Tuesday, 15 August 2017


     As titles go this may seem amongst the most obtuse but bear (no...definitely not bare!) with me and, I hope, all will become clear. Being something of an eclectic eccentrist it will be of no surprise that, often, I consider myself sometimes ill-suited to the niche I currently occupy. But there (not their or they're) you go, it is all a matter of pegs and holes....and of course...perception.

     Let me give you an example. The application of modern technologies, such as Total Station and/or GPS enable us to complete site tasks much quicker, and hopefully with greater accuracy.

Portugal, Summer 2016

     It has oft been suggested that this enables the costs of excavation to be reduced. Wrong? Possibly, but I would argue, in fact, that such assets enable me to do more fieldwork...for the same cost. It is all about perception. And this is something that needs to be considered in the application of emergent technologies in archaeology. We need to carefully consider if it is the peg, or the hole ( I am not going there again) that is incompatible and not jump to what may appear obvious interpretations of the scientific evidence. 

It's all depends on your viewpoint, not just your point of view

      If you are wondering where this is going...a little patience. Let's go back to archaeology with an example taken from personal experience, in the Alentejo region of Portugal.

    If you ever have the opportunity to visit the hilltop town of Monsaraz, then I suggest you do as the views are spectacular, even if my camerwork isn't!


 Views from Monsaraz
Photos by the Author
     The area is rich in megalithic monuments and just a few hundred metres away can be found the Cromlech de Xerez. A stone henge monument, unique  in that it is square! As such it should be considered of special interest and protected accordingly (notwithstanding my thoughts on heritage listing processes, expressed in my "UNESCO post of 4th August last).

Photo by the Author 2016

Viewed from the air, and maybe a few questions arise.

The wonders of Google Earth. A leading Iberian Archaeologist told me he had uncovered 19 ditched enclosures using Google Earth during the winter months! Google and Cropmarks! How things change? Here an aerial view of Xerez.

     The irregularity of the stones suggests that something is amiss.......so a maybe little local history is required.

     Discussed since the 1950's and finally given the go ahead in 1991, the Alqueva Dam Project aimed to block the Guadiana river, creating a lake of some 250sq.kms and would provide water to the surrounding population and agriculture. In the process ecosystems and archaeology were destroyed. A bonus for commercial archaeologists who were tasked with assessing and prioritising sites, possibly the single largest rescue operation in Europe, and perhaps the world. They had never been so busy! Amongst the sites earmarked for  protection was this very cromlech, which was surveyed and then moved and placed in it's original condition to a new location out of harms way.

But.  (there is always a but).

     You see not was all as appeared. An astute local landowner discovered the stones scattered around the edge of his vineyards. With some aplomb it was decided to build the henge to attract tourists, and making it square and......well.......unique. Bottom line: the famous square cromlech is a fake, though built with archaeological stones. It would have been easy to jump to errroneous archaeological conclusions without the historical knowledge.

     Not all archaeological structures are so visible. An international collaboration in the UK is the "Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes" project, aimed at seeking a more complete understanding of this remarkable site, and surrounding landscapes, after which it has been named. The use of geophysics, and developing new methodologies, is key to it's success. 

     You may recall last year an international media frenzy when geophysicists found the largest stone henge in the world hidden below ground at the settlement site of Durrington Walls, just a short distance from Stonehenge. 

     Oh Dear, another....but! I know Prof. Gaffney and far be it from me to question anything he says or does. And yet this year.....

     You see, geophysics is still what I would call an emergent technology. Active or passive, only minute anamolies are measured against the background. Even with a great deal of experience the interpretation is fraught with danger and various fingers will continue to be burned. I do suspect that funding pressures play an active role in such media declarations however. But let's move on.

     From TST and GPS, to the wonders of geophys we have found that such technologies are not without fault but greatly assist in both targeted excavation, and also having an impact on efficiency in the field...though always with a caveat.

     Returning to Telheiro, and our square monument, well it is of little direct archaeological interest..though serves as a warning for us all to "cover our bases" before getting "egg on our faces".

     Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I read this upon my return to the UK.............

     I am not quite sure what to make of all this. Perception is key, but is our interpretation the hole, filled by technological pegs! Perhaps we are the pegs, but in which case, likes locks and keys, are our interpretations compatible with modern technological data? I don't know the answer, but suspect that it is once again a case of individual perception. Yet we do need to be aware of the chicken/egg conundrum and not allow data to dictate, but rather inform, interpretation. 

     In the meantime I can only suggest that you make the most of the plethora of technologies available to you........but please don't forget the core skills required of any archaeologist..........and use the real attributes that a good archaeologist does make;


     To conclude I leave you with a few words from Niccolo Macchiavelli...........

"Nature that framed us.........doth teach us all to have aspiring minds"
     Give it some thought and maybe, just maybe, you might come to the conclusion that Macchiavelli was a budding archaeological theoretician some three hundred years befor the "Antiquarians".

😜 Roth, N has some interesting ideas on the use of emergent technologies, and subsequent data interpretation. Check BAR, Vol 627, 2016, I am sure you can find it! 😜