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…

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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!).

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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…!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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!

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A fantastically preserved Iron Age sword, at the Hull and East Riding Museum
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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!

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Sharing research on recording Saxon crosses. Photo: Paul Bryan

Bring on 2017!

Bring on 2017!

Happy New Year! December has been pretty hectic, with TAG Southampton and all of the usual festivities. My favourite present has to be my Lego Iron Age broch, as shown above in seasonal style… though I’m very interested in looking into how VR is being used to present archaeology this year, since I had an excellent demo of viewing 3D models by the Marine Archaeology Trust with the HTC Vive headset and controller.

I’m very excited about starting my PhD. Roll on February!

Geospatial conferences: ESRI UK and Geo Business 2016

May has been a very busy month for me – I’ve been attending and presenting at conferences up and down the country, so I’m catching up with my blogging this week with some of the geospatial industry conferences I attended a couple of weeks ago.

ESRI UK 2016

I went to ESRI UK 2016 on 17th May to find out about the latest developments from the company behind ArcGIS, and how they are bringing SfM photogrammetry and laser scanning into their platforms. It’s interesting to see how many programmes are moving into cloud-based formats, and the process of displaying and editing GIS data is being streamlined in their WebGIS. It will be interesting to trial the capabilities of Drone2Map – ESRI’s own SfM processing software to generate DTMs, currently on beta.

Geo Business 2016

I travelled back down to London two weeks ago to attend Geo Business – a major conference and geomatics expo, showcasing the latest new technologies and innovations for the geospatial sector. The conference was a great insight into how all of the techniques I am being trained in at Historic England can be used in different disciplines and industries other than in heritage.

I saw some very exciting demonstrations of new handheld mobile mapping solutions, and new software for the processing of laser scan data to a very high resolution (I must state I do not endorse any particular manufacturer of such equipment!). All in all, it was fascinating to find out the latest developments in these industries, and I’ll definitely be attending next year to see what new technologies are going to appear…

(photos will be uploaded soon!)

Iron Age Research Student Symposium 2016 – University of Leicester

Iron Age Research Student Symposium 2016 – University of Leicester

Last week I made my third trip to the Universiry of Leicester in less than two months(!) to attend and present at the 19th IARSS conference. I had a great time at the 2015 symposium at the University of Liverpool, and postgraduate Later Prehistorians and researchers are a great bunch, so I was looking forward (and slightly nervous) to be presenting the results of my MA dissertation this year.

Safe to say that it was a great success, and I’d just like to say here a special thanks to the conference organisers for inviting me to speak, and for doing such a fantastic job of running the entire event over three days, not in the least including the impressive IARSS-branded cake (unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to take a picture, but it was delicious!).

I received some very positive feedback about my research, on the theme of Historic Environments’ perceptions and understandings of Late Iron Age monuments known as oppida, and how previous studies have shaped our understanding of these enigmatic sites. With feedback in mind, I hope to get this written into an article soon, and published in an archaeological journal in the near future.

On a last note, a belated congratulations to Leicester City FC on winning the Premier League – I was very impressed by the bold support and decorations that are all over the city!

 

CIfA conference 2016 – Archaeology in Context

CIfA conference 2016 – Archaeology in Context

The annual CIfA conference, this year held at the University of Leicester, was a great opportunity to meet many engaged in commercial archaeology and in heritage associations throughout Britain and beyond. It was excellent to hear that many in the sector are advocating a greater need for training those at the start of their archaeological careers in specialist technical skills. The suggestion at the end of the Landscape Archaeology session that perhaps heritage bodies like Historic England and commerical units could engage actively with university modules in particular sounds like an excellent idea, or to offer training courses to suit a wide range of experience.

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Statue of Richard III outside the visitor centre – it was a very sunny day for an excursion!

It was fascinating to see how geospatial imaging has been taken on board in forensic archaeology, and the popularity of UAVs (drones) is so much so that a session was dedicated to focussing on the use of these platforms as a means of acquiring archaeological data.

I particularly enjoyed the excursion to the Greyfriars area of Leicester city centre, and it was good to see how much ongoing conservation is happening. The Richard III exhibition was impressive too – housed in a well designed and modern visitor centre (though I must admit, as a Lancastrian, all bias had to be temporarily put aside!).

Many thanks to CIfA for funding my attendance and travel costs.