It’s All About The Photos

It’s been a busy time for me recently, with much of my recent work focussing upon historic photographs and photogrammetry.

I have been working with the Morrab Library in Penzance to build a digitisation facility so that they may begin, with a volunteer workforce, to scan their wonderful collection of historic photographs. There are about 12,000 photos in the collection, ranging from 19th century glass plate negatives, to recent prints covering the whole of Cornwall. I have collated their Microsoft Works databases (one for each collection) into a single database, undertaken a data cleaning exercise, and mapped fields into Dublin Core metadata element set. The entire database was then imported into Omeka which is running on a local web server. I have tweaked Omeka and the environment in which it runs so that large TIFF files (up to 1GB) can be uploaded, with JPEG derivatives being created, the original TIFF being stored on a different server (separate from Omeka, with dual redundant disks and external backup) with the original filename (the photo’s accession number) being preserved. You can’t be too careful.

Whilst it isn’t designed out of the box to be a cataloguing tool, Omeka is doing exactly what we need. The user interface is well-designed and sufficiently easy for some elderly people to grasp quickly. The customisation to store unaltered original scans on an abstraction layer works well. Automatic database backups are also placed on the same server.

I have also begun working for an organisation called Azook, where I am the Project Officer for a project called MemoryFish. It will collect unpublished historic photos, films and recordings from private collections, documenting the history of the fishing industry in Cornwall. The initial areas are Falmouth, Newlyn and Newquay, and photos will be published on cornishmemory.com.

Then there’s the digital archaeology. I have been working for Cornwall Archaeological Unit and St Piran Trust on the recording of the now fully excavated St Piran’s Oratory. With the help of colleagues at Archaeovision we have processed a point cloud consisting of nearly 300 million points. This project is ongoing, but here is a taster of the work in progress.

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And in other news, in December 2014 I walked into a hairdressers and came out with short hair. It’s the shortest I’ve worn it since I was 17. Here’s the evidence.

Tom with short hair
Tom with short hair

And I’ve retired my famous trademark brown velvet jacket, replacing it with…. an almost identical copy. Some things should never change!

The resurgence of archaeology podcasting?

Years ago I used to record an archaeology podcast, imaginatively named “Archaeocast” for Wessex Archaeology. Not many episodes were recorded (17ish) but it was very popular, garnering over 800,000 downloads as of early 2012. It’s probably more than a million now. It was the world’s first archaeology podcast, and even made the iTunes charts at its height in 2006/7. Mainstream media took over podcasting shortly afterwards, consigning most independent podcasts into obscurity. A lot of people stopped recording them, and even my own interest wained.

In the past month I’ve come across two new archaeology podcasts, and they’re both great. Andrew R’s Drunk Archaeology and Tristan’s Anarchaeologist.

drunk-archaeology-podcast-logo

Drunk Archaeology is a relaxed podcast featuring archaeologists sharing a drink and talking shop. People talk straight, tell it how it is, and have a laugh. It’s a bit sweary, and is essential listening if archaeologists speaking their minds appeals.

anarchaeologist-logo

Anarchaeologist (“anarchae” / “anarchy” – geddit?) shares many of my original ideals – to be a ground-up show presenting archaeological themes and topics to the interested public from the minds and mouths of archaeologists themselves.

Tristan interviewed me via Skype yesterday and we had a great chat about podcasting and archaeology. He’s got a great radio voice and a quick mind, and is also a veteran podcaster, so expect the show to grow and grow.

Make sure you subscribe to both – load up a podcasting app on your device, subscribe, and get the episodes automatically delivered when they’re released.

Good luck to both podcasts – it’s great to see a resurgence in archaeology podcasting, and more archaeologists being their own media.

Carwynnen Quoit

Earlier this year I was commissioned by Sustrust to digitally reconstruct the then-collapsed Carwynnen Quoit, a neolithic dolmen, using existing 3D laser scan data. This would be used to inform the physical reconstruction of the monument. I was also asked to investigate and report on a number of stones adjacent to the quoit which were thought to have been worked or decorated in antiquity.

The ‘rock art’ panels (a mixture of natural and hand-made lines, not necessarily as part of a single deliberate piece) were recorded in 3D using Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry.

On summer solstice 2014, the capstone was lowered into place by crane in front of hundreds of spectators, marking an end to a four year project.

The graphical output that I produced was used on leaflets and publicity, as well as extracts from my report on the potential rock art. Below are some of those images, used with permission.

Carwynnen Quoit reconstructed from laser scan data, placed upon the excavation plan

Carwynnen Quoit reconstructed from laser scan data, placed upon the excavation plan

One of the images created for the analysis of the 'Coffin Stone' close to Carwynnen Quoit

One of the images created for the analysis of the 'Coffin Stone' close to Carwynnen Quoit

Visit the Giant’s Quoit website to find out more about the project.

The Mermaid of Zennor – a low-fi 3D scan

The Mermaid of Zennor. A render of the 3D model to show detail of the carving.

Illuminance (occlusion) render of the low-resolution 3D model of the Mermaid of Zennor

At the weekend I had the chance to visit the church of St Senara in Zennor, Cornwall. I spent some time looking at the wonderful medieval carving of the famous mermaid. Despite not having my Canon DSLR with me, I decided to take a series of photos with my iPhone 4S (8MP) with the view of trying to reconstruct a low-resolution 3D model using photogrammetry to see how well opportunistic captures might come out. After processing the data, I managed to extract reasonably detailed geometry, with just over a million vertices (points) after cleaning the data up (removing unwanted elements, removing stray points). A bit of processing and I was able to produce the above image to show some nice details on the carving. The mermaid looks quite different to my eye. Below is a render using a directional surface filter. The data is a very long way from being perfect, and I was unable to take any measurements to scale and check the accuracy of the geometry. However, the results are very usable for interpretative purposes, especially given the nature of how the underlying photos were captured – by hand on a 2.5 year old iPhone.

Render of the 3D model of the Mermaid of Zennor, using a directional material.

The following image is a ‘depth map’ of the Mermaid, where black is far and white is near. Can you see a hint of the Mermaid’s face? Scroll down to see an embedded 3D model (latest Firefox, Safari or Chrome browser recommended).

Depth map of the low-resolution 3D model of the Mermaid of Zennor

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Recording St Piran’s Oratory

For the last couple of weeks, and on St Piran’s Day itself, I have been helping out with the Uncovering St Piran’s Oratory project. Organised by St Piran Trust and run by Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service the project aims to uncover as much of the (potentially) early medieval structure to assess and record its condition.

Following a 15-year-campaign, the St Piran Trust plans to unearth and conserve St Piran’s Oratory, believed to be amongst the oldest Christian buildings on mainland Britain. The site has been of central importance to Cornish people for over 1,400 years as a place of worship and pilgrimage, and as a focus for cultural expression. Today, many hundreds of people gather at the site annually to mark St Piran’s Day. The saint’s flag (which features in a stained-glass window installed in Westminster Abbey in 1888) – a white cross on a black field, is flown the length and breadth of Cornwall.

The scheduled ancient monument is a listed building and was buried in 1980, for “its own protection”. Since then expert opinion has shifted, amid calls for it to be uncovered and conserved in a more sympathetic way.

The Oratory and associated protective concrete structure from 1910 are protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Unfortunately in 1980 as part of the burial programme, the concrete roof was removed – or so we thought. During this year’s excavation we found that part of the roof structure, badly damaged and sitting at an angle, had been left where it fell and simply buried. It has been decided that the pile of broken concrete needs to be removed to safely continue with the project.

Concrete at St Piran's Oratory

I have been commissioned to record concrete remains in-situ using photogrammetry to complement more traditional recording. I undertook the photography aspect of photogrammetric recording on St Piran’s Day (5th March 2014) and am now processing the point clouds. This will result in a highly detailed model of the concrete remains, which include a buttress, part of the reinforced concrete curved roof, and the hollow mundic blocks used to construct the walls.

From a technical point of view it is proving to be a challenge. There is no uniformity to the concrete remains – it is full of overhangs, pockets and voids. The photographic capture strategy was tough to work out, and 16GB of RAW images were taken after careful cleaning of the concrete by trowel, hand shovel, bucket and brush. I have covered as many angles as was safe and practical to do so.

I will be delivering the point cloud and a series of orthographic views to the client.

Once the concrete has been removed, it is hoped to expose more of the Oratory, and I will be able to record the medieval structure in the same manner.

In the meantime, I have the opportunity to get out in the open air and dig, which I love.

The are plenty of photos on the open Facebook group Uncovering St Piran’s Oratory. You can also see a 3D model of the excavation as it stood on St Piran’s Day 2014.

Announcing Archaeovision

Archaeovision logo

I am delighted to announce that I am now a consultant for Archaeovision, a pan-EU group of experts in the field of archaeological computing.

Here’s a summary of what Archaeovision is about:

Archaeovision offers innovative solutions to a wealth of problems in the heritage sectors.

We can 3D scan your objects, survey your building, investigate and enhance surface details – from microwear on teeth to coins and monumental inscriptions, build 3D reconstructions of objects and even whole landscapes.

If that wasn’t enough, we can also build you modern, accessible websites for your institution or collection.

I will still be working freelance for smaller local projects. However, Archaeovision will allow me to take on larger projects with a group of fantastic and experienced archaeologists who have overlapping and complementary skills.

If it needs to be 3D scanned, recorded, photographed at huge resolutions, have hidden details enhanced, or transmitted via the internet, we can do it.

Visit http://archaeovision.eu to find out more.

Jelly and Archaeology

Jelly Logo

“Let’s help each other”

Yesterday saw the official unveiling of Jelly, an app for smartphones which allows users to ask questions, accompanied by a photo, to their extended social networks.

Humanity is connected like never before. In fact, recent white papers have concluded that the proverbial “six degrees of separation” is now down to four because of social networking and mobile phones. It’s not hard to imagine that the true promise of a connected society is people helping each other.
http://blog.jelly.co/post/72563498393/introducing-jelly

Asking a question on JellyAn example could be whilst going for a walk, you spot something unusual, or are just curious about. There is no information to hand about what it is, so you snap a photo with the Jelly app and ask your connections. And their connections. The question can be passed to quite a large network.

Alerts can be enabled so that when your friends ask questions it’s possible that you could get answers back fairly quickly.

Archaeological applications could be varied and useful.

“Is this a bell barrow or a bowl barrow?”

“Does anyone recognise the decoration on this sherd?”

The possibilities are endless.

Obviously there are limits – a square format photo can only contain a limited amount of information – and it doesn’t look like hashtags have been implemented in the Jelly app yet. It would be great to follow #archaeology on Jelly to see what questions people ask. However, you can post your questions to Twitter and Facebook, and use has tags there, so all is not lost.

It may be branded a tool for the ‘lazyweb’, but knowledge in numbers is often a very good thing indeed. Jelly is certainly a service to keep an eye on.

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New Book: Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, XI, Early Cornish Sculpture

If you are interested in inscribed stones, medieval crosses, and the many other carved wonders of Cornwall, then you will no doubt be interested to know that the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, XI, Early Cornish Sculpture by Ann Preston Jones and Elisabeth Okasha (published by OUP) is now available to buy.

The book has taken many years to compile, with each sculpture illustrated in clear black and white photography accompanied by comprehensive discussion.

The official description is as follows:

This book is part of a major series published by the British Academy.
Volume 11 surveys the county of Cornwall and provides an analytical
catalogue of its early sculpture, highlighting the particular
distinctiveness of Cornish sculpture compared to other regions.
Readers may well be astonished at the range and scale of the Cornish
monuments.

Introductory chapters set the material within its topographical,
historical and archaeological context, considering it especially in
relation to its development as Cornwall, at one time an independent
Celtic kingdom, became part of the Anglo-Saxon realm. To fully
illuminate the material, the volume includes specialist contributions
on the geology of the monuments, the historical background, and the
sculpture which continued the tradition of monumental carving in
Cornwall after the Norman Conquest.

There is a full photographic record of each monument, taken for the
most part by the authors, which highlights the fact that Cornwall,
unlike some regions, has many impressive and complete monuments still
surviving. A large number of these were illustrated by A. G. Langdon
over a century ago in his seminal Old Cornish Crosses; however the
present volume includes many stones not illustrated by Langdon and
offers new interpretations and detailed photographs of others. The
monuments with early sculpture include substantial free-standing
crosses, altar stones, and some recumbent coped stones.The dating and
context of a number of potentially early fonts and some simple
cross-incised stones is also discussed.

The relationship of the Cornish sculpture to monuments in Wales,
Ireland and Western Britain is of particular interest given Cornwall’s
position as a peninsula jutting into the western seaways. In this
context, the potential role of Scandinavian influence is considered
against the absence of evidence for Scandinavian settlement in
Cornwall.

I made a small contribution to the book through my work on the Gulval cross base which revealed images of the Four Evangelists.

The official price is £70 but Amazon already seem to be offering a discount.

Recent 3D Scanning in West Cornwall

Noti Noti stone

A few weeks ago I gave a talk to the Cornwall Archaeological Society about 3D capture methods in archaeology, with examples of some of my recent work. It’s all work in progress, but here are some of the images shown during the lecture.

The stones were all chosen as case studies as they all contain details which can be difficult to see with the naked eye under normal lighting conditions. They include the Noti Noti stone in St Hilary, an inscribed stone and decorated crosses at Phillack, the Penzance Market Cross (left elevation) and the Cunaide Stone in Hayle.