This is an aggregated collection of entries from archaeology blogs. The list is comprised of blogs from:
- Past Horizons - written by Maggie and David (BAJR)
- BAJR - written by David (BAJR)
- ArchaeoGeek - written by Jo Cook, Information Systems Coordinator, Oxford Archaeology
- Online Archaeology - written by Steve White
- Theoretical Structural Archaeology - written by Geoff Carter
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FOSS4G 2013 Thoughts
aka that mythical time post FOSS4G 2013
So where to start? This feels really weird. I first discussed bringing FOSS4G to the UK in 2006, at the first “official” (don’t start on the lineage of the name, this isn’t the place) FOSS4G with my colleagues at the time, Chris and Leif, and Tyler Mitchell. It was (is?) still on the list of objectives in the UK chapter pages on the OSGeo website. Fast forward 7 years and I’m on my way home from Nottingham, with more t-shirts than I started off with, achy feet, bone-tiredness, and a weird kind of numb feeling about what has just happened.
(Small self-congratulatory bit for the team) I think we did a good job! We could have done some things better, and we had a lot of luck, but in general it worked well. Thanks to the team. We couldn’t have done it without every single person. That’s all I’m going to say on that- lots has been said (go see Twitter and come back if you’re interested…). Back? OK. So this is just some general thoughts on the event, and what it’s like to organise something like FOSS4G. There will be a more formal debrief for the FOSS4G cookbook, this is just a non-objective brain-dump- you have been warned (and people from the Portland committee might want to look away in case you get put off)…
- Conference organising on this scale is tough. Take the level of toughness you expect, and multiply it by at least two. If you knew how tough it was, you wouldn’t do it. Really.
- You learn a lot about yourself and your fellow team members over the year. You spend a lot of time together, on and off-line, you get excited, frustrated, stressed and scared. You learn that everyone handles this differently, and at the end of it, you really are a team- and not just of colleagues and acquaintances, but firm friends.
- Don’t expect, realistically, to have either time or headspace to think of anything else in the run up to the event. Become a task-management ninja so that your boss isn’t forced to sack you.
- Only attempt this if you have an understanding boss!
- Get a thick skin, as “Conference-Organiser’s Law” states that “Someone will complain about EVERY.SINGLE.THING” and you can’t take every comment to heart, or indeed act on every complaint. Similarly, those people that troll the event on twitter? Don’t bother. Really.
- Everything costs a lot of money, and at the end of the day you have to a) balance quality with cost, and b) pass those costs onto the delegates. People will complain about the cost (see point 5) and some people will feel entitled to a free ticket, but honestly there’s no such thing unless they are happy to camp/sleep in their car, and bring their own packed meals/drinks every day, and not use any conference wifi, power, or other facilities.
- Anyway, who should decide who is entitled? Is it better to cater for established core developers who have undoubtedly contributed an enormous amount to OSGeo, or new blood who might be the core contributors, movers and shakers of the future if they get inspired by attending FOSS4G?
- For future organisers- take advice from previous events but don’t listen to it unless you want to- it’s your turn so, within the bounds of logistics and OSGeo requirements, make it your own.
- Also, take up a hobby that allows you to clear your mind when you’re really stressed. Mine has been rock-climbing (try thinking about work when you’re clinging onto a rock with only your fingers) but YMMV.
Some thoughts from a punter’s perspective (warning, I only got to see a few talks so this might be totally un-representative):
- This event was about maturity- the big players are all well settled now, so what we had were talks about new releases and features. Previous bright-young projects are becoming more established too. This is all great! It’s getting even harder (let’s say ludicrous actually) to dismiss this stack as not fit for purpose, whatever that purpose is. Similarly we had keynotes/plenaries from some really big companies, talking about open source. There might have been complaints about getting guys in suits on the stage, but it demonstrates a growing confidence in our software and you’d be crazy not to see the advantages that might bring.
- There’s some great work going on in the services part of the stack too- which is fantastic from an interoperability perspective and again, making our software an even more viable option for companies alongside their existing packages, which I definitely see as a “softly, softly catchee monkey” approach. I also saw a couple of decent talks on metadata- making life easier to connect and store, which is definitely an area I’m interested in at the moment.
- Arnulf Christl won the Sol Katz award, which is not only totally deserved but dreadfully overdue. Paul Ramsey did one of the best closing keynotes that I’ve seen in a long time, as well as more presentations and workshops than all the other presenters put together, or so it seemed! Lots of people “from the internet” met each other face to face for the first time, in one case after 10 years of working together on the same project. People had fun.
So, what happens next? I tweeted recently that I’m looking forward to some “doing” rather than “organising”. This is not just related to FOSS4G, but a growing feeling that I am happier and more useful doing low-level tinkering in things that I’m interested in, than being on higher-level committees. So my plan for the next year is to step back from any committee stuff of any description. I want to continue my python learning. I want to get to grips with PgRouting and WPS, particularly from a UK ITN perspective. I want to do a release of Portable GIS that works with QGIS 2.0 and PostGIS 2.x. I want to blog about “some thing I found out that newbies might find useful”. Finally, I want to get back to giving talks about what I do (after all, who wants to listen to talks on conference organising?), and how others can get involved.
To those that came to our little “event”, thanks for visiting a smallish rainy island in the North Sea! Maybe see you in Portland next year. End Update.
|01 Sep 2015|
|Theoretical Structural Archaeology|
Deconstructing a Stonehenge "House"
|A game of blind house detective|
When a reader contacted me to ask my opinion on a reconstruction that was referred to as “the Stonehenge House”, I saw an interesting opportunity for a blind test. In truth, I had not looked at this, so I requested and received a copy of the archaeological plan from Durrington Walls on which the reconstruction was based. I fully expected to produce a different conclusion since, as an archaeologist, I try to work by deduction, rather than by comparison or projection; it's the difference between astronomy and astrology.
I sent my reply back in just over a day, in the form of the drawing reproduced below. It was just a quick hack; it has taken a lot longer to write it up for this post, probably because in term as of scale it is more like a Stonehenge Shed, and I have more significant structures I should be working on, but being an Aries, I can’t resist a challenge.
Regular readers will be aware that I do have serious prejudices about the nature of built environments in this period, which included large class Ei buildings like “Durrington Walls” . My interest is mainly in this main structure, which I know was a building, even though only half survives, because I have done the maths; post-processual academics know it is “ritual” because they haven’t.
At the time of writing this I still have not seen what was actually built, although along with the plan had come three bits of information about this particular reconstruction; that it was based on srp_house_851, which was similar to Skara Brae, and had a thatched “flex” roof. From these clues, you don’t have to be a Capricorn like Sherlock Holmes to deduce what they are going to happen ; the past, is going to get crudely fitted up. While you can usually follow Inspector Lestrade's “logic”, it represents a culture of presumption on the basis of previous form, where only evidence that confirms the gilt of the most obvious suspect is considered relevant. In reality, a lot of archaeological data gets taken round the back, given a good seeing to, and forced to confess; not that I am biased against rude natives in crude huts or vice versa. Archaeology; Rules of evidence; Astronomy or Astrology? It seems to be acceptable, even essential to some academic approaches to project ideas onto the evidence, rather than deduce them from the actual dataset.
Both astronomers and astrologers study the stars, the former strictly by measurement and deductive reasoning, while the latter also projects ideas onto the heavens, using the authority of traditional belief/faith structures to validate the perceived connection between apparently different classes of evidence.
In this particular case, ideas not inherent in the data recovered by the archaeologists at Durrington Wall, but taken from Skara Brae, a stone built structure on a treeless island a thousand miles away and roofing technique used by Native Americans will be “projected” onto the evidence. A bit harsh, but you can’t mix deduction and projection; you end up with radio-astrology, or even astro-archaeology!
While trying to follow a purely deductive process is, in a philosophical sense, an aspiration, it has to start by identifying existing presumptions, and challenging them. I only looked at the archaeological plan that of the structure referred to on the plan provided as srp_house_851, [Srp = Stonehenge Riverside Project]. While this may be Autocadian idiosyncrasy, "Srp_house_xxx" is also an interesting and entirely prejudicial use of the word “house”, presumably as in “habitation”; prompting the question; how was it established that people lived in this particular structure?
However, I am only working with a plan and I would like to know a lot more about the pit / gully complexes, in particularly the slot like features, before I could commit myself. Normally, structural analysis is logical and can be laid out as a flow diagram where the consequences of different options can be examined and tested against the evidence. Without all the dataset, I cannot properly test any model in detail, so this is simply an exercise; nor can I gauge how rigorous has been the analysis of the evidence used by the Stonehenge House builders.However, I think I can show that minor changes in assumptions can radically change logical outcomes, and that answers are conditioned by questions. It should already be apparent that I am projecting my own expectations onto what I imagine has been built. I have presupposed that the Stonehenge House builders will have prejudged a number of issues, and that is certainly my blind prejudice at the time of writing.
Above is the drawing I did a month ago in response to the arrival of the plan; there are details I would change, but with the information available it is as far as I am prepared to go in this particular direction......
FormSrp 851 was represented by a series of what I was assured were stake holes, [this is crucial], with an area of chalk floor surrounding a hearth, apparently features broadly shared other similar structures like Srp 547, although each has its own an individual pattern of associated slots and pits. The structure is possibly too small to be properly understood in terms of timber jointing and offset. At this scale the walls are at least part load bearing, and cob construction has been assumed, especially if only ‘Stakes’ were used; the presence of just a couple of posts can significantly change the way the roof load is distributed. Overall, the structure is remarkably regular and it is possible to superimpose quite a regular grid on the plan; this is my initial form of analysis, trying to understand the geometry of the roof from its supporting structure. The geometry, particularly the strong diagonal alignment and poorly defined corners on the north side suggested a pyramid roof, with ridge and gable on the south side, which is presumed to be of rigid construction.
The south wall is thicker due to the extra height; it has a door with a porch and window above, with a second window under the apex of the roof, providing light and ventilation. There is a potential height differential between the pyramid and pitched roof sections allowing for some sort of louvred opening in the apex , which in combination with openings in the gable could control to control smoke ventilation. There is certainly the potential for a planked first floor on joists running E-W, but much would depend on the function ascribed to the building. Knowing that the Stonehenge House builders had opted for a flex solution, and given prejudices about the nature of broader built environment, as well as my recent work with Native American architecture I went for a ridged structural solution, using cob, and some form of roof truss. I had not considered a flex roof in this context, although in such an eventuality, this geometry would indicate a dome rather than a pyramid would form the main roof. This type of structure begins to look remarkably like a yurt, but just as with Skara Brae, this is structure constructed with different types of materials. A yurt has a thin lightweight flexible skin; you cannot just add thatch or wattle and daub, and similarly, combining a ridged wall with a flexible roof is not straight forward. However, a soft skinned structure would explain why some of the edges of features around the south-west corner coincide with the line of the stake holes marking the "wall"; this would not be expected to occur with cob wall or wattle and daub construction. FunctionThe presence of the hearth tells us that this is a space not used for animals, but it does not follow this was a home; any building in which people spend time will require heat, as do a multitude of other processes.So let’s cut to the chase with this “House” concept; firstly, this is not necessarily what we would conventionally think of a house, it is small and might equally well be a utility building, an element in a wider built environment. Secondly, if you are housed in building this size you are probably at the bottom of whatever social pyramid existed. Its scale conforms to the smallest of traditional workers cottages, or the sort of buildings built for slaves. To illustrate this I have included a plan and section of Early C19th agricultural labourers from Kettlebasion in Suffolk, which was built of cob with a thatched roof and a later brick fireplace,  [Left; the image shows the derelict cottage shortly before demolition]. Conversely, an interpretive schematic of a Neolithic Farmhouse, demonstrates the scale of building required to accommodate not only a household, but also all the products and processes necessary for the practice of agriculture.However, the key issue is the interpretation of the slot like features which define three sides of the floor. I can imagine that they have been interpreted as furniture, especially given the mention of Skara Brae where slabs of stone set in the ground had been used as the basis of ‘beds‘ and other internal structures.Furniture is traditionally free standing, and not set in the ground, because it is not load bearing in serious engineering sense, structural stability is usually the only real justification for placing wooden components in the ground. If they represent very heavy fixed benches, bed or bunks, it certainly adds to the impression of accommodation for slaves or perhaps soldiers. Putting aside a “house” as a function, it is worth hypothetically considering what other types of buildings fit the evidence; a small building with a heat source, floor, and some potentially load bearing internal structures. The hearth takes up a lot of the space, restricting activity to the margins of the building, which would effect the utility of the space, and its potential use for something like a workshop. As well as warming people, fire is the principle source of heat for drying and processing a very wide range of products, although not all might require a building of this type. Returning to the issue of the slots, they are clearly related to the geometry of the building, and have a distinctly offset layout. My first assumption with earth-fast features is that they are load bearing in an engineering sense; linear features I associate particularly with walls, stairs, and occasionally door frames [thresholds]; most everything else is covered by postholes.
Thus, my first port of call would be a structure like a staircase, in three flights, a half turn with landings, which would have structural implications, the building would be taller, and might need a gable on the north side to explain why the slot is nearer to the north wall, [headroom]. While it would be natural to assume a floor or floors, if the structure was used for smoking meat or fish, the stairs might be for accessing the space; conversely, a function involving drying or malting grain would require a floor. Just as any possible association with drainage can be understood on the basis of comparative levels, so stairs should be detectable by the depth and profile of the features as well as their positioning within the building; [without this information this is an exercise].On the subject of drainage, heavy duty fixtures and fittings may be indicative of significant volumes of liquid, presumably in rectangular troughs, rather than circular vats. While there are processes such as brewing, dying and washing fabrics, it is only a bathhouse that might be expected to have rectangular troughs, which is is an intriguing, even subversive suggestion. Bigger PicturesAsking different questions produces different answers, thus I did not expect to agree with the Stonehenge House builders. In addition, I have the advantage of not actually having to physically realise anything, as well as different understanding Prehistoric timber architecture in this period. This creates a bias towards a complex multifaceted built environment, which need not presume a conventional domestic function for structures. While I consider ethnographic comparisons unhelpful and often absurdly simplistic, I do consider the local historical architectural tradition to be guide to the types of buildings used in that environment. In one sense scale is a reflection of local materials, but also relates to the needs of local economies and social structures; architecture reflects its patronage. While there are better and more complete buildings to study, I have taken the opportunity to look at main building at Durrington Walls, for an upcoming article on interlace theory. I think that it is a domestic building, simply because it has complex geometry, although not as eccentric as Woodhenge. However, once you understand that the built environment contained what we might term full-blow architecture, with buildings built to be as large as technically possible, it radically changes the perception of ancient structures and the society that built them.While individual buildings should be always considered on their own merit, they are usually part of a wider build environment, were specialist functions and social differentials are represented in a range of types across a geographical area. The intent of this approach is to understand the engineering principles behind a structure; with the classes of evidence available, its skin cannot be realised. While “what it looked like” is what people think they want, once you start imagining the past, the pictures can become more important than the evidence, simply because they are a lot more “real” than the archaeology. Smaller Pictures Despite an absence of relevant evidence, we have developed a visual culture of the past to which we not in any rational sense entitled. It is a sort of iconography; we recognise an image of Jesus which almost certainly bares no relation any potential “Historical” reality. Just as we make deities in our own image, or rather in the reflection of our own collective imagination, so the realisation of the past often tells more about the state of our visual culture than it does about the past. This imaginary world tends to be centred around the “trope” of simplistic prehistoric people with an almost universal primitive tribal culture uniting those who lived in caves, [and fought dinosaurs or wild beasts in their underwear], with those progressing gradually towards the classical period in a series of crude huts built with the minimum of resources or technical input by toolmakers who has yet to master their use. Not the sort of people to live in a palace or need a bathroom. Thus, I fear that the Stonehenge House will be another episode in primitive man’s quest for shelter, which started in the 1940’s with a Little Woodbury reconstruction that looked like it built by Adam and Eve following the fall, [above left], a theme with continued the out of Africa buildings at Butser which inspired a generation of mud huts and rustic gazebos. It’s a past as built by students, an advantage that ancient peoples could never have imagined in their wildest dreams; so we imagined it for them. While the post-processualists have brought us a landscape full of meaning, sacredness, and similar conceits, it is sadly devoid of functional architecture, illustrating the disadvantages of studying your own imagination. The underlying issue is a methodology that detects, compares, and conceptualise archaeological buildings in terms of shape. This in turn facilitates comparison across space and time, usually with scant regard for geographical context, scale, raw materials, climate and culture. The archaeological evidence is co-opted to fit ideas and patterns derived from entirely different contexts by ignoring any differences in favour of similarities . The concept of “reconstruction” can come under significant evidential strain, when it is “based” not on deduction from the evidence, but projection of ideas onto to it; fundamentally, it is the difference between Astronomy and Astrology.DenouementAt the time of writing I have not looked at what was built; I will leave the article as it stands regardless – as a record of my own prejudice about the contemporary culture of Prehistoric building reconstructions. As my own efforts have been limited by lack of detailed information, I can reserve judgement, but that would be cheating. One the advantages of modelling is that you can be honest about degrees of confidence and fit.Notwithstanding these limitations, I ought to come clean about what I think about Srp 851; I am not convinced of any particular non-domestic function, although I like the idea of a smoke-house; I cannot make a good case for a stairs, and nor can I justify a bathhouse, which is a shame. Both the slots and the nature of the floor remain an issue to my mind, as does the complex of features to the west. So while I might be prepared to concede some ground on the low value domestic habitation front, worryingly, I am currently unable to find any good argument against Srp 851 being the remains of a temporary soft skinned structure like a yurt.
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
[... and presumably also physically occupying real spacetime somewhere else].
How Did I do Do?
Sources and Further Reading ’Neolithic houses in northwest Europe and beyond’’ (1996) Neolithic Houses in North-West Europe and beyond (Oxbow monograph 57) [Paperback]. T.C. Darvill (Editor), Julian Thomas (Editor)
 Klinger, Leslie (2005). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. New York: W.W. Norton. p. xlii. ISBN 0-393-05916-2.
 McCann, J., 2000, Clay & Cob Buildings, Album Series Vol. 105
|19 Jul 2015|
British archaeologists fight with Italian farmer to save ancient aqueduct
|In January father and son team Edward and Michael O’Neill discovered the headwaters of the aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Trajan, hidden beneath a crumbling 13th century church north of Rome. A sophisticated example of Roman hydraulic engineering, the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Traiana, was inaugurated in 109AD and carried fresh water […]|
|06 Jun 2010|
|As you may have noticed, BAJR Blogging has remained unloved since December. This is because of the shiney new BAJR Federation site… http://www.bajrfed.co.uk get along there and enjoy… with news, galleries and forum to keep you up to date and … Continue reading |
|09 Feb 2010|