Archaeological Computing Research Group

Modelling Complexity

Iza RomanowskaApril 17, 2014
by Iza Romanowska

A Fractal Flame

A Fractal Flame


Complexity has become a new paradigm in the hard sciences in the 90s and since then it has been slowly dripping into the social sciences and humanities. It works on the premises that many systems are complex in structure, i.e. their numerous individual parts interact with each other in a non-linear way producing phenomena which cannot be easily predicted solely on the basis of their characteristics. Think of the brain: if you were given a few neurons to research it would probably not be your first guess that those little buggers create emotions. Think of the stock exchange: the behaviour of any one of the stock brokers (buy when you think it’s gonna go up and sell when it’s going down) is not a great predictor of the long term trends or crashes, which, nevertheless, follow quite a repetitive pattern. Now think archaeology: we work on human societies whose complexity arising from simple human interactions is overwhelming and produced on many levels. When do people decide to migrate? Why certain trends catch up while others don’t? How do stratified societies develop and why do they collapse? The list of questions complexity science can help us with is truly endless and touches on the very core of what archaeology is all about.


Complexity science’s answer to the challenges of researching systems which, by their own definition, are impossible to understand by looking only at the components, is computational modelling, which predominantly stands for simulation, but includes other techniques as well, such as network analysis, system dynamics modelling, non-linear mathematics and many other. Although complexity science represents a very strong theoretical base, its own vocab and research agenda, in practice, it very often amounts to ‘modelling’, which translates simply to ‘making models’. One could say that almost all research activity in any discipline could be termed ‘modelling’. In archaeology we create conceptual models (hypotheses, typologies), spatial models (GIS), virtual models (3D reconstructions), statistical models and many more. Note that many of them are static (GIS, 3D, stats) i.e. only look at a slice of the past such as a distribution of a particular type of pottery, age distribution of skellies from a burial ground or the looks of a building’s facade. However, simulation goes a step further. It allows us to model possible processes that led to the observed patterns. It helps us to create ‘virtual labs’ in which we can test and contrast different hypotheses, find irregularities in the data or identify new factors which otherwise we wouldn’t have guessed to have a significant impact on the system.


Stefani Crabtree (Washington State University, USA), Ben Davies (University of Auckland, New Zealand) and Iza Romanowska (University of Southampton) have recently launched a new blog, Simulating Complexity, looking at the potential and pitfalls of using complexity science and its techniques in archaeology. The posts range from reviews of recently published papers, conference announcements to hints and tips for newbies in the world of simulations and network analysis. Check out their ‘resources’ tab for a useful list of introductory texts, tutorials and core papers. And keep your eyes peeled for a live stream of the CAA session on complexity science in archaeology (S25    Agents, Networks, Equations and Complexity: the potential and challenges of complex systems simulation).


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Top image: “A fractal flame”; Source:

Burying the Digital

April 3, 2014
by Graeme Earl

Clay tablet (wikipedia)

Clay tablet (wikipedia)

I am at Museums and the Web this week in Baltimore. I was sat next to @trinkermedia and we were talking enthusiastically about  the physical, tangible and the interactive digital (as usual). Over the last few years we have been digitising very large collections of cuneiform tablets and are mid way through developing an open source Reflectance Transformation Imaging web renderer that will allow interaction with these on mobile devices and desktops. The plan is that we will deploy these via tablets and phones of various form factors in order that the gyroscope and the lighting hemisphere captured from a front camera can be used to provide a sense of placing the digital tablet in its physical surroundings more completely. So, my aim is that, for example, in a room with low lighting captured from the phone the main directional light source vector will be identified from the maximum brightness in a photograph from the front camera and the RTI relighting intensity will be scaled to match that brightness. Once set this orientation should allow the gyroscope to link movement of the tablet to the space within which the movement is happening, and in turn relight the virtual object in a contextual way. We still have a way to go but we have a good handle on the methods to employ. So, watch this space.

But back to #mw2014. Javier and I were talking about his work to repurpose Linked Data and also his interest in interactive forms. I have been reflecting on the continuing power of the physical artefact in my life as I finalise the @UoSFLPortus MOOC. I want the MOOC to provide digital experiences of Portus and artefacts, but I also want to encourage the students on the MOOC to make their own interactive objects (more to follow on this soon via the Portus MOOC blog) and also to visit museums collections near where to they live to provide another form of engagement, and finally to think how accessible, touchable objects in the home could stand in for inaccessible, curated artefacts. (We now have the beautiful work of Eric Brockmeyer to stimulate us!). The plan is for the Archaeology of Portus MOOC to have a subsidiary archaeological computing and digital museums flavour, via the blog. So we would be excited to work with others on this in the coming months.

Anyway, all this made me think about the other project that is big in my head at the moment – the @Ahrcrti project focused on the RTI viewer. In the last few weeks we have been doing some work on RTI archiving in collaboration with Cultural Heritage Imaging and @ads_update and @UniSotonLibrary – the plan is to enable an easy mechanism to embed RTI repository content in blogs and websites and to link specific annotations via DOIs so that threaded citation and conversation around the RTI interpretations can grow. Again, more on this soon.

The question here is, could we physically instantiate the RTI of cuneiforms so that a physical tablet might survive as the carrier for the information long into the future? I am fascinated by the possibility of chance discovery of the tablet, and the intersection of the tablet with a repository. If nothing else it foregrounds the 10 or 20 years quoted in many archiving strategies for research data. I could do the same for information from Portus, perhaps encoding a brick stamp in similar ways. If I drop a rugged tablet into the foundations of the Palazzo Imperiale it may not be discovered for centuries. How long would the device survive? And what connections would the device be able to make in the future? What should we encode on the device. alongside the object data?

Crowd annotation of RTI

March 26, 2014
by Eleni Kotoula

As part of the on-going AHRC RTI FoF project for the on-line, open source RTI viewer we are working on development of a tool that will encourage scientific co-operation among cultural heritage professionals, being at the same time an enhanced dissemination and presentation tool. The artefact visualised in RTI form is not just a static record of the artefact but it enables the museum professional to execute visual analysis virtually and the members of the public to experience views of the artefact in a superior way. In that sense the annotations transform the RTI file from a high-quality record of the object to an examination record. Its educational and scientific uses are extended and extra values are attributed not only to the RTI file but also to the visualised artefact.  The first step towards the development of annotated RTIs is the annotation box link which enables the addition of textual descriptions, outcome of the RTISAD project, while the latest release of RTI Viewer software includes useful features for annotations.

The annotated RTI can be virtually re-examined by other professionals and members of the public and the relevant data will be available on line, enabling easy and meaningful exchange of information. While the new viewer is under development the following provides some initial thoughts about such a framework:

  • The users/creators should not be anonymous and each one should provide his/hers affiliation and add a url for a personal web page, in an attempt to assist further collaboration between researchers and museum professionals.
  • Annotation, accompanied by relevant metadata, will be used in order to define, explain and characterize areas of the image.
  • Annotations and uncertainty (?): Annotations with question mark used in case a user is not sure about his/hers interpretation.
  • Like annotation option (!):  Annotations used in order to support an already published annotation. A like annotation may be followed by an explanation text, used in order to provide an insight on the issue discussed.
  • Disagree annotation option (X): Annotations used in order to express disagreement must provide reasoning and propose alternative interpretation.
  • References (R): Each annotation can have one or more reference commends and internal reference commends. These can be added by the creator or another user. Reference comment: a link to an online resource, book, paper etc. used in order to support an interpretation added as an annotation. Internal reference: links to other RTIs in the repository for comparison etc. or to other annotations.
  • Searching/filtering and sorting of annotations so as for the users to be able to find the annotations relevant to their research interests.
  • Sorting annotations: Annotations to be sorted according to author date etc. and if the user selects a specific area of the image the existing annotations of this area to appear.
  • Keywords: a list of all the keywords used in annotations to appear so as for the users to locate the info they are interested in.
  • References: a list of all the references used in annotations to appear so as to provide the user with a bibliography regarding the issues discussed in the annotations.
  • Contributors: a list of all users who created annotations.
  • Interface: Colour coding would be useful. Other interface ideas include showing most recent annotations, following particular people’s annotations etc.

Rode Imaging Event

Hembo PagiMarch 11, 2014
by Hembo Pagi

Rode Imaging EventFew posts ago i wrote about imaging work at St. Nicholas church in Tallinn, Estonia. Now this has grown into bigger collaboration and a co-hosted event in coming May. There will be three speakers from ACRG: Graeme Earl, James Miles and me.

Check the museum’s website for more information and registering .

Digital representations of the Fennoscandian Iron Age

Philip RirisMarch 7, 2014
by Philip Riris

A story that has been making the rounds on blogs and news websites this week is the Digital Iron Age Environment, a project by Swedish game developer Daniel Westergren. I came across Daniel’s interview with Digital Digging, where he describes his investment in accurately recreating the landscape of Iron Age Uppsala, in eastern Sweden. He uses the CryEngine 3 technology to power this visualization, displaying his attention to detail, while at the same time adding subjective touches on top of the real archaeological data behind his interpretation of Uppsala’s past. People with a passing knowledge of modern videogames will recognize the engine and its predecessors as being behind some of the most realistic gaming graphics in recent years.


A reconstruction of an Iron Age house in CryEngine.
Copyright Daniel Westergren (

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The Rise of 3-D printing in Archaeology

Alistair GaltJanuary 23, 2014
by Alistair Galt

With the announcement that Adobe, one of the world’s largest software companies, is to integrate 3-D printing support into it’s Photoshop package, it’s about time that the rise of 3-D printing was assessed, and the impact it’s having on archaeology. It’s rise has been unprecedented, but what have archaeologists done with it?

Definition and background

Defined as a “three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model”, a 3-D printer costs anywhere between £300-£3,000, although these are generic. A 3-D scanner for archaeologists is being developed through Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site, which can then be used to create a 3-D model, which could then be printed (see below). This shows public support for these technologies are becoming more and more popular (at the time of going to press). However, the “printed gun” incident shows that, combined with the open-source nature of the internet, thousands of people can create undetectable lethal weapons in their own home. However, this is a one-off case, and the popularity of 3-D printing is being shown with children’s drawings being turned into toys and decorations.

Grant Cox Kickstarter

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ACRG in Estonian Archaeology Journal

Hembo PagiJanuary 22, 2014
by Hembo Pagi

Tutulus – Estonian archaeology journal

This week an other article was published in Estonian annual archaeology journal, Tutulus, about projects I’ve been involved in Southampton. Last time we covered Portus Project. This time, the article was about the Hoa Hakananai’a and different imaging techniques; project with James Miles, Graeme Earl and Mike Pitts.

Bringing the Neolithic Figurines of Koutroulou Magoula Back to Life

Konstantinos PapadopoulosJanuary 21, 2014
by Konstantinos Papadopoulos

Clay Neolithic figurines are some of the most enigmatic archaeological objects, which depict in a miniature form humans, animals, other anthropomorphic or zoomorphic beings, and often hybrid or indeterminate entities. Figurines have excited scholarly and public imagination, and have given rise to diverse interpretations. The assemblage from Koutroulou Magoula, a Middle Neolithic site – 5800-5300 BC – in central Greece (excavated under the co-direction of Prof. Yannis Hamilakis – University of Southampton/British School at Athens and Dr Kyparissi – Greek Ministry of Culture), offers a unique opportunity to revolutionise the way we study and understand prehistoric figurines. This assemblage, one of the ten most significant archaeological discoveries in 2013 according to Heritage Daily, is the largest in Greece, and one of the largest in Southeastern Europe: more than 300 figurines and figurine parts have been retrieved to date (2001-2012) from a relatively limited excavation area, and all their contextual associations have been meticulously recorded.


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En route for Easter Island and a piece of Google’s doodle

January 15, 2014
by Mike Pitts

Photogrammetry image of the statue featured in the Google doodle from 15 January 2014 (James Miles, ACRG)

A century ago today, the Mana, an auxiliary schooner captained by Scoresby Routledge, stewarded by his wife Katherine and crewed by a collection of English seamen, fishermen, scientists and the odd Royal Navy lieutenant, had just been hauled up onto a floating deck in Talcahuano on the Chilean coast. They were nearly a year into their voyage. While the ship was being cleaned and checked, they collected supplies sent from England and divided up the stores to last for a six-month stay on Easter Island, their ultimate goal. In the meantime, Scoresby and Katherine took the Trans-Andine railway to Valparaiso. They visited Williamson & Balfour (owners of the island lease) and the Company for the Exploitation of Easter Island in Valparaiso, and studied the Easter Island collection in Santiago museum.

They sighted the island on March 29. Caught up in Pacific repercussions of the first world war, in the event they were to remain there for nearly 17 months.

One of the many things Katherine Routledge achieved during that stay, was to study the petroglyphs and stone houses at the south-west tip of the island. One of those houses had been where Hoa Hakananai’a, the beautiful statue depicted in the Google doodle today, was standing when found and taken by a Royal Navy crew in 1868. She also recorded details about the island’s birdman ceremony.

We found both of these studies offered critical evidence for understanding Hoa Hakananai’a, which we incorporated in the analysis of our new 3D digital survey. Peer-reviewed articles about our project have now been accepted, and we hope will appear later this year.

Google doodle from 15 January 2014

The Oxford Handbook of Light in Archaeology

Konstantinos PapadopoulosNovember 18, 2013
by Konstantinos Papadopoulos


Recently, I signed a contract with Oxford University Press for an interdisciplinary volume entitled The Oxford Handbook of Light in Archaeology. This book, which will be edited by myself and Graeme Earl, is the only book to date dedicated to the concept of light in archaeology, since existing work in this area is either specifically related to forms of illumination, to isolated case studies or to light in literature and iconography.

This volume will undertake an interdisciplinary approach, by considering light in the context of humanities, architecture, engineering, computer science and the arts. As such, it will serve to combine alternative culturally specific analyses of light and an alternative approach to cultural studies. With increasing recognition by archaeologists and anthropologists that archaeological interpretations of space, form and behaviour are missing light as an essential element, this book breaks new ground by placing light at the heart of archaeological narratives from a broad region of the world and a broad sweep of time.

It will explore many dimensions of lighting and darkness in a wide range of dwellings, settlements, private and public spaces, monuments and religious buildings, as well as in various aspects of everyday life in the past and the present. The book will bring together diverse geographical and chronological studies, ranging from prehistory to the present and from Europe to America.

The book will be divided in three sections:

I. Light in Religion, Worship and Rituals;

II. Natural and Artificial Light in Dwellings, Public Spaces and Working Environments;

III. Theorising Method: Design, Capture and Simulation of Light for Sites, Structures, Museums and Artefacts.

It will contain 34 chapters by most of the leading scholars in the field (alphabetical order): Michael Ashley, Mikkel Bille, Eleni Bintsi, Eva Bosch, Efrosyni Boutsikas, Jean-Philippe Carrié, Eleftheria Deko, Matt Gatton, Dragoş Gheorghiou, Lucy Goodison, David Griffiths, Yannis Hamilakis, Jassim Happa, Tim Ingold, Malcolm Innes, Andrew Jones, Constantine M. Kapos, Eleni Kotoula, Eric Lapp, Nessa Leibhammer, Bob Miller, Ioannis Motsianos, Dorina Moullou, Holley Moyes, Axel E. Nielsen, Timothy R Pauketat, Paul Pettitt, Joshua Pollard, Iakovos Potamianos, Maria Sardi, Tim Flohr Sørensen, Frangiskos V. Topalis, Ruth M. Van Dyke, William Walker, Ian West, Chris Woolgar, Athanassia Zografou.

The volume is scheduled to be published in 2015
in the Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology series by