Return to the Island of Mousa! – personal blog post day 4. Also a comment about respecting personal space during fieldwork (please!) after a visitor jumped me on site today…

Return to the Island of Mousa! – personal blog post day 4. Also a comment about respecting personal space during fieldwork (please!) after a visitor jumped me on site today…

Tuesday evening (I should say night since it was 10.30pm when we departed!) I headed back to Mousa Island to see the island’s tiniest birds, storm petrels, descend on the broch they call home at sundown. This being Shetland in the summer this started around 11.30pm! They have a very eerie, croaking chirrup of a song, and hearing this get louder throughout the night was a surreal experience. What draws the visitors in to head to a deserted island at midnight and walk a few kilometres with just torchlight to see is the spectacular swirling, swooping display these birds perform as they return home to their nests after fishing afar for a few days, to swap places with their mates to guard their eggs. HES’ Digital team brought along 3D audio and video kit to capture some of this magic.

Inside Mousa broch at night, a bit spooky!

Seeing hundreds of tiny flitting shadows flying up, down and around the broch is quite a show, but nothing can capture the live experience of standing close enough to the broch walls to be literally swarmed by them from all angles, as they brazenly and nimbly swoop past you, only inches away. I tried video and photography and it doesn’t have the same awe-inducing effect!

Scanning Mousa brochs exterior with the Z+F 5016

After getting home at 2am(!) I was back across to the Island 9 hours later to complete my 3D laser scan survey of Mousa broch’s exterior with Al and Sophia from HES, who also brought along their 360° camera and video kit to capture the site in daytime. Weather conditions were perfect, low winds and bright but overcast for great texture photography. Many thanks for your help! This blog is about my personal experience as an archaeologist doing survey work, and while I generally focus on the positives as I really enjoy what I do, I think it’s important to share and talk about issues and problems when they come up. For example, I’m getting a bit bored of the cheese and cucumber sandwiches I’ve been making for lunch over the last few days… glad I also bought peanut butter!

But to be serious, while it was a good day of work overall, I had an uncomfortable experience with a visitor to the site who grabbed me “jokingly” when I asked him to step away from being scanned and to stay behind me. I think he took the message too literally and jostled me which was not nice…

I really don’t mind members of the public being interested and having questions about the work they see taking place and certainly don’t want to deter them (see my blog post from Monday 2nd July!) and fortunately this was just a one off incident, but it’s worth remembering researchers, archaeologists and surveyors are carrying out professional work and to respect us and our personal space! I was too surprised to speak out when it happened so suddenly, but now I feel it’s an important thing to raise and bring to attention.

On the bright side I came across Emma’s Cake Cupboard – an honesty box system cake shop in Hoswick! A scrumptious piece of tiffin for tea 😁

Cakes and treats in a bright little cupboard! So quirky and fun!

Thank you, Historic England!

Thank you, Historic England!

Last week I completed my CIfA placement with the Geospatial Imaging team at Historic England. It’s been a fantastic year and I thought I’d summarise it with a few statistics  that highlight just how much has been covered in the last 12 months (numbers may be estimates as I might have forgotten some things!):

  • over 35 historic or archaeological sites worked at and visited
  • across 17 counties (6 of which I’d never previously been)
  • 16 English Heritage properties
  • 8 castles
  • 4 World Heritage Sites
  • 3 countries of the United Kingdom covered (England, Scotland, Wales). I’ve also travelled to the Republic of Ireland (all expenses paid!), Italy and Hong Kong (not for work)
  • 404 miles = longest single journey for fieldwork (York to Penzance)
  • 3 Research Reports (in prep)
  • 12 conferences attended
  • over 240 cups of tea drank (I got through 3 boxes of 80 tea bags in the office alone, not counting fieldwork…)
  • 1 site accessed via boat (Hurst Castle)
  • uncountable gigabytes of data recorded and processed…
  • 1 Head of State met (Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland awarded the Undergraduate Award Gold Medal for Archaeology to me in November last year!)

The top image shows me (far left) and other CIfA Specialist Placement holders with our supervisors and colleagues, at Fort Cumberland last year. (Apologies I can’t remember who took the photo so please let me know and I can credit you).

I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped me over the year, especially the Historic England Geospatial Imaging team in York.

Next year I’m starting my AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award with the University of Bradford and Historic Environment Scotland, looking at Visualising the Crucible of Shetland’s Broch Building. I can’t wait to get started!

Historic England Metric Survey summer school

From 5th-9th September, I attended Historic England’s Metric Survey for Cultural Heritage Summer School, at Fountains Abbey. The annual course covers different aspects of survey and recording that are frequently used for the built historic environment, ranging from using GNSS, total stations, hand-drawn survey, laser scanning and photogrammetry, to a demonstration of aerial photography taken by drone (A drone-based selfie was taken…!)

I picked up a lot of useful advice, especially for my photography of buildings, and we were very fortunate to have glorious sunshine for much of the time in the spectacular abbey.

Last but not least, we were taken on a fantastic tour of Theakstons brewery in Masham. Their on-site cooper showed us the traditional way of making wooden ale cask, and had an excellent steak-and-ale pie for supper.

I didn’t get a chance to take lots of photos as I was so busy being involved with the course activities, but here’s one of me doing a hand-drawn survey, being taught by Allan Adams.


August update – RSPSoc Archaeology

I haven’t had a chance to update my blog recently as I’ve been busy writing up some of my research reports for Historic England. In the meantime, I’ve written a short article about my different Historic England projects, for the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society’s Archaeology Special Interest Group (SIG) latest newsletter.

The Archaeology SIG aims to encourage the exchange of research and methodology between remote sensing scientists and archaeologists, including methods such as photogrammetry, LIDAR, aerial photography, thermal imaging and ground-based methods.

You can be added to the mailing list by contacting

Previous newsletters are viewable on the website

Do check it out!

CIfA professional skills workshop, STEAM Museum, Swindon

CIfA professional skills workshop, STEAM Museum, Swindon

This Monday I attended a great workshop to work on my presentation skills, better understand the notion of professionalism in the context of historic environment practice and acquired some useful advice on planning and managing projects – an essential skill for my current and future work.

It was organised by CIfA, and was held in STEAM, the Museum of the Great Western Railway, in Swindon – which incorporates buildings that were part of Brunel’s original works complex dating to the mid-1800s.

I caught up with other CIfA placement holders in different skills and areas, and also met several PhD students in Archaeology and History from the Southwest and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, who all have such fascinating research projects. It was excellent to hear everyone present a bit about what they do.

Many thanks to CIfA for funding my visit. It’s been a while since I’ve stayed in Swindon, but this was my first visit to the railway museum!

Header image: WikiCommons. For more information on the history of STEAM:

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!


Stonehenge and Salisbury visit

Stonehenge and Salisbury visit

I travelled down to Salisbury last Thursday to meet the survey officers at Wessex Archaeology, to find out how they use laser scanning and BIM in their work, and got a really useful insight into how geomatics are applied in the commercial archaeology sector. I also visited Stonehenge to see the digital 3D model of Stonehenge in the visitor centre, generated from laser scans by Greenhatch Group. The work was commissioned and organised by Historic England (English Heritage at the time). A full research report was produced by ArcHeritage (Abbott and Anderson-Whymark 2012 for more details.

The video showing Stonehenge through time, using the laser scan generated 3D model

20160310_143850It was great to see how much the site has improved since the last time I visited, back before the new visitor displays and car parks were finished. Also a first for me as the Southern Jacobites Pipe Band played in front of the stones to celebrate international bagpiping day!

I had the chance to explore Salisbury too, and the Salisbury Museum has an excellent display of local archaeology. The Later Prehistoric sections in particular are spectacular, with the famed Amesbury Archer burial, much Bronze Age metalwork and Iron Age coins.


Iron Age artefacts on display in the Salisbury Museum

Abbott, M and Anderson-Whymark, H. 2012. Stonehenge Laser Scan: archaeological analysis report, English Heritage Research Report Series no.32. 2012, English heritage, Swindon