Welcome to our new DPhil students :)

Hello all the EngLaID blog readers, new and old! Now that the project has entered its second year with the start of a new university term this October, we would like to welcome three new members to our team – our three new DPhil students on the English Landscapes and Identities project. Each DPhil student will be focusing on a different aspect of the overall project, using the incredible dataset that we have gathered so far to explore specific aspects of landscapes and identities. We are very lucky to have them – not only because they seem very nice people and the amount of pub visits in the name of team building has certainly seen an exponential increase, but also because we are confident that they will bring many important contributions to the project. As you can read below, each of them has had an interesting and varied archaeological career until now, and we can only hope that they will continue to enjoy their involvement with the EngLaId project (save, perhaps, during the final parts of the writing up stage, but that is nearly three years away…).

So, a warm welcome to our new students (from left to right, Victoria Donnelly, Dan Stansbie and Sarah Mallet), and the best of luck to them over the next three years! And over to them to introduce themselves and say a little bit about their individual research projects…

From left to right: Victoria Donnelly (who will be looking at grey literature for her DPhil thesis), Dan Stansbie (who will be looking at pottery production and food) and Sarah Mallet (whose research will focus on food consumption through analysis of stable isotopes).

Victoria: Hello, my name is Victoria Donnelly and I’m one of the new DPhil students on the EngLaID project.  I’m very excited about the opportunity to work on this project and be part of such a great team.  Please let me introduce myself by saying a little bit about my background and how I ended up on this project.  I was born in England but grew up in Canada which means that at some level questions about Englishness and identity have been part of my life for some time – such as do I call that a trash can or the bin?  I returned to the UK to study, getting my MPhil in later prehistoric archaeology from Cambridge.  After that I thought it would be a great idea to get into the field and get muddy!  I have since worked for a variety of field units over the years, including the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and the Museum of London Archaeology Service (now MoLA), and finally ended up spending several years as a consultant archaeologist for Arup (a large multi-national engineering firm for those of you who have never come across them).  I have been involved in a number of really fascinating projects over the years but I was definitely ready for another challenge when I read about the DPhil opportunities on the EngLaID project.  As someone who has worked in many different facets of commercial archaeology, as well as having an academic background, I find questions regarding the process of conducting archaeological work in both an academic and a commercial framework very interesting.  Much of the data for this project is being sourced from grey literature, a term for ‘unpublished’ site report material, which includes evaluation and excavation reports produced as part of developer-funded field work.  My DPhil topic is examining variations in the form and quality of grey literature and what influences these variations, such as changes in legislation and planning law at the local, regional and national levels.  I’ve got lots of ideas I’d like to explore on this topic and I’m very excited to get started.  Other than settling into life in Oxford, my October so far has been focused on meeting the team, learning more about the project and doing a lot of reading!  I’ve started with works on the topic of commercial archaeology, field work and the production of grey literature as well as reading related to the history and philosophy of science regarding the nature of data and data collection.  If anyone has any suggestions of something I might find useful to read, please let me know!  All three of us new students will be updating the blog on our progress on a regular basis and we’d greatly appreciate any feedback or input you readers may have.  Finally, hello to the EngLaID blog readers out there and it’s very nice to meet you all.  I’ll speak (or type) to you again soon!”  

Dan: “My name is Dan Stansbie and like Vicky I’ve spent time working in commercial archaeology before getting involved in the Englaid project. My undergraduate and Masters level education was at Cardiff University, where I was very lucky to be taught by Niall Sharples, Peter Guest and the late John Evans, who in different ways inspired my interests in prehistory, the Romans, material culture, landscape and archaeological theory. After leaving Cardiff I worked briefly in commercial archaeology in the Bristol area, before getting a training post with English Heritage, working on the stratigraphic analysis of the Stanwick project in Northamptonshire. Since then, until joining the EngLaId team I’ve worked in post-excavation for Oxford Archaeology, writing up large and small scale excavation reports, with a focus on the Iron Age and Roman periods and recording Iron Age and Roman pottery. The last month seems to have been packed with social events involving silly costumes (see photo…) and large amounts of free food and drink, along with reading on the themes of identity, food and material culture. But things seem to settling down into more of a routine now. I’m sensing food is going to be a major factor here……”

Sarah: “My name is Sarah Mallet. I completed both my M.A and M.Litt in Medieval History and Archaeology at the University of St Andrews, in bonnie Scotland, where I discovered a passion for early medieval Britain, archaeological theory and drinking whisky. Following what could be described as the worst career plan ever, I decided to put my knowledge of Gildas and post-Roman Britain to good use by going to work in… Peru: I spent six months as an intern in a national park in the Cordillera Blanca to help redesign their conservation project for archaeological remains. Despite the slightly unnerving lack of Anglo-Saxons in this new life, this experience opened up many new ways to think about the past and our relationship with it. For example, investigating how Andean communities related to their environments made me realise how, as an archaeologist and historian, I had often taken for granted that the landscape was just there rather than considering the dynamic relationship between a people and its surroundings. Furthermore, living with 5 biologists in the beautiful Parque Nacional Huascaran, I learnt more about biology than I ever envisioned learning and it got me thinking about the potential of bio-archaeology. I had been interested in archaeological science since finishing my undergraduate studies, as I felt the papers and reports I was reading were increasingly relying on scientific methods. I thus decided to do an MSc in Archaeological Science at Oxford University; it was a particularly intensive year, rediscovering the joy of chemistry and physics, and an invaluable learning experience. 

My DPhil project within EngLaId is to investigate food consumption through the studies of stable isotopes, meaning that I’ll be using bone chemistry to understand past diets. I also hope to get samples from animal and plant remains to look at food production and resources management, but at the moment, I am mostly reading about landscape theory and British prehistory!”

The Archaeological Investigations Project (AIP)

As previously mentioned, the Archaeological Investigations Project (AIP), based at the University of Bournemouth, has been gathering brief details of developer-funded archaeology that has taken place in England since 1990.  They provide an excellent, useful resource for archaeological researchers, but unfortunately we understand that their funding has now come to an end, at least until early 2013.  We were particularly sad to hear that Ehren Milner was losing his job, as he has been very helpful to us in our work on the EngLaId project.  We wish Ehren all the best for the future and hope that the AIP is able to continue their excellent work at some point soon.

In the meanwhile and until they are back up and running properly, I have written some Python code to convert the “xls” files downloadable from their website into a data format more suited to GIS analysis (i.e. a shapefile).  This is complicated slightly by the fact that the downloads are not, in fact, xls files but tables coded in html.  The code is rather EngLaId specific in some of its content, but I thought I would share it here in case it is of use to anyone else using AIP data.  The code should be available here:

https://github.com/drchrisgreen/Englaid_code_bits/blob/master/process_aip_web.py

It is probably a bit overcomplicated and not especially efficient (as I wrote it for my own occasional use only, primarily), but it might help anyone else trying to do similar things.  I cannot promise that it will work 100% of the time, but it seems to have worked for me!  The code is commented, so adaptation did not ought to be too difficult…

Chris Green

Latest GIS synthesis test: West Midlands

Further to my previous work on attempting to bring together our multiple datasets into a synthesis (1)(2) and on visualising the results (3), I have now performed a more extensive test of the methodology using all of the data that we have gathered to date for English Heritage’s West Midlands region.

To briefly summarise previous posts, my synthesis methodology consists of creating a tessellation of 1km by 1km grid squares across England, with the SW origin point of each cell being 50m west and 50m south of the 1000m divisions in the OS grid.  We simplify the terminology used in each of our input datasets, run a series of identity queries in ArcGIS to define which cell(s) each object is located in, then collate the data for each cell for all datasets to create a new single synthesis layer.  We can then test these results against various measures such as mean elevation, mean terrain ruggedness index, percentage ground obscuration etc.

The datasets used for this latest synthesis test were:

  • Bronze Age sites as collated by David Yates (2007. Land, power and prestige: Bronze Age field systems in southern England. Oxford: Oxbow).
  • Janice Kinory’s database of Iron Age salt processing sites.
  • National Trust HER records.
  • A layer showing field systems recorded in the AIP database.
  • A layer showing settlements recorded in the AIP database.
  • English Heritage National Record of the Historic Environment data (NRHE).
  • English Heritage MORPH data (for the Marches region).
  • HER data from Birmingham, the Black Country, Coventry, Dudley, Herefordshire, Sandwell, Shropshire, Solihull, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire (Worcester, Stoke-on-Trent, and Dudley are not yet in our database, although we have the data for each, so it was not possible to include them in the test).

The latest version of our terms thesaurus includes a category called ‘Domestic & Civil’, which covers the following types of sites (some of these types appear in other categories as well, e.g. hillforts in ‘Defensive’):

  • Town / small town.
  • Burh.
  • Civitas capital / colonia.
  • Hamlet / village.
  • Vicus.
  • Canabae Legionis.
  • Oppidum.
  • Hillfort.
  • Unenclosed settlement.
  • Enclosed settlement.
  • Linear settlement.
  • Palisaded settlement.
  • Riverside settlement.
  • Dispersed settlement.
  • Nucleated settlement.
  • Road-side settlement.
  • Midden.
  • Timber platform.
  • Manor.
  • Unspecified settlement.

Obviously, this is quite a broad category, approximating to something like “settlement” generally.  We can then map the distributions of grid cells containing sites that fall within this category for each period:

1 domestic and civil (PR)
1km x 1km grid cells showing evidence of sites within the ‘Domestic & Civil’ category; unspecified prehistoric.
2 domestic and civil (BA)
1km x 1km grid cells showing evidence of sites within the ‘Domestic & Civil’ category; Bronze Age.
3 domestic and civil (IA)
1km x 1km grid cells showing evidence of sites within the ‘Domestic & Civil’ category; Iron Age.
4 domestic and civil (RO)
1km x 1km grid cells showing evidence of sites within the ‘Domestic & Civil’ category; Roman.
5 domestic and civil (EM)
1km x 1km grid cells showing evidence of sites within the ‘Domestic & Civil’ category; early medieval.

These results show several patterns.  Settlement can be seen to follow the major river valleys in many cases, especially along the Warwickshire Avon.  In the Iron Age, there is a distinct move towards upland settlement in addition, especially in the Marches.  Roman settlement is most dominant in the south east of the region (Warwickshire and Worcestershire).  The cluster of settlement seen in all but the early medieval in the south of the region is in the vicinity of Bredon Hill, which was clearly an important area through the later prehistoric and into the Roman period.  The early medieval distribution is particularly interesting due to the large number of sites seen in western Staffordshire: these are largely records of manor sites.  It seem likely that this is an artifact of data collection, perhaps resulting from a particular researcher or HER officer having a particular research interest in Staffordshire manors (it seems likely that these originated from Domesday records?).

If we want to analyse these trends further, we can collate data according to a series of bands across England from a point off the south-eastern coast moving out north and west.  For the West Midlands, these bands are located like so:

6 bands
South east to north west banding for analytical purposes.

We can then export the results and create graphs in external software:

7 band_elev
Elevation of grid cells showing evidence of sites within the ‘Domestic & Civil’ category, grouped by band and coloured by period.

This graph shows that settlement generally occurred in areas of lower elevation, with most upland occupation being Iron Age in date.  The dominance of Roman data in the (left-hand) south eastern bands is obvious, as is the dominance of early medieval data in bands 40-42 in particular.

8 band_density
Percentage of cells in each band showing evidence of sites within the ‘Domestic & Civil’ category, coloured by period.

This second graph works better, showing the high levels of Roman occupation in bands 33-37, and relatively high levels of early medieval occupation through bands 39-45.  Band 35 contains most of the Warwickshire Avon, providing supporting evidence for my earlier suggestion of its importance based upon visual examination of the map.

As a final point, the distributions mapped above appear quite coarse when studied at the scale of only the West Midlands, but if looked at on the England-wide scale of the project as a whole (for which this is just a test), the resolution acquires a much finer-grained appearance:

9 villas scale of England
1km x 1km grid cells showing evidence of Roman villas (West Midlands only but scaled to show all of England).

This is just the latest test of my synthesis methodology, but I do think it is proving to be a productive and informative way in which to bring together such a large variety of different datasets into a single analytical environment.  The distributions and graphs shown above are just examples of data that we could map.  We could also map any of our other thesaurus categories or specific thesaurus terms, and we could easily perform analyses against other variables beyond elevation (e.g. terrain ruggedness, ground obscuration etc.) and using other bandings or groupings of cells.

Once we have all data collated for England, I will test the system again with all of that data and see how it works.  Only time will tell.

Chris Green

EDIT 09/10/12:  Updated second graph to correct mathematical error.