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The University of Southampton
Archaeology Part of Humanities

Working together to understand the past

Published: 23 June 2010
Iridis3 Supercomputer

Southampton’s archaeologists have joined forces with academics from other parts of the University to win a series of major grants aimed at increasing our understanding of the past.

“Although archaeological research is focussed on the study of people in the past through the material culture they leave behind, it also has a great deal to gain from the latest technological advances,”

says Senior Lecturer Dr Graeme Earl .

“Working with world-leading experts in computer science and other disciplines across the University brings new insights into archaeological artefacts and offers new research possibilities, and methods for communicating our work. In addition, the facilities available to us here, such as the new Iridis3 supercomputer , place us in a unique position.”

He heads a project to give researchers the opportunity to examine rare texts and historic artefacts online. This research, funded by £290k from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) DEDEFI initiative ( Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement For Impact ) uses Reflectance Transformation Imaging technology (RTI) to create flexible digital resources for study. It is being trialled using Roman tablets from Vindolanda, stone inscriptions and cuneiform tablets in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and other collections, and a range of unique archaeological artefacts. Graeme is working with Dr Kirk Martinez from Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and academics from the University of Oxford.

Archaeology is also contributing to a project aimed at streamlining how research data is stored and accessed across the University. Dr Kenji Takeda from the School of Engineering Sciences heads the Institutional Data Management Blueprint (IDMB) initiative which has attracted £300k funding from JISC.  Graeme represents Archaeology on the project which also serves as a pilot for testing data management processes to be adopted across the University; other colleagues come from ECS, Chemistry, i-Solutions and the University Library.

Graeme and Professor Luc Moreau from ECS are working together on the multi-disciplinary PATINA project. Headed by academics from the University of Bristol and involving a range of organisations including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and Microsoft Research UK, researchers are examining new ways of creating research spaces to study artefacts, both in the digital and ‘real’ worlds.  The three year £1.74M grant is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and AHRC under the Digital Economy programme.

Professor Matthew Johnson , Dr Jo Sofaer and Graeme are also involved in the PARNASSUS project headed by the University of Bath. Researchers from several disciplines have received a total of £800k funding from the AHRC to assess the risk to UK historic buildings and archaeological sites of driving rain and flooding caused by climate change and investigate ways of minimising damage.

Southampton has for more than twenty years been a focus for research blending studies of the past with high technology, and the Archaeological Computing Research Group within the School of Humanities has an international reputation. In addition to staff research it hosts a large number of PhD students focused on archaeological computation and also teaches the world’s longest running MSc programmes in the area.

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