CAA Tübingen 2018 – travels to southern Germany for digital archaeology!

CAA Tübingen 2018 – travels to southern Germany for digital archaeology!

Last month I travelled to the university city of Tübingen in Germany for the international Computing Analytical and Quantitative Analysis in Archaeology conference. I saw the sessions proposed last year and knew it would be really useful to present there and learn more about 3D recording methods being used for different research projects – so many sessions were directly relevant to my PhD!

I submitted a paper to Session 11: Untapping the value of old fieldwork records, as my PhD is looking at previous records of the Iron Age sites as well as collecting new 3D data. I wanted to present the methodology of my project, and how it ties the old and new datasets together to look at different aspects of the dry-stone construction of the Shetland broch sites. I thought it would be really valuable to get feedback on my ideas and to find out how other researchers are using old imagery, so I applied for the CAA Student Bursary, which I was lucky enough to receive.

my pres
Very atmospheric lecture theatre for my presentation in the Neue Aula at the university

This really helped make it more affordable for me to attend. I do get research funding for my PhD but as many archaeologists will know it costs a lot to travel to distant places for work, especially when you have a lot of specialist kit to take and look after, and with my summer fieldwork at Jarlshof and Old Scatness coming up this summer, I need to make that funding count!

This was my first conference outside of the UK and with an international audience of archaeologists attending I was a tad nervous! But it was very warm and friendly – the wonderful evening reception and ice-breakers really helped and I spoke to more than the target of 5 new people, as Axel Posluschny, Chair of CAA, challenged everyone in his opening speech. In fact I think I ended up speaking to more than 5 new people each day of the conference, so I did some decent networking! I met up with colleagues who I hadn’t seen for quite a while, and it was great to see other University of Bradford researchers presenting too: Micheal Butler and Andy Fraser of the Lost Frontiers Project both presented about aspects of their PhD research.

My presentation was on the morning of the first day of papers and went down very well. I was luckily in a very grand lecture theatre with a huge screen which did justice to the fantastic imagery of Mousa Broch point cloud that me and James Hepher from Historic Environment Scotland had been working on a few weeks before. I can’t wait to get to grips with all of this 3D information, it’s finally piecing together and we’re viewing the broch in ways that have never been seen before – like taking a slice out of it to see all the details of the interior!

The conference also had workshops. I attended one on using structured light scanners, as I’m not really familiar with them (they are for smaller scale objects whilst I’ve happened to end up recording bigger things!). Now at least I know how they work and even had a demo! I also had a go with some newly developed VR experiences – I know I’m in the right kind of conference when there’s a whole session devoted to developing virtual reality programs for archaeological research and dissemination! Sessions on modelling historic structures and discussions about 3D data managing gave me so many ideas for my own work…

VR experience
Trying out archaeological VR experiences developed by researchers

Having never been to Germany before it was great the organisers had welcome events in historic venues in Tubingen, including the Alte Aula and Schloss Hohentübingen. Tübingen is a beautiful medieval city. I arrived late in the evening and walking around the quiet lamp-lit streets with snow falling down was magical! We were given a tour around the collections of the Museum Alte Kulturen based in the castle, and it was fascinating to hear about the famous Ice-Age carved figurines, the world’s oldest 3D art forms, which were discovered in excavations run by the university (the famous horse figurine is the image at the top!).

Pretty market square at night, with Tubingen’s Rathaus


I also went on the conference excursion to some of the caves in the Swabian Jura which have been excavated, and from which some of the Ice Age figurines were found. In the small, picturesque medieval town of Blaubeuren is an archaeological museum which houses some of these finds.

pretty Blaubeuren
Blaubeuren town with it’s well preserved medieval buildings
Swabian caves
Deep down in the excavation levels of an Ice Age cave!

I’m a proper foodie and always like trying the local cuisine of any place I visit, and the hearty Swabian fare was ideal for the chilly weather (it snowed lightly for most of the week!). Highlights were maultaschen, spätzle noodles and the huge roast pork knuckle with sauerkraut I had on my last night!

I’d like to thank CAA conference organisers and committee for funding me with the Student Bursary. I would definitely like to present at the international conference again! (And I’m attending the UK one this October!



Digital Past 2018 Aberystwyth 7-8th February

Digital Past 2018 Aberystwyth 7-8th February

I’ve had a busy few months since the start of this year so a bit guilty of not posting as frequently as i should…

I’ve been cracking on with my progression to PhD report so spending a lot of time writing at my desk and also doing some test SFM photogrammetry of older photographs with help in Bradford Visualisation.

For the last few months I’ve been planning and arranging a roundtable discussion with Chris Casswell, Head of Fieldwork at DigVentures, on the theme of 3D data management and archiving. Me and Chris both work in acquiring and analysing 3D digital data in the field – particularly for SFM photogrammetry and terrestrial laser scanning. We thought it would be useful to host a session on the topic of data management and archiving as we deal with lots and lots of data, which takes up a great deal of space, and thought it would be good to bring together individuals from a range of different institutions and companies within the heritage sector, to hear what they do and as an opportunity to raise issues in how 3D data is dealt with at an archiving stage.

As Digital Past brings together many people with an interest in digital heritage, we thought it would be the ideal venue for the discussion, and we set up a workshop to bring together professionals in the field and get the ball rolling on how we can think of dealing with these matters. More news on that to come in future!

Overall it was a really good two days in Aberystwyth. The conference was great for catching up on how some major digital projects are progressing in the UK and hearing about new innovative work that’s being done, as well as meeting up with colleagues from all over the country!

I thought Aberystwyth is a quirky and scenic seaside/student town with very pretty architecture and lots of nice bars and restaurants – I wish I had more time to explore and will definitely have to return to this part of Wales, which I’ve never been to before!

Many thanks to the organisers of Digital Past for hosting our session, I’m looking forward to next year’s conference!

Winter update – much desk-based research and TAG Cardiff 2017

Winter update – much desk-based research and TAG Cardiff 2017

Happy New Year everyone! I’ve been tucked away at my office desk for the last few months doing much reading so I’m a bit guilty of not posting for a while…

For a while now I’ve been busy processing some of the laser scan data from last summer’s fieldwork, and also working on some of my PhD writing. This is fascinating stuff for me as I delve into past research into brochs and 3D imaging, but I haven’t got so much to blog about in the meantime!

However, I did travel down to Wales for the annual TAG conference, just before Christmas. I’ve never been to Cardiff before so it was exciting to experience a new city. I was invited to give a paper in the session “How to See Time: A Visual Culture Perspective”, that was organised and chaired by Felicity McDowall, Lisa-Elen Meyering and Katie Haworth from the Leverhulme Centre for Visual Arts and Culture at Durham University. It was a great experience and all of the talks generated some very interesting discussion, with gave me much food for thought for my PhD, particularly about how to visualise different time periods in a single space, and how digital data might be used to show the passage of time at an archaeological site.

I didn’t come last in the TAG quiz and really enjoyed the carols performance by a traditional Welsh choir during the TAG party. Hopefully I’ll be able to see a bit more of the city next time I visit!

I’m back in Bradford now and busying away at reports and further desk-based research, but I’m also preparing for the workshop that me and Chris Casswell of DigVentures are hosting at next month’s Digital Past conference in Aberystwyth. We’re running a roundtable discussion on managing and archiving of 3D datasets (from photogrammetry and laser scanning) and ideas for best practice in the archaeological sector. Speakers from national heritage bodies, commercial archaeological units, universities and the Archaeological Data Service will be participating, so we’re hoping for some really interesting and useful discussion for all involved! More info at:

More information about the conference, including how to register, can be found here:


Travels to Thurso, Caithness and Brochtoberfest!

Travels to Thurso, Caithness and Brochtoberfest!

This blog post comes a fair bit delayed as I’ve been so busy travelling to different events over the last month (and now settling back into scan processing in the office at Bradford), but I wanted to say thanks to Iain McClean and Ken McElroy of the Caithness Broch Project for inviting me up to Thurso to speak at their fantastically-named Brochtoberfest seminar – an annual event where broch-related researchers and enthusiasts gather to hear about the latest in broch-related studies and archaeological work. It was a sell-out event, and located in the wonderful Caithness Horizons Museum – well worth a visit to see its impressive collection of carved Pictish stones.


Dan Harris talks about building the Lego Broch


It was great to meet other broch researchers and be informed on the many interesting activities being done to study and present these sites and their archaeology. I also got to see the impressive Lego broch model on display in the museum, which was fun (much heated discussion was heard about the features the model includes, and also the technical difficulties of modelling a round tower using square bricks…!). Dr Samantha Dennis also brought some artefacts from the Old Scatness Broch excavations with her, for her presentation on cataloguing the finds in the Shetland Museum, which were great for the attendees to handle.


The famed Lego Broch on display at Caithness Horizons! The level of detail is fanastic – note the smoked fish inside, and intra-mural galleries between the walls!


I must add a thank you to the owners of Pennyland House B&B for their kind hospitality during my stay in Thurso. I explored the town and nearby Scrabster the day after the festival, before I caught the train back down south (main image at the top shows the view of the island of Hoy, Orkney, from outside Pennyland House, plus some rather sleepy sheep!). An interesting fact: Thurso station is the most northerly in the UK, so I travelled quite literally to the end of the line! It’s a very scenic journey, spotting many deer and birds of prey on the way. I must visit some of Caithness’s broch sites the next time I am in northern Scotland.


The historic Pennyland House B&B


The return to Orkney: Our Islands, Our Past conference 14th-17th September

The return to Orkney: Our Islands, Our Past conference 14th-17th September

Last week I returned to Orkney (less than two months since I was there last!) – setting off at the crack of dawn in the northeast of England and making the epic drive to the most northerly point of mainland Scotland, before catching the shortest ferry crossing to take me over to the Northern Isles – again! I did drive over the new Queensferry Crossing, which is very impressive (I’ve now crossed all three Forth bridges in a year!). I also stopped off at Inverness to see the cathedral, have a bite to eat and a stroll along the river which was lovely. The purpose behind this exciting road trip (8 and a half hours on the road not including breaks!) was to give a paper on outlining the ideas and aims of my PhD at the Our Islands, Our Past conference, held by the Archaeological Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) in Kirkwall. I also wanted to see a few sites I hadn’t done on my first visit to Orkney and ambitiously hoped to see the Northern Lights if the weather conditions were right…

Driving over the Queensferry Crossing on its first full week of running

I caught the morning ferry from Gills Bay, near John ‘O Groats, to St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay. It was my first time on this island, so I visited the famous Tomb of the Eagles, a Neolithic chambered cairn 5000 years old. (I chose to “skateboard” into the cairn as it was quite muddy, and appreciated borrowing some waterproof trousers the visitor centre thoughtfully has prepared for visitors!). The coastline walk around the site has some dramatic cliffs, and I spotted a seal sunning itself in the bay, as it was incredibly bright outside (but windy!).

It’s a bit of a squeeze through the Tomb of the Eagles passageway!

Last time I was in Mainland Orkney I was a bit pressed for time as I caught a bus to see the sights, and the nice driver let us have a whistle-stop tour of the Standing Stones of Stenness before continuing back to Kirkwall. I knew the site of Barnhouse Neolithic Village was close but I didn’t want to risk missing the only bus back into town for several hours! This time, taking a car (definitely the most flexible and convenient way to travel around Orkney), I walked to the Barnhouse Neolithic village from the standing stones. It is remarkably close (literally the next field along) and I was surprised at how few visitors were there. Perhaps they too had buses to catch! I explored Stromness Museum and the town in the afternoon, which reminds me somewhat of Lerwick in Shetland with its old harbourside storehouses and narrow lanes. On the way back to Kirkwall I stopped off at Unstan Chambered Cairn, and befriended a Shire horse in the next field over…!

Not shy for the camera, this fellow came over to say hello at Unstan Cairn

The day before the conference started I managed to squeeze in some non-prehistoric sites on the mainland, including the Norse settlement on the Brough of Birsay, the Earl’s Palace at Birsay and the Earl and Bishop’s Palace in Kirkwall – which is deceptively Tardis-like! I was amazed by how much of the Earl’s Palace remains and exploring the upper levels you do get a sense of how grand and complex the building was.

Find me! Overlooking the impressive remains of the Bishops Palace, Kirkwall

My last touristy thing to do was have a guided tour of Highland Park Whisky Distillery in Kirkwall. I’d never been to one before and don’t really know much about whisky making, so it was a fascinating experience (and now I know what the difference between single-malt and blended whisky is!). Nice to have a wee dram at the end of the day too!

Whisky casks ageing gracefully at Highland Park distillery

Onto the actual purpose of my visit(!) – I really enjoyed listening to the papers given at the student conference held at the St Magnus Centre on Friday by undergraduates and postgraduates at UHI. It was a great idea to combine the student event with the overall conference, encouraging students to present for the first time and giving them good practice for the future, and for visitors to hear about the research they are doing. I wish I had more practice in presenting as an undergrad – it’s a skill little taught at school but essential in academic research. I guess dressing up as a Roman and giving guided museum tours helped me out a bit, but it’s always different being up on stage (quite literally for this conference as it was held in the impressive Orkney Theatre)!

I had a very good time at the main conference. There’s such a wide range of different projects going on in the Northern Isles and it’s always nice to meet new people! Plus the stalls and extra presentations during the breaks were very interesting to see. I hope people liked my presentation. I’ve just started to process and look at the data we scanned from Mousa, so in a couple of months’ time it’ll look fantastic visually, but the audience were the first to see some of the scans registered together, so digital Mousa is being pieced together bit by bit! Many thanks to the organisers for inviting me to speak, and for such a great experience (the Orkney fudge in the conference bag was a nice treat!).

I had to catch the Pentland Ferry before the last session ended sadly, but I did manage to stop off at Doune Castle on the way down to Bradford. It’s where much of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed, and has an excellent audio tour narrated by Terry Jones. As a big Python fan, it was a fun place to see (though I do wish you could climb the battlements to re-enact John Cleese’s taunts to King Arthur as the angry Frenchman…!). Doune itself is a lovely town and the local cafe does an amazing burger!

Doune Castle, as seen in Outlander (lots of fans there on the day!) and location of “Spamalot”

Back in Bradford now, I’ve got plenty of data to be putting together over the next few weeks. It’ll be exciting seeing virtual Mousa come together!

Round up on IARSS 2017

Round up on IARSS 2017

Last week was the 20th Iron Age Research Student Symposium, held here in the University of Bradford (see above for the brilliant birthday cake that was made for the event!). I presented a poster that outlines the background to my PhD project, and looking forward to surveying the sites so there’ll be many exciting visualisations to create and display on my next one! VR presentation perhaps?

First poster presentation of the PhD!

We had two full days of very interesting papers, and its so good to see there’s much exciting Iron Age research happening around the world from Masters and PhD researchers! Plus a fun pub quiz (I would be biased since I helped write the questions…) and an excellent curry dinner on Friday.

Delegates at this year’s IARSS

On Saturday I joined the traditional conference fieldtrip. This year to Hull for a guided tour of Hull and East Riding Museum by Dr Peter Halkon, who was directly involved with many of the projects from which many fascinating finds emerged, which are on display there. Many thanks to Peter and the organisers for such a great trip (and sunshine!). I always enjoy IARSS as it has such a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere for early-career researchers. I’m already looking forward to the next one, when I should have some exciting 3D data to present!

A fantastically preserved Iron Age sword, at the Hull and East Riding Museum
Chalk figurine of an Iron Age warrior (a sword scabbard is on his back! – but not seen from the front)

CIfA 2017 Newcastle 21st April

CIfA 2017 Newcastle 21st April

I was kindly invited to present at a CPD session on introducing Structure-from-Motion photogrammetry to beginners at this years CIfA Conference, by the Graphic Archaeology Group. It was a great opportunity to network, catch up with colleagues and hear about exciting new research using the technique, plus all of the advice and tips for using SFM were valuable not just to beginners but to anyone who’s using the method for recording archaeology and heritage! I shared my learning experiences from my time with Historic England, in addition to covering some of the interesting findings we made in my research reports (click here for link) and also gave a brief sneak preview of my PhD plan.

The session on managing World Heritage was also particularly insightful, as the three wonderful brochs I’m researching are all on the UK’s tentative WHS list!

CIfA 2017 1
Sharing research on recording Saxon crosses. Photo: Paul Bryan