Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Managing Archaeolgy in Upland Peats

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In Lancaster last week, we hosted a seminar reporting on the results of a project for English Heritage that we’ve been working on since 2003 on managing archaeology in the upland peat areas.

The reason for the project was that in the UK and particularly in the North West we have rich archaeological landscapes in and around areas of upland peats. In the Lake District for example, there are prehistoric settlements spreading over wide areas, most of which are covered and protected by a thick band of peat.

Unfortunately the peat is disappearing, due to a wide range of factors. The purpose of our project was to assess the various factors, try and figure out where the archaeology might be (difficult when it’s covered by the peat) and to make suggestions for the management of the peat to try and stop it eroding away.

My part in the project was to provide the GIS support, mapping the peat, the threats to the peat, the archaeology, and trying to create some kind of viable model to manage the interaction between them. It was the first major GIS job that I did for the organisation, and as such my techniques to start with were pretty crude (the benefit of hindsight), but we did come up with a methodological toolkit that might work for other users in other areas. Not a strict set of instructions to follow, but a set of techniques that could be used as appropriate.

The seminar last week was really great because it was attended by people from a wide range of disciplines who have a role in managing the uplands. We had representatives of the land owners, biologists, palaeoecologists, farmers, the fire service as well as archaeologists, all talking about land management from their perspective and enjoying the debate.

What was very interesting and encouraging was the common themes that ran through the various presentations and debates:

  • More communication between people from different disciplines

  • Sharing data, and an awareness of what datasets people have available

  • A clear understanding of what is important to your discipline

  • Are there areas of conflict/synergy between your requirements and other stakeholders

  • What are the delivery mechanisms

  • Monitoring the success of schemes after they have been set up

In other words- talk to people, share ideas and data, be clear about you want and be prepared to work with others who may have different requirements, focus on the end product, and don’t just abandon it once you’ve delivered.

These are clearly themes that can and should be applied to almost every type of collaborative work ever, but believe me it was both strange and heartening to hear a bunch of archaeologists, firemen and ecological types saying it!

All in all I think the seminar was a big success. The next job is to finish the final report in light of some of the conclusions drawn, and then we move on to the next big thing…

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