Archaeology in 360 video

Ahh, 360! I’ve been wanting to play around with using 360 video in archaeology since seeing this video of the Hajj in 360–something that I will never be able to experience:

I also use this excellent example from the Crossrail Excavations for teaching and I love pointing out the various “actors” in the scene, the manager, the person recording, all these people standing over the two archaeologists digging up a plague pit:

Great use of diegetic sound, placement of camera, but the “actors” are oddly silent, as though waiting for the pesky camera to turn off before getting back into the ever-present trench chat. Maybe Crossrail thought it would be disrespectful to have discussion intrude into the excavation of a plague pit.

360 video would generally fall into what I’d call the phenomenological genre of archaeological filmmaking, granting the viewer the gaze of an archaeologist. The ability to pan around the scene provides a small modicum of agency to the viewer, a sense of being there in a way that eludes still photography and fixed-frame videography. There’s also the matter of surveillance and the panopticon (mentioned in the article above), so beware of abuse, obviously.

As the guest of the Elizabeth Castle Project in Jersey I took advantage of being there by trying out the 360 video camera (Insta360 One X) we have in the department. I knew there would be a learning curve, but it was great fun trying to figure out a new workflow, how to presence the archaeology, where to put the camera.

I was not very successful, particularly compared to the Crossrail video but I’ve learned a lot for the next go-round.

  • Put the 360 right in the middle of the trench. If it’s not in danger of being knocked down, it’s just not that interesting.
  • Get the remote bluetooth control working on your phone sooner rather than later. I have a lot of footage of me standing around looking like a jerk, staring at the 360 camera.
  • The file sizes are pretty huge so pushing them around while on fieldwork can be tricky. I had to wait to return to mess around with them much.
  • The editing software from the developers is pretty rubbish compared to FCP or Premiere. You can export your footage from this software into a file format that works with either of the above…but I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it.
  • Make sure, when you start the video, you want it to be facing the way you’d like to open the scene. Something more interesting than you staring down at it.

I’d like to be able to fit it in with still footage, add audio tracks, and just generally mess around with it a bit more, but for now, it’s a fantastic piece of kit for fieldwork. I’m also intrigued by composing the story of an archaeological excavation with a 360 camera. Would you narrate to the camera? Compose the shots to draw the eye to various elements within the scene? Have various archaeologist-“actors” yelling out for attention? Can someone buy me out for a year or two so I can play around with this damn thing??

The outtakes are pretty fabulously weird as well. I love that the device makes itself invisible…that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

Archaeological Fieldwork with Children: Update

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It helps to have excavation directors who are intimately familiar with all of the My Little Pony names.

I’ve spent the last three days on Jersey, as the guest of the fantastic Elizabeth Castle Project. I am working with a separate(ish) small research team on a digital drawing project, details of which will be revealed at a future date. I’ve been excited about this project as it follows on from me and Holly Wright’s Pencils & Pixels article that examines digital and analog drawing and it fits well within my larger career goal: doing cool research with good friends.

Anyway, I was interviewed by the excellent Emily Sohn writing for Nature on Ways to juggle fieldwork with kids in tow a while back and the article came out more recently. I went to Qatar twice with T at 8 and 20 months and most of the experience I had was about towing a baby around. Now at 3 years (!!) T is officially a preschooler (shock, horror) and things are way different in pretty much all respects.

I’m not on the Elizabeth Castle Project team but part of another, adjacent project and so I have a lot of agency–my results do not inform the main ECP project goals. Other factors: Jersey is closer to York, culturally very similar to England, T is very independent, we are in a hotel, and…I’m single parenting. Dan is in Leiden, running the Seminar for Arabian Studies and very busy in his own right.

It has been pretty full on, but, similar to last time, I have a lot of help and have been given a lot of slack. The directors of the ECP have been great about having T around, the project itself is basically in a park, and my research team have been super supportive, walking at preschooler pace, okay with waiting through melt-downs, helping me out with the tremendous amount of luggage (apparently bringing an assortment of stuffed animals to site is non-negotiable) and watching her for brief periods of time when I’ve had to scamper off to take photos and such. T has also been taking long afternoon naps, during which I try to be useful.

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Shelters: essential kit for kids (and adults!) on site

I can’t imagine giving advice on this stuff, as I know many, many more people who have carted their kids around much more successfully, but…snacks and cartoons have gotten us pretty far. I am very lucky and very privileged to be in a position where I have a lot of control over what is required for this research and our schedule. Sometimes we need to go and check out flowers. Or climb to the top of the castle. Or play in the backdirt. Right now T is watching cartoons and eating a bell pepper (her choice) while I type this out in a spare moment.

T’s afternoon nap means we will be able to attend a team dinner. There are other things that we are very limited in–that’s mostly socializing and extracurriculars. Which is, honestly, fine. Getting T around, living out of a hotel and engaging in a research project is…enough. I guess as a parent and as an academic I’m starting to understand my carrying capacity and this is it. It’s good though.

 

Single Context Archaeology as Anarchist Praxis

Happy publication day! Single Context Archaeology as Anarchist Praxis has been published by the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. It’s a collaboration between Daniel Eddisford and I and reflects long conversations we’ve had while working (and living and raising a child) together. It takes archaeological site management, something that is always conceived of as rigidly hierarchical, and tries to reimagine it through more egalitarian means. Conveniently, we found that single context methodology actually lends itself well to a flat management structure. Sadly we also found that recent erosion of autonomy and craftspersonship in archaeological fieldwork has contributed to the neoliberalization of the profession.

If you are one of those Mortimer Wheeler military campaign-types, this is probably not for you, but it has a snip from a big old-school Harris Matrix made out of political leaflets and some Çatalhöyük gossip, so it might be worth a look.

Single Context Archaeology as Anarchist Praxis

Also available HERE as an uncorrected proof.

The Invisibility of Hi-viz

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Urban archaeology with the Origins of Doha Project

Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people protested in France, demanding that French President Emmanuel Macron resign over increased fuel taxes. These protests have become increasingly violent and draw from anarchist and extremist far right factions, all aligned in working class struggle. The banner that these disparate groups have used to signal their solidarity is the gilets jaunes, the “yellow vest,” a ubiquitous piece of clothing worn by those in construction and industrial labor. Also known as high-vis or hi-viz these vests are part of what is called “PPE,” personal protective equipment and is mandated in jobs that deal with heavy machinery and protect the user against hazardous working conditions. In France, it is mandated that drivers carry one in their vehicle.

Wikipedia states that Scottish railway workers in the 1960s were the first to wear “fluorescent orange jackets, known as ‘fire-flies’” to keep them safe. Since then, motorcyclists, cyclists, cops, hunters, even chickens wear the reflective vests to direct attention to their presence. Which is ironic, as I’ve often noticed an increased invisibility as a result of wearing hi-viz. (Though this invisibility can help, as previously mentioned, with a bit of productive urban exploration.)

That the protestors are wearing hi-viz is no accident. This uniform codes the wearer as working class, and hides and homogenizes identity. As Elaine Glaser notes, politicians often don hard hats and hi-viz while simultaneously eroding workers rights, but the contrast between the expensive wool jackets of Macron and his colleagues is stark when compared to the black and yellow worn by the protestors. As an archaeologist, I wear hi-viz while working on construction sites that have active, heavy machinery present. Yet this measure of safety while on construction sites can also contribute to a surprising invisibility while wearing hi-viz on the street. I have never felt so reviled as when walking through the City of London, amongst businessmen in suits, as when I was in hi-viz, carrying a hard hat and walking in steel-toed boots covered in Victorian excrement. Okay, being a punk in Texas might have occasionally come close.

The protests in France continue. The #giletsjaunes have published their list of demands and have been joined by students and ambulance drivers, amongst others. The list is a mixed bag with a bit of racism thrown in for good measure. The protests stay in France, but perhaps people in hi-viz will be a bit more visible in the future.

Update: I’ve been told that they’ve moved beyond France, so look for a hi-viz jacket in a locality near you.

Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording

Isometric sketch from brilliant field archaeologist Michael House

It’s publication day! It’s publication day! I’m very pleased that after two years, six (!!!) peer reviews, and some hardcore image wrangling me and Dr Holly Wright’s publication Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording has finally been published.

It…is a monster. Weighing in at over 10,700 words, we examine the history of archaeological field drawing to better contextualize the emergence of digital (paperless) field recording and drawing. We reference literature in architecture and design to inform this transition to digital, and find that drawing performs several essential functions in understanding archaeological stratigraphy. From the article:

As drawing has persisted since the beginning of archaeological recording, remained important after the introduction of photography, is characterized as an essential mode of communication and knowledge production within archaeology, and features prominently within abductive reasoning during initial archaeological investigation, a complete abdication to digital recording should be a matter of intense consideration.

Getting the article out was a bit of a fraught process, having to retrospectively include literature that was published after submission (Mobilizing the Past: Recent Approaches to Archaeological Fieldwork in a Digital Age I’m looking at you) and trying to include actual field drawings–it was a real struggle getting pencil drawings on gridded permatrace to be high enough resolution, so I ended up having to digitize the drawing, then had to trace the drawing onto the included photograph to make it extra clear. Layers of irony in that one in the digital/analog back and forth. The editors were great though and really worked hard with us to get it out.

I was especially happy to publish with the esteemed Dr Holly Wright, as this formed part of her dissertation on digital field drawing. She’s a good friend and colleague and it’s always fun to publish with folks. I was also able to include drawings from some pretty legendary archaeologists, Michael House and Chiz Haward.

Elevation by Chiz Haward, showing his integration of analog and digital drawing

Chiz was especially helpful and contributed an amazing elevation that he created through both digital and analog drawing. We quote him at length in the article as his integrated workflow was especially informative to our argument. Illustrations from David Mackie and Ben Sharp also feature, as well as some lesser-known dudes such as John Aubrey, General Pitt-Rivers, Stuart Piggott and Mortimer Wheeler. (No women! That’s the subject of some current research, watch this space.)

Anyway, I’d be exceedingly happy if you read this and shared it widely and let me know what you think.

Morgan, C., & Wright, H. (2018). Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording. Journal of Field Archaeology, 1–16.

I’ll upload proofs in a bit, but let me know if you can’t access it and I’ll send it to you.

Dig House Life: Now, With Added Baby

I really hoped she didn’t wake anyone. It was 3am, and Tamsin was up, again, howling. She’s a good baby, very smiley and chilled out, but at eight months she still wakes up. A lot. Sometimes every two hours. Consequently I have done things during the very depths of sleep deprivation that I did not believe possible…and now we are in the field.

Of all the things I thought about when I planned to bring her with us to Qatar on archaeological fieldwork, somehow I didn’t really think about the fact that she might be going through a rough patch and keeping people up at night. Our fellow dighouse dwellers have insisted that it is fine though, and have been exceedingly sweet about the whole thing.

Probably everything about our experience so far has been exceptional; we are lucky to be here with the Origins of Doha & Qatar Project, with Rob Carter, the project director who is not only one of the best people I’ve ever met, but who also loves babies. It’s a gift, really. I’ve inconvenienced just about everybody at York (staff, students, admin…sorry y’all) by going into the field, but they’ve all been incredibly supportive of me trying to make research work while having a baby (especially Claire & Nicky). And most of all, my husband who also works hard to make room for my research. It also helps that we have all the modcons here in Qatar. Living in the “field” in Doha is basically like living in Dallas. Except that the people are nicer. hah.

So, that laundry list of “lucky” is to say that we have a huge amount of support and we take none of it for granted. The opposite of this support is not, as you’d think, people telling us “no, not with a baby” (though there is some of that) but the silent omission, getting passed over for work. When a field season or a lecture comes up, a quiet conversation about how “she’s too busy right now.” Let us decide. I’ve turned down over a dozen opportunities in the past year, and each one ate at me a bit, but I decided. I don’t know how many opportunities were not offered, and I’ll never know. But thank you to the people who gave me the choice.

Anyway, it has been going well, but it has been flat out. Digital archaeological work often means (to my chagrin) not going out into the field, but being behind a keyboard, and that has also worked in our favor. Also our permit has been slow to come this year, so I’ve been managing archaeologists doing heritage work. It’s great but I get stretched pretty thin.

And there’s been awkward moments–there’s never really a great time to dry out a breast pump in the dig house dish rack. Having a baby in field archaeology is incredibly difficult, and impossible for many who can’t be away and might not be able to afford childcare, or who do not have a supportive employer, department, colleagues, husband. Not to mention the super secret cabal of archaeologist parents who offer help, coffee, find cots & pushchairs for you to use in the field (thank you, Paula!) and who know.

But there is support out there, and a cadre of archaeologist parents who are working hammer and tongs to make it better for the rest of us. So, though I’m still a bit shy of putting Tamsin up on social media, I wanted to follow up on my series of posts about Archaeologists-who-happen-to-be-mothers–role models and who handled it much better than I could ever hope for.

And now…I think I hear the baby, up from her nap. God I’m tired. But still here.

Dig House Living: Seasonality & Materiality

For the past couple of days I’ve been here in Qatar, setting up the dig house for the 2017 season of the Origins of Doha and Qatar project. My husband, Daniel Eddisford, is the excavation director (while I’m the digital archaeologist) and we’ve been doing all the chores required such as picking up the rental SUVs, cleaning up the dig house and buying odds and ends for the arriving team.

Our dig house is undeniably urbane as these things go–Dan & I wrote an article about the contemporary archaeology of dig houses that featured much less comfortable living quarters, including Flinders Petrie’s residence in a tomb in Egypt.

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Flinders Petrie in front of his tomb dwelling in Giza.

Dig houses, as we say in our article, are good to think with–they are structuring structures that give shape to our thinking about the past. They also dictate critical social relations amongst team members so we try to give a lot of thought and care about our setup. Our dig house consists of two adjacent flats in “Education City” a sector in Doha that houses all of the universities. There are young families who live in the other apartments and we have a bit of grass, some palm trees, and open space.

Yesterday Dan picked up several boxes of our kit that we’ve stored away for the year at UCL – Qatar. We have all sorts in there, spare lamps, kitchen knives, a christmas tree, a muffin tin, jigsaw puzzles and each team member has their own box of stuff that they’ve stored over the past year.

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It’s a tricky thing, storing stuff from year-to-year for excavation seasons. It’s a sign of confidence that 1) the project will continue without interruption and 2) you’ll be invited back. Even if you are very confident you’ll be back, it’s good to hedge your bets–we usually leave a random assortment of clothes that aren’t quite knackered…but close, along with various other odds and ends that aren’t worth transporting across the world, but we hate to throw away. Dan and I had stuff stashed on three different continents at one point.

So this stuff, these little caches of assorted, slightly-knackered and mostly worthless kit become a bit nostalgic when you open them the next year. I’d forgotten about the hoody that I’m currently wearing. I bought it over a decade ago and I probably really should throw away but am currently thankful that I’ve left it as it’s chilly this week in Doha!

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This is a silly laundry basket that I bought for a long season in 2011 and am always happy to be reunited with.

It’s also a point of pride, of anticipation of future work, to leave a box with your name on it. On the other hand, it can make people incredibly grumpy when they leave a box and then cannot retrieve the contents, even if they contain relatively worthless materials. When you do not plan on coming back, you often shed these same possessions, sometimes by burning or sometimes the project has a place to either donate or pass on clothing. Çatalhöyük had a giant box of miscellaneous ragged clothing that we’d rummage for costumes and such. Infamously, if you did not retrieve your washing from the clean washing pile you might find your beloved possessions in that same box.

It’s an interesting class of possessions, slightly worthless, slightly precious, always a surprise when you rediscover it but nostalgic at the same time.