The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 103

Issue 103

Nov / Dec 2008



New insights into Viking Orkney

Aubrey Hole find could change Stonehenge's meaning

Child buried with unique carved pig

Dress pin

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2


Vikings in north-west England
Genetic and placename study reveals legacy - now expanded

THE BIG DIG: Avebury
After six years, was it worth it?

Heritage proterction
Have we learnt the lessons of Iraq?

35 years of the Matrix
Edward C Harris reflects on his idea

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones expores online games and Lorna Richardson describes free web utilities


your views and responses

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Don Henson says archaeology has a strong future in education


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones had a busy summer hunting for big games

Top Site: The BBC

Challenging times demand action.

One of the advantages of this column is the excuse to surf. What better way to spend a day as autumn approaches than trying out a few archaeological games? Archaeology lends itself to the digital world. Do archaeologists take advantage? What is there to learn?

Starting with something suitably icy and relatively recent, Finding Franklin's Relics is very worthy, with plenty of information but, perhaps like much archaeology, there is not much challenge and it is a bit boring. Past Explorers tries a similar, slightly more imaginative approach for children with its West Mucking village interactive reconstruction.

Going back in time, a search for "palaeolithic games" brings up only sites that cover game hunting, but "caveman" leads to more rewarding BBC games. "Skara Brae games" yields a surprising result at RPG Classics. BBC Scotland provides a more conventional Skara Brae approach. Stonehenge features mainly as a board game involving druids.

Moving into the bronze age, in Wiltshire we find a county council with imagination – and devilment. Few consultancies provide games. Wessex Archaeology is an honorary exception.

Some educational sitesmake use of archaeology, though many require a subscription, such as Grid Club. My Learning is free and offers a variety of museum-related activities. Show Me explores the meaning and work of museums in all their different guises.

CDX Popup

Much more challenge is available on the BBC website, from the cartoon adventures of Death in Sakkara to the Roman glories (definitely not suitable for younger children) of CDX. Beware, CDX is very sophisticated. At first I thought I had wandered into the wrong website, but there is plenty of good information and a slightly disturbing realism.

Many of these games rely on a good broadband connection and some push the technology. Several make use of page turning graphics akin to digipage. BBC's Hunt the Ancestor is simpler, but, nonetheless, fun. It follows the processes of fieldwork, but is still a challenge – this archaeologist spent her money too profligately on the early stages of work!

Rather than spend all day logged in to the BBC, which would have been quite possible, I turned to BAJR where there are a number of links to games, apparently both created in house and external. There is another excavation game here, very addictive.

Time Team offers surprisingly few games. Teamchester Fields is its dig simulation, but was the first game where my broadband connection let me down.

Given the popularity of the internet, and the availability of the technology there are some surprising gaps. English Heritage is alone among the national agencies in providing a gaming section; the activities are simple but effective. There are no games at the Young Archaeologists' Club, the CBA or Current Archaeology. Nothing beats reality – except a virtual world on a wet afternoon.

Web editor's note: staff are feverishly working away at brand new websites for the CBA, YAC and BA, with many extra features, including games!

Archaeological games on the web

The Prescot Street mashup

Lorna Richardson describes the clever use of free web utilities

The Prescot Street website has been in existence since November 2007. It has developed through 2008, alongside the excavation of part of the east London Roman cemetery by L–P: Archaeology. The company decided to use the excavation project to test a number of ideas intended to change the way that archaeology is done in the field, and the way in which it is presented to the public; the website is at the core of this. Our over-arching aim is to provide numerous entry points for the exploration and understanding of the archaeology at Prescot Street, for both the general public and professional archaeologists.

The Prescot Street website is an example of a "mashup", which combines a number of Web 2.0 applications and hybridised open source software such as blogging applications, Java plugins, existing web services and our own online archaeological database system, Ark. The site is built around the Ark (archaeological recording kit), a system for creating and disseminating archaeological data online. The site also relies on Textpattern for managing content, Flickr for image galleries, for video feeds and Wikimapia for some mapping data. Through the use of mashups of existing data and code, with relatively minor modifications as required, we have been able to achieve extremely high quality results with a practically non-existent budget. Perhaps our biggest outlay has been on a digital camera, and my time as the website content manager.

L–P :Archaeology has particular interests in the creation of digital data during the fieldwork rather than afterwards. Context, photographic and plan data are published directly from site as they are created. Ark holds all the excavation data, and is available for interrogation by anyone that accesses the Prescot Street website.

All the staff on the project are required to contribute regularly to the website, through a blog-style journal, recording thoughts, discussions and narratives as they excavate. Anies Hassan, one of the supervisors, has made videos that explore the archaeology on site and de-mystify archaeological practices, such as context recording or excavating a feature, for the wider public. Hassan started with some commonly available software, and a relatively low level of specialist videography skills which he developed during the course of the project. A photo diary is an almost daily occurrence on the website, recording the archaeology as it progresses, as well as the site staff, any interesting finds and their work in progress. What is particularly innovative and exciting is that the photos and journal entries are linked to Ark via context numbers, so it is possible to view descriptions and photos of specific features and then examine the accompanying context data, plans and photographs, and even the small finds (see feature, this issue).

The website also contains information on the background history and archaeology of this area of London, an extensive discussion of the archaeology of the Roman cemetery, burial practices and religious beliefs and a learning area dedicated to schools and families, with downloadable games and resources for classroom activities. It is supported throughout by a glossary section that explains in lay terms the sometimes complicated and obscure terminology used in the field.

Feedback on the website has been very positive. We have yet to perform a full assessment of our visitor numbers, although we have had around 11,000 unique hits since the site was formally launched to coincide with the excavation in March.

We are currently erecting information boards around the site hoardings. These will never be able to compete with the depth of information we can provide online, and the Prescot Street website is proving to be a vital tool in the promotion of archaeology in London to a wider audience. As we move into the post-excavation process, the website will continue to grow, if more slowly. We hope that this will be an attractive, informative and well-presented site that offers a new style of archaeology for the public and archaeologist alike.

Lorna Richardson is outreach coordinator at L–P: Archaeology.

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