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The University of Southampton
TAG 2016 Southampton

S19. Praxis and Practice. Reflecting on Fieldwork, Data and Approaches to Sites and Landscapes

Session sponsored by Allied Associates geophysical ltd

Session organizer:

Kristian Strutt (University of Southampton,

Session abstract:

Praxis, the process by which a theory or skill is enacted and realised, is a central principle in archaeological fieldwork and our approach to monuments, sites and landscapes. Beyond the notion of practice as the application of a method, or the habitual and expected way of carrying out a task, praxis embodies the approach of ‘theory plus action’ and reflection on the way in which we practice. This aspect of research permeates our approach to fieldwork, from informing research objectives, data collection through survey, remote sensing and excavation, to the analysis and interpretation of data, and representing the results of this to other colleagues and professionals.

This session provides a forum for presenting the results of projects centred on archaeological fieldwork of sites and landscapes, or following particular themes based on site or monument type or period. The focus should be on the relationship between how archaeologists apply methodologies in fieldwork and data analysis, how skills are developed and realised, and how these affect our interpretation of archaeological sites and landscapes. This includes how we approach the archaeological record in terms of objectives in fieldwork, how we perceive field skills, and how practice becomes entrenched or can be questioned and changed, and how we reflect on our actions during field research. In addition approaches to data analysis and interpretation can be considered. How do we approach data processing, analysis and interpretation, and how do we reflect on the results of fieldwork?

Methods of research can include remotely sensed data, photogrammetry, laser scanning, geophysical survey, topographic survey, building survey, geomorphological analysis and excavation, or the integration of different methods in the analysis of sites and landscapes. Discourse can focus on a particular component of a field project, or present the broad approach for a field project, reflecting on how our theories and assumptions can entrench our ideas, and how developing theories and approaches to fieldwork, data processing and analysis can enrich field research.

Contributor Abstracts:

Landscapes of character and significance: reflections on multi-disciplinary archaeological survey projects

Jonathan Last (Historic England)

Historic England and its previous incarnation, English Heritage, have over many years undertaken landscape survey projects using various combinations of archaeological techniques, often motivated by heritage protection objectives. Drawing on a recent review of some of these projects, my paper considers how their objectives, methodologies and resources influence the kinds of narrative that emerge from them, and how a more radical approach to the idea of landscape could help open up new forms of historical understanding that are relevant to current social and political concerns.

Beyond the 3rd Dimension - Forgotten Wrecks in Praxis

Brandon Mason (Maritime Archaeology Trust)

In recent years the Maritime Archaeology Trust has benefited from the latest advances in computer vision and digital presentation to drive home the impact of our work while also gathering vast quantities of site data. This paper will demonstrate how the MAT’s approach to underwater recording has developed over a period of decades by using a number of case study sites and visualisations while also examining how this has gradually shaped our expectations of a site record and its interpretation. Reliance on an inherently optical approach can embed practical and praxial limitations, but by recognising these the possibility to better employ the advantages of 3D recording methods, which can provide unique opportunities to present, discuss and collaborate on our results, within a thematic research project can be achieved. Adopting and exploring underwater visualisation initiatives over the past five years has greatly expanded our capacity to record and disseminate submerged cultural heritage. The Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War project running from 2014 to 2018 and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund has been a major driver for the application and development of the latest visualisation techniques applied to the underwater environments in which we work. This paper will show the wide range of tools that are being utilised, such as virtual reality and mobile exhibition spaces, to demonstrate how data capture, processing and visualisation can be seen as an important part of an integrated thematic interpretation. 

Reflections on the Nile. The Use of an Integrated Methodology for Evaluating the Theban Landscape at Luxor

Kristian Strutt (University of Southampton) and Angus Graham (University of Uppsala)

Since 2012 the Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey (THaWS) has been investigating the archaeology of the Nile floodplain and desert edge at ancient Thebes, and analysing the changing form of the river and its relationship to the temples and other ritual complexes. The project has to date utilised a number of non-intrusive and intrusive methods in addressing its objectives, including geoarchaeological survey, geophysical survey and GPS survey. However, the scale of the landscape and the diverse nature of the environment in question has presented a number of methodological and praxial issues that have had to be addressed, from the logistical scope of the project and access to areas crucial to the research, to the limitations of the techniques in relation to the archaeological and natural deposits in the area. This paper presents the diverse methods used by the project and addresses the reflexive nature of the approach to the landscape with the input of scholars from multiple disciplines, and how adaptation of some of the fundamental techniques has helped our understanding of some of the major human-made and natural features in the Theban landscape, and how the waterways and ritual complexes may have functioned. 

Driving change in field methodology: from proselytising to participation

Paul Everill (Archaeology, University of Winchester)

Having worked in Georgia (former SSR) since 2001, the field methodology employed at Nokalakevi has evolved to suit the site yet its origins are firmly rooted in the British approach. Although our Georgian colleagues were keen to embrace a modern methodology, and have generated a great deal of interest internally as a result, there has always been a tension between wanting to encourage and foster best practice versus wanting to avoid a post-colonial imposition of British methods by British archaeologists.

This paper considers the emergence of Single Context Recording (SCR) in Britain in the 1970s and the disciplinary schisms that it engendered – largely as a result of the proselytising of its early converts and the inflexibility of some traditionalists. It is from this period, when the perceived battle to ‘democratise’ archaeology was fought through methodological change, that we inherit the worst of the lingering academic/ commercial divide.

By actively critiquing both SCR and traditional approaches to site organisation, rather than passively adopting a methodology, it becomes possible to take a flexible approach that sits outside both while maintaining best-practice standards. This paper will also consider how the transparent consideration and discussion of recording strategies and site management has enabled the methodology at Nokalakevi to be inclusive rather than exclusive. While it is undeniably British in style, it has evolved within an Anglo-Georgian collaboration that has lasted for over 15 years and, as a result, is setting benchmarks for excavation and recording in Georgia that are likely to last many more years.

Filling up the disk drive: the use of high density GPR arrays for large area geophysical survey

Neil Linford (Historic England)

Since 2008 Historic England (formerly English Heritage) has been developing the use of vehicle towed high density Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) arrays for investigating a range of archaeological sites and landscapes. Such systems allow the collection of data from a series of 20 or more individual antenna elements, with a sub decimetre cross line spacing approaching Nyquist sampling limits, at rates of acquisition that come close to magnetic survey. Whilst the resulting data can often provide high horizontal resolution and depth information, some significant challenges remain in terms of the technical deployment and subsequent data handling given the large volume of data acquired (approximately 10GB per hectare). Such data volumes not only rapidly fill field disk drives, but can also be difficult to process in the field to allow appropriate data quality assurance and confirm adequate survey coverage. This paper aims to explore the methodological advantages to acquiring high density 3-dimensional data from large areas, for example more fully mapping geomorphological and more subtle archaeological features, whilst acknowledging the not inconsiderable issues regarding the volume of data created. Appropriate antenna design for typical wet soils encountered in the UK, the challenges of moving platform positional control and the development of simultaneous data processing software during acquisition will be considered, together with the challenges of data interpretation through semi-automated anomaly extraction algorithms and subsequent data archiving concerns.

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