Thursday, 29 August 2013

Structure from Motion Based 3D Modeling: A realistic option for archaeological recording and digital heritage management

In this week's blog post the Journal of Field Archaeology editorial team provide an overview of the exciting progress that is being made with motion based 3D modeling software and its applications to field archaeology.
Figure depicting how the site of Tel Akko was modeled using PhotoScan Pro
"Following recent developments in structure from motion based 3D modeling software, which allows one to create a 3D model using a collection of digital photographs, archaeologists have sought to utilize such technologies in the field. While the incorporation of 3D modeling in archaeology is not a novel concept, previous attempts using expensive laser scanners or complex modeling programs prevented the majority of projects from adopting a 3D approach for various facets of the archaeological process.  In “The Tel Akko Total Archaeology Project (Akko, Israel): Assessing the Suitability of Multi-Scale 3D Field Recording in Archaeology,” an article published in the latest issue of the Journal of Field Archaeology, Brandon R. Olson, Ryan A. Placchetti, Jamie Quartermaine, and Ann E. Killebrew argue that with the release of a handful of programs capable of creating 3D models using digital photographs over the last 3 years, most notably PhotoScan Pro, it is now possible to three dimensionally model any archaeological target of interest ranging in size from an individual artifact to entire sites and landscapes. The authors note that their approach does not suffer from the shortcomings of previous 3D applications. Their system is simple and straightforward, taking less than an afternoon to train project members to use the technology and, at less than $4000 USD to purchase a program license and moderately equipped desktop, cost effective.
Already others have adopted Tel Akko’s approach and commented on its utility and potential, as evidenced by a blog post from The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Now that a protocol for producing accurate and photorealistic 3D models of archaeological features has been created, one must now question how and in what way this technology can be harnessed to address specific archaeological questions and facilitate digital heritage management over the long term. Ultimately it will be up to the archaeological community to continue to foster the development of 3D technology in archaeology, but the authors rightly point out its potential in stating:
'Archaeological documentation is often developed with the scholarly community in mind [and] has a public mission to reveal the past and preserve it in a way that is culturally meaningful. In the past, sensational archaeological discoveries were built around spectacles of gold and monumental finds. The grandeur of spectacular archaeological finds may have diminished, but public fascination remains. By developing visually rich and easily accessible resources, archaeologists can invoke wonder at the ancient world. In the same way that the archaeologists of the past inspired public interest in archaeology by filling museums, the modern archaeologist can contribute to a virtually limitless digital repository'."


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Stealing the past: an insider's perspective on antiquities looting in Palestinian National Territories

Some of the destruction at the Malawi National Museum
We were met with the news last week that political unrest in Egypt has led to the looting of the nation's precious antiquities with "1,050 artifacts spanning 3,500 years of history...looted from the Malawi National Museum south of Cairo last week". Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova stated last Monday that she had grave concerns for Egypt’s cultural heritage following the reports of looting at the museum, as well as the destruction of several monuments of religious importance, including churches and mosques in Upper Egypt, Fayoum and Cairo.

Antiquities looting is often an unfortunate and devastating biproduct of conflict and war and much has been published on efforts to prevent looting and how to retrieve stolen artifacts from the black market. In the article "Palestinian antiquities looters, their skill development, methodology and specialised terminology: an ethnographic study" published in a 2012 issue of Palestine Exploration Quarterly, Dr Salah H Al-Houdalieh takes the investigation to the source of the problem and attempts to get inside the mind of the looter. In the study Dr Al-Houdalieh interviews 96 antiquities looters in Palestinian National Territories (PNT) with the aim of exploring the measures that have been used by Palestinian antiquities looters to develop their knowledge, fieldwork skills and experience.

The following is an excerpt from the article's introduction:

"The state of Palestine’s archaeological heritage resources is one of serious risk, due to the on-going looting of antiquities. Vandalising archaeological resources is a widespread phenomenon throughout the Palestinian National Territories (PNT) and has resulted in either total or partial damage to thousands of these resources, and the extraction of at least hundreds of thousands of archaeological objects. The main aim of this study is to explore the measures that have been used by Palestinian antiquities looters to develop their knowledge, fieldwork skills and experience. To this end, I interviewed 96 antiquities looters residing in the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, which is totally relevant to the issues under discussion, was only excluded from this study due to the current travel restrictions between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."

Dr Al-Houdalieh goes on to conclude that:

"Conducting interviews with a large number of such individuals provides the researchers with valuable, first-hand information of many kinds, including: some idea of the scale of the phenomenon of antiquities looting; the driving forces behind this vandalising of archaeological resources; the formation operations of the looting gangs; the terminology used among the antiquities looters; the measures used by antiquities looters to develop their knowledge and fieldwork experience; and actual stories about vandalising heritage resources, including descriptions of the extracted archaeological objects and their numbers, among other things. Furthermore, the results of this research indicate that the Palestinian antiquities looters have gained and developed their fieldwork experience through four primary means: taking part in legitimate, licensed archaeological excavations; taking part with others in illicit digging by joining an existing gang; conducting their own looting activities, with family members or friends, without prior knowledge; and, finally, referring to relevant publications, especially catalogues."

>> Read the full article for free

>> "Malawi National Museum Looting Condemned By Unesco Amid Fears Egypt's Cultural Heritage Is In Danger"

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Embrace the Margins: Adventures in Archaeology and Homelessness

Following the news this week that the 2013 Homeless World Cup is to be held in Poznan, Poland with the hope of using the "social power of football to change homeless people's lives and fight their exclusion" I was reminded of an article published in Public Archaeology in 2011 entitled 'Embrace the Margins: Adventures in Archaeology and Homelessness' in which Rachael Kiddey and John Schofield explain their efforts to not only "conduct an archaeological study of contemporary homelessness that broke new ground in several ways" but also to find out "whether participation in the archaeological project offered genuine and tangible benefits for the communities and individuals concerned."

Kiddey and Schofield chose to conduct their study at Turbo Island, a tract of private land in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, UK with the intention of "developing a socially engaged and socially active form of archaeology."

The reasoning behind the experiment is explained in the article's introduction:

"Archaeology has a broad base, and offers a range of intellectual possibilities. Its close attention to material culture and place, and to interpreting traces of evidence for past human behaviour, embraces the full range of human experiences, from the deep past to the very latest depositions, and is inclusive of everyone in society. Archaeology also provides a range of possibilities for public participation and engagement, not only with the archaeological process but also with intellectual content. During our
wanderings in Bristol we often discussed archaeology, and one recurring theme was the similarities between survival strategies of contemporary homeless and earlier hunter-gatherer societies, in terms of food gathering, social cohesion and compassion, and in the locations chosen for settlement."

The authors reference the work on archaeology and the homeless that preceded their study but also stress the one big difference:

"Sociologists and anthropologists have increasingly sought to explore the culture of homelessness and its impact, while homelessness has also started to receive archaeological attention. However, this project was always going to be different in that it sought specifically to engage homeless people directly in fieldwork and in the presentation of findings"

The majority response to the project from local authorities, the police and the homeless people involved was overwhelmingly positive. The authors conclude with the following:

"This project allows us to map places that traditionally are ignored and overlooked. For example, in most interpretations of Stokes Croft, Turbo Island is described as a ‘gap site’ — a non-place where ‘nothing’ exists. Throughout our excavation and working in partnership with socially excluded, marginalized people we learnt about rituals and patterns of behaviour of which we previously knew very little...Throughout this project archaeology has contributed to understanding a community felt by many, even within the professions engaged to work with homeless people, to be ‘unreachable’. It was also an experience which our homeless co-workers greatly enjoyed and appreciated."

>> Read the full article for free

>> "UEFA support for Homeless World Cup"

Monday, 12 August 2013

Digging deeper: The Importance of Native American Maps in the Discovery and Exploration of North America

John Smith’s 1612 Map of Virginia
It's time to dig deep in our archives again and this time I'm focusing on the most popular article from Terrae Incognitae: Journal of the Society for the History of Discoveries.
'The Importance of Native American Maps in the Discovery and Exploration of North America' by Louis De Vorsey emphasizes the importance of, yet lack of attention paid to, the mapping traditions of the Native Americans encountered by European explorers and settlers. It introduces readers to various methods for representing spatial understanding used by North American natives, many of which were vital to European exploration and later mapping of North America.  

The article begins with the following introduction:

"The story of Native American maps begins with Christopher Columbus in 1492. Upon his first landfall in the Bahamas, the admiral was impressed by the dugout canoes paddled by the first “Indians” he met. He described them as being “fashioned like a long boat from the trunk of a tree . . . and wonderfully made . . . some being so big that in some came 40 or 50 men, and others smaller, down to some in which but a single man came.” Columbus lost no time in taking captive some of the awe-struck natives to serve as guides. In Columbus’ words, they “made signs to me that there were so many other islands that they could not be counted, and they called by their names more than a hundred [islands].” While there is no mention of Native American maps in his account of his progress through the Bahamas to Cuba and Hispaniola, it is certain that Columbus relied on captured native pilots for his safe passage."

De Soto. Mapa del Golfo y costa de la Nueva EspaƱa, c. 1544
Dr De Vorsey continues to argue that it was not only Columbus who relied on Native guides:

"It was an amazing fact of synchronicity that both the southwest and the southeast of North America were first explored by Europeans at the same historical moment. That moment came in 1539–1540, when Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led large, well-equipped companies into land now embraced by the United States. Both expeditions were dependent on Indian guides and informants, some of whom were capable and, as we will see, challenging cartographers."

The article concludes by quoting Dr Patricia Galloway:

"Indian maps and geographic information were so important a factor in the European development of knowledge of the American continent that it is impossible to gain an adequate idea of the process without taking them into account."

>> Read the full article for free

Monday, 5 August 2013

Funny money: Jane Austen and the 'consumer society' of 18th-century England

Jane Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the Bank of England £10 note
We were met with the news last week that Jane Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the Bank of England £10 note from 2017. The decision followed a high-profile public campaign against having no women represented on Bank of England notes besides the Queen.

I initially intended to write this blog post about Charles Darwin as I assumed (correctly) there would be a larger variety of articles on him in our online archive however I couldn't pass up the opportunity to connect the new face of Bank of England currency (literally the face of consumerism) to the 2008 article "'The mystical character of commodities': the consumer society in 18th-century England" from Post-Medieval Archaeology. The article's author Ross J Wilson presents an alternative response to the 'consumer society' hypothesis for 18th-century England and uses the later works of Jane Austen to argue that goods should not be seen only as commodities.

"Eighteenth-century England is often claimed to be the origin of consumerism, where the conditions of capitalism engineered the consumer society which appears so pervasive in our contemporary world. Over the last 20 years historians, economists and sociologists have considered that consumerism has its roots in the commodity fetishism that was seen to emerge in Georgian England. They have pointed to the ‘object crazes’ of the period, the advent of mass-production and rising levels of affluence as evidence of this trend. Archaeologists working on the period have tended to echo this view, observing that the influx of goods and materials into society heralded an altered ‘world-view’ and an acceptance of the new commodity-driven society... An alternative account to the ‘consumer society’ argument can emerge from courtesy books, novels and the proliferation of object-centred fiction. Moving beyond large-scale processes, this study focuses on the individual level, upon the manipulation of objects by people, and of people by objects."

Dr Wilson goes on to demonstrate his point explicitly through the fiction of Jane Austen:

"Novels can be used to assess the nature of the relationship between individuals and objects. They detail the way characters interacted with objects, not solely with regard to the development of plot but to make the character believable. Objects indicated the character’s position on the social scale and showed how such individuals appropriated and were appropriated by the material culture which surrounded them. Although published in the early 19th century, the later novels of Jane Austen, namely Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion, demonstrate this relationship between individual and object. Austen’s few detailed accounts of objects illuminate the relationship between material culture and late 18th-century society...They indicate how objects were used by individuals to express desires, to internalize values; they also show how objects used individuals, imposed the values of society, and formed behaviour and perception. They provide an alternative way of viewing the use of objects in the 18th century apart from the notions of the ‘consumer society’."

>> Read the full article for free