The MicroPasts conference on YouTube

MP_BANNER

If you have missed the MicroPasts conference on ‘Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding our Human Past’, on 31 March 2015, you can now catch-up!

We are publishing the videos of the presentations given on the day on our MicroPasts YouTube channel.

Have a look and let us know any thoughts or questions!

Chiara

Posted in Research

Answers in the Amphoras…

Carefully-made drawings have been a fundamental way that archaeologists have recorded their finds since the dawn of archaeology as a formal academic subject at the end of the 19th century. As time has gone on, these drawings have become ever more technical in their style and standardised in their components. Sadly, this means there are fewer opportunities these days for archaeological illustrators to show off their personal artistry in making such drawings (here’s a great example). However, in contrast, this attention to standardisation means the archaeological drawings are now more easily compared to one another. A typical feature of archaeological artefact drawings today is the depiction of what an object looks like ‘in section’ or ‘in profile’. For something like a cup, bowl or storage jar, the drawing would show the thickness of the vessel body and the shape of its interior, (see below, figure 2a).

People have long used such drawings as a basis for characterising the shape of containers and other vessels found in the archaeological record, not least because such metrics can useful for dating particular vessels to particular time periods (and placing them in a ‘typology’ of vessel shapes). Furthermore, for certain vessel types, volumetric capacity is of particular interest (how much they can hold), both as a guide to how much people were cooking, storing or transporting in one go and as a way of perhaps understanding weight and capacity systems in the human past (e.g. discovering the prehistoric and historic equivalents for standard liquid measures such as our modern ‘pint’ or ‘litre’)

amphtypes

Figure 1. Mediterranean amphoras: (left) one of the famous early typologies of amphoras by Heinrich Dressel and (right) some examples of amphoras from Pompeii.

 

All of the above obsessions in archaeology come to a head for those who specialise in studying vessels such as ‘amphoras’ (figure 1).  Virginia Grace was one of the early amphora researchers who best described the surprisingly wide range of advantages that this specialised pottery form offered for shipping liquid commodities such as olive oil and wine (amongst others) around the Mediterranean. To paraphrase and extend her comments, an amphora is a clay two-handled jar whose design is specialised for maritime transport. Its elongated, symmetrical shape could be fashioned on a potter’s wheel which facilitated the production of large numbers of regular shapes. The common choice of a pointed-base made many amphoras less vulnerable to breakage and allowed them to be stacked in multiple layers in the holds of Mediterranean ships (e.g. with the bases of one layer sitting in the space between the vessels below). They could also be placed individually in stands, arrayed in groups on racks, leant against one another on wharves and in warehouses, or half-buried on the beach whenever boats stopped in more isolated coastal locations.  The design could also be carried in panniers, slung from ropes or hoisted onto the shoulder of a human porter, while an amphora’s narrow neck was perfect for sealing with a stopper and being rendered air-tight with a covering of clay or lime. The term amphora itself implies ‘two-handles’, and the combination of these two sturdy points of purchase, plus the pointed-base as a third, meant that these vessels could be easily carried by porters or controlled for pouring. It is no surprise therefore that amphoras have a really deep Mediterranean history stretching right back to at least the Middle Bronze Age (if not before) and continuing right into the Medieval period and despite rising competition from alternative transport forms such as the wooden barrel (more information on Mediterranean container history here).

For over a hundred years, archaeologists have classified different amphoras into different types based on their overall shape, surface designs (if any) and type-of-clay and these typologies have been both useful both as a dating device and as a way of understanding possible changing transport priorities through time. In the past, both producers (of amphoras and/or their liquid contents), merchants and consumers were obviously interested in knowing the volumetric capacity of an amphora (and standardising this where possible) so they were keen to standardise the shape and be able to calculate its capacity wherever possible. It was also tempting to produce eye-catching shapes and decoration that might signal the contents came from an exotic part of the Mediterranean and/or a particularly reputable source (just as there are efforts to brand olive oils and wines today via their containers and labelling). Or producers and distributors might wish to foster designs that were well-adapted for handling by dockside workers and for surviving the misfortunes of long-distance sea travel in a shiphold full of other cargo.  Regardless, amphoras show some really interesting changes in design over their 3,000+ year-old history and these changes also match in interesting ways wider changes in the nature of the Mediterranean economy, big geo-political shifts such as the rise and fall of the Roman empire and so on.

DR605all

Figure 2. Four steps for building a crowd-sourced amphora model (left to right): the original line drawing, the crowd-sourced polygons with deliberate overlaps, the cleaned-up 2d polygons, and the final 3d model.

 

In terms of measuring amphoras, people have tried a host of different methods. They have taken simple measures such as the amphora height or width, but also complex ones such as the amphora’s centre of gravity when full, or its overall capacity (how much it could hold). The latter measure of volume can be derived directly by filling an intact example of an amphora with seeds, water, sealed bags of liquid, beans or polystyrene beads (amongst others!) or it can be estimated mathematically. In fact, mathematical estimation of volumes (and other properties) for curves, conoids, spheroids etc. has been a domain of science and engineering actively researched since at least Hellenistic and Roman times, with major figures such as Archimedes, Apollonius of Perga and Hero of Alexandria working on the problem (with the suspicion that symmetrical real-world objects such as amphoras or jars were sometimes on their minds: for example, see here).

Computer-based methods for creating such a 3D ‘solid of revolution’ from a standard 2D archaeological line drawing have been around for at least couple of decades, but it is surprising that they have not been used more systematically. Through the help of many contributors on MicroPasts, we are therefore hoping to collect 2d and 3d models of much large numbers of container types so we can compare their shapes statistically, but also so we can explore other changing properties such as their volumetric capacity (how much they could hold and how consistent these measures are through time), centre of gravity when full or empty (important for how a human porter or a draft animal might handle them) or behaviour when stacked (e.g. where, and how frequently, they might break when bumping around in a ship’s hold).

One of our current MicroPasts applications re-uses line drawings of amphoras made by Penny Copeland as part of a wonderful web resource about Roman amphoras developed by the University of Southampton and now maintained by the UK Archaeology Data Service. The goal is to enlist public help in digitising lines and polygons on top of the existing scanned drawings and thereby enabling both very good quality 2D and 3d models of these.  Figure 2 shows an example of one of Penny’s original line drawings, as well as a crowd-sourced version, a clean 2d model derived from it, and finally 3d model (all using open source software and with some great help on the automated Blender part from Tom Haines: post-processing scripts here). Once the crowd-sourced version is created the rest of the process is automatic and allows us to potentially compare a large number of amphora types. Hence, there are still plenty of important archaeological answers to be found in the amphoras and good reasons to enlist public help. If you have a spare moment, want to get some experience of GIS-style ‘vector digitising’ or just find these objects fascinating, then please lend a hand!

Posted in Research Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Crowd-sourcing and Crowd-funding our Human Past

The MicroPasts end of first phase funding conference will be held at the Royal Geographical Society on the 31st March 2015. We look forward to welcoming you and tickets can be purchased online or via contacting us directly. The conference programme has now been finalised and features some very interesting speakers as shown below. Lunch is provided in the ticket price and there will be some free things to take away (apart from the knowledge shared) and we hope to film the speakers. Many of the speakers are on Twitter (linked to their names below) and there maybe a lively back channel to accompany the event, which will be archived.

09.30-09.45 Welcome (Andrew Bevan, UCL)

09.45-10.30 Crowd-fuelled archaeology and history online: an introduction to MicroPasts (Chiara Bonacchi and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, UCL)

10.30-10.55 Curatorial practice and the crowd-sourcing of museum archives and objects (Daniel Pett, Jennifer Wexler and Neil Wilkin, British Museum)

10.55-11.20 PyBossa: Helping citizens and scientists to collaborate (Daniel Lombraña González, PyBossa)

11.20-11.35 Coffee break (provided)

11.35-12.00 Crowdsourcing archaeological data through the Heritage Together project (Helen Miles, Aberystwyth University; Katharina Moeller and Andrew Wilson (Bangor University)

12.00-12.25 From curated space to personal space: crowdsourcing and the museum experience (Stuart Dunn, KCL)

12.25-12.50 Experiences from the Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center (Meghan Ferriter, Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center)

12.50-13.15 If you build it, will they come? (Maiya Pina-Dacier, DigVentures)

13.15-14.15 Lunch (provided)

14.15-14.30 The Ur Project. Reunification and integration (Birger Helgestad, British Museum)

14.30-14.45 Worthington G. Smith: his haunts and relics (Claire Harris, British Museum)

14.45-15.00 Reviewing MicroPasts (Lisa Cardy, MicroPasts)

15.00-15.15 Reviewing MicroPasts (Hugh Fiske, MicroPasts)

15.15-15.30 Break

15.30-15.45 3D Scans in the Wild (Thomas Flynn, multimedia designer)

15.45-16.00 Process and experimentation in making 3D prints of museum objects (Stefano Pratesi, ThinkSee3D)

16.00-16.15 Do Touch! Archaeology and 3D printing in the Classroom (Jordan Hassell and Oliver Hutchinson, UCL)

16.15-16.30 3D models and digital futures at the British Museum (Suzy Hogg, British Museum)

16.30-17.00 Discussion

17:00 Adjourn to a pub for further conversation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Research Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Crowdsourced

I’ve been a MicroPasts contributor for around two months now, a good time to write this post about why I wanted to be one of the ‘sourced’ crowd and what I’ve got out of it so far. To begin with, here’s my brief summary of MicroPasts: it’s a web-based collection of archaeological projects that anyone can get involved with. The MicroPasts site hosts lots of content, some of which I’ll return to later, but let me start with ‘crowdsourcing’.

The MicroPasts team have produced a number of applications that can be worked on through a web browser. All I needed to do to get started was register some basic details and follow a tutorial about what I needed to do with some handy hints and tips. Typical volunteer activities or ‘applications’ include transcribing digitised hand written British Museum index cards and editing photographs of Bronze Age objects to create outlines (or ‘masks) that can then be processed to create 3D models of the original objects. You can see the latest set of applications here. Whichever MicroPasts application you decide (I particularly enjoyed drawing lines around Bronze Age objects….) the overall outcome is the same: your manual input feeds into a growing body of openly available digitised data that anyone can access via their computer. If the warm feeling inside that ‘doing your bit’ gives you isn’t enough, you also get a name check in the Community area. If you want to read more on why open data is so important, even more so for archaeology, have a look at this post.

One of a set of photographs of the palstave I worked with when creating a 3D model

One of a set of photographs of the palstave I worked with when creating a 3D model

After graduating in Archaeological Science (a long time ago) and a few unsuccessful attempts at an archaeology-based career, I did an MSc in Information Science. This was with the intention of working in the heritage sector, but I have been working as a librarian ever since. I want to shift my career back towards archaeology, but without losing the skills I’ve gained in the library profession, especially those around digital archiving. Archaeology has a long history of openness and sharing (the first OA ejournal was ‘Internet Archaeology’, way back in 1996) and I knew there’d be lots of opportunities to volunteer on digs. However I wanted to focus on what was possible digitally, even during my degree I’d always preferred the post excavation side of archaeology. I’d been considering this for a while, having been very inspired by the 2012 conference ‘Digital Engagement in Archaeology’ and following some key contributors on Twitter ever since I’d been aware of MicroPasts when it launched at the end of 2013.

Having completed some MicroPasts applications I decided to get in touch with Chiara about doing something beyond working on the web-based applications, something substantial to put on my CV. After some emailing and meeting up with Chiara and Adi, I joined a team of other contributors creating 3D models of Bronze Age artefacts from the outputs of the photomasking application. With lots of help and advice from the MicroPasts forum, so far I’ve produced two 3D models of palstaves (a type of a Bronze Age axe). At the time of writing, I am just about to start working on my 3rd model.

A tweet announcing the finished 3D model

A tweet announcing the finished 3D model

I’ve recently completed two application forms, one for a job and one for a research post, in archaeological areas, both benefitting from enhanced archaeological credentials on my CV from my involvement with MicroPasts. So now there’s more open research data out there for anyone who’s interested in Bronze Age artefacts (Robert Kaleta is planning on using the models as part of his PhD research) and for me, some more skills and experience to boost my career moves.

There’s been a huge rise in community and public archaeology and I think MicroPasts is perfect for people like me who aren’t employed in the archaeology sector and want to get involved in something other than excavating. Presumably this is also true of the 800 registered users in the MicroPasts community ‘crowd’ working on the applications. But how does archaeology benefit? You can see the latest outputs in the data centre : there are now more than fifty openly available 3D models of Bronze Age objects that didn’t exist before the MicroPasts platform launched and any researcher can view digitised versions of index cards without having to travel to the British Museum.

Lisa

Posted in Research

The Devizes/Wiltshire Museum Collection in the Bronze Age Index

In the process of digitising the Bronze Age Index (http://crowdsourced.micropasts.org/app/devizes/newtask) we have come across a small collection of Index cards recording artefacts in the Wiltshire Museum (formerly the Devizes Museum: http://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/). This was recently written up by Culture24 (http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/archaeology/art513504-bronze-age-finds-from-barrow-cemeteries-in-stonehenge-country-to-be-recreated-in-3d), highlighting our ongoing collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum as we continue to research this collection.

"Stonehenge World Heritage Site map 2" by RobinLeicester building on OS OpenData VextorMap District Raster files - OS Open Data with additional material cited at World Heritage Site list No 373. Via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stonehenge_World_Heritage_Site_map_2.svg#mediaviewer/File:Stonehenge_World_Heritage_Site_map_2.svg

Map of the Stonehenge region, showing some of sites (Lake Down, Normanton, Durrington, Cursus) represented in the Index © Robin Leicester Via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stonehenge_World_Heritage_Site_map_2.svg#mediaviewer/File:Stonehenge_World_Heritage_Site_map_2.svg

These cards illustrate over a hundred bronze objects found largely during 18th and 19th century antiquarian investigations of various barrow groups in the regions surrounding the monumental landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury. These include some of the famous barrow cemeteries found in Salisbury Plain (pictured above), such as the Lake Down Group, Normanton Group (Bush Barrow), and Amesbury Curses, for example:

BushBarrow1

Riveted dagger from Bush Barrow, Normanton Barrow Group, Salisbury Plain © Trustees of the British Museum

 

Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum

Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum

AmesburyCursus

Dagger from a barrow found inside the west end of Stonehenge Cursus. © Trustees of the British Museum

 

LakeBarrow1

Dagger from Lake Down barrow group, Salisbury Plain. © Trustees of the British Museum

Finds from less well-known sites, such as Silk Hill (below) near Durrington, are also represented, with the individual cards compiling the early publication record for each object:

SilkHill1

Rare dagger from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum

 

SilkHill2

Rare pin from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum

As we continue to expand our research into the BA Index, we are planning to connect into new research and developments in British archaeology. For example, the crutch-headed bronze pin pictured (above, and close-up below, right) from Silk Hill, is an infrequent type found in both ‘Wessex 1 and 2’ graves during the later part of the Early Bronze Age. Recent research (S. Needham, M. Parker Pearson, A.Tyler, M. Richards, M. Jay, Antiquity J. 84 (2010)) reassessing antiquarian records and collections at the Wiltshire Museum, showed that another crutch-headed pin (pictured below, left) from West Overton G1 barrow, near Avebury was found with a radiocarbon-dated burial, allowing us to date the Silk Hill burial with a similar pin to around 2020-1770 cal BC.

WiltsPins

MBA pins from West Overton G1 barrow (left) and Silk Hill barrow (right). © Trustees of the British Museum

Casual finds from the antiquarian record are also recorded in the Bronze Age Index, including artefacts which have now unfortunately been lost (below) or not well-research.

DevStolen

Lost object recorded in the Index © Trustees of the British Museum

While some of these cards are now out of date information, they do offer us an excellent picture of the early antiquarian discoveries found in the region over 200 years ago, especially those of William Cunnington and Sir Richard Colt Hoare.  Many of these sites would have never been recorded if not for their hard work!

Further collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum, and the integration of the digital resources available via their collection portal (http://www.wiltshireheritagecollections.org.uk/) will allow us to update and expand our records as we continue to expand our research. This information will eventually be integrated into the PAS (finds.org) database, making it one of the largest records of prehistoric objects in the UK and the world!

Many thanks to the Wiltshire Museum and Culture24 for collaborating with us on this collection!

Posted in Research

Later Bronze Age Ornaments

Bronze Age ornaments form a major category of metal artefact. Those made of gold are some of the most captivating prehistoric objects known to us. They are probably the most personal objects surviving as they were worn on the body and, as is still true today, were a daily and ever-present signaller of identity, status and an individual’s personality.

The term ornament is rather cumbersome and old fashioned, but by this we essentially mean jewellery. This includes rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, objects worn in the hair, dress pins and other types of clothes fasteners. As the ornament data from the Bronze Age Index is about to be put on the MircoPasts website, we thought it would be useful to give a quick introduction to this object category.

Most Bronze Age ornaments are often believed to date within the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1400-1150 BC. This was even known as the ‘Ornament Horizon’, although now other terms are preferred (See ‘Later Prehistoric Britain’ blog by Neil Wilkin and Jennifer Wexler, below). Generally speaking, Middle Bronze Age bronze objects date to the Taunton period (1400-1250 BC), whereas Middle Bronze Age gold dates slightly later to the Penard phase (1300-1140 BC). There are only a small number of ornaments dated to the next 200 years, although we should assume that they were still used. The last 150 years of the Bronze Age (950-800 BC) saw a huge increase in ornament deposition.

Recent and ongoing work by Ben Roberts (2007) on Middle Bronze Age ornaments has done much to enhance our understanding of these objects. His work with colleagues at the British Museum also includes information and fantastic pictures of all European Bronze Age gold objects in the museum, available online at:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/online_research_catalogues/bag/bronze_age_gold.aspx

Scrolling through these images provides a breathtaking insight into what some people were wearing in the Bronze Age, and the technical ability of Bronze Age smiths.

Middle Bronze Age ornaments are often large and would have been awkward to wear. This includes the ‘Sussex Loop’ bracelets and Quoit Headed pins, whose circular head could reach 15cm in diameter. Other dress pins are over 30cm in length. Clearly in the Middle Bronze Age people suffered for their fashion!

 

Middle Bronze Age ornaments from East Dean, Peadown hoard, Sussex. The middle pin is 30cm long. The object on the top right is a Sussex Loop bracelet. © Trustees of the British Museum

Middle Bronze Age ornaments from East Dean, Peadown hoard, Sussex. The middle pin is 30cm long. The object on the top right is a Sussex Loop bracelet. © Trustees of the British Museum

Middle Bronze Age gold from the Crow Down hoard, West Berkshire. © British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

Middle Bronze Age gold from the Crow Down hoard, West Berkshire. © British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

I have recently undertaken work on Late Bronze Age ornaments. This was for my Masters thesis at Cardiff University. A focus of this was on bracelets, and I have created a new typology that has shown some interesting regional patterns. I have also compiled a catalogue of all known Late Bronze Age ornaments, and analysed patterns in the information.

This has firstly demonstrated that there are many more ornaments dating to this period than is usually appreciated. So far at least 1100 objects date to c.1150-600 BC, of which c.770 belong to the Ewart Park phase of c.950-800 BC. This primarily includes objects made from gold and bronze, but also amber, jet and shale.

These objects are not as large and ostentatious as those in the Middle Bronze Age. They are dominated by a range of pins and bracelets, but there are also more unusual objects made from gold that we don’t know exactly how they were used. This includes small ‘lock-rings’ and ‘penannular rings’. These usually have a gap in their circumference, so I like to think they were worn as earrings after a pierced ear has been stretched to allow for their width. However, not all have these gaps, so there is still debate as to their use. Another idea is that they were used to help tie up clothing or hair. Other unusual gold objects include so-called ‘dress fasteners’ and ‘sleeve fasteners’. These are primarily found in Ireland, but do also appear in Britain. These are both of a very similar form to some bracelets dating to the same period. There seems to be a continuum in the size of these types of objects, with each type merging into the other. As these objects are almost always found as single finds or in hoards, context is not very helpful in understanding how they were used. The only find that is vaguely useful are the two gold penannular rings found with a cremation at Mucking North Ring, Essex (Bond 1988, 14). If anyone has ideas as to how these objects may have been used, please leave a comment!

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum

 

Gold bracelet from Morvah, Cornwall © Trustees of the British Museum

Gold bracelet from Morvah, Cornwall © Trustees of the British Museum

 

‘Dress fastener’ from Islay, Argyll and Bute © Trustees of the British Museum

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum

 

Lock- ring from Cheesburn Grange, Northumberland l © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock- ring from Cheesburn Grange, Northumberland l © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock-ring from Gaerwen, Anglesey © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock-ring from Gaerwen, Anglesey © Trustees of the British Museum

One of the observations that came up in my research is that there are certain patterns in ornament deposition. Firstly, single ornaments very rarely occur alone in hoards. There are also no hoards that contain non-metal ornaments – amber, shale and jet – that do not also contain metallic ornaments. Bracelets also seem to occur only in even numbers or pairs in English hoards. The significance of this pairing is heightened by the few burials we have associated with bracelets. Of the four burials that are accompanied by bracelets, three of these consist of pairs.

Pins are also subject to depositional planning. Although they are occasionally found in hoards, they generally seem to be systematically excluded from these contexts. In fact, they are the only type of object that are more common on settlements than in hoards, and are the only metal object that you might realistically expect to find during the excavation of a Late Bronze Age settlement. Most of these do seem to be genuine accidental loses on settlements. This suggests that some single finds may in fact come from settlements waiting to be excavated!

All this evidence helps to demonstrate that the metalwork corpus that we have is highly selective. We should not assume that it is representational of the range or quantity of material actually present in the Bronze Age. By in large, the content of each hoard reflects only a part of the specific cultural circumstances that led to its deposition; objects that were not deemed relevant to depositional activities could be indefinitely remelted and recycled and never enter the archaeological record. Due to this, we should not exclude the possibility that some bronze present in modern objects was originally smelted and circulated in the Bronze Age!

Penannular ring from Bradwell, Essex © Trustees of the British Museum

Penannular ring from Bradwell, Essex © Trustees of the British Museum

A large number of objects, especially those of gold, have only recently come to light as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk; Murgia and Roberts forthcoming). This has only been possible due to the excellent collaboration that is happening between members of the public, especially metal dectectorists, and archaeologists. Input from the public like this is driving research forward. My catalogue has yet to include the objects in the Bronze Age Index, and no doubt the work undertaken by MicroPasts volunteers to digitalise this resource will enhance our understanding of Bronze Age jewellery. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing the results!

Alex Davies

Cardiff University

References

Bond, D.  1988.  Excavation  at  the  North  Ring,  Mucking,  Essex:  a  Late  Bronze  Age  enclosure. Chelmsford: East Anglian Archaeology 43.

Murgia, A. and Roberts, B. W. forthcoming. ‘What have metal-detectorists ever done for us? Discovering Bronze Age Gold in England and Wales.’ Archeologische Korrespondenzblatt

Roberts, B. W. 2007. ‘Adorning the Living but Not the Dead: Understanding Ornaments in Britain c.1400-1100 cal BC.’ Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 73. 137-67.

Posted in Research

PhD project – Analysis of Middle Bronze Age Palstaves

Hi everyone. My name is Robert Kaleta and I am a 1st year PhD student at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, interested in using some of the data generated via the MicroPasts photo-masking applications for my research. For the next 3 years I will be looking very closely at various aspects of the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) metalwork with particular focus on palstaves. Metal artefacts are crucial to our understanding of the Bronze Age, and the ‘palstave’ is one of the period’s most well-known and widely-distributed forms. Analysis of prehistoric metal finds reveals not only technological aspects of production but also wider relationship between metal, metalworkers and prehistoric societies. I am hoping to use the metalwork as an indicator of various social and economic processes occurring during that time, through which the social organisation of Bronze Age communities across Britain can be explored. The project itself will employ a range of techniques, such as point pattern analysis, chemical composition analysis, and geometric morphometrics, to synthesise the existing data and generate new information. Point pattern analysis allows us to understand the spatial relationship between data points, i.e. whether they tend to congregate or not, and at what scales, which can be a useful indicator of the layout of the Bronze Age communities. This approach, when combined with chemical composition analysis can also shed light on metal circulation, reuse and trade networks.

palstave2

The morphometric analysis aspect of the project is particularly important as one of the main aims of my research is to explore the existing typologies of palstaves. Typologies play a crucial role in the study of the British and European Bronze Age. They have been linked to European-wide chronologies; they defined states and social identities, and exposed the extraordinary extent of trade and exchange during the MBA. However the way in which they had been explored in the past was fairly subjective and the methodology difficult to apply to large data sets that are now available. My aim is to achieve more objective shape properties which can be compared across many objects. One of the ways in which I hope to improve our understanding of the extent of palstave shape variability is through the comparison of their 3 dimensional shapes. This method does not focus on any particular features of the palstaves but compares the overall shape across many objects; removing some of the subjectivity that previous approaches exhibited.

I hope to analyse as many palstaves as possible, starting with the objects held by the British Museum, which should keep me busy for some time. As such, I will use all the masks and resulting 3D models created via the MicroPasts crowd-sourcing site including the two latest apps (Burley & Wylye hoards) and some new ones that will be deployed in the upcoming months. I will do my best to keep everyone updated on my progress and share any interesting findings on the blog, in the meantime if you have any questions regarding the use of 3D models in archaeological research or my own PhD project specifically, feel free to contact me here or on the MicroPasts forum.

Ps. Great work on the Bronze Age Index!

Rob

Research funded through the London Arts & Humanities Partnership

LAHP

 

Posted in Research

Things that go bump in the night: The Selborne-Blackmoor Hoard & the significance of LBA weapon hoards

Figure 4 –Lunette spearhead originating from the Blackmoor Hoard, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © MET Museum

Part of the Blackmoor Hoard in the British Museum Collections © Trustees of the British Museum

Our new app focuses on the wonderful Blackmoor Hoard (partially pictured above). Known also as the ‘Blackmoor-Wolmer Forest’ or ‘Selborne’ Hoard, the hoard was found near the hamlet of Blackmore (just east of Selborne, Hampshire) on the land that was originally part of Lord Selborne’s estate. Multiple hoards from different periods, including various Romano-British coin hoards, have been found in this region and the area was clearly a focus for prehistoric activity. There is a high concentration of Bronze Age barrows within the area of Woolmer Forest as well as a number of Bronze Age hoards which have been found in the vicinity at Woolmer Forest, Woolmer Pond, Hogmoor, Longmoor Camp and Whitehill Village Hall. The connection between the ritual deposition of bronze weapons and the barrow cemeteries together constitute a particularly well-preserved ritual landscape of the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age periods (Allen 2007).

Like many of the hoards found in the Bronze Age Index (we wrote about the Arreton Down hoard earlier), Selborne is an antiquarian collection, connected to a series of famous collectors of archaeological antiquities including Rev. Greenwell, George Roots, General Pitt-Rivers, and Lord McAlpine.

Both Middle Bronze Age (MBA) and Late Bronze Age (LBA) hoards (an overview of Bronze Age chronology was discussed previously) from the area are featured in the Bronze Age Index. The MBA hoard was found in 1840 and contains two small torcs, four bronze rings and one palstave (pictured below):

 

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MBA hoard from Blackmoor (pictured top), and two BA Index cards illustrating objects from the hoard (bottom) © Trustees of the British Museum

The LBA weapon hoard, discovered in the garden of a cottage near Blackmoor in the spring of 1870, is more famously-known. This hoard has a complicated history of collection. A large part of the hoard was handed over to Lord Selborne, as it was found on his land. He displayed it in the former billiard room of his home Blackmoor House. It currently makes up part of the Selborne Collection now in possession of the Gilbert White Museum, the home of the 19th century naturalist who wrote The Natural History of Selborne (the earliest reference to the hoard was first mentioned Bell’s updated 1877 edition of the volume (White 1877)). This included sword fragments, over twenty large and small spearheads, three rings, some ferrule fragments, and one mysterious ‘grooved socket’ not found anywhere else in BA Britain.

Example of a LBA socketed spearhead (1891,0514.6) originating from the Roots Collection, now in the BM © Trustees of the British Museum

Somehow two large groups of objects from the hoard were separated from the Selborne collection. We have no records of what exactly happened, but some of the hoard was disposed of soon after discovery and sold to two prominent antiquarian collectors, George Roots and Rev. William Greenwell. The Greenwell collection (BM accession numbers WG. 2100-2112, 1269) is composed largely of various spearheads associated to ‘Blackmoor-Woolmer Forest’ and was donated to the British Museum by John Pierpont Morgan in 1908. The Roots collection is larger and more diverse in object types, it is largely composed of spearheads, sword and sword fragments, and cast rings, though it was originally associated to the ‘south of England’ and then ‘Woolmer Forest’. Evidence suggests that the Selborne, Greenwell, and Roots assemblages were all part of the same deposit. Spearhead fragments from the Selborne and Roots Collections fit together, and a number of the short stumpy spearheads in all three collections appear to be made from the same mould (Colquhoun 1979; Colquhoun and Burgess 1988).

Lunette spearhead originating from the Blackmoor Hoard, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © MET Museum

The Roots collection was sold by Christies (Christie’s London April 20, 1891, lot 33) to the British Museum in 1891 (BM accession numbers 1891.0514.4-58).  At this sale, one extraordinary example of a lunette spearhead (pictured above and currently part of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) collection 1998.540.1) was bought by General Pitt-Rivers and displayed in his museum on the Rushmore Estate in Farnham, Dorset. This was a secondary institution founded just after the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) in 1885 focusing on local history and prehistoric crafts from Europe & Asia (MacGregor 1987). The spearhead’s origins in the Roots collection as well as its typological similarity to spearheads found in the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard, for example the slightly smaller lunette spearhead featured in figure 1, suggests that this spearhead does probably come from the same region and hoard. Metallurgical analysis (Northover 1982; Hughes, Northover & Staniaszek 1982) also appears to indicate a similar composition to spearheads directly associated with the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard.

Pitt-Rivers’ personal catalogue entry for the lunette spearhead (1891), courtesy of Prof. Dan Hicks (©Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford).

This spearhead remained in the Pitt Rivers collections until the Farnham Museum closed down in 1966, and much of collections were dispersed to the Salisbury Museum and South Wiltshire Museum as well as some private collectors. Sometime after, the spearhead became part of Lord McAlpine’s extensive collections, published in Antiquities from Europe and the Near East in the Collection of the Lord McAlpine of West Green (MacGregor 1987). After he got involved in the restoration of the Victorian town of Broome in Western Australian, Lord McAlpine sold off much of his private estate and collections, including the spearhead to the New York art dealer Peter Sharrer (The Art Newpaper, 19 January 2014). Sharrer donated the spearhead to the MET in 1998, along some other BA objects originally from the Roots Collection, where it is on display in Room 301, one of the few representations of the British Bronze Age in the museum.

Why is the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard is interesting, and why do we view these LBA weapons, particularly the MET spearhead, as objects of beauty? Extensive analysis by Colquhoun (1979) identified that the typologies of the main artefact groups (spearheads, swords, rings, and chapes) from the hoard fit well into the end of LBA Wilburton (c. 1,140-1,020 B.C.) and beginning of the Ewart Park (1,020-800 B.C.) metalworking traditions.  In fact, the Blackmoor hoard is a sub-period of the Ewart Park phase dating to around 1000-900BC, and it is an important hoard to show the transition between Wilburton and Ewart Park metalworking traditions, which is also seen at a few other sites (Isleham&  Fulbourn Common (Cambridgeshire), Sturry (Kent), and Marston St. Lawrence (Northamptonshire)) in southern England.

Hoards from this period are composed largely of weapon types. In SE England metalwork hoards tend to be more dominated by weapons along the tributaries of the Thames Valley, including the Wey River catchment where the Selborne-Blackmoor hoard was found (Yates and Bradley 2010: 61). While Colquhoun originally interpreted the ‘scrap nature of this hoard’ as representing a ‘founder’s hoard’ (e.g. containing a mix of broken metal objects, ingots, casting waste, and complete objects often for retrieval and/or remelting at a later time), recent research suggests that these objects were being purposely deposited in the ground in a particular, possibly ritualistic, manner.

Rather than actually being weapons used exclusively in everyday struggles or battles, the weapons found in these types of hoards may more likely be representative of social status and a ‘warrior aesthetic’ that developed later in the Bronze Age (Treherne 1995). A recent analysis by Schulting & Bradley (2013) of MBA-EIA skulls found in the Thames shows that almost all exhibit blunt force injuries at a time when the archaeological record is dominated by edged weapons (e.g. swords and spears). This suggests that the main form of injuries in this period were not necessarily caused by sharp bronze weapons, but rather blunt objects!  Not only does this have implications for the massive record of elaborate bronze weapons found in the Thames and other watery locations, but for all weapon hoards.  Perhaps this explains why we get such elaborate and beautiful examples of weapons both from the Thames and from LBA hoards, as the MET describes the Selborne spearhead representing the highest tradition of the British Bronze Age. The piece is undeniably beautiful: its shape is elegant and spare to the point of evoking modern art. The raised rib in the middle, which also outlines the half-moon or lunette openings, may have been designed as a blood channel.

Special thanks to Dan Pett and Neil Wilkins for their assistance on this post!

References:

Burgess C. and D. Coombs, eds.1979. Bronze Age Hoards: Some Finds Old and New. Oxford: BAR British Series 67.

Colquhoun I, 1979. “The Late Bronze Age hoard from Blackmoor, Selborne”, In Burgess and Coombs (eds). Bronze Age Hoards: Some Finds Old and New. Oxford: BAR British Series 67: 99-115.

Colquhoun, I.  and C. Burgess, 1988. The Swords of Britain. Munchen: Prähistorische Bronzefunde (C.H.Beck).

Coombs, D.G., 1975. “Bronze Age Weapon Hoards in Britain”. Archaeologia Atlantica 1: 49-81.

Hughes, M.J., J. P. Northover, and B. E. P. Staniaszek, 1982. “Problems in the Analysis of Leaded Bronze Alloys in Ancient Artefacts”. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 1: 359-364.

MacGregor, Arthur, 1987. Antiquities from Europe and the Near East in the Collection of the Lord McAlpine of West Green. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.

Needham, S., 1996. “Chronology and Periodisation in the British Bronze Age”. Acta Archaeologica 67, 121–40.

Northover, Peter, 1982. “The Metallurgy of the Wilburton”. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 1: 69-109.

The Art Newspaper, 19 January 2014. Art collector and political fundraiser extraordinaire, Alistair McAlpine has died, aged 71. Obituaries Section: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/-Art-collector-and-political-fundraiser-extraordinaire-Alistair-McAlpine-has-died-aged–/31577

Treherne, Paul, 1995. “The Warrior’s Beauty: The Masculine Body and Self-Identity in Bronze-Age Europe”. Journal of European Archaeology 3: 105-144.

White, Gilbert, 1877 The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, in the county of Southampton. Edited by Thomas Bell.  London: John Van Voorst.

Yates, David and Richard Bradley, 2010. “The Sitting of Metalwork Hoards in the Bronze Age of South-East England”. The Antiquaries Journal 90: 41-70.

 

 

Posted in Research

3D Models of Olduvai Gorge Handaxes

These two handaxes belong to the EF-HR locality, in Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). EF-HR is located in the North side of the Olduvai Gorge. It was discovered in 1931 by Sir Evelyn Fuchs and Professor Hans Reck, and named after their initials. The first excavations were undertaken by M. Leakey in 1963, and then by OGAP (Olduvai Geochronology Archaeology Project) since 2009. Both handaxes were found in the surface of the EF-HR outcrops, and therefore their stratigraphic provenance is uncertain; they could have eroded either from Middle/Upper Bed II (around 1.5 myr ago) or from Bed III (slightly more recent), but are definitely older than 1 million years.

EFHR-L0-2 is made of quartzite, probably sourced by hominins from the nearby Naibor Soit, a metamorphic hill located less than 2 km away from EF-HR. This handaxe is poorly shaped, and involves no bifacial flaking. Thus, it is not a real biface, which is a type of stone tool typical of later periods of the Acheulean, but which is rare during the early stages of this technological period. EFHR-L0-17 is made of lava raw material, which was available to hominins as cobbles and boulders in river streams flowing from the volcanic highlands into the Olduvai paleolake. Like EFHR-L0-2, the EFHR-L0-17 handaxe is made on a very large flake, which was then shaped to achieve large cutting tool morphology, and likely used in heavy duty activities involving wood working and animal butchering.

Handaxe EFHR-LO-2

Handaxe EFHR-LO-2

Handaxe EFHR-LO-17

Handaxe EFHR-LO-17

You can view the 3D models created with the help of the crowd here:
http://micropasts.org/3D/?mesh=http://micropasts.org/3D/models/EFHR-LO-2/EFHR-LO-2_100kMesh.obj
http://micropasts.org/3D/?mesh=http://micropasts.org/3D/models/EFHR-LO-17/EFHR-LO-17_100kMesh.obj

Ignacio de la Torre

Posted in Research

MicroPasts Crowd-funding

Hello!

We’ve just launched the latest part of theMicroPasts project: a crowd-funding website. Have a look at https://crowdfunded.micropasts.org and see if you can help.

Through this website, it is possible to raise up to £5,000 to fund archaeological or historical research projects that have been developed and will be undertaken collaboratively by professionals with institutional links (e.g. working in universities, museums, libraries, etc.) and any volunteer group offline or online. We welcome project proposals from any team,who can be based anywhere in the world. The only kind of activity that we do not fund is excavation.

For more information on how this all works, please see https://crowdfunded.micropasts.org/how-it-works.

If you have a project in need of funding, you can submit a proposal online. We will review it and, if it fits the requirements, you will be able to start your fund-raising campaign.

If you have an idea for a project, but don’t know a ‘professional’ archaeologist or historian to partner with, please do post your idea on the MicroPasts community forum (http://community.micropasts.org) and we will try to help out.

Thank you!

Chiara, Andy, Dan and Adi
For MicroPasts

Posted in Research