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Posted by Daniel Pett on

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 by Chiara Bonacchi on


What do we mean by crowd-sourcing?

Crowd-sourcing is a relatively new digital method for collecting information, services or funds from a large group of people, in small chunks, over the internet. This practice emerged less than a decade ago in the commercial sector, where companies had been exploring ways of out-sourcing labour to potentially interested people around the world. It is sometimes also called ‘micro-tasking’ and, as many novelties in the world of technology,  it featured in the well-known magazine Wired, where, in 2006, Jeff Howe wrote an article entitled ‘The Rise of Crowd-sourcing’.

In recent years, crowd-sourcing has been increasingly used also by professionals and institutions in the science and cultural heritage sectors as a way of conducting research, curating museum collections and managing heritage resources in collaboration with the public.

The landing page of the Zooniverse website featuring Citizen Science projects on ‘Space’.

In some cases, people are invited to contribute their time and skills to help with projects that have been designed entirely by these institutions. In other cases, members of the public can instead propose ideas for projects they would like to undertake and institutions provide platforms and resources to make them happen.

Some crowd-sourcing platforms, like Zooniverse, host a number of differently themed Citizen Science projects focussing on astronomy, climate issues, nature, biology and the humanities. In other cases, museums, libraries or universities set up individual crowd-sourcing pages linked to their websites, as is the case with the Australian Newspaper Digitisation Programme.

Developing crowd-sourcing platforms where tens or hundreds of thousands of people can work, potentially simultaneously, is a very challenging endeavour. For example, it is important to ensure that data are produced in formats and at levels of quality that allow for meaningful analysis to be undertaken. In this way contributors’ efforts are not wasted and can really bring new knowledge. For this reason, in the MicroPasts transcription applications only information that is entered by at least two contributors in the same way is saved, and, similarly, we have developed a method for maximising the quality of the images masked via photomasking. Another key element is that of communication both within the group of contributors and between contributors and institutions in order to share ideas, confront any problems and propose new initiatives. To this end, MicroPasts uses Facebook, Twitter and a community forum, where we invite comments, suggestions and questions, while providing updates and news about the project.

The technical side…

If you are a developer or just interested in what is ‘behind the scenes’ of the MicroPasts crowd-sourcing website, please do have a look at the code that makes it function.

Some of the online repositories where we store the code that makes MicroPasts platforms work.

We have stored it in repositories that are available online on GitHub. Feel free to use and improve the work we have done so far. You might also like to read a step-by-step guide on how to create your own crowd-sourcing applications using the Pybossa framework. We will be happy to answer any questions and hear any observations you might have on MicroPasts software and infrastructure via the forum.


Posted by Jennifer Wexler on

3D Modelling of the Arreton Down Hoard

We are in the process of adding a new photo-masking application to the MicroPasts site. This is going to be a bit of a ‘pop-up shop’ as it will only include one Bronze Age British hoard, although it is one of considerable importance.

A hoard is an archaeological terms for two or more objects, normally of metal, deposited together. In some cases these were buried with the intention of recovery, but in other cases they were intended as ‘gifts to the gods’ or suitably auspicious ways of casting off old fashioned or damaged objects.

This particular hoard was found on Arreton Down on the Isle of Wight sometime before 1735, and we think that it was associated with a series of aligned pits. It constitutes a major group of Early Bronze Age spearheads and axes (as well as at least one dagger) that was probably placed in the ground around 1700-1500 BC.

Antiquarian drawing of the Arreton Down Hoard, from the The Antiquaries Journal XXVII (1947)

Antiquarian drawing of the Arreton Down Hoard, from the The Antiquaries Journal XXVII (1947)

The Arreton Down hoard represents the final metalwork traditions of Early Bronze Age (EBA) in southern England, c. 1700-1500 BC (Britton 1963, 284-97; Burgess & Cowen 1972; Needham 1986). The hoard gave its name to the ‘Arreton phase’ of Early Bronze Age metalwork. This arguably represents the first large scale and frequent burying of metalwork in prehistory, a practice that would continue for many centuries (and millennia) to come.

Arreton Decorated Socket Spearhead

Decorated socketed spearhead description in the BA Index

The Arreton phase gained its important position in the EBA chronology partially due to its early discovery in 1735, and its extensive documentation and exhibition by the Society of Antiquaries of London, the foremost archaeological body of its day (Society of Antiquaries Minutes 1732-7,128-9; Cooke 1737). Arreton Down belongs to a sub-set of hoards which are dominated by spearheads and have been assigned to a particular sub-phase of the Bronze Age (MA VI), and it has one of the best ranges of bronze equipment known from a single EBA context. This rare combination of metalwork types in combination with what appears to be purposeful deposition in a series of aligned pits suggests that the hoard was deposited in the course of ritual practices.

The Arreton hoard includes 16 objects of which 13 are currently in the BM collections: 2 tanged spearheads with rivet, 6 tanged spearheads, 1 tanged and collared spearhead with rivet, 1 socketed spearhead, 1 halberd or dagger, 1 dagger, and 4 flanged axes (illustrated below).

Photograph of the Arreton Down Hoard, as it currently exists in the BM collections © Trustees of the British Museum

Photograph of the Arreton Down Hoard, as it currently exists in the BM collections © Trustees of the British Museum

The fun thing about this assemblage from a specialist point of view is how it shows the evolution from low-flanged axes (Arreton-flanged axes) in the Early Bronze Age towards something closer to the earliest palstaves (a type of axe with cast flanges and a stop-ridge that is currently also the subject of much work by contributors on the MicroPasts site; see http://crowdsourced.micropasts.org/app/category/featured/ (Roberts 2008, 75).  Unfortunately, for a long time the provenance of the hoard was subject to great confusion, with some of the bronze finds actually given false provenances to other parts of the UK! Fortunately, research by Stuart Needham, a former British Museum curator of Bronze Age Collections, allowed for the original provenance to be re-established for all but three of the Arreton finds (Needham 1986). Subsequent, responsibly-reported metal detecting in the Arreton area have led to the discovery of additional bronze implements, adding to our understanding of this region in the Bronze Age.

Adi, Chiara, & Andy preparing a decorated socketed spearhead from the hoard for 3D scanning

Adi, Chiara, & Andy preparing a decorated socketed spearhead from the hoard for 3D scanning

This will be the first complete hoard photographed for 3D modelling and a major challenge will be how well this modelling approach handles the thin edges of the spearheads and internal socket of the dagger. Last week we took hundreds of photos of these objects in the hoard at the BM’s store, including both in very controlled photo-capture conditions and the more ad hoc set-up you see in the image above!

Close-up of the spearhead

Close-up of the spearhead

Soon these files will be uploaded as a new MicroPast’s photomasking application, allowing us to create for the first time a full set of 3D models of a Bronze Age hoard! Later this year, we hope to use these photomasked models to potentially make 3D printable models of the hoard on a 3D printer at one of the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre’s (http://www.britishmuseum.org/learning/samsung_centre.aspx) sessions at the BM.


  • Britton, D. 1963. “Traditions of Metal-Working in the Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of Britain, Part I”. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society XXIX: 258-325.
  • Burgess, C.B. and Cowen, J.D. 1972. “The Ebnal hoard and Early Bronze Age Metalworking Traditions”. In F. Lynch and C.B. Burgess (eds) Prehistoric Man in Wales and the West: Essays in Honour of Lily F. Chitty, 167-88. Bath.
  • Cooke, B. 1737. “Letter to Peter Collinson”, dated 1 Jan 1736/7, Society of Antiquaries Minutes, Vol. II: 285.
  • Needham, Stuart P. 1986. “Towards the Reconstitution of the Arreton Hoard: A Case of Faked Provenances”. The Antiquaries Journal LXVI: 9-28.
  • Piggott, S. 1947. “The Arreton Down Bronze Age Hoard”, The Antiquaries Journal 27: 177-8.
  • Roberts, B.W. 2008. “The Bronze Age”. In L. Atkins, R. Atkins and V. Leitch (eds) The Handbook of British Archaeology, 63-93. London: Constable and Robinson.


Posted by Daniel Pett on

Preparing the British Museum Bronze Age index for transcription

Since late 2013, the MicroPasts team has been preparing the British Museum‘s (BM) Bronze Age Index to be the first offering on our crowd-sourcing platform. This corpus consists of around 30,000 (roughly A4 sized) cards (holding information going back to as early as 1913).  The majority of these are double sided and generally have text on the front and a line drawing on the reverse (there are many variants that have been discovered, such as large fold out shield plans.)

MicroPasts · Application  British Museum Bronze Age Index Drawer B16 · Contribute

The Crowd sourcing platform

Over the last few years, several curators have mooted exercises (Ben Roberts, now at Durham University attempted to turn the transcription into an AHRC funded collaborative Doctoral Award) to turn this amazing resource into a digital archive, but this had not come to fruition until the advent of the MicroPasts project. Internal discussions had been raging on how best to deal with these cards for a number of years, and it was felt that this project could perhaps be the ideal solution and provide museum and public interaction of a new type, which the BM had not explored previously.

To enable this corpus to be digitised is reasonably straight forward and we have employed Dr Jennifer Wexler (@jwexler on Twitter) to manage the scanning process, and she has been doing this since February after her return from field work in Benin.

The equipment needed for this is relatively straight forward, the BM has acquired two high capacity/speed scanners (Canon) which can scan 60 and 100 sheets per minute at 600 dpi and once this initial project is over, they can be reused for turning more archival materials into potential crowd sourcing materials. You can see a picture of Neil’s former office (he’s just moved to a nicer one -we’re not jealous) being used as the scanning centre below in one of his tweets:

The first drawer scanned is known as A9 (this application on the platform), and this was done by the Bronze Age Curator Neil Wilkin (@nwilkinBM on Twitter) over a few weeks whilst dispensing with his other duties. Once Jennifer returned, scanning started in earnest! These high resolution images were then stored in various places to facilitate good data preservation (on an external 4TB hard drive, the Portable Antiquities Scheme server cluster and onto Amazon S3) and they were then stitched together by Daniel Pett (@portableant on Twitter), as composite images using a simple python script and then uploaded to Flickr (for example see this set) for the crowd-sourcing platform to access and then present them as tasks for our audience to assist with. All of these images have been released under the most liberal licence that Flickr permits (we would have ideally liked to make them CC0, but this option does not exist) and so they are served up under a CC-BY licence. The data that will be transcribed, will also be made available for download and reuse by anyone, under a CC0 licence. The embedded tweet below, shows an example of one of the stitched cards:

The platform that we’re using for serving up the crowd sourcing tasks has been created by Daniel Lombraña González (lead developer – @teleyinex  on Twitter) and the Pybossa team, and it is a departure from the usual technology stack that the project team has used previously. Installation of the platform is straightforward and it was deployed on to Portable Antiquities Scheme hardware in around 15 minutes. We then employed Daniel to assist with building the transcription application skeleton (in conjunction with project lead Andy Bevan (not on Twitter!) and Daniel Pett) that would be used for each drawer, whilst we also developed our own look and feel to give MicroPasts some visual identity. If you’re interested, the code is available on GitHub and if you have suggestions from improvements, you could either fork the code or comment on our community forum.

For the last few months, building up to launch, lots of debugging and user testing was conducted to see how the site reacted, whether the tasks we offered were feasible and interesting enough. Chiara Bonacchi (@Chiara_Bonacchi) and Adi Keinan (@Adi_Keinan) worked on the main project site, building our Facebook and Twitter engagement.

Chiara has also developed our evaluation frameworks, which we were integrating into the system and feel are vital to discovering more about people’s engagement with our platforms and how their motivations progress through time, and hopefully the project’s success! This evaluative work hopes to be one of the first following the development of individual users’ interaction on a crowd-sourcing website.

And then we launched and tasks are ongoing:

This project is very exciting for the BM and especially for our curatorial staff. It could unlock new opportunities and Neil sums up very succinctly, why we are doing this public archaeology project, so we’ll leave it to him:

Thank you for participating!

Posted by Adi on

MicroPasts Latest Tech Update

So what has been new with MicroPasts? Well, quite a lot. We have successfully launched our crowd-sourcing platform last week, and lots of people are now transcribing object cards and using the photo-masking application to delineate the outline of Bronze Age tools. From a technical perspective, we needed to take care of two main issues before launching: the first one was, naturally, to finalise the customisation of the crowd-sourcing platform; and second, to design a landing page at MicroPasts.org.

To start with the latter, the platform on which we chose to host the main MicroPasts website is WordPress. WordPress is a free and open source content management system which has been around for over a decade and has millions of users. You don’t have to be web savvy to install and use this platform for your website – especially since it offers some very useful documentation. After installing its software on the hosting server, you can start modifying your site’s appearance and fill it up with content as you like. But before that, you need to choose a Theme – which is basically a bunch of templates that allow you to change the design and functionality of your site. You can customise your Theme of choice using CSS, PHP and HTML if you really want to.

We chose a responsive Bootstrap theme for MicroPasts.org. But what does that mean? A responsive web design means that your website would be easily navigated (as well as look great) on a wide range of devices, i.e. desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. That is, in addition to your aiming for an optimal viewing in different resolutions and browsers. And what is a Bootstrap theme? Bootstrap is a package of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and HTML templates that can help you managed the look and feel of your website. One of the many advantages of Bootstrap is that it provides a layout grid system that you can use to manage the layout of your content. It also comes with a full set of Glyphicons – useful icons that you can incorporate into your code. You can go with these, or check out Font Awesome, which also provides a wide range of high quality, completely free icons, which are also fully compatible with Bootstrap. These icons are not graphic elements – as the name suggests, they are actually fonts, which can be manipulated using CSS.

In tandem with creating our main MicroPasts site, we had to finalise our crowdsourcing platform. The code for this platform was forked from a site called CrowdCrafting – a portal for crowdsourcing applications built using the PyBossa software. To ‘fork’ a project means to make a copy of all its files and code so you could customise it for your own needs (or contribute to the original project). This can be done freely only with open source projects, and a very convenient environment to do this is GitHub. GitHub is a platform that hosts software development projects, where a team of several people could work on the same project at the same time. GitHub is completely free and claims to include over 10 million project repositories! So, especially in the last few weeks, we’ve been raising issues (i.e. things that need to be taken care of), fixing bugs and doing lots of tweaking until we felt ready to open up the crowd-sourcing platform to the public.

This is proving to be a huge success for far – people are not only engaged with the different applications, but are also active on our community forum, asking questions and giving some very useful feedback. Next on our to-do list is to launch our Crowd-funding platform – so stay tuned for some more tech updates!


Posted by Andrew Bevan on

MicroPasts at the Citizen CyberScience Summit

A fun conference, hackfest, etc. has been running for the last three days at UCL, called the Citizen CyberScience Summit.  It’s been a great chance for us to track what the largest fauna in this brave new world of crowd-sourcing (i.e. mass online data creation) are up to, such as Zooniverse, Mozilla Science Lab and Crowdcrafting, as well as noting the sheer diversity of other crowd-sourcing efforts, both large and small. We got a moment to present what we are developing with MicroPasts yesterday and the presentation (without script) is embedded below.