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Cover of British Archaeology 116

Issue 116

Jan / Feb 2011



All the latest archaeology news from around the country


Crosby Garrett Roman Helmet

The fullest report yet on its discovery, appearance and modern fate, plus its restoration

THE BIG DIG: Flixbrough

20 years of study at the Lincolnshire DMV

Fieldwalking in Bingham

The community story of a Nottinghamshire parish

Silbury Hill

What is it and how was it made?

The Varmints Show

In the Varmints' fourth exploration of music and archaeology, we look at Music and Place

on the web

Military sites of all periods and online teaching of GIS

CBA Correspondent

Our Casework team reviews another year of listed building saves


Your views and responses


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

on the web

The footprints of modern war

The CBA's Defence of Britain project field-recorded thousands of military sites. But, as Caroline Wickham-Jones finds out, there are still ruins to be studied and people to do it.

Archaeology extends to recent times, and increasing interest is shown in the UK heritage of 20th century warfare. This is archaeology in the making: as sites decay there is concern to record them before elements start to disappear.

None of the national agencies provides links to dedicated wartime pages, though searching for world war two on their home pages (England; Scotland; Wales; Northern Ireland) does bring up a variety of sites to visit or events to attend (some now past). Nevertheless, wartime remains are now recognised as an important field of study and the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow offers courses, publishes a journal, and carries out research. Other universities also cover wartime heritage, though the archaeological content varies.

Nationally, the Battlefields Trust promotes the conservation of battlefields through participation and information, while the Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust aims to educate as well as conserve. There is little indication of the aims of the Fortress Study Group on its home page, though prospective members discover that it is international in outlook and concerned with all aspects of military architecture and armaments in recent centuries. The Pillbox Study Group is more open and invites participation from the beginning.

Wartime heritage owes a particular debt to local archaeologists: whether independent, informed amateur, or enthusiastic beginner they have played a big role in compiling information. The Defence of Britain was a community archaeology project run by the CBA from 1995–2002, that recorded 20th century UK military sites, and was built on by the Defence Areas Project (2002–04). Active participation is now over, but as well as in books, a great deal of information can be found on the web, hosted by the CBA and the ADS.

Many sites are still poorly recorded or understood, and some remain hidden. Secret Scotland makes fascinating reading; wartime remains dominate the records which are carefully set out and illustrated. An impressive piece of personal research is presented by the website for Stobs Military Camp which covers both troops and prisoners-of-war, and includes images as the remains become archaeology. The Orkney Defence Interest Network has recently formed to promote the importance of Orkney's 20th century wartime heritage.

Wartime remains do not just comprise the built heritage. Air Crash Sites Scotland provides extensive information for aficionados. The Aviation Research Group for Orkney and Shetland works under licence using archaeological techniques to survey and document crash sites both on land and underwater. It provides a comprehensive list of links to other local crash site groups.

War graves comprise perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the sad remains of war. The Scottish War Graves Project was created by members of the Scottish War Memorials Project, and both are part of the Scottish Military Research Group. Curiously, Scotland appears to be more preoccupied in these matters than elsewhere in the UK.

Local information is plentiful for those who want to explore close to home, and the detail can be surprising: see for example the murals at Ness Battery, Stromness or The Defence of East Sussex Project.

Top Site: CBA Defence of Britain Project

Modern military remains on the web

  • Defence of Britain database –
    • Extraordinary amount of well-organised and searchable information, if less analysis
  • Secret Scotland –
    • A mine of information for a very different tour of Scotland: check out Barnton Quarry
  • Stobs Military Camp –
    • Testimony to the thousands who trained in the Scottish Borders, and whose mark has hardly been recognised
  • Pillboxes UK –
    • Read the German invasion plans, find photos of your local pillboxes, and make them out of your cereal packet
  • Orkney Defence Interest Network (ODIN) –
    • Wartime Orkney competes with prehistory as both field of study and economic draw

Caroline Wickham-Jones teaches archaeology at the University of Aberdeen

GIS made easy (and cheap to teach)

Chris Green introduces a web-based teaching course for researchers who would like to use geographic information systems.

Archaeology has always been a discipline that is fundamentally concerned with the plotting and analysis of spatial patterns. As a result, the use of geographic information systems (GIS) – computerised systems for building geographic databases, analysing geographic data and producing maps – has become commonplace within our field. Indeed, experience within the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester over recent years suggests that many new postgraduate researchers (and also many staff and undergraduates) have come to see the use of GIS as an essential element of their research projects.

How do we teach basic GIS skills to these many new users, especially in a climate of restricted (and decreasing) higher education funding? An obvious answer is through the use of web-based tutorials. One such series of tutorials has recently been created as a joint project between Archaeology and Ancient History and Geography at Leicester University (funded by the SPLINT CETL, see endnote). It is available now for learning and study by new users of GIS everywhere. These tutorials were designed to provide a basic grounding for archaeological researchers in the usage of ESRI's ArcGIS software. ArcGIS was chosen to be the subject of these lessons due to its widespread usage in the higher education sector.

The course is designed to teach archaeologists how to import their data into ArcGIS, how to perform some common analyses conducted by many archaeological users of GIS, and then how to develop the cartographic skills necessary to produce maps for publications, websites, theses and any other purpose. The course is structured around three online lectures and three practicals, and is designed to take an average user around nine hours to complete.

The provision of online lectures was made possible through the use of Camtasia Studio 6, a software package designed to produce videos for websites. In this instance, the lectures consist of PowerPoint presentations with accompanying audio commentary. Videos are also provided to give users a walkthrough solution to the practical lessons, as it is not possible to provide assistance to remote users of the website who may be stuck on a particular practical step. Full lecture notes, a bibliography, and sources of further training and data are also provided as part of the course website.

Feedback from users to date has been entirely favourable but, naturally, there are several areas where this teaching material could be expanded upon. For one, there is no tuition on the digitisation of new map layers (beyond simple points), as this is a complex area which merits a full course of its own. Furthermore, there is also a need for tuition in other software packages, particularly those that are significantly cheaper than ArcGIS (such as GRASS, which is free, but arguably somewhat more complex for new users to get to grips with than ArcGIS). Adding further modules to the current website would be one way to fill these gaps in the future, or perhaps others could create complementary modules elsewhere.

The use of GIS is now common-place in archaeology and we see many maps in British Archaeology produced using GIS methods. The website discussed in this article provides an essential basic grounding in GIS usage for researchers who have access to ArcGIS.

Chris Green was supported by a fellowship from the SPLINT (Spatial Literacy in Teaching) CETL (Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) during the construction of the website. SPLINT is a joint project between the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham, and UCL.

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