Sign Up
Online Archaeology
Get the Online Archaeology app from the Apple iPhone Store now

Get the Online Archaeology app now!

Archaeology Blogs
Archaeology Blogs
Python easy_install in Portable GIS

One of the things I’ve wanted to fix with Portable GIS is the method of installing new python packages. Since the version of Python included in Portable GIS is not in the windows registry, many python installers don’t work because they can’t find the installation. This includes packages like setuptools, and Pip, for easily installing packages from PyPi. While it’s possible to manually download a package and extract it into the correct location, that’s not fun, elegant, or sustainable, as it takes no account of dependencies or versions.

Enter this post from Nathan Woodrow’s blog. This points us at a bootstrapped installer for setuptools, which will install directly into a folder rather than looking in the registry. Simply download the linked ez___setup.py script, save it to your Portable Python directory (the one that actually includes python.exe) and run it. This should install setuptools into your Portable Python installation and allow you to use easy_install to grab packages (including Pip).

This will be included automatically in the next release of Portable GIS, but for now, it’s an easy do-it-yourself fix.

03 Sep 2014
Theoretical Structural Archaeology
Roundhouse Psychosis
In the previous post I explained why the large Wessex style “roundhouse” as illustrated and rebuilt is a fiction which is not supported by the evidence.  To be fair to all concerned, it never was a “peer reviewed” idea, but like the artists reconstruction that decorate the front of some archaeological texts, it has a far greater impact on our collective perception of the past than any sterile rendition of the evidence. 
The problem is that Roundhouses are more than just infotainment, a bit of harmless hokum for Joe Public, they are taken seriously, not only by those who commission and build them, but also by academics, and even fellow archaeologists who are obliged to shape their reports around this simplistic construct.  While dumbing down the academic system lightens everybody’s load, it is not good for the long term mental health of the profession, who have responsibility with ‘doing’ the day to day archaeology.  We like to think what we do is meaningful, making a contribution, and that we are collectively getting somewhere, it is about the only reward you will get.
As a field archaeologist, writing up sites, I had realised that the simplistic roundhouse only made sense if ignored a lot of the actual evidence from these structures, and, the majority of the structural features from elsewhere on the site.  Furthermore, those aspects of the evidence that reflected the archaeology of other published sites [roundhouses] were deemed particularly significant, reinforcing the cycle of belief.  Thus, apart from square four post granaries, circles are generally the only acceptable shape for a prehistoric buildings; both excavation and post-excavation were approached with same expectation, and to some extent purpose, of finding roundhouses.
Roundhouses; a coping strategy
In general, the actual work of excavation and report writing is done by people like me, judged too stupid to teach archaeology, while those who stay on at university to instruct the next generation, can avoid any practical involvement in the process.  Since the merit is reading reports, not in writing them, there is a danger that what universities teach is what they know - how to teach and read archaeology. 
How to do archaeology – write a report about the unique piece of cultural heritage that you have just destroyed – is something you’ll probably pick up along the way, or so you hope as you hack your way through the topsoil with a JCB....  
In the end, roundhouses are just one of those stories we tell ourselves, a myth to ward off the chaos, and tame complexity that confronts us; it is an article of faith on which we have become dependent, a candle lit against the darkness of the past.
 How real and imagined roundhouses simplify interpretation; Springfield Lyon's Essex  [Bronze Age] A: All period features. B: Roundhouses and rampart. C: Reconstruction [1]
Nb. Nice picture, but it's a mirror image of the actual archaeology, and only one building is a real roundhouse.  There is considerably more soil in the rampart than could have come from the ditch, and it is piled at an unstable angle. The artist did not understand how a box rampart works, and has created a composite structure incorporating features of various styles of defence. 
Guilty secrets; Mea Culpa
For all practical purposes, identifying the roundhouses is job done for the structural evidence, and while this might leave the majority of the postholes un-interpreted, since they are not roundhouses, they can add nothing to the collective narrative.
Given the time and expense invested in excavation, the process is under pressure to produce, and since “roundhouses” are the only relevant transferable currency, many reports contain join the dot roundhouses, in which a selection of disparate features, or perhaps those forming an arc, are converted by a dotted line into a circle and significantly enhancing roundhouse yield.
It is always difficult to draw attention to shortcomings in archaeological reports, while it is the only way to make progress, it’s not the way the friends or influence people; I tend to pick sites I have some vague connection with, and luckily, my own work at Orsett exhibited most of the main symptoms of roundhouse mania  [2].
Drip Gullies;  Magical thinking
The “drip gully“ more than any other concept, illustrates the psychosis of roundhouse, it is usually self-contained curving or even penannular feature in the subsoil, often up 2’ / 60 cm deep, apparently formed by either;
  • Water dripping off the roof of a roundhouse – magically dissolving the soil away to form a feature, or
  • Builders deliberately digging a trench to fill with water from the roof – an anti-drain.
The idea of encouraging water to soak into the ground next to the building instead of taking it away using gravity [a drain] is a truly senseless, especially on impermeable soils, where it only serves to collect water.
However, by far the most important thing about “drip gullies” is that they often represent the only evidence for a building; we have now reached the point where roundhouses themselves are invisible, and only the impression – deep into the subsoil - left by water dripping off the roof has survived.
A "roundhouse" I saw excavated at Blyth Northumberland was defined by a "drip gully", polygonal feature cut into impermeable boulder clay, with traces of the timber footing clearly visible in the section. This was understood  a "drip gully" caused by water dripping off the roof of building supported on an invisible wall.  [3]

Naturally, this is not really supported by the evidence, however, it is a point of connection with other reports, and importantly, any relatively short curving feature can be extrapolated create yet another roundhouse.

Inappropriate relationships; exotic fantasies
Realistically, postholes are only really perceived as significant if they form in a circle, but since the majority don't,  from this point onwards archaeology is effectively broken as a serious study . The identification of structures with no real geometric or structural integrity, simply on the basis of apparent circularity, only compounds the error.
Circularity, real or imagined may be the lowest common denominator, imparting both meaning and significance to otherwise uniform features, distinguishing them from others in data set. At a global level it provides connectivity with circularity in other data sets, allowing for cross-cultural comparisons; while igloos are round, they are made from different materialsfor a different environment by a different culture, which is why equatorial African huts are used as a basis for reconstructions [!]; although tents and yurts of nomadic pastoralists deserve a dishonourable mention. 
While, because of the termites, there is no tradition of timber framed building in Africa,  they do have round huts and  apparently that’s more than enough evidence to assume their buildings were the same as ours.

Meanwhile, back in the reality of the predominantly temperate heavily wooded, mountainous and marshy environment of post glacial north-west Europe, agriculture required a lot of fixed plant and is predicated on a complex built environment.  Many activities that might be accomplished in the open further south like threshing, milking, over wintering stock for example may have to done indoors as agriculture moved north.  
It is just how it works here, what people do in Africa or New Guinea is not relevant, and remember - it's a long way to come by canoe .

Ink Blot Test; Joining the dots.
Archaeology has developed my making connections between things, principally by looking for similarities, in things such as pottery.  Most of the structures identified as a “roundhouse” tend to be unique, with a rough approximation of circularity being the only common factor; however, due to some impaired reasoning this opens the way to make simplistic and inappropriate connections between unrelated phenomena on the basis of this superficial similarity.
Above/ left[4]
  • Can you see the pattern? 
  • Does it look familiar?
  • What do you think it is?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Are you sure?
Let’s look again at some of the important the symptoms of roundhouse psychosis:
  • Looking for exclusively for this phenomena
  • Imposing this pattern of expectation on the evidence
  • Ignoring evidence that does not conform with expectation
  • Seeing this pattern in unrelated or inappropriate data
  • Inferring their presence from the absence of evidence
Architectural “thinking” in British Prehistory is dominated by this unhealthy concentration on a dysfunctional and delusory construct, which has led to an imaginary world devoid of functional buildings, cleaned of all irrelevant structures, leaving a pristine landscape of no practical value to anyone with the misfortune to have to live there.  Quite how any sort of complex agricultural society could have been run from these rustic gazebos has never been fully explained; the problem is that people actually lived and worked in the Iron Age, they weren’t just camping.

The Acrophobic Roundhouse; Fear of Heights
Truth has become an abstract concept in archaeology, especially if it conflicts with the images in people’s minds; you may have a mental picture of roundhouse, you may also have one of Jesus; neither is real, but both can influence the way you think.  
If I tell youthat most of the substantial surviving Iron Age buildings were multi-storey, you may find the statement troubling, but it happens to be true; think about it.  ?
For many people the idea of multi-storey roundhouses cannot be true because of the fumes from the fire would choke everyone upstairs; the belief in the model is so absolute that the central hearth can be presumed without the need for evidence. This central hearth may be a fiction, but it is sustained by belief which makes evidence unnecessary, such is the nature of this psychosis.
Health warning 
While the assertions I have made about roundhouses may be evidentially true; there was no big open space with central hearthin the buildings I have discussed; archaeology is a faith based study, and what people believe is what matters.  Articles of faith, rituals, and superstitions, may be irrational or unfounded, but they are important coping strategies. So, regardless of  their debilitating effect on other more rational cognitive processes, these dependencies are unlikely to be given up voluntarily.  Bizarrely, roundhouses seem to be one of the few things most people seem comfortable with, and apart from stones and mounds, it is about the only substantive thing British Prehistory has to sell to people. 
Obviously, there are no poor universities, courses or lecturers, only poor students, so if you are a student, it would be most unwise to draw anyone’s attention to the evidence. While this is how we got here in the first place, the best way to personal progress in a subject like archaeology is by confirming and reinforcing existing prejudice.   My advice is to read and repeat.  If you can think, best keep it to yourself, it disturbs and unsettles those who can't, but it may come in useful if you do badly in your exams – you might end up being an archaeologist and having to write reports. 
I doubt any student has deep enough pockets or a long enough tongue to successfully dislodge a faith based concept like roundhouses.  It might be disappointing to discover that this bit is all just make believe, after all you paid a real money for it, but trust me, what is important in archaeology is having a job.
Meanwhile, here on the internet, this is the only place to find a mature post-university level narrative about timber engineering; but be warned, Prehistoric buildings were built by adults, so this is for grownups, it is quite complicated, because you can only dumb a subject so down far before it is really only credible to its proponents and children.

Note: If you are effected by any of the issues raised in this post then please feel free to comment.  

More detail on this topic here...

Sources and further reading
[1] D. G. Buckley and J. D. Hedges (1987), The Bronze Age and Saxon settlements at Springfield Lyons, Essex. Essex County Council, Occasional Paper No.5.
[2] G. A. Carter, 1998: Excavations at the Orsett ‘Cock’ enclosure, Essex, 1976. East Anglian Archaeology Report No 86.
[3] TWM Archaeology. Unpublished [?] Grey Literature.
[4] Woodhenge Post Ring F;
Cunnington, M. E. (1929) Woodhenge. Devizes
G. Bersu: 1940: Excavations at Little Woodbury, Wiltshire. Part 1, the settlement revealed by excavation. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 6, 30 -111

31 Aug 2014
Past Horizons
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
All change!
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
Online Archaeology Blog
OPEN ARCHIVE - a new web based system for accessing our past
The wealth of information gathered by local archaeological groups and societies on excavations, surveys and documentary research is one of the important sources of data for the study of archaeology in the UK. Currently, this archive of British archaeology is stored locally, within libraries and local history centres as well as with the originating group [...]
16 Sep 2009
Go to email Go to delicious.com Go to digg Go to technorati Go to reddit Go to stumbleupon Go to facebook Go to newsvine Go to simpy Go to google bookmarks Go to yahoo bookmarks Go to yahoo myweb Go to ask Go to slashdot Go to rawsugar Go to mister-wong Go to backflip Go to diigo Go to tailrank Go to live Go to twitter Go to fark Go to blogmarks Go to linkagogo Go to wink Go to ma.gnolia Go to bluedot Go to netvouz Go to blinklist Go to sphinn
Home · Connect · Contribute
Copyright 2013 Online Archaeology   |   Terms of Use   |   Privacy Statement