Saturday, 16 November 2013

5 fun facts about Southampton University

Time for 5 more fun facts! This time I will focus on Southampton University; it's history and archaeology ~(mostly buildings based). Hopefully not as long as the last few articles I've done!

1.The University of Southampton was founded in 1862, with funds from the then-deceased Henry Robinson Hartley (hence why the University was originally called the "Hartley Institution")(Nash and Sherwood 2002). The son of a wealthy wine merchant, he actually disliked Southampton during his adult life, never actually living in the city itself! This was a time of great social and economic change in Southampton; the population roughly quadrupled in 40 years from 1815-1855, bringing the industrial revolution with it (ibid.). Nonetheless, he did enjoy Southampton as a child.
On his deathbed in 1850, he bequeathed his estate to the "Corporation of Southampton" (basically the city council), with the intention of creating "a small serve as a repository for my household furniture, books, manuscripts, and other moveables"(ibid.). This comprised most of the Highfield Campus in Southampton. The Corporation then spent the next decade arguing whether the money should be spent on a "University College" or an Institute, the main difference being that the college would be quite similar to the ones founded in London (University College London) and Manchester (Owens College, by then the only other "colleges" in England, in the strictest sense of the word; Durham University was founded in 1836, but wasn't really a "University College" by this point, having multiple colleges like Oxford and Cambridge). Meanwhile the Institute had members, but not students, although it gave lectures. There was also a small legal matter involving Hartley's relatives, who won half of the money bequeathed by Hartley to the Corporation! In the end, the Institute won out even though it would originally be designed for a smaller section (i.e. richer) section of society.

2.  However, in 1883, the Institute became a College, after a series of corruption allegations bought about by lecturers on the Institute's Council, leading to the Magnus Report of the Corporation's Technical Instruction Committee of the 1890's, that changed the Institute into a College (ibid.). After a few years of wangling, it became a University College in 1902 (ibid), which meant that some students could take their exams at Southampton and be awarded a degree from the University of London! Ultimately the University of Southampton came into being in 1952, being given a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth II, in one of the first acts of her reign (ibid).

3.  Other campuses in the area include the National Oceanographic Centre and the Winchester School of Art. The National Oceanographic centre was part of the University of Southampton. It was constructed in the 1980's to promote Southampton's maritime research. In 2010 it merged with a similar facility in Liverpool and owned by the Natural Environment Research Council (National Oceanography Centre, 2013). The School of Art is based in Winchester, and has been around in various guises since 1860, making it older than the Hartley Institute (Nash and Sherwood 2002: p.120)! During the 1990's it acquired a huge number of new students through expansion, but then also became part of the University of Southampton, after about 15 years of discussions that had started in the 1980's.

4. Avenue Campus was developed out of Richard Taunton's College, which was purchased in 1993. Founded by this 18th century mayor of Southampton, this school had been around since the 18th century, providing free education, although it had only been on the Avenue Campus site since 1926. Today the Richard Taunton school continues on Hill Lane in Southampton (Old Tauntonian's Association 2013).

5. Many of the University buildings described above survive today; the original Hartley Institute building was the Hartley library (mostly redeveloped though), the modern library was built in the 1930's to honour Edward Turner Sims, the Avenue Campus was developed on the inside, but the exterior largely untouched (although a new archaeology department was added recently to Avenue Campus). 

Image 1: The Hartley library, originally called the Turner Sims library, because it was built in mmory of Edward Turner Sims (Southampton University)

While a number of other buildings are largely modern, these reflect Southampton's rapid rise as one of the country's leading Universities in the modern era, catering for all students across the UK; a contrast to the selective institute that the University was founded on! However, it hasn't all been plain sailing: see here for a recent fire in the computer science building! Fortunately no one was hurt.
  So Southampton's modenr history has shown how the rapid expansion of the University can still complement the history and archaeology of the past; mainly by preservation and consolodation of multiple schools. By losing it's London connection, Southampton University was able to focus on it's local area, and forge it's own destiny as a successful independent University.

Any comments are appreciated!


Nash, S and Sherwood, M., 2002, The University of Southampton: An Illustrated History, James and James, London

National Oceanography Centre, last updated 2013, Our Organisation: About Us,, last accessed 16/11/2013,

Old Tauntonian's Association, last updated 2013, College History, last accessed 16/11/2013


Image 1: Southampton University, last updated unknown, Hartley Library,, last accessed 16/11/2013


Link: last updated 31/10/2013, Southampton Uni Research Centre Blaze,, last accessed 16/11/2013

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Archaeological Techniques for the 21st century

There have been a huge range of developments in technology in the last few years; ipods, then iphones; free software that you can use on your laptop; cheap cameras and dvd players, etc. etc. This has some interesting side effects for commercial and academic archaeology (mostly because as you produce more of something, generally the cheaper it gets), but here are a few things you may not have heard of that are finding uses in archaeology (apologies, this is a long post!):

RTI (not to be confused with Real Time Information, a system of Pay as You Earn in the UK!)

Reflective (or reflectance) Transformative Imaging (RTI) is a relatively new technique that involves a camera (ideally high resolution), a few bits of kit and a PC with the right software installed. The idea is that 2-dimensional surfaces are deceitful; they are often made up of grooves, holes and other depressions which have been created either by nature or by man. You can tell the difference usually because the man made grooves look, well, man made. More often they are following a known human pattern (see image 1 below). Conventional camera-taking techniques don't capture these depressions on their own. But, you can take multiple images of one 2-dimensional surface from different angles, and with the help of processing software, you can see these depressions! It can't work without the software, because the software can work out the mathematical calculations involved in finding these depressions, creating a 3-dimensional image; this is not something that you can just do right now with your own camera (unless you buy/borrow the kit!). See here for more information on the technique. 

This is a particularly good technique, not just for the potential to reveal new information about a painting or a wall carving (i.e. the paint might have gone away but the traces can still be found by this technique), but also as a good way of digitally storing the information about these objects; by forcing the archaeologists to take more photos! This technique can be used on any surface, such as coins. If you can photograph it, you can RTI it!

Image 1: Normal image in bottom left, after RTI processing on the top right. Note how here the grooves tend to follow the painting (Cultural Heritage Imaging).

There are some drawbacks however. The kit itself is a little pricey (at $350) and there is only one manufacturer of the equipment (based in the USA). And currently it's main use has been limited to California in the USA. But, Southampton University and Oxford University have been pioneering its use in the UK, in one case in churches, in collaboration with local archaeological groups (). The software itself (called RTIbuilder) is now free to download.

surface normals diagram 1
rti diagram 2
Image 2: Above is the direction light normally travels when captured from one angle. The bottom image shows how multiple angles can "capture" the effect of the grooves etc., simply because the software knows where the light source is coming from, and where the picture is being taken from. Magic! (Cultural heritage Imaging) 

There are a number of blogs now dedicated to the advancement of RTI (mostly American); see here for an example of a discussion of which is the best camera to use in RTI.

Motion-Capture (with thanks to Jasmine Noble-Shelley for this one!)

The use of motion-capture technology in archaeology is rare, but not unheard of. It has been used in museums for a number of applications, such as in the Louvre, and the Roskilde museum in Denmark. In Britain, Jasmine Noble-Shelley pioneered the use of an Xbox Kinect to create a "virtual excavation" using nothing more than some cameras, a sandpit and some willing volunteers (Noble-Shelley 2013)! This allows the volunteers to engage much more with an actual site than they could normally, especially if the site in question is able to attract the public's imagination, such as Pompeii or Tutukhamun's tomb (Noble-Shelley 2013). Some of the software that was used in a particular geological project is openware (i.e. free to download) and can be found here.

Both of these sites are now under threat from the sheer weight of visitor numbers. So this could also be the way forward for allowing people to visit "real" sites by creating 3-dimensional ones that can be explored using motion-capture devices, without actualy visiting them!

Ipads (with thanks to Craig-Lee Holt for this one! Saw your facebook post about this topic a while back)

Going from Microsoft to Apple, who would have thought that Ipads would have a direct application in the field of archaeology? In Britain and the USA at least, they have found their way onto commercial excavations, saving time and money by allowing archaeologists to record the archaeology directly into a database, rather than using paper formats, then copying it out later into a database. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But imagine trying to lug a computer or even a laptop around a muddy excavation to do the same task as the Ipad! Also see here for an academic project in Palestine that is

Laser scanning techniques

Lasers have come a long way from being just fancy light displays! In addition to laser printers, now you can use lasers to create 3 dimensional images of monuments! In Britain, by far the most famous example of this technique is Stonehenge. But did you know that there are multiple ways of applying lasers to record archaeology?

  • Triangulating 3-D scanners
    • This technique simply uses the principle of triangulation (not dissimilar to RTI above), by placing a digital camera at a different angle to the laser, the 3-dimensional component of the image can be worked out. This leads to a very high resolution (quality) and accuracy of the surface (Laser Scanning Stonehenge/Archaeoptics 2003). This was the technique applied to Stonehenge a few years ago, and is better suited to a more abstract 3-dimensional surface.
  • Time of Flight 3-D scanners
    • This technique differs because it's principles are borrowed from Sonar: send out a laser and measure the time taken for the laser to return. So a laser scannign  device can be set up to move up and down to scan a surface. Hence, a 2-dimensional surface can be recorded quite easily with this technique, although it is not quite as high-resolution and high-quality as the triangulation method (Laser scanning Stonehenge/archaeoptics 2003).
  • CT (computer tomography) scan
    • A comparative newcomer to the game, coming from a medical background, which in itself is an unusual route. But it provides an excellent, high-quality scanning procedure that can capture the tiniest of details. The vast majority of CT scans have been used on mummies thus far (Hughes 2011), but it has also been used recently on the Hilton of Cadboll cross in Scotland, which stood about over 5m tall but is now in over 3,000 pieces(National Museums Scotland)! You can get involved in reconstructing the cross  here.
  • LIDAR (Light detection and ranging)
    • All of the above techniques are great for individual artefacts and monuments, but what if we want a (quite literal) bigger picture? LIDAR has come into it's own in recent years, although it was also being used in the 1960's for submarines. Usually taken from a plane, this technique involves the same principles as Time of Flight, but it can take 10,000's of points per second! It has been used to map areas of land from smalls fields right up to county level and beyond (English Heritage)!


Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have been around since the 60's, with the first archaeological application in the 1970's. It then fell out of favour during the 1980's, but has made quite a comeback since the 1990's (Wheatley and Gillings 2002), to such an extent that the chances are that any archaeological project today will make some use of it, even if it is just to create a map. GIS describes a software package that deals in geographical spatial information, mainly in map form. But, it also allows you to create spatial data, either in relation to other layers or on it's own, analyse the data, and even start to predict where sites can be found (amongst other things)! However, this requires a lot of computing power, even for a "basic" GIS, so make sure you have a powerful laptop if you are going to try these at home.

There is free software for GIS that you can simply put onto your laptop for free, such as GRASS (at the time of writing, the latest version was 6.4.3). An alternative that has been developed exclusively without archaeology in mind, but can still be used, is CorelDRAW. It is pretty old now, I'm not entirely sure if you can get it online for free, but it's worth a look to see similarities between other packages.

The major disadvantage (aside from computing power and storage) is top-down approach of most GIS programs; very few explicitly model the individual human's activities, whether they are in the past or the present. Therefore it is better to use GIS as a large map that is used for sweeping statements about the past landscape, than for trying to model one person's actions within a particular environment.

Graphics Software

Graphics software is becoming more and more accessible to all disciplines. Again, more free software is available from many places. In archaeology, it can be used on a variety of topics, from displaying unique symbols on a map to putting the finishing touches to a report.


Geophysics has become a mainstay of archaeological research these days; even 20 years ago it was a popular (albeit relatively more expensive) technique. There are 3 main kinds of geophysics (although there are some other types, see above for LIDAR, which is strictly speaking a geophysical technique):

  • Magnetometry; generally the most popular of the techniques, it is the cheapest and the fastest. It relies on taking readings of the magnetic field of objects in the ground, but also the background magnetic field. By doing some clever math, it can try to work out how strong the magnetic field is from the archaeological objects in the ground! There are a small variety of different types of magnetometers, each essentially serving the same purpose However, it is an extremely sensitive object; you can't wear metallic objects, or pass under telegraph poles with magnetometers (don't even think of going near fences!), because the magnetic field is so strong, that the machine simply can't make out what's underneath the soil. Also not advised to use when there is a solar flare happening in space that is heading towards earth.
  • Resistivity; Much slower than magnetometry, but no less useful, this machine puts electromagnetic probes into the surface, generates a small electric current, and two more static probes recieve the signal. It detects the electrical resistance of objects under the ground, although the effectiveness of the technique varies depending on the water content of the soil (needs a little to be good), and the distance between the two sets of probes. I found the foundations o a church once using tresistivity! The slowness of the technique means that magnetometry is often preferred when there is little time to survey a large area.
  • Ground Penetrating Radar(GPR); the last technique relies on radar to create "time-slices", or layers, of what is underneath the ground. It is the slowest technique by far, and the most expensive, but the quality of the results often outweigh the negatives in a small area. nklike the other two methods, there are very few background conditions that have to be met.

Google Earth

Google Earth has found its way into a number of archaeological projects and reports, with it's total view of the earth, and now a new "time-depth" feature, which allows you to access aerial photographs from the past, particularly in Britain for just after World War 2 and into the early 20th century in some cases! With the height of the earth also computed, it allows you to make sweeping generalisations of the landscape very quickly, as well as seeing aerial photographs for free, when before you would have to visit certain institutions, like the Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photography, and then pay to have copies of the photographs.

However, there are a number of issues with using Google Earth for Archaeology. We have no idea where Google Earth are getting these images from. Well, we know they are coming from declassified military information and civilian sources, but Google's not going to tell us which is which. Furthermore, Google Earth won't tell us the resolution of the images; if we don't know the resolution, then we can't compare it to other images that archaeologists have taken on higher (or lower) quality cameras. Finally, you will notice that the quality of the images across Google Earth is far from uniform, so some places will have some half-decent images, but other areas less so, which can affect a comparative study in archaeology. Also it is quite tricky to georeference a Google Earth image to a GIS software package. So use with caution, although it is still a free and powerful tool, which can be downloaded for free here

So that's my list of things that are becoming more and more popular in the 21st century, as well as things that have been introduced over the last 10 years or so. This situation will continue to develop, maybe some of these technologies will fall out of fashion, others will set the standard for future technologies to follow. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, if you have any suggestions about other new archaeological techniques please comment below!


National Museums Scotland, last updated unknown, Pictish Puzzle,, last accessed 31/10/2013

English Heritage, last updated 2010, LIDAR, last accessed 31/10/2013

Hughes, S., 2011, CT Scanning in Archaeology, in Computed Tomography - Special Applications, Dr. Luca Saba (Ed.),published by InTech, Available from:

Laser scanning Stonehenge/Archaeoptics, last updated 2003, 3D laser scanning,, last accessed 31/10/2013

Noble-Shelley, J., 2013, The Kinect: Potential and Application within Archaeological Education and Outreach, undergraduate dissertation, University of Southampton

Wheatley, D and Gillings, M., 2002, Spatial Technology and Archaeology: The Archaeological Applications of GIS, Taylor and Francis, London


Image one: Cultural Heritage Imaging, last updated unknown, Reflectance Transformative Imaging (RTI) Sennedjem Lintel from the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.
RTI representation showing color information (bottom portion) and “specular enhancement” mode showing surface shape and enhanced reflectance (top portion), last visited 10/11/2013

Image two: Cultural Heritage Imaging, last updated unknown, Reflectance Transformative Imaging (RTI), Figure 2, last visited 10/11/2013


Link 1:Cultural Heritage Imaging, last updated unknown, Reflectance Transformative Imaging (RTI) last visited 10/11/2013

Link 2: Kreylos, O., last updated 2013, Augmented Reality Sandbox,, last visited 10/11/2013

Link 3: Filemaker, last updated unknown, Jericho Mafjar Project: Filemaker Go for Ipad Modernises Archaeology,, last visited 10/11/2013

Link 4: National Museums Scotland, last update 2013, 3dei: Hilton of Cadboll Stone: A Pictish Puzzle,, last accessed 10/11/2013

link 5: Google, last updated unknown, Google Earth,, last visited 10/11/2013

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Fun Fact special: Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November; Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

Preamble: My fascination with Guy Fawkes comes from a lot of local knowledge, since a lot of the events that relate to the Gunpowder Plot happened not far from where I was growing up. What I am about to do is talk about the Gunpowder Plot from a "local" point of view, although some things have had to be researched to fill in the gaps. Enjoy!

It is London, sometime on the evening of Saturday 5th November. A number of men have gained entry to the cellars below the House of Commons, with the intention of destroying the protestant institution that is (at the was) King James I, who had only acceeded to the throne of the United Kingdom in 1603, and his government lackeys, who can be described as little more than "yes" men at this time. Their tools of destruction? 36 barrels of Gunpowder. They carefully and quietly worked all night to prime the gunpowder, waiting for the king to arrive into Parliament. They left some of their men to guard the gunpowder for a few hours. Nothing could go wrong now, surely? 

But then, after a tip-off, they were attacked by officers of the law and a number of the conspirators were captured (some were killed duing the attack), who were later interrogated and executed. The remainder escaped back up to the midlands. This episode would go down in legend as the "Gunpowder Plot". One of these men, Guy Fawkes, has recieved more attention than any other member of the Plot, but he wasn't actually the ringleader!

Why is this the case, and what motivated a group of wealthy men to risk their lives to kill the monarch? I'm going to delve briefly into the world of 17th century England to reveal why this is the case, and who this man actually was.

Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was born in 1570 in York, into a reasonably well-off protestant family (History Learning Site). The house in York where he was probably born, in Stonegate, York, still stands today. He was baptised at St.Micheal-Le-Belfry as a protestant too.  It is likely that he lived in Bishopthorpe (St. Andrew), just to the South of York, and that he went to the Grammar school in York (Lewis 1848, p.267). He converted to Catholicism in 1586 (Sharp 2005;p.24), so it is likely that his family were not Catholic. Guy became a soldier and went on to fight in the Low Countries for Spain in the late 16th century, where he learned how to use gunpowder for explosives (who owned modern day Belgium and parts of the Netherlands, who were largely non-Catholic) (History Learning Site).

Photo of plaque
Image 1: The plaque commemorating the baptism of Guy Fawkes in Yok (Open Plaques)

Robert Catesby, meanwhile, was born into a very wealthy midland family in Leicestershire (Lathbury 1841; 18), with property all over the midlands, including Catesby manor at Ashby St. Ledgers in Northamptonshire, where he spent a good deal of his time (Incidientally, his ancestor, William Catesby, who was buried under a marble slab within the same manor, was a favourite of Richard III, who was recently excavted in Leicester!). The manor still exists today, as does the church of The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Leodegarius, which contains some wonderful medieval features. In fact, a lot of the landscape in this area of the midlands has largely survived from this time up to the present day, preserving the scene of what it would have looked like around the 17th century (see here for more information)! Robert's grandparents had died as Catholic martyrs during the pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 (Walsh 2004; p.78).

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Catholics like Robert and Guy hoped that James Stuart (James VI of Scotland/I of England) would be more tolerant of Catholics, and perhaps give equal status to them. But he didn't. Catholic lives more miserable thorugh even more harsher laws that meant they couldn't even go to court if they were owed rent! This was in addition to the laws that meant simply being Catholic could put you in prison. For Robert Catesby, enough was enough. He told people like Thomas Wintour (Winter), who introduced Guy to Robert, and from here more conspirators were added. They devised a plan, or plot, to kill the king in such a way that would take down the government of the day with him. This scheming led to the Gunpowder plot!

Image 2:The gunpowder Plot Conspirators; there were thirteen in all. they were Robert Catesby, Robert Winter, Thomas Percy, Thomas Winter, John Wright, Christopher Wright, Everard Digby (a knight!), Ambrose Rookwood, Francis Tresham, John grant, Robert Keys and Guy Fawkes. (History Learning Site, Lathbury 1841; 17)

Among the many places where the conspirators met to discuss the plot was at Bisley in Gloucestershire, just 10 miles south east of Gloucester (Lewis 1848). This would have been because of the constant threat of arrest for being Catholic, but also because they could avoid being arrested thanks to Catesby's connections. It is reputed that they met at Catesby's manor in Ashby St. Ledgers before going to London on the 4th November, 1605. They had hired out some cellars undeneath the Houses of Parliament, with the intention of stuffing them with gunpowder barrels that they had acquired. Fawkes's knowledge of gunpowder from fighting in Europe would serve their plot well.

Image 3: The front of Catesby manor, Ashby St. Ledgers (English Buildings 2010)

They thought it was all going to plan; they had their 36 barrels of gunpowder inside the cellars, ready to blow when the king arrived. But in reality it is likely that the king knew of this attempt on his life, and they were waiting for the right moment to catch the perpetrators in the act. In the end, a mixture of luck (catching them before they set off the gunpowder!) and poor planning on Robert Catesby's part (for telling so many people about his plot) led to the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Robert escaped up to the Midlands with some of the others, originally to Coombe Abbey, near Coventry. But was later killed by soldiers at Holbeche House in Staffordshire, in a stand-off with the Sheriff of Worcestershire (History Learning Site).

So why does Guy Fawkes get so much attention? He got captured during the attack under the Houses of Parliament, and tortured (see his signatures below!), before he was charged with treason and executed. Being used to explosives, he could be caught in the act red handed. His name became synonymous with Catholic sentiment across England around this time, as a sort of martyr, but it also justified to many non-catholics that Catholics were not very nice people, and deserved the second class rate they had been given. Fawkes's execution also recieved a lot more publicity than Catesby's death, so his name stuck with the Gunpowder Plot.

Image: (after) English School - Signature of Guy Fawkes (1570-1606)
Image 4: The signature of Guy Fawkes before and after his interrogation (MyArtPrints). 

So poor Guy Fawkes got the publicity for the botched plan, and Catesby largely gets away with little of the notoriety. Bonfire night was originally used as a celebration to remind English people about the evils of catholicism! Thankfully today this isn't the case. Today, the cellars under the houses of Parliament, the buildings in York discussed above, and a number of the manors and houses that were used around the Midlands for the plot still stand, albeit some have been heavily modified. But the best example of the 17th century landscape lies in North West Northamptonshire, where the plotters spent their final full evening together 4th November, 1605. Well worth a visit!


History Learning Site, last updated unknown, Robert Catesby, last accessed 27/10/2013,

Lathbury, T., 1841, Guy Fawkes, Or, A Complete History of The Gunpowder Plot, A.D. 1605: with A Development of the Principles of the Conspirators, and Some Notices of the Revolution of 1688, John E. Parker, West Strand, London

Lewis, S (ed.)., 1848, A Topographical Dictionary of England, Institute of Historical Research, pp.267,

Sharpe, J., 2005, Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, Profile Books, London

Walsh, B., 2004, Empires and Citizens: Book 2, Nelson Thornes, Cheltenham pp.78-


Image 1: Open Plaque, last accessed 4/10/2013,Plaque no. 6302,, last updated unknown.

Image 2: History Learning Site, last accessed 27/10/2013, Robert Catesby,, last updated unknown

Image 3: Philip Wilkinson, last accessed 3/11/2013, Ashby St. Ledgers, Northamptonshire,, last updated November 2010 

Image 4: MyArtPrints, last accessed 4/10/2013, Signature of Guy Fawkes,, last updated unknown