making archaeology work in open source

Once in a while, Oxford Archaeology get called upon to do some really big archaeological projects, like road schemes and airport expansion, that cover huge areas, go on for years, and generate loads of data. We love these, because it’s not very often that you get to look at whole landscapes- how multiple prehistoric villages interact, for example, rather than tantalising snapshots where you have to play “join the dots”.

open archaeology 2

I went to the Open Knowledge Foundation conference, OKCON in London a few weeks ago, and have been meaning do a review of it ever since. Whilst little of what I saw had a direct relevance to what I do, it was invigorating to be in a room with a whole bunch of people with imagination, who believe knowledge should be free to anyone, and who basically like to disrupt the status quo.

some sobering numbers

Making History, on BBC Radio 4, had an article yesterday on the plight of commercial archaeology in UK during the recession. It made for some sobering listening. To understand what all the fuss is about, you need to get over the idea that archaeologists are all volunteers, either school kids or retired, or perhaps have a nice research job in a University. Some are, and some do, but there’s a whole bunch of others who are trying to make a living from archaeology, in the same way that they would with any other job.

and the winner is

…Actually no one who commented on last week’s post, though thanks for all the great suggestions! In the end we went for ZooOS, suggested by Jeremy Ottevanger on the Antiquist Mailing List (though the capitalisation is all ours). We like it because it’s got mixed etymological roots, coming from both Greek (zoo =¬†greek for animals) and Roman (os = bone in latin) but also because it has that essential Open Source ring to it.

help wanted

We are about to start work on an open source database for recording animal bones on archaeological sites, but we can’t think of a name for it! So- crowd-sourcing and all that- I thought I’d open it out to people to come up with suggestions (clean and polite only or we’ll be terribly disappointed with you). I guess we might even be able to scrape together a prize for the one we choose, if you like second-hand conference schwag!

on being open and what that means

I’ve been meaning to post for a while on Oxford Archaeology’s Open Archaeology Project, also known as our “Open Ethos”, then what do you know, Joseph posts about it and says it so well that I might just as well repeat his post verbatim. I won’t though- then you might go and read the other blog, and wander around on the internet for a while finding out interesting new things .

the perils of proprietary software

In that serindipitous way that rss readers work, two posts came to my attention over the last couple of days. The first was from Gavin, about problems that occurred when the South African Government failed to keep control of the source code on two GIS programmes that they had developed. When contracts end, or funding dries up, if you don’t have complete control over your programmes then you might as well start rebuilding them now.

recovering from the fortnight from hell

Two Mondays ago I came into work in the morning to find one of my windows servers no longer booted. The short version¬†is that all the data was fine, but the windows partition had got itself corrupted. I now have a linux server, and know more about samba and winbind than I ever thought I would need to. No big deal, you might say, but it has been a learning experience for me, and I’m very grateful to my colleagues for their patience whilst I dropped everything else and flailed around in the dark trying to learn the intricacies of samba config from scratch.

archaeologists not treasure hunters

Via the seasite mailing list, this article about the difference between underwater archaeology, salvage, and treasure-hunting really got me thinking. I started off as a diver, then a marine archaeologist, and often came into contact with the strange point of view that if you find something underwater, like something from a wreck, it’s OK to prise it off and take it home to display proudly on your wall, yet you’d hardly go and break the wing-mirror off someone’s car.

on archaeology and rivers

I’ve spent the best part of the day musing (whilst working, obviously) about this article, on rivers as archaeological artefacts. It’s a really good article, on how we perceive rivers in archaeology, given their pesky tendency to change course, texture, size and so on. It suggests that we tend to think of rivers as primarily natural features, part of the landscape and full of nice ducks and fishes. Or, in archaeological terms, we treat them as environmental features and subject them to a barrage of scientific techniques designed to test their sediments, so we see them as nothing more than receptacles for more interesting things that have fallen in, such as bugs, seeds, people, boats, etc.