As a PhD student, rapidly approaching the final stages of my project, a typical day is often spent hibernating in my home office, furiously typing away and desperately attempting to finish data processing. Fortunately for both you, reader, and for my own sanity, I occasionally emerge from the depths of my dreary writing isolation to engage with the real world of archaeology for a little while. At the time of writing, yesterday was one such day where I resurfaced, blinking in the cold light of the “outdoors” to help a fellow PhD student, Beverley Still, with her fieldwork in the North Pennines.
6:30am: An early start, both as I have a little bit of travelling to do this morning and as I feel giddy from the excitement of finally being on a real archaeological site. Due to the pandemic, it’s been nearly 2 years since I last stepped foot on an excavation, so I feel a little bit like it’s my first day of school. I spend some time to check my kit, ensuring I have the essentials (food, boots, camera, and of course, a trowel), then head out.
7:40am: I get on a very quiet bus towards Crook, where I’m being picked up by another colleague, Perry Gardner, to head to site. The drive over is very scenic, and the landscape bursting with archaeology.
9:00am: Arrival on site and I’m introduced to the community archaeology group, Altogether Archaeology, who are working with Beverley on this site. I’m warmly greeted, and my role as “the photogrammetry person” is announced to the group. Photogrammetry is a method for making a 3D model, which takes a series of overlapping images at different angles around an object or feature, then uses software to build the model. Whilst this may sound simple enough, I feel a little nervous about doing this on an active excavation – my previous experience of photogrammetry has been limited to caves (where things like lighting can be easily controlled), and the bright sunny weather is going to pose some challenges. I’m sure this will be a steep learning curve.
9:30am: I’m shown around the site, and placed in the furthest trench where an interesting feature has emerged from the previous few weeks. Praying that there will be some cloud cover, and half-jokingly suggesting we all perform a rain dance, I set to work cleaning the feature in one half of the trench, as the others continue excavating in the other half. Sweeping loose sediment and removing grass (and the odd bits of sheep poo) are important to ensure the feature looks clear in the 3D model.
11:00am: Coffee break, and it dawns on me that it may take longer than I anticipated to clean. The stones in the feature make it difficult to remove loose sediment – if only there was an archaeological hoover we could bust out!
11:30am: Back to work, and my cleaning has caught the attention of a curious sheep, that comes close to the trench to supervise.
12:00pm: Aha! Some cloud cover! I enthusiastically grab my camera, remove the lens cap and… the sun is out again. No matter, I’m sure more clouds will come soon.
1:00pm: Lunch break, and I get chatting to the group. As with most community archaeology digs, it’s an eclectic group of people, from GPs to farmers. It highlights the joy of archaeology for me; its accessibility brings with it a huge diversity of perspectives on the past.
1:30pm: Back to work again! I seize the opportunity to do a little bit of excavating, whilst I’m waiting for both cloud cover and for the final corner of the trench to be ready for photogrammetry.
3:20pm: No luck with the cloud yet, and we’re running out of time! I mention to Beverley that I should get some photos soon, before the day is over. Everyone cleans up and jumps out, and I set to work taking photos. There’s no joy with the clouds, and nothing to provide adequate shade either, but we decided it’s better to have an imperfect model than none at all. The 3D model will serve as a record for this upper layer of the feature. It’s much quicker than drawing, and can be inspected in 3-dimensions later on.
4:00pm: Around 200 photos later, and I feel I’ve adequately captured all angles and aspects of the trench. Fingers crossed this turns out well in the model!
4:30pm: After packing up, we had back from site. My aching body reminds me of how long it’s been since I did any form of excavating, but it’s making me want to return back to the field soon!
7:00pm: I get back home, and start uploading the photos from today. I filter through to check for quality and select the ones that I feel will be best for the 3D model. Whilst the images need to overlap, I perhaps went a little overboard on site from the fear of missing areas, so I remove any near identical photos. After uploading them into Agisoft Metashape, I set the program to work for the evening, then take a much-needed shower! I’ll check back later on how the model is going... perhaps after food and some rest.
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