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Cover of British Archaeology 114

Issue 114

Sept / Oct 2010


All the latest archaeology news from around the country


MAIN FEATURE: Happisburgh

The project leaders give us the latest findings after six years of research on the earliest humans in Britain.

The obscure ownership of archaeological material

Haggai Mor recently worked in one of the world's largest archaeological store and wondered who all the things dug up actaully belong to?

Finding Boudica's Last Battlefield

With the help of computerised terrain analysis, Steve Kaye has narrowed down the possibilities.

The Lost Anglo-Saxon Church of Westbury-on-Trym

Jon Cannon explores a crypt beneath a Bristol church and is greeted with an amazing find.

Finding Private Mather

A victim of battle in WW1 remembered by his family, is finally laid to rest.

Archaeology: What Is It For?

Martin Carver reflects on how and why archaeologists do what we do.

The Varmints Show

In the Varmints' second exploration of music and archaeology, Breck Parkman is uncovering the 'Whitehouse of Hippiedom' at the Olompali State Historic Park, San Francisco.


The dark secrets of ancient peat, the decaying of Star Carr

on the web

Audio-visual presentations online and the 'Visual Essays' of ArchAtlas.

Mick's travels

Mick and Jon share the wonders of Jersey

CBA Correspondent

From CBA Publications Officer, Catrina Appleby


Your views and responses


THE BIG DIG: Links of Noltland

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

MAIN FEATURE: Digging for (Invisible) People

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

Dig for Shakespeare

Literary critics may wonder if Shakespeare wrote all those plays, but archaeologists know where to find him.

The Varmints Show

An occasional series specifically for the website, showcasing pop music inspired by archaeology or heritage. The first of the series features Air-Raid Shelter (Pillbox) by The Human Cabbages.

More online features to follow


All the latest archaeology news from around the country

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones investigates real and reconstructed worlds, and Andy Burnham highlights ancient sites viewable from the roadside, including extra content.


Your views and responses


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

on the web

The sense of the past

Conditions on an excavation can occasionally feel like something between a squat and a mudbath. Caroline Wickham-Jones has a way of escape.

VIA Research Showcase

The web is primarily a written resource, but archaeology is about more than words and our bodies are primed to receive information in different ways. How does internet archaeology cater for our five senses?

First to one of my favourites: taste. Food is well catered for, though many sites are geared to children. Educational sites like the BBC take us back in time, others provide basic information ("Have you ever wondered what people ate thousands of years ago? Some of it's pretty WILD!"). There are recipes from archaeologists, podcasts, and even a period by period history of salt or a world history of carrots. Material relating to the excavation of food and drink is scarce, though it does exist (eg at Deir el-Medina). Surprisingly few modern eateries adopt an archaeological theme.

Turning to sight, ViArch provides a clearing house for a variety of projects: online games, reconstructions (Okapi Island in Second Life) and a photoblog. Art History Resources links the ancient past to the most recent. To experience the art of the past you can descend into caves, crawl in tombs, or view medieval wall-paintings. Recent research argues the case for studying colour and aesthetics.

Research into the archaeology of sound is developing. Aaron Watson's Archaeoacoustics will alter your perception of neolithic monuments with his auditory dynamics. The International Study Group on Music Archaeology combines archaeology, ancient instruments and musical theory to provide a glimpse of the material culture behind the music (in German). Mixcoacalli provides a similar service for the Americas, and Music Archaeology offers a round up. Actual sound clips are more elusive, though Gallica provides a sample.

Smell is less tangible, though at least one archaeologist has devoted a paper (PDF c1.4MB) to it, and a comprehensive cultural history was published in 1994 (Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell, by C Classen, D Howes and A Synnott, Routledge). Plenty of sites examine the history of perfume; the University of Bristol implies a direct link between archaeologists and bad smells.

Finally touch – a sensitive subject. The vibes of ancient stones have popular appeal (see note at the foot of Academics shudder when skulls and artefacts are handed round at the Tomb of the Eagles in Orkney, yet the sensory experience has lingered for many a visiting eight-year-old in a way that traditional museum displays have yet to achieve. Archaeology is tactile; life is tactile – in the past as well as the present, yet research into the way in which people engaged with their world in this way is hard to find on the internet.

I am not the first to think of this. "Toward a sensory archaeology" is an interesting and well-referenced essay from Illinois. Nevertheless, archaeology as widely practised tends to be static and monochrome. We do well to remember that life is not like that; websites and studies like these are an important way to round out our understanding of the past.

Top Site: ViArch

Sensing the Past on the Web

  • Visualisation in Archaeology –
    • Visual communication in archaeology: research, references and workshops
  • Five Senses –
    • Using archaeological information and skills to the maximum
  • The Landscape and Perception Project –
    • Acoustics, sound mapping and visual data (in Wales)
  • The History Cookbook –
    • Are you eating posh or pauper? Recipes down the ages to suit all budgets
  • The World Carrot Museum –
    • Fascinating history for those worried about their ability to see in the dark

Caroline Wickham-Jones teaches archaeology at the University of Aberdeen

ArchAtlas: an odyssey in place and time

The late Andrew Sherratt had a vision for a huge archaeological atlas project, that would transform the way we explore and understand the past. Toby Wilkinson reports on where it is now.

ArchAtlas Screenshot

ArchAtlas (pronounced "ark-atlas") was the brainchild of Andrew Sherratt. It was built on his 30 years of collecting and creating archaeological maps on paper, slide and the back of beer mats, and he saw it as a way of exploring spatial archaeological questions through his uniquely visual approach. The first website went online around 2003, developed by Francesco Menotti at the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford. It included a number of interpretative essays on such topics as the origins of farming in south-west Asia, the role of portages in long-distance maritime and overland route networks, and landscape evolution in southern Mesopotamia. It was designed to show the potential of satellite imagery and its interpretation at a wide range of scales for both research and teaching.

After Andrew's death in 2006, Deborah Harlan, Susan Sherratt and Toby Wilkinson inherited the project. We were faced with the problem of whether, and how, to develop it further. We quickly decided to reorganise the website around its special strengths: to focus on the unique "visual essays" which Andrew and others had already created; and to develop the use of global satellite imagery and new visualisation technologies such as Google Earth. These might suggest new approaches to sites and regional settlement histories, in relation to landscape and environmental changes over time. As part of this reorganisation, we established ArchAtlas Journal, identified a number of broad ArchAtlas themes (settlement and urbanism, origins of agriculture, routes, trade and exchange, and visualisation technologies), and set up the ArchAtlas workshops.

The first two workshops (on the reconstruction of early settlement history in the Near East, and the relationship between routes and landscapes in Eurasia) took place in the Department of Archaeology at Sheffield in 2007 and 2009, with the support of the British Academy. They included participants from six different countries, from new postgraduates to senior scholars, and the proceedings are published online in ArchAtlas Journal. The aim of these workshops is to present and discuss key archaeological themes from a spatial point of view, and in a primarily visual manner.

ArchAtlas Journal is intended to be a free-to-view, open-access, web-based scholarly publication. We ask contributors to avoid long texts, and instead focus on a series of annotated, visually-rich slides: hence "visual essays". This allows publication of full-colour graphics or interactive features which can better explain certain problems and ideas than traditional text. We also actively encourage the use of journal images for teaching and research presentations, with due attribution to authors and ArchAtlas. New contributions are warmly welcomed.

In the website's latest version (edition 4), it is slowly being enhanced by the ArchAtlas Atlas. Archaeologists and interested members of the public can be frustrated by the difficulties, when using such powerful tools as Google Earth, of locating published archaeological sites precisely and accurately, and relating them to each other in space. Traditional paper reports often show maps at scales which make it impossible to find sites easily. To address this, all sites mentioned in the ArchAtlas Journal are being integrated with our new OpenAtlas to show their location using Google Maps/Google Earth. Importantly, we try to indicate the degree of confidence we have in the coordinates we provide, rather than simply publish unverified data. Searching by both period and place will also soon be a feature of this section.

The future of archaeological research and information dissemination undoubtedly lies in digital publication, syndication and large-scale machine manipulation of data on themes such as location, topography, geophysics and environment. The amount of data available to archaeologists has already led to increased over-specialisation, and has largely divorced broad interpretations from empirical evidence. Experts, students and the public alike wish to make sense of the big picture: to make this possible means finding ways of sharing structured digital data of varied types, at a wide range of resolution levels. For this reason, besides planning various archaeological tools for the site, ArchAtlas also aims to share data via syndication feeds, to encourage new links with other online resources and traditional publications.

Toby C Wilkinson is project co-ordinator for digital mapping on the ArchAtlas team.

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