive for a city as for the people who live in it. Old ironwork, trams red as fire-engines, mahogany bars with balustrades of polished brass; brickyards in deserted alleys where the wind was the only street-cleaner; countrified parish churches next door to office buildings and stock exchanges built in the likeness of cathedrals; apartment-houses green with age that overhung canyons criss-crossed with fire-escapes, swing-bridges, and the like; a city that pushed continually upwards as new buildings were built on the ruins of their predecessors: such was Chicago, image of the Americas, and it isn’t surprising that the New World should cherish in Chicago the memory of the 188os, for this modest perspective, less than a century in extent, is all that antiquity can mean in those parts. To our millenary cities it would hardly serve even as a unit of judgement, but in Chicago, where people do not think in terms of time, it already offers scope for nostalgia.

Taken from Triste Tropiques (emphasis added) 1961. Available at http://www.archive.org/stream/tristestropiques000177mbp/tristestropiques000177mbp_djvu.txt

Digital landscapes

In 2003 the the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian in Oxford, Cambridge University library and Trinity College Dublin were given powers under an act of Parliament to make a copy of every free website based in the UK as part of their efforts to record Britain’s cultural, scientific and political history, in much the same way a copy of every book published in the UK has to be deposited in one of the above libraries. However these powers have not been implemented, the Guardian reports. This is known as an e-legal deposit and is necessary to circumvent copyright laws which would normally stop the copying of such websites such as online newspapers.

However, now Margaret Hodge is pushing for the implementation of these powers to stop the losing of data and historical sources from the internet. This is unlikely to happen before the next election due to legal and technical issues, and after yesterday I’m sure Mr Brown has other concerns! This sort of loss of digital history was made clear last year when the old GeoCities free web hosting service was shut down in October meaning one of the first generation of home-made websites has been wiped.

Now, while this news doesn’t have the most direct link to a blog ostensibly about landscape archaeology it does lead rather nicely to this news piece from those bastions of mis-information, The Onion

While this is rather amusing I think in the future past websites will be used for researching history (and archaeology?), well all the landscapers of the future have to do is read A Place Odyssey!