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Key Discovery Scoops Top Award

The discovery of the Stone Age Hand axes from the North Sea was awarded the Best Discovery Award in the prestigious British Archaeological Awards held at the British Museum on Monday.
The hand axes, described by Phil Harding as ‘massively important’, date back tens of thousands of years. They were used by Stone Age hunters at a time in the Ice Age when water was locked up in the ice caps and the North Sea was dry land. The axes were found in gravel that was dredged from the seabed near Yarmouth but landed in Holland.
Their discovery gives decisive proof for a submerged landscape that experts thought had been destroyed. It was thought that rising sea levels had swept away all traces of this Ice Age world. The discovery of the hand axes, announced earlier this year, surprised the experts and caught the public imagination around the world.
The international collaboration that ensured the axes were reported was acknowledged by the judges who awarded the prize jointly to Jan Meeulmeister, the amateur archaeologist and fossil hunter who identified the finds; the British Marine Aggregates Producers Association who run the scheme for reporting archaeological remains found in dredging for sand and gravel at sea; and Hanson Marine Aggregates Ltd who promptly stopped dredging in the area the finds came from. The judges also praised the collaboration between the Dutch and English government archaeology services.
Awarding the prize Alison Taylor said ‘The find was reported across the world on TV, radio and in newspapers, while the thousands of online hits demonstrate that this find really engaged with the public’s fascination with archaeology. Overall this was, and continues to be, an excellent archaeological project.’
Dr Antony Firth of Wessex Archaeology who run the reporting scheme for the British Marine Aggregates Association and who nominated the find commented ‘This award is thoroughly deserved. It recognises the vision of the industry in introducing and supporting this voluntary scheme. Having the scheme in place meant that the significance of the hand axes was recognised and action was taken internationally and promptly. As a result a find of crucial importance was saved.’

Wessex in Top Awards

British Archaeological AwardsFor the third time in a row, the work of Wessex Archaeology has been recognised at the prestigious industries British Archaeological Awards. Following on from awards for its internationally famous find, the Amesbury Archer, and its work on the books about the Mary Rose, the work of Wessex Archaeology was recognised in two awards at a ceremony at The British Museum.

Framework Archaeology, the joint venture between Wessex Archaeology and Oxford Archaeology won the award for Best Project for its work at Heathrow Airport. The Best Discovery Award went to a find nominated by Wessex Archaeology. The key find of Palaeolithic Hand axes from the North Sea were reported through a system that Wessex Archaeology operates on behalf of the Marine Aggregates industry.

To find out more, including the judge's comments, visit Splash, our Coastal and Marine archaeology section, and the Framework Archaeology website.

CPD Course on Marine Development-led Archaeology

LeafletThe University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education is offering a one-day course on Marine Development-Led Archaeology on Thursday 23 October 2008. The course is presented in association with the Archaeological Training Forum and is supported by English Heritage.
The aim of this course is to provide participants with an overview of marine development-led archaeology and the range of solutions that can be applied to investigating possible impacts.
Staff from WA Coastal and Marine are contributing many of the course components, and discussion will be led by English Heritage and ALGAO.
Follow link to find details of the course, or download the course leaflet: marine-development-led-leaflet-new-jl-v

Web mapping for all!

Web mapping has now been made even easier by the advent of platforms such as Google My Maps where it is possible to create layers from scratch or easily overlay any KML (Keyhole Markup Language) file or GeoRSS feed over Google Maps, all done through an easy to use web interface.
 A map of crime on the UK produced using the Maker! application at Geocommons.comA map of crime on the UK produced using the Maker! application at A new site, from FortiusOne, takes the concept of web mapping a step further by not only providing an online mapping application called Maker but also a spatial data library or warehouse complete with search tools called Finder. Together, Finder and Maker allow non-specialist users to quickly and easily load their own spatial data or find relevant data from the warehouse and then produce cartographically appealing maps in minutes. Data can be uploaded by registered users in simple table format for points or as shapefiles or KML for more complex geometry.
The Finder and data warehouse are an exciting development. For the first time, layers of geographic information can be uploaded and published using Creative Commons licensing. Tags are used to describe and find resources. A bit like Flickr, Scribd or YouTube but for spatial data rather than photos, documents or videos. Any data which is in the public domain is allowed to be uploaded with the onus firmly on the uploader to ensure any copyright or intellectual property conditions are met. With only this small caveat, any layer uploaded is instantly available to any registered user to create a map from. There are also enterprise options for business users to allow them to keep their data private, the aim here presumably being to make inroads into what has till now been the preserve of heavyweight desktop GIS applications.
The map Maker side of things provides the same kind of functionality as other online map creation tools but with the benefit of seamless integration with the Finder and everything being controlled through an intuitive graphical interface in the web browser. So any layer in the Finder can easily be added to a map and styled with only a few clicks with a choice of basemaps from Google Maps. In addition to simple maps showing locations of points of interest, lines or polygons with fairly basic symbology, Maker provides users with more advanced cartographic tools for producing thematic maps more akin to the sorts of thematic maps produced using desktop GIS but without the need for any in-depth background knowledge of GIS applications, programming, markup or anything complicated at all, everything being accomplished in the web browser interface. I managed to create a map showing levels of crime in the UK and one of antimony mining sites in only a few minutes (and the first thirty seconds of that was creating a user account!).
There are a couple of drawbacks however. The main problem in the UK which detracts from the ease of use is the lack of support for coordinate systems. As with the majority of online mapping tools, positions have to be recorded using global lat/lon coordinates. Whilst this makes it ideal for uploading data captured using GPS, many datasets here in the UK use a British National Grid projection, so publishing them using the Finder/Maker application requires that the coordinate system for the data must be transformed before the data is uploaded. As any GIS professional will tell you, this can be fraught with danger for novices and may require specialist software.
The fact that data in the Finder is only accessible to the Maker application or as a download is a bit restrictive; it would be nice to be able to access the layers as web-services to build into other applications. Or bring layers into Maker from other sources. Trying to do both the warehousing and mapping aspects may be great for performance but is not necessarily the best way forward; layer separation and keeping data separate from interface is way more flexible but I imagine completely impractical with todays infrastructure. Roll on web 3.0!
Of course, as with any such site based around user generated content, there will be some poor quality content and it will be necessary to be a bit discerning when choosing layers. I wasn't aware for example that the London borough of Brent has moved to the south-west, as indicated on the UK Crime map I produced using one of the layers from Finder. But in so far as providing a great set of tools for producing maps online quickly and easily and a very big warehouse in which we can put collections of geodata to be shared, it has to be a big well done to the folks at Geocommons.

Web mapping and archaeology


With the rise in popularity of online mapping sites such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and Microsoft Live Maps, more and more people are creating maps and spatial ‘mashups'. The only thing holding many people back has been the need to work with the published APIs (Advanced Programming Interfaces) for such platforms, requiring some understanding of programming and HTML. Such platforms have enabled users to create maps showing all kinds of things: locations of photographs from Flickr, places visited, archaeological sites, etc, etc. Pretty much anything with a spatial component to it can be (and, in many cases, has been) mapped in this way; a really good example of the technology with some great archaeological content is the Online Archaeology map, created by Steve White.

Here at Wessex Archaeology, we are using these technologies to improve access to our geodata within the organisation. We have an installation of PostGIS to store core datasets, such as those provided by English Heritage, and a Geoserver to make these available as Web Mapping Service (WMS) layers. These are published on the intranet using an OpenLayers map which also draws in data from external sources such as Oxford Archaeology (project locations) and Getmapping (OS New Popular Edition). The same layers are also accessible to our desktop GIS applications. Being entirely open source solutions, the main investment in this approach has been the time taken to learn the various components; the learning curve being pretty steep! 

This investment in technical skills now allows us to offer specialist services to help clients get the most out of open source web mapping solutions, specialist skills being essential to make the most of the technologies. This is where platforms which allow non-specialist users to get involved are rapidly becoming the next big thing; more on this later.

Lasers and Light

Wessex Archaeology were asked to contribute an animation to the new touring version of last year's successful Making History exhibition, organised by the Society of Antiquaries of London. Over the next year, Making History will visit Salisbury, Stoke on Trent, Sunderland, and Lincoln. The exhibition will change at each venue to incorporate aspects of each region's own unique heritage.

Our animation, on show in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum until 3rd January 2009 (and at the end of this post!), gave us the opportunity to show some more of our work with the wonderful Stonehenge LiDAR dataset, as well as 3D laser scans of the Amesbury Archer's bones, and some new data captured with the University of Southampton's Archaeology department of WWI and WWII graffiti carved into trees on Salisbury Plain.


Lasers and Light from Wessex Archaeology on Vimeo.

LiDAR uses laser survey equipment mounted in an aeroplane to record the surface of the land below in three dimensions. The animation focuses on a field system in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Barely visible on the ground and in aerial photography, the features of the field system are revealed when a low level light is applied to the virtual landscape, throwing the virtual landscape into relief. The light source circles the earthworks, so their extent can be seen from all angles

Lasers can also be used on a smaller scale to study objects in greater detail. Here the skull and some of the long bones from the Amesbury Archer have been scanned. The 3D model has sub-millimetre accuracy, and can be used to study and measure their physical aspects without the need to touch the original.

3D laser scanning has also been used to record graffiti on a tree trunk on Salisbury plain on which the names of soldiers stationed there during training for both World Wars. Since they were carved the tree has grown, the bark expanded and the names have become harder to read. This visualisation shows how 3D data may be able to enhance the carvings and read the names more clearly, preserving them for the future. It may be possible to correlate the information on some of the trees with military records including dates of deployment on Salisbury Plain and the fate of the soldiers who carved their names.

We are very grateful to the Environment Agency for permission to use the LiDAR dataset from Stonehenge, and to Gareth Beale and Graeme Earl from the Archaeological Computing Research Group at the University of Southampton for processing the tree graffiti data during a hectic run-up to a season of excavations in Italy.

Find out more about our 3D laser scanning services.

Shortlisted for the British Archaeological Awards

We were delighted to find that some of Wessex Archaeology's work under the auspices of our Framework Archaeology joint venture with our colleagues at Oxford Archaeology has been short-listed for the British Archaeological Awards which are to be held at The British Museum on 10 November 2008.
The work is the Heathrow Terminal 5 excavation and publication, submitted in the Best Archaeological Project category, and its supporting publication data and geographic informations systems software (Framework FreeViewer) submitted in the Best Archaeological Innovation category.
Screenshot of the Framework FreeViewer, showing a Bronze Age settlementScreenshot of the Framework FreeViewer, showing a Bronze Age settlement
You can find out more about the excavations at T5 from the project web site
You can try out the Framework FreeViewer for yourself by downloading it and the Perry Oaks excavations data . You can also access the supporting documentation and more detailed information on the downloads.
Screenshot of the Framework FreeViewer, showing a detailed view of a waterhole, context 135071Screenshot of the Framework FreeViewer, showing a detailed view of a waterhole, context 135071
Since early 2008, a second set of excavations data for use in the Framework FreeViewer has been available. This covers the Framework Archaeology excavations at Stansted airport between the years 2000 to 2004.

Exhibition News - Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707-2007

Chamber Tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport, PembrokeshireChamber Tomb of Pentre Ifan near Newport, PembrokeshireOn Saturday 4th October 2008, the exhibition "Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707-2007" opened at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.

It explores the development of archaeology, from antiquarianism to the rise of professional archaeology, and runs until 3rd January 2009.

Making History, presented in association with the Society of Antiquaries of London, features original works of art, manuscripts, and artefacts from their collection. It also includes a video installation by Wessex Archaeology staff showcasing some of the latest 3D capture techniques used in archaeology.

Admission to the museum is £5, which includes entrance to the exhibition. Opening times can be found on the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum website.


Unknown steamship in the Nab Channel (Site 5010)

Multibeam sonar image - wooden steamship

Documentary evidence suggests that this is the wreck of a wooden steamship, built no later than 1862. The results from Wessex Archaeology’s geophysical and dive surveys have narrowed the identification of the vessel and suggest that it is either the Lioness or the Florence: both steamships with single boilers. The wreck of the vessel includes a scotch boiler, a four-bladed iron propeller, and a dish reportedly found on the site marked with, “made exclusively for the United States Line”. This artefact is likely to be intrusive to the site since none of the 53 ships of the United States Lines were of composite or wooden construction, or sank off the English coast.
The wreck is located 634m NE of the Nab Tower in the deep draught vessel approach to the Nab Channel; the main shipping lane to Portsmouth and Southampton. It lies in 13.6m deep water (CD) on a sandy seabed.
In August 2002 Wessex Archaeology carried out a geophysical survey of the site, using sidescan sonar and magnetometer. Two brief assessment dives were also undertaken that month, detailing the condition of the wreck site and the visible components of the wreck.
In June 2003, further geophysical surveys were conducted using multibeam sonar, sub-bottom profiler and magnetometer. No dive survey was completed that year due to the site’s location in the shipping channel, Wessex Archaeology being advised not to dive by Southampton VTS (Vessel Traffic Services).
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The Amesbury Archer: pilgrim or magician?

The BBC Timewatch programme Stonehenge interprets the mysterious stone circles of Stonehenge as a temple built around 2,300 BC to which people came in search of healing. The Amesbury Archer is described as ‘one of most important archaeological discoveries in Britain.' He is called the Archer because of the stone arrowheads buried with him.

Artists interpretation of the Amebury ArcherArtists interpretation of the Amebury ArcherThis man, who lived between 2470-2280 BC, died not far from Stonehenge. By then he was between 35-45, but isotope fingerprinting of his teeth showed he was born far away, probably in the Alpine area of central Europe.  Near to him lay the grave of a younger man who was a relative. This man, his ‘Companion,' had been brought up in not far from Stonehenge, but as a child he may have travelled, perhaps even to central Europe.
Years before he died the Archer suffered a traumatic injury in which he lost his left knee and this led an infection of the wound that penetrated his very bones. He lived in constant pain from this wound, and as he put his weight on his good leg it grew stronger and the damaged leg withered. A tooth abscess also ruptured his jaw, and the infection that this caused may have led to his death.
The Timewatch programme argues that the stones brought from Wales to Stonehenge - the Bluestones - had healing powers. That is why, between 2,400 and 2,200 BC, they were carried over 150 miles, across land and over sea. Did the Amesbury Archer travel from near the Alps to Stonehenge motivated to find relief, to get better?
The Archer's Cushion Stone, used in metalworkingThe Archer's Cushion Stone, used in metalworkingPerhaps the Archer sought magic. But he brought magic with him. In his grave was what at first sight looks like a small, black, stone. Its significance is that it was a metalworker's tool. And it identifies him as the oldest metalworker yet found in Britain. The gold hair ornaments buried with him are also the oldest gold objects yet found in Britain. The Amesbury Archer lived at the very beginning of the metal age in Britain.
Those skills had to be brought to Britain from across the Channel, carried by people like the Archer whose cultural links were with what archaeologists call the ‘Beaker culture'. These metalworkers had the practical skills in their hands and the knowledge of how to make metal objects in their heads.
Living at the beginning of the metal age, did the simple black stone eventually buried with the Archer give him a passport to travel through Europe? Was the status with which he was buried due to him having gained some relief from his illnesses at Stonehenge? Or was it, like many of the richest burials in continental Europe of this time, because of their new and seemingly magical skills in transforming stone to metal?
Have your say in the comments below!

The Boscombe Bowmen: builders of Stonehenge?

Radiocarbon dates do not provide exact historical dates, like 1066. They are statements of the statistical probability of a date range. The date range of the burial of the Amesbury Archer overlaps with the initial interpretation of the new radiocarbon dates for the bluestone circle at Stonehenge, which are given as 2,400-2,200 BC.
Another very important ‘Beaker culture' grave, and which has a good match with the date range of 2,400-2,200 BC given in the programme for the first arrival of the bluestones at Stonehenge, is that of the Boscombe Bowmen. This grave, a simple grave cut into the chalk, was found 1km away from the graves of the Amesbury Archer and his Companion.

Boscombe Bowmen - an artist's interpretation

The grave of the Bowmen was different because it is a collective burial; it contains the remains of at least 7 people. Like the grave of the Archer, the Bowmen's grave also contained stone arrowheads and Beaker style pottery.
The way in which the Bowmen were buried is unusual for the time. Only parts of their skeletons were present, and before then these bones seem to have been buried elsewhere. It is difficult to find close parallels for this way of burial in Britain or elsewhere in Europe.

Boscombe Bowmen - mass grave

The isotope fingerprinting of the teeth of three of the young men buried in the grave showed that, like the Amesbury Archer, they were not local. One of the few places in Britain that matches the strontium and oxygen isotope fingerprints of the Bowmen is Wales.
The igneous rocks of Armorica in north-west France provide another possible origin, experts suggest. The strontium isotopes can be matched but the match for the oxygen isotopes is not as good. However, in Armorica it is not unusual for several ‘Beaker culture' burials to be found close by and it has been wondered if this is a more likely homeland for the Bowmen? In favour of this idea is that by shortly after 2,000 BC there were close links between Wessex and Armorica?
Against the idea is the view that although some burials in Armorica may be found close by, they were still the burials of individuals and not a collective grave. These burials were often placed in Stone Age megalithic tombs that were being re-used. In contrast, the Bowmen were buried in a simple grave cut into the chalk.
More important is the key scientific fact about the Boscombe Bowmen. This is that their isotopes show that they had migrated when they were children. They can be shown to have been in one place at about the age of 5 when their first permanent teeth grew, and in another at about the age of 12 when their last permanent teeth grew. Both places were different from the place they were buried as young men. This is the best isotope evidence for migration in prehistoric Europe.
Archaeologists and scientists cannot be sure of where the Boscombe Bowmen came from. But does the new dating of the bluestones at Stonehenge now suggest that Wales is the most likely homeland for the Bowmen? When they were children, did the Bowmen make a journey in which the adults who brought the bluestones from Wales to Stonehenge had led the way? Or like the Amesbury Archer, did they come from continental Europe? Were they pilgrims from France?
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below (comments may take a few days to appear here, as we have to approve them manually).
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