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Rural Settlement of Roman Britain: Salute!

A bronze figure of a boy on a chimera, found in Colchester in 1804. Image from Society of Antiquaries of London Catalogue of Drawings and Museum Objects (doi:10.5284/1000409). Not technically from a rural settlement but I like the picture!

In December of last year (2016), I completed the final stage of the digital archive and dissemination for the The Rural Settlement of Roman Britain project. The first publication and (revised) online resource were launched at a meeting of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies at Senate House of the University of London.

I’ve written previous blogs on the project, so won’t repeat myself here too much. Suffice to say that the final phase publishes the complete settlement evidence from Roman England and Wales, together with the related finds, environmental and burial data. These are produced alongside a series of integrative studies on rural settlement, economy, and people and ritual, published by the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies as Britannia Monographs. The first volume, on rural settlement, has now been published, while the two remaining volumes will be released in 2017 and 2018.

The existing online resource has been updated both in content and functionality: the project database is available to download in CSV format, and most key elements of the finds, environmental and burial evidence have been added into the search and map interface. Hopefully the dissemination of the data in these forms allows re-use of this fantastic dataset in a variety of ways and, I hope, by a variety of users.

Example of the online map, showing weighted distribution of inhumation (black) and cremation (orange) burials

As with previous posts on this project, I’d like to say how much I’ve enjoyed working with the team at Reading and Cotswold. Producing an online archive and formal publication in tandem and in such a short time is no mean undertaking. I’m particularly happy/impressed with the determination by the researchers to make their data openly available at the earliest opportunity. Hopefully this is a benchmark that others will aspire to reach. A debt of thanks is also due to all those organisations that assisted the project, particularly the HERs of England and Wales who provided exports from their systems and aided the team at Cotswold with access to fieldwork reports. Finally, I’d have been lost without the awesome Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire created by Johan Åhlfeldt. At an early stage it became clear that creating any kind of ‘baseline mapping’ of Roman archaeology (combining NMP + HER data for example) would be problematic – both in terms of technical overheads and copyright. To do something on the scale of the EngLaId project’s ArcGIS WebApp simply wasn’t in the scope of the project! Johan’s work was thus timely and extremely useful in providing a broad backdrop of Roman Britain in which to compare the project results.

The rationale behind much of the interface work was to act as data publication of an academic synthesis and not to get tied down in building something akin to a Roman portal. Throughout the project we’ve been at pains to point out that this is very much a synthesis and interpretation of the excavated evidence in relation to a research question. Not a complete inventory or atlas of every Roman site. Indeed, it became clear that as soon as the data collation had been completed 31st December 2014 for sites in England and March 2015 for sites in Wales), it was effectively missing all the discoveries made in the following years. Thus although providing broad context was necessary in this case, if someone wanted to know everything about the Roman period (including sites not excavated) from a particular area they’d be best off consulting the relevant HER.

This in turn leads onto the $64,000 Question which I was asked at every event around England and Wales (including the final one in London). “What plans are there to keep this database updated”? Without wishing to appear pessimistic, I would always answer “None”. Aside from the logistics and finances of keeping a large database as this constantly updated, there’s also the fact that this is a very subjective synthesis of a much larger resource. To my mind, the key question is how do we make it easier for other researchers to build on this and have academic synthesis of a period or theme happen on a more regular basis. One of the answers to this is surely access to data, especially the published and non-published written sources. This isn’t really radical, and indeed increased access to data is being explored and recommended by the Historic England Heritage Information Access Strategy. The work of the Roman Rural Settlement project has many lessons to inform these strategies, some of which will form future papers by the project team. Out of curiosity I’ve undertaken my own analysis of the project database and ‘grey literature’ sources (a term I don’t like!) and the OASIS system but will save that for a separate blog post. ..

At the post-launch meal I did end up asking the team a rather cheesy question of “which is your favourite record”? The responses were often based around the level of finds, or in the relative level of information the site could add to a regional picture. My answer(s) were perhaps a little more prosaic, for example I really like records such as Swinford Wind Farm (Leicestershire) which has fieldwork reports disseminated via OASIS, and a Museum Accession ID. However my heart veers towards 42 London Road, Bagshot (Surrey): the site of my very first experience of archaeology as a somewhat geeky 16 year old. The site was never published, and thus it’s great to see it live on in this resource and with a link to the corresponding HER record to (hopefully) allow users to go and explore the wider area. Perhaps even to undertake their own research project. To my mind, to stimulate further work large and small that would be a great legacy of the project.


The (DOC)X-files

The following blog is simply a musing on our historic approaches to archiving formatted text files, prompted by a user enquiry into “best formats” for preservation of their reports, and my role at the ADS as keeping abreast of said formats and our internal policies.

Many years ago, in a meeting of the curatorial and technical team (CATTS), conversation veered towards our procedures for handling text documents. That is files whose significant properties were formatted text/typeset reports, as opposed to plain text files (with ascii or UTF-8 encoding) often used for exporting or importing of data. One colleague, half in jest, commented that as the Archaeology Data Service our focus should be on the literal data as understood in computer science – the individual pieces of information being generated from various instruments or collected in databases. Reports it may be argued are the interpretation of that data, but often not the raw data itself.

Continue reading The (DOC)X-files

ADS a Recommended Repository for Nature Publishing Group

ADS are very pleased to announce that we are now an officially recommended repository for Nature Publishing Group’s open access data journal Scientific Data. ADS joins approximately 80 other data repositories, representing research data from across the entire scientific spectrum. ADS has been approved by Scientific Data as providing stable archiving and long-term preservation of archaeology data.


Scientific Data offers a new article type, the ‘Data Descriptor’, which has been specifically designed to publish peer-reviewed research data in an accessible way, so as to facilitate its interpretation and reuse. Publishing Data Descriptors enables data produces and curators to gain appropriate credit for their work, whilst also promoting reproducible research.  The main goals of this journal are tightly aligned with that of ADS, focusing on making the data publicly accessible and encouraging re-use.

data descriptor

By becoming a recommended repository for Scientific Data, we are now not only a recommended repository for archaeological data accompanying articles published by the Nature Publishing group but researchers now have the opportunity to deposit archaeological data to ADS, whilst submitting an Data Descriptor to Scientific Data.

All depositors depositing with ADS and intending to publish in Scientific Data or another Nature Publishing Group journal must choose to disseminate the data they are depositing with us under a CC-BY liecence. For more information contact the ADS at




Rural Settlement of Roman Britain

Tim Evans

In June 2013 I wrote the first in what I planned to be a two part blog describing my work on the Rural Settlement of Roman Britain Project (henceforth RRS).  A little later than planned, here it is.

Drawing of a columnar Roman milestone found c.1772 on the Fosse way two miles from Leicester, bearing the name Ratae (the unofficial logo for the project Web Mapping). Image from the Society of Antiquaries of London Catalogue of Drawings and Museum Objects doi:10.5284/1000409


The RRS project arose from a two-stage  pilot project undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology and funded by English Heritage (now Historic England), Assessing The Research Potential of Grey Literature in the study of Roman England. This project identified the large levels of grey literature, the colloquial term for unpublished reports produced primarily through the planning process containing significant information about the Roman period.

The RRS project is being undertaken by the University of Reading and Cotswold Archaeology and funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust with additional backing from Historic England. The project has built on the pilot by reviewing all sources – traditional published journals/monographs and grey literature – for the excavated evidence for the rural settlement of Roman Britain with the over-arching aim to inform a comprehensive reassessment of the countryside of Roman Britain.
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Archiving Ipswich

Re-posted from Day of Archaeology

Two years after posting about my work on the Silbury Hill digital archive, in ‘AN ADS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY’, and I’m still busy working as a Digital Archivist with the ADS!

For the past few months, I have been working on the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive, deposited by Suffolk County Council, which covers 34 sites, excavated between 1974 and 1990.


To give a quick summary of the work so far, the data first needed to be accessioned into our systems which involved all of the usual checks for viruses, removing spaces from file names, sorting the data into 34 separate collections and sifting out duplicates etc.  The archive packages were then created which involved migrating the files to their preservation and dissemination formats and creating file-level metadata using DROID.  The different representations of the files were linked together using object ids in our database and all of the archiving processes were documented before the coverage and location metadata were added to the individual site collections.

Though time consuming, due to the quantity of data, this process was fairly simple as most of the file names were created consistently and contained the site code.  Those that didn’t have descriptive file names could be found in the site database and sorted according to the information there.

The next job was to create the interfaces; again, this was fairly simple for the individual sites as they were made using a template which retrieves the relevant information from our database allowing the pages to be consistent and easily updateable.

The Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive called for a more innovative approach, however, in order to allow the users greater flexibility with regards to searching, so the depositors requested a map interface as well as a way to query information from their core database.  The map interface was the most complex part of the process and involved a steep learning curve for me as it involved applications, software and code that I had not previously used such as JavaScript, OpenLayers, GeoServer and QGIS.  The resulting map allows the user to view the features excavated on the 34 sites and retrieve information such as feature type and period as well as linking through to the project archive for that site.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

So, as to what I’m up to today…

The next, and final step, is to create the page that queries the database.  For the past couple of weeks I have been sorting the data from the core database into a form that will fit into the ADS object tables, cleaning and consolidating period, monument and subject terms and, where possible, matching them to recognised thesauri such as the English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus.

Today will be a continuation of that process and hopefully, by the end of the day, all of the information required by the query pages will be added to our database tables so that I can begin to build that part of the interface next week.  If all goes to plan, the user should be able to view specific files based on searches by period, monument/feature type, find type, context, site location etc. with more specialist information, such as pottery identification, being available directly from the core database tables which will be available for download in their entirety.  Fingers crossed that it does all go to plan!

So, that’s my Day of Archaeology 2015, keep a look out for ADS announcements regarding the release of the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive sometime over the next few weeks and check out the posts from my ADS colleagues Jo Gilham and Georgie Field!

UPDATE: Ipswich Excavation Archive has now been released! All sites can be explored here!

The Grey Literature Library reaches 30,000


The ADS is excited to announce that we now have over 30,000 reports in our Grey Literature Library.

A notable contribution to this number has been the addition of around 1,500 backlog reports that have been digitised and deposited with us from the North Yorkshire HER with more to come. Since the start of 2015, 734 reports have been added from 85 different organisations and 729 of those reports were submitted via OASIS.
Continue reading The Grey Literature Library reaches 30,000

Roman Rural Settlement at the ADS

Since April 2012 I have been fortunate enough to be the ADS lead in the Roman Rural Settlement of Britain project, undertaken by Mike Fulford and a small team at the University of Reading in collaboration with Cotswold Archaeology with funding from the Leverhulme Trust and English Heritage. For those unfamiliar with the project, the primary aim is to research both unpublished and published sources from excavations to write a new account of the rural settlement of Roman Britain. The settlement evidence from Roman England will be published in a book-length study and simultaneously online via an ADS interface in April 2015. An ongoing phase of analysis incorporating the settlement evidence from Wales and related finds and burial data will be added in 2016.
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ADS 3D Viewer

ADS 3D Viewer is a two year project funded under the ‘Marie Curie Actions’ Seventh Framework Programme, and benefits from the collaboration with the Italian Visual Computing Lab in the framework of the ARIADNE European project. In the past ten years the use of new technologies for the 3D documentation and reconstruction of cultural heritage has changed how we approach archaeological research.

The growth of information technology in 3D documentation tools, including electronic surveying instruments, laser scanners, photogrammetric cameras, and even CAD modellers, has brought an exponential increase in the use of digital data. The use of “real-time” survey software and hardware such as total stations, global positioning systems (GPS), photogrammetry and laser scanners has had a remarkable impact on archaeological recording as well as important implications for archaeological survey. The use of these techniques, by improving the accuracy and precision of the documentation process, is considerably changing the nature and implications of the word “digital” in archaeology. Presently, the main challenge for archaeologists and information and communication technology specialists consists in the preservation and dissemination of 3D data in archaeology. Up to now, a large number of 3D digital data archives have been produced and most focus on the preservation of the information over time without thinking about the accessibility of these data on the part of the scientific community.

Blue/Black on Red Jar, ID 76449 in the ADS 3D viewer. © Egypt Exploration Society, Amarna Trust

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The DADAISM project brings together researchers from the diverse fields of archaeology, human computer interaction, image processing, image search and retrieval, and text mining to create a rich interactive system to address the problems of researchers finding images relevant to their research.

In the age of digital photography, thousands of images are taken of archaeological artefacts. These images could help archaeologists enormously in their tasks of classification and identification if they could be related to one another effectively. They would yield many new insights on a range of archaeological problems. However, these images are currently greatly underutilized for two key reasons. Firstly, the current paradigm for interaction with image collections is basic keyword search or, at best, simple faceted search. Secondly, even if these interactions are possible, the metadata related to the majority of images of archaeological artefacts is scarce in information relating to the content of the image and the nature of the artefact, and is time intensive to enter manually.
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Introducing English Heritage Archaeological Monographs

EHMonographs_blogEnglish Heritage has a long tradition of producing high quality, well illustrated archaeological monographs about key sites and topics of importance to the understanding of the historic environment in England. Many of the past titles have long been out of print and yet are still of value for reference purposes. English Heritage is now making these titles available as ebooks (see the English Heritage Publishing catalogue for details) and as PDFs which can be downloaded for free from the ADS: English Heritage Archaeological Monographs archive page.
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