Archeologia Pubblica e Crowdsourcing al Museo Egizio

Archeologia e Pubblico. Comprendere come la ricerca e i risultati da essa conseguiti divengono (o meno) parte del nostro vivere contemporaneo, studiare le implicazioni etiche, sociali, economiche, politiche derivanti dall’analisi archeologica della cultura materiale e dalla sua comunicazione e fruizione in senso più lato. Queste sono le tematiche affrontate dal settore dell’Archeologia Pubblica, declinazione italiana dell’inglese Public Archaeology.

La Public Archaeology emerge e si diffonde negli Stati Uniti e in Gran Bretagna a partire dagli anni ’70 del secolo scorso ed ha conosciuto, nell’ultimo decennio soprattutto, una diffusione anche maggiore a livello internazionale. Sebbene non vi sia consenso assoluto, la Public Archaeology e’ oggi principalmente intesa come quell’area disciplinare intenta a studiare il modo in cui archeologia e società civile dialogano e si rapportano, al fine di migliorare tale scambio.

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E’ in questa accezione che l’Archeologia Pubblica sembra essersi affacciata anche in Italia, grazie al primo articolo pubblicato sul tema e ad una serie di iniziative tra cui il Primo Congresso di Archeologia Pubblica in Italia, la sezione tematica (Dossier) dedicata dalla rivista European Journal of Postclassical Archaeologies, la conferenza Archeologia Pubblica al Tempo della Crisi e l’iniziativa Archeostorie.

Ci sembra che proprio alla ‘crisi’ (non solo economica) l’Archeologia Pubblica possa offrire risposte convincenti, se impegnata nel capire come diversi ‘pubblici’ s’interessano all’archeologia, in quali forme e con quali motivazioni vi partecipano. Comprendere il pubblico permette di coinvolgerlo in modo efficace e di contribuire allo sviluppo culturale ed economico di comunità di diverso tipo.

Internet e le tecnologie digitali offrono nuovi spazi per rendere questo modello operativo. Attraverso il crowdsourcing, in particolare, è possibile raccogliere informazioni, servizi e finanziamenti da gruppi numerosi di persone, online, richiedendo a ciascuna di esse un contributo individuale relativamente piccolo.

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La piattaforma di crowdsourcing MicroPasts.

Applicato alla ricerca scientifica, questo metodo permette di creare, integrare, correggere, arricchire ed aggregare dati resi disponibili online da istituzioni o private persone. Il crowdsourcing consente di coinvolgere pubblici diversi nella gestione e cura di collezioni museali, archivistiche o librarie e nella generazione e nell’utilizzo d’informazioni in grado di supportare analisi quantitative in archeologia, potenzialmente riguardanti contesti geografici estesi e multi-periodo.

Museo Egizio, Torino.

Museo Egizio, Torino.

Oggi il Museo Egizio, insieme all’Istituto di Archeologia di University College London (UCL), porta il crowdsourcing archeologico in Italia. Il progetto si servirà di MicroPasts, la prima piattaforma tematica dedicata al crowdsourcing in archeologia, sviluppata a partire dal 2013 da UCL (la prima istituzione per lo studio della Public Archaeology in Europa) e British Museum in collaborazione con il team Pybossa.

Sinora, oltre 2,000 persone si sono servite della piattaforma per contribuire alla creazione di open data archeologici di vario tipo, tra cui la trascrizione e geo-referenziazione di un archivio contenente circa 30,000 schede di documentazione di manufatti in metallo rinvenuti principalmente nel Regno Unito a partire dalla fine del 18esimo secolo (National Bronze Age Index).

Il Museo Egizio inaugura un programma di crowdsourcing volto alla realizzazione di modelli 3D di oggetti salienti appartenenti alle proprie collezioni,  a cominciare dal cofanetto dello Scriba Regale e Sovrintendente al Palazzo, Djehuty-hotep, a cui seguiranno altri reperti differenti per materiale e tipologia, tutti appartenenti alle collezioni esposte nel nuovo allestimento.

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Prima applicazione di crowdsourcing del Museo Egizio di Torino, su MicroPasts.

L’obiettivo è coerente con la nuova visione di un museo che pone al centro la ricerca, intesa come elemento fondamentale per la conoscenza, l’interpretazione e la divulgazione. Grazie alla Public Archaelogy, a questi temi si aggiungono il coinvolgimento e la partecipazione del pubblico aggiungendo un valore molto importante e innovativo utile a creare maggiore interesse e sensibilità sul ruolo dell’archeologia nella società contemporanea. I modelli 3D ottenuti con questa metodologia offrono differenti utilizzi sia a livello scientifico che didattico (la disponibilità di una stampante 3D offre a chiunque la possibilità di ottenere una riproduzione fedele all’originale). Il Museo Egizio è il primo museo italiano ad aderire a questa piattaforma offrendo la possibilità di testare l’adeguatezza e il valore di questo metodo in Italia e, al contempo, di migliorare la comunicazione di temi chiave nell’ambito dell’Egittologia e relativi alla cultura materiale presentata e interpretata attraverso il Museo.

Partecipa anche tu!

Chiara Bonacchi (UCL Institute of Archaeology), Paolo del Vesco (Museo Egizio)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Research

Morte e Rinascita nel Nuovo Regno

A partire dalla XVIII dinastia (1550-1295 a. C.) e fino all’età tolemaica (332-30 a. C.) le statuette funerarie, note con il nome di ushabtyfurono spesso disposte all’interno di cofanetti per la maggior parte di legno. Durante tutto il Nuovo Regno (1550-1069 a. C.) e l’inizio del Terzo Periodo Intermedio (1069-945 a.C.) essi assunsero la forma di cappelle cultuali in miniatura.

Uno di questi è il cofanetto dello Scriba Regale e Sovrintendente al Palazzo, Djehuty-hotep, la cui superficie, stuccata e dipinta, presenta una decorazione che rievoca alcune credenze funerarie e concetti di rinascita dopo la morte, tipici del Nuovo Regno. Le scene sono arricchite da complessi elementi decorativi, geometrici.

Sul lato frontale si trova l’immagine del defunto che indossa un largo collare sopra un’elegante veste bianca, plissettata. Il Defunto è rappresentato seduto, mentre beve l’acqua della vita versata dalla Dea del sicomoro. Attinge al liquido anche il suo ba, uno degli elementi spirituali della persona, dal caratteristico aspetto di uccello a testa umana. Sui due lati si vede: a destra il defunto, mummificato; a sinistra Hapy e Amseti, due dei quattro geni funerari protettivi figli del dio falco Horo. Sul lato posteriore c’è ancora Djehuty-hotep rappresentato in piedi, in presenza di un sacerdote sem. Il cofanetto al suo interno doveva conservare 2-3 ushabty e lo stile suggerisce una datazione intorno alla XIX dinastia (1295 – 1186 a.C.).

 

Paolo del Vesco e Paolo Marini (Università di Pisa)

 

Posted in Research

Naval heritage from the Mary Rose to HMS Hood

In March 2015, the team at the Mary Rose Trust met with Chiara, who introduced MicroPasts and the various projects that the MicroPasts team had been involved in. The Mary Rose Trust team were hugely impressed with the passion of the collaborators that had contributed to the online projects as well as the quality of the work that had been produced and the possibility of achieving a lot in a very short space of time!

With this in mind, a pilot project was prepared in which 3D photo-masking could be done on three artefacts recovered from the Mary Rose. This project started in May 2015 and within only a few months, models of each of the artefacts had been produced and uploaded to Sketchfab (a wooden bowl, a wooden tankard and an angel plaque). The bell recovered from the Mary Rose was also added at a later stage and was similarly prepared and uploaded by Hugh Fiske, one of the MicroPasts collaborators.

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As of May 2016, the 3D models of the artefacts have been viewed about 2,500 times. Although they represent a very small part of the Mary Rose collection, their introduction to a digital 3D space has offered exciting opportunities in developing the accessibility of the collection. So far, the models have been used for outreach activities undertaken by the Mary Rose Team, for preparing ‘replicas’ (via 3D printing) and as digital content for University student projects.

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We are excited to see how the models of the Mary Rose artefacts are further utilised going forward, but, interestingly, our current collaborative project between the Mary Rose Trust and MicroPasts does not involve an artefact from the Mary Rose. Instead the item in question is the bell that was recovered from HMS Hood – a Second World War British battle cruiser that was sunk in 1941 (almost 400 years after the Mary Rose sunk in 1545!) by the German Battleship Bismarck, during the Battle of the Denmark Strait. In 2001 the wreck was located by Blue Water Recoveries with the ship’s bell found lying on the seabed away from the hull. In August 2015, Paul G. Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) led an expedition supported by Blue Water Recoveries to retrieve the bell and, soon afterwards, the bell was sent to Mary Rose Archaeological Services for conservation.

HMS Hood

The battleship HMS Hood in 1930 during a dockyard refit. Photograph: Hulton Getty.

The bell was presented to the HMS Hood when she was launched, in 1918, by the widow of Rear-Admiral Sir Horace Hood, great-great grandson of Sir Samuel Hood, after whom the ship was named. Sir Horace died at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, one of 1,026 officers and men who died in seconds when the battlecruiser HMS Invincible blew up and sank, and the bell is inscribed to that effect.

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HMS Hood bell

The Mary Rose Archaeological Services became involved due to the highly specialist expertise of the Mary Rose Trust conservators in the treatment of artefacts recovered from a marine environment. The National Museum of the Royal Navy were looking to prepare the HMS Hood Bell for display in the 36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War exhibition (now open to the public at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard). The bell has been installed as a memorial to the 1,415 men who lost their lives when the ship sank in 1941.

Now you can help create models of the HMS Hood bell before and after conservation!

Alastair Miles and Chiara Bonacchi

 

Posted in Research

Artefacts, Archives and Ancient Egypt: Crowd-sourcing the EES object card records

In 2015 the Egypt Exploration Society expanded its annual archive volunteer programme and made digitization its primary goal. Though the Society had already scanned a large number of archival documents and images, the new referencing system developed for the archive during 2014 had to be implemented across its virtual collections. To this end, the Society’s collections of object cards were felt to present the greatest opportunity to test this system and provide valuable research material for teams still working in the field today.

Object cards are those records created for each artefact discovered on site during a specific season, including vital information for researchers such as provenance, dimensions, material type, date of discovery, related negative numbers, and object reference number. The last of these was used to define the Society’s new archival referencing system and thus TA.OC.31-32.001 refers to the first object recorded for the 1931-32 dig season at Tell el-Amarna. All of this information was collected during the scanning and put into the file name of each digital record created.

Fig 1 - TA.NEG.30-31.0036
The Society’s excavations at Tell el-Amarna in 1931 under the direction of John D S Pendlebury. This same season was later written about by Mary Chubb (the Society’s Assistant Secretary and member of the expedition) in her memoir Nefertiti Lived Here. In this she also writes about making the object cards during the excavations and the magic of discoveries made in the field.

The Society’s volunteers made over 12,500 scans between January and July 2015 and covered collections from Amara West, Amarna, Armant, Buhen, Sesebi, and the Nubian Sondage Survey. While other collections of object cards still remain to be scanned, we turned in the second half of the year to cataloguing those records that had been digitised. For this MicroPasts became a crucial partner in collecting the required information from each scanned card. Users were provided with a template and asked to fill in the information from the card with the necessary data. Though challenges such as handwriting, non-standardised positioning of some of the information and occasional mistakes from the excavators themselves meant the information had to be checked on completion, the results obtained from MicroPasts’ dedicated online team of transcribers has been very impressive. As each card is transcribed more than once, any errors in the final data is easily spotted and rectified making transferring the records into the Society’s online archive catalogue much more efficient and reliable.


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A selection of object cards from the Society’s Tell el-Amarna archive

During summer 2015, the Society took on two interns to work on the new archive catalogue transferring the MicroPasts data into the system and adding any hyperlinks to known museum records for the artefacts. Within two months they were able to catalogue two seasons from Amara West and one from Amarna, at a much faster rate than had been possible without the MicroPasts data. Though we do not currently envisage finding the resources to continue this for all seasons, having the MicroPasts data available means that we are able to attach this information to file-level records higher in our database ensuring that it is still available to researchers while we work at producing item-level records.


Fig 3 - Library and Archive CatalogueThe Society’s new online archive catalogue which includes some of the data created by the MicroPasts community of transcribers

Since our interns completed their work at the Society, MicroPasts has continued to run crowd-sourced transcription projects on those object cards already uploaded to our Flickr account and the results have come in much faster than we’d ever expected. The support and enthusiasm for our archival records from MicroPasts users has inspired us to continue making our records available via our Flickr feed. We extended our referencing system and digitization projects to our tomb record cards and volunteers have now succeeded in digitizing the entire tomb records from Sawama, Balabish, and Abydos.

We hope to extend the MicroPasts transcription projects to include our tomb cards during 2016 and to continue making this information available to researchers around the world. Only by working cross-institutionally on projects such as this have we been able to access such enthusiastic and determined audiences – thank you MicroPasts for the opportunity, and thank you to your users around the world who have contributed to our archival records.

Posted in Research

Wonders of the Deep: Bronze Age Finds from the River Thames in the Bronze Age Index

Lady of the Lake drawing by M. Bowley (http://www.wpclipart.com/fictional_characters/characters/Lady_of_the_Lake.png.html) ©CC_BY

Our penultimate Bronze Age Index project focuses on Bronze Age swords from the River Thames. Finds from the Thames and other watery locations in Britain and Northern Europe have fascinated scholars for many years, and recent excavations at Must Farm and Flag Fen show the incredible importance of riverine environments to prehistoric peoples. In a sense, Thames finds have been central to the study of later prehistoric Europe over the last hundred years, and there have been a huge amount of studies (see references below) dedicated to the topic, in particular on the increasing deposition of weapons (spearheads, dirks, rapiers, swords) from the Middle Bronze Age onwards (Bradley 1990: 99, 108-109). The idea of depositing weapons in water very much resonates with our popular cultural history. Folk stories and myths of a legendary past often feature the act of throwing costly and beautiful items into the water as both a sacrifice and an offering, most famously depicted in the story of King Arthur’s magical sword Excalibur being returned to the Lady of the Lake (illustrated above), with these stories possibly reflecting echoes of ancient practices.

BMFinds_DirksThames ©Trustees of the British Museum.

The River Thames was famously described as ‘Liquid history’ by the 19th century MP John Burns, and its importance cannot be underestimated as both a natural boundary and, perhaps, the ‘longest archaeological site’ in the UK (York 2002, Cohen 2010). What can the Bronze Age Index (BAI) tells us about Bronze Age metalwork deposition in the River Thames and the collection history of this material? We have over 1,200 records of artefacts connected to the Thames recorded in the Index. Largely it is an antiquarian collection relating to the numerous artefacts recovered from the Thames during the 19th and early 20th century, which were often found by workmen in the course of dredging and the building of bridges and locks. Many of these objects were acquired by private collectors, who often paid handsomely for high quality display pieces but rarely recorded the exact find spots and circumstances of recovery (Cowie & Eastmond 1997: 88).

Examples of BAI cards recording River Thames finds ©Trustees of the British Museum.

We find four notable types of cards related to Thames finds in the Index:

  1. Collectors of Thames antiquities, most notably George Fabian Lawrence the Inspector of Excavations for the London Museum who was very active in the recovery & recording of river finds (he was commonly known as ‘Stony Jack’ to London’s workmen). He produced the first catalogue of archaeological material from the river in 1929. The collections of Layton, Greenwell, and Crooke also feature extensively in the records;
  2. Smaller and regional museum collections, but the majority seem to be objects either in the British Museum’s or London Museum’s (now Museum of London’s) collection;
  3. Private collections, which are especially important as these might not be recorded anywhere else.
  4. Pre-PAS metal-detecting finds, which also might not be recorded anywhere else. Metal-detecting is now closely controlled along Thames foreshore, so these older records might give offer us some key insights into the foreshore record.

Many of the cards contain unique and extensive data about the artefact’s record, which in some cases indicates that its provenance to be connected to another find spot based-on dredging activity. We are still digitising and going through the records, but I wanted to go through some of the preliminary patterns we see in the Index records.

BAI Thames Findspot Distribution

©CC_BY

The pie chart above shows the regional distribution of Thames metalwork find spots recorded in the Index. As we can see, Greater London by far represents the largest number of records. Most of these records would be connected to the significant dredging works undertaken between 1895 and 1900 (Port of London Authority). A second capital dredging campaign concluded by 1928, during which some 37 million cubic yards were excavated. There are a number of unprovenanced sites recorded as simply coming from the ‘River Thames’ without exact find spots, though related information seems to indicate that most of the artefacts would have come from London in connection again to dredging and bridge building activities.

We have smaller but significant groups of records from Berkshire and Surrey as well, many of these coming from the Thames Water Collection collected by Thames Conservancy Board during dredging of the non-tidal part of the river up the Teddington Lock and donated to the Reading Museum in 1996.

©CC_BY/Google Earth

Looking at a smaller sub-set of data of 249 records of Thames Single Finds in the British Museum’s Collections, we can see in the map (above) that the general distribution of find spots with clusters in London (especially West London), London Docklands (representing the general ‘River Thames’ finds), and Maidenhead/Bray in Berkshire.

Looking closer at the London find spots represented in this data, after unprovenanced ‘River Thames’ finds, we have highest concentration of finds coming from Battersea and the Richmond and Wandsworth districts of West London. David Field (1989) famously commented that the “collections of prehistoric artefacts from the river in west London represents one of the most impressive concentrations of archaeological material in the British Isles”. Finds seem to cluster especially around Kingston Bridge, Wandsworth Reach, Hammersmith, Isleworth, Putney, Chiswick, Teddington, Twickenham, and Barnes, with many important sites represented in the records.

Index cards recording small finds from Ivor Noel Hume’s 1955 excavation at Syon Reach ©Trustees of the British Museum.

Many cards feature small finds and ornaments, as shown here, recording Ivor Noel Hume’s 1955 excavation of Late Bronze Age timber & wattle platform at Syon Reach near Isleworth, Richmond, which was unfortunately washed-away by a passing ‘pleasure boat’ while they were in the process of recording it! The Thames Discovery Programme have recorded ‘a significant concentration of Bronze Age material, (possibly representing a trading centre or deliberate votive deposition)’ at Isleworth, possibly in some resemblance to the Vauxhall ‘bridge’ structure dated to the Middle Bronze Age. Many records are also connected to the tributaries of the Thames, and particular concentration from the ‘mouth of the River Wandle’ just above Wandsworth Reach/Bridge.

Thames Artifact Types

©CC_BY

Looking more closely at artefacts recorded in the Index, we have 26 categories of artefact types from the Thames that are so far represented in the Index, as shown here. At the moment we have many more spearheads than anything else, but dirks & rapiers, swords, socketed axes, palstaves, and knives all figure prominently. This pattern is repeated throughout studies of Thames material, with not only a massive record of weapons found in the Thames from the MBA onwards but the concentrations of sword deposition (pictured below) by the LBA clustering in the Thames Valley and Fenland of East Anglia, with relatively few deposited north of the Severn-Wash line.

Map ©N. Wilkin after Colquhoun & Burgess 1988.

How is this material being treated? York’s excellent 2002 study looked at both Index and published records in order to reassess the lifecycle and destruction of metalwork from the non-tidal Thames upstream of Teddington. She notes that in conjunction with the rise in weapon deposition there is also an increase in object destruction from the Penard (late MBA) to Wilburton phase (early LBA). Spearheads and swords were being treated differently than other objects deposited in the Thames, with destruction levels increasing over time, and it is clear that Bronze Age communities were perceiving these objects in a new and special light (York 2002: 88-89). Deposition may have been related to a display of wealth, social status, territory, celebratory after battle, or part of a burial or community ritual (for further discussion, see Bradley 1990).

Examples of Thames spearheads in the Index ©Trustees of the British Museum.

We do not know for certain, unfortunately, the complete significance that throwing these special objects into significant bodies of water may have held for prehistoric peoples, we can only see their impact on the archaeological record and our understanding of the past. Hopefully, further research on this major resource will bring to light more information about these wonders from the deep.

In particular it would be key to connect this data to other museum’s collections & archives, especially the Museum of London’s extensive London Archaeological Archive & Research Centre (LAARC) (which also has a complimentary antiquarian records related to Thames finds). Additionally a long-term goal would be to better integrate this data into the Greater London Sites and Monuments Record & other regional HERS, and look further at the connections between sites and objects recorded previously under the Thames Archaeological Survey, & currently by the Thames Discovery Programme.

This blog was based on a paper I presented on 20th April 2015 at the Tales the River Tells: Later Prehistoric Finds from In and Around the Thames Conference run by the Prehistoric Society and the Later Prehistoric Finds Group. Many thanks to Michael Marshall (Museum of London Archaeology) and Courtney Nimura (University of Oxford) for inviting me to speak at the conference.

Bibliography

  • BRADLEY, R. 1990: The Passage of Arms (Cambridge University Press).
  • BRADLEY, R. and GORDON, K. 1988: Human skulls from the River Thames, their dating and significance. Antiquity 62, 503–9.
  • COHEN, N. 2010: Liquid History: Excavating London’s great river, the Thames. Current Archaeology 244 (July 2010): http://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/liquid-history-excavating-londons-great-river-the-thames.htm
  • COLQUHOUN, I. and BURGESS, C. 1988: The swords of Britain. Prähistorische Bronzefunde IV.5. Munich: Beck.
  • COTTON, J. 1999: Ballast-Heavers and Battle-Axes: The ‘Golden Age’ of Thames Finds. In Coles, A. and Dion, M. (eds.), Mark Dion: Archaeology (Black Dog Publishing), 58–71.
  • COWIE, R. and EASTMOND, D. 1997: An archaeological survey of the foreshore in the Boroughof Richmond upon Thames. London Archaeologist 8 (4-5), 87-93, 115-121.
  • EHRENBERG, M.R. 1977: Bronze Age Spearheads from Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (Oxford, BAR Brit. Ser. 34).
  • EHRENBERG, M. 1980: The Occurrence of Bronze Age Metalwork in the Thames: An Investigation. Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 31, 1–15.
  • FIELD, D. 1989: Tranchet axes and Thames picks: Mesolithic core tools from the west London Thames. Trans London Middlesex Archaeol Soc 40, 18.
  • NEEDHAM, S. 1988: Selective deposition in the British Early Bronze Age. World Archaeology 20(2), 229–48.
  • NEEDHAM, S. and BURGESS, C. 1980: The later Bronze Age in the Lower Thames Valley: the Metalwork Evidence. In Barrett, J. and Bradley, R. (eds.), The British Later Bronze Age (Oxford, BAR Brit. Ser. 83 (i)), 437–70.
  • O’CONNOR, B. 1980: Cross-Channel Relations in the Later Bronze Age (Oxford, BAR Int. Ser. 91 (i) and (ii)).
  • PEARCE, S. 1984: Bronze Age Metalwork in Southern Britain (Princes Risborough).
  • ROWLANDS, M.J. 1976: The Production and Distribution of Metalwork in the Middle Bronze Age in Southern Britain (Oxford, BAR 31).
  • THOMAS, R. 1984: Bronze Age Metalwork from the Thames at Wallingford. Oxoniensia 49, 9–18.
  • YORK, J. 2002: The Life Cycle of Bronze Metalwork from the Thames. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21(2), 77-92.
Posted in Research

A Hollow Human Head of Bronze

EthiopianHead copy

© Trustees of the British Museum

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EES Egyptian scholars are (l to r) Yasser Abdel Razik Al Hammami, Ahmed Ali Nakshara, Hoda Kamal, Hesham Hussein, Fatma Keshk, and Mohamed Abuelyazid. (Photo courtesy of Hazel Gray/EES)

This September we were lucky enough to have a visit from a group of Egyptian scholars organised by the Egypt Exploration Society (http://ees.ac.uk/news/index/322.html). The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has been one of main crowd-sourcing collaborators, asking MicroPasts’ contributors to transcribe early 20th century excavation records from Amarna West and Amara, and we have now done 18 crowd-sourcing projects together with over 20,000 tasks completed! The Egyptian scholars were based at the EES’s London office for six weeks conducting research and training relevant to their research projects and working roles in Egypt, and in conjunction we ran a series of training sessions with them on crowd-sourcing, GIS, and 3D photography at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and the Department of Britain, Europe, & Prehistory (BEP), British Museum.

While preparing the 3D photography session (see http://research.micropasts.org/2014/06/13/3d-modelling-via-sfm/ for more information about our 3D photography technique) I asked Georgi Parpulov for ideas of some interesting Egyptian or related objects for possible photomasking. As the Project Curator for Empires of Faith Project, Georgi has been in the process of cataloguing all the Byzantine and Coptic objects in the British Museum’s collections from across the Byzantine world. Through his work Georgi has brought to light a mysterious relic head, which he describes to us here:

“In the course of museum work, one sometimes hits upon objects which, while clearly not being modern forgeries, cannot be easily assigned an accurate date and geographic origin. This head is certainly the most vexing objects of this kind that I have encountered since I began working at the British Museum just about a year ago. The only piece of information that accompanied it was a paper label stating it was “Abyssinian”. Abyssinia is, of course, an old name for Ethiopia, and the head does bear a general resemblance to works of Christian Ethiopian art that I have seen. But what about the precise time of its manufacture? What purpose did it originally serve? Who is the man portrayed, and why is he bearded and tonsured? These are all questions that elude me. I am not a specialist in Ethiopian art; I know a couple of scholars who are, but they are equally puzzled by our head. The only way to solve the mystery would be to make the objects accessible for study to a wider circle of interested people, not least in Ethiopia itself. Three-dimensional photography of the head would allow one to see it fully without travelling to London. It is pretty to look at and will, I hope, not only arouse curiosity, but also bring some visual delight.”

We thought we might be interesting to photograph this mysterious head with the Egyptian Scholars, in the hope to bring more attention to this fabulous object for further research. Help us make the 3D model here!

 

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© Trustees of the British Museum

Jennifer from the MicroPasts Team in conversation with Georgi Parpulov, Project Curator: Empires of Faith, Middle East Department, British Museum. Many thanks to the EES and the Egyptian scholars for their help with the project!

Posted in Research

‘I was made in the year 1510’

The Mary Rose Trust are very excited to be working with Micropasts again. This time, we will be working towards the production of a 3D model of the Mary Rose bell, one of the most iconic items to have been raised from the wreck site.

The bell recovered from the Mary Rose was one of the last items to be recovered from the wreck site (it was found under the ship below the starboard side). It was also the last item to be placed into the new Mary Rose Museum. At the Museum’s media launch in May 2013, the bell was processed into the museum by the ship’s company from the Navy’s latest Type 45 warship, HMS Duncan.

The bell was cast in bronze and metallurgy results showed it was made from copper (82%), tin (15%) and lead (1.7%). The Flemish inscription at the top reads ‘Ic ben ghegoten int yaer MCCCCCX’ which translates as ‘I was made in the year 1510’, the year that the Mary Rose was commissioned.

On board ships, the bell was used to signal the time, to mark the change of the watch and as a warning, particularly to other ships in fog.

The Mary Rose team

 

 

Posted in Research

Initial reflections on the MicroPasts Knowledge Exchange Workshop

How do we use crowd-based methods? What benefits do they generate? Where do they fall short? How can we sustain them? And how do they support the work of organisations in a heritage ecology? These were the questions addressed at a knowledge exchange workshop hosted by the UCL Institute of Archaeology on 23 September. It builds upon the MicroPasts project, which has put nearly £400,000 of Arts and Humanities Research Council money to work in creating crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding and forum platforms to support the collaborative study of the human past. The workshop was an opportunity to share the learning from the MicroPasts project and reflect further upon how this insight can be deployed more widely across the heritage world. Those present were experts from across the fundraising, policy, evaluation and public engagement professions.

The workshop provoked a few thoughts about the nature of crowd-based methods and their use in research, fundraising and public engagement. My thoughts are partly informed by my ever-weakening relationship with the archaeology and heritage sector. My PhD looked at archaeology public policy, yet over the last ten years I have worked in a broader set of cultural disciplines and grown ever-more convinced that the archaeology world is too introspective for its own good. It was therefore refreshing at the workshop to get perspectives from a wide range of voices: from the Arts Council, Nesta, the Smithsonian Institute, and Zooniverse (the popular online citizen science platform).

What seemed clear from the day was that crowd-funding and crowd-sourcing are two distinct types of activity. Perhaps the only thing that unites them is the c-word. Crowd-funding is in many ways simply a form of fundraising that takes advantage of digital technology. There are a variety of interesting uses of crowd-funding in the broader culture sector (the publisher Unbound springs to mind) but overall it’s used in the heritage sector as a fairly straightforward development of classic fundraising methods. It therefore exhibits all the strengths and weaknesses of passing the donation plate. Crowd-sourcing is an entirely different beast, and demands a re-imagining of what constitutes public engagement, volunteering, labour, value and ethics.

MicroPasts and similar platforms are best thought of as Citizen Science, not crowd-sourcing. In Citizen Science the crowd is often contributing their labour, they are not donating materials. Quite frequently, those participating as Citizen Scientists far outnumber those who have been involved in the creation of a project. The tasks in MicroPasts are set by researchers and a few others drawn from a pool of interested “Citizens”, not the mass of people who constitute the “crowd”. The work of MicroPasts is complete once the researcher decides, not the crowd. This means that MicroPasts resembles a Zooniverse-style platform with an exclusively heritage flavour.

For archaeology and heritage to take full advantage of Citizen Science opportunities, I have the following simple suggestions inspired by conversations at the workshop: that similar projects combine resources to increase their visibility; and that all projects provide clear and compelling reasons for people to volunteer their time to help out.

We heard of a few examples of transcribing or annotating archive material. Four different examples were mentioned at the workshop. Each one had their own platform. There was Transcribe Bentham (bespoke UCL interface); AnnoTate (Zooniverse); Oxford HEIR project (bespoke Oxford interface); and Amarna Archive (MicroPasts). In the busy marketplace of distracting things to do online, it would make sense for there to be one global online shopfront for all projects that require the transcription, annotation and tagging skills of the general public. Anyone with an interest in history, archaeology and archives would know where to go. That way, these projects wouldn’t operate in isolation, like heritage needles in a lolcats haystack.

The other striking theme from the workshop was the various factors that drive people to participate in these online projects. To my mind, many of the projects resemble the tasks advertised through Amazon Mechanical Turk (a sort of online labour exchange run by the well-known online store). The motivation for Turkers (as the workforce on that platform are known) is superficially clear: piecemeal monetary return for tasks successfully completed. However, research into the experience of Turkers shows that they have a complex range of motivations, from the meditative state that the tasks can sometimes induce, to the simple pleasure of contributing to a job well done. For some people, monetary incentives are going to be key in helping Citizen Science projects to achieve their goals. At the workshop we heard a bit about the motivations of Zooniverse and MicroPasts participants. However, there is clearly a need for some modest segmentation of user motivations, in order to present them with a basket of incentives and rewards for participation. Without this, the heritage Citizen Science projects risk merely attracting the same enthusiasts that always engage in this activity, whether online or offline. That small and unrepresentative group could be greatly expanded to not only widen access to heritage but also get research projects completed more efficiently.

James Doeser is a freelance consultant and researcher. He tweets at @jamesdoeser

Posted in Research

MicroPasts Knowledge Exchanges Workshops

Two back-to-back workshops were held on 23 September at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The aim of the MicroPasts Knowledge Exchanges workshops was to share the practices, shortcomings and achievements experienced by the MicroPasts project and use these as fodder for wider discussion about the use and evaluation of both crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding within a broader heritage ‘ecology’.

Below is the programme, with links to videos of the presentations
Twitter discussion via #micropasts

 

Workshop 1 (morning)

Using crowd-based methods in a heritage ‘ecology’

08.45-09.10: Registration and coffee

09.10-09.20: Welcome

09.20-09.55: Presentation about the MicroPasts case study Chiara Bonacchi, UCL Institute of Archaeology

09.55-10.30: Discussion over Theme 1 – Crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums

Discussant 1: Adrian Babbidge, Egeria
Discussant 2: Dominic Tweddle, National Museum of the Royal Navy
Discussant 3: Luiza Sauma, Art Fund
Response from the floor

10.30-11.05: Discussion over Theme 2 – Crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding for heritage buildings and sites

Discussant 1: Ben Cowell, National trust and The Heritage Alliance
Discussant 2: Mark Webb, The Heritage Alliance, Giving to Heritage project
Discussant 3: Sally Crawford, University of Oxford, HEIR project
Response from the floor

11.05-11.20: Coffee Break

11.20-11.55: Discussion over Theme 3 – Crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding for universities and academic research in the humanities and social sciences

Discussant 1: Tim Causer, UCL Laws
Discussant 2: Jim O’Donnell, University of Oxford, Zooniverse project
Response from the floor

11.55-12.30: Discussion over Theme 4 – Funding policies for heritage crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding

Discussant 1: Hedley Swain, Arts Council England
Discussant 2: Mark Webb, The Heritage Alliance, Giving to Heritage project
Discussant 3: John Davies, Nesta
Response from the floor

12.30-13.00: Summary, final discussion and conclusion  

13.00-14.00: Lunch (provided)

 

 Workshop 2 (afternoon)

Evaluating heritage crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding

 14.00-14.50: Project-based presentations focussing on evaluation aims and methodologies

14.00-14.10: MicroPasts, Chiara Bonacchi, UCL Institute of Archaeology
14.10-14.20: Transcribe Bentham, Tim Causer, UCL Law
14.20-14.30: Smithsonian Transcription Centre, Meghan Ferriter, Smithsonian Institution
14.30-14.40: Zooniverse, Jim O’Donnell, University of Oxford
14.40-14.50: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, Daniel Pett, British Museum

14.50-15.30: Discussion over Theme 5 – Insights, measures, methods and ethical challenges in evaluative practices

Discussant 1: Stuart Dunn, King’s College London
Discussant 2: Mia Ridge, Open University
Discussant 3: James Doeser, Independent Consultant
Response from the floor

15.30-15.45: Coffee break

15.45-16.30: Summary, final discussion and conclusion

 

Posted in Research

The Mary Rose – MicroPasts Collaboration, Week 1

On Friday 22nd May, the Mary Rose Trust and MicroPasts teams launched a collaborative 3D photo-masking pilot project on the MicroPasts crowdsourcing platform. The aim is to create 3D models for three of the museum’s artefacts. We are really grateful to MicroPasts collaborators for helping complete 37% of the application already (as of 29th May)! It is exciting to see people engaging with the collection online, and it will be interesting to discover how the 3D models are viewed, downloaded and used, once developed.

With the project now underway, we would like to take the opportunity to provide some background information on the Mary Rose, the Museum and the artefacts included as part of this first pilot project with MicroPasts.

The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard © Hufton+Crow

The Mary Rose was a Tudor warship that sank during a battle with an invading French fleet near Portsmouth, on the South coast of England, in 1545. The hull and her contents were covered (and preserved) by the silts of the Solent. They remained there until they were rediscovered in 1971. Following one of the largest maritime excavations ever undertaken, the hull was eventually raised on 11th October 1982.

Lower Deck walkway of the Context Gallery © Hufton+Crow

In May 2013 a new purpose built museum, that reunited the hull and thousands of her artefacts, was opened to the public. The hull, at the centre of this museum, is undergoing an air drying treatment. This is the final stage of her conservation, a process that has lasted over 30 years. In 2016, the air drying will be completed, the museum will be closed while the walls surrounding the hull are taken down and the museum will then be re-opened with amazing new views of the hull throughout the building.

The current MicroPasts 3D photo-masking pilot project is based around three of the artefacts that can be seen on display in the museum. These are:

Bone angels 

The bone plaque of two angels was identified as being similar to those made in the Northern Italian workshops of the Embriachi family who produced a variety of luxury objects such as mirrors, caskets and triptychs that incorporated a series of bone or ivory plaques with stained wood and horn.

Bone angel (81A2851) – © Mary Rose Trust

Wooden tankard with lid

The staved wooden tankard was one of the most complete tankards recovered during the excavations on the Mary Rose. It is interesting to note that oak, poplar, pine, beech and willow were all used in its construction. 

Wooden tankard (81A3915.1-11) - © Mary Rose Trust

Wooden tankard (2) (81A3915.1-11) – © Mary Rose Trust

 

Beech wooden bowl 

The beech wooden bowl is one of 30 recovered during the excavations and it has one of the more intricate set of markings on both the inside and outside. These are thought to denote its ownership.

Wooden bowl Beech with personal markings (82A1712) - © Mary Rose Trust

Wooden bowl Beech with personal markings (82A1712) – © Mary Rose Trust

The Mary Rose team

Posted in Research