Tag Archives: Ground Penetrating Radar

One hundred and eighty!

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

As much as I would enjoy getting three triple tops, in this case the 180 refers to the number of posts on this blog.  We have had almost 50,000 views and the text is now almost 100,000 words.  That’s more than a PhD thesis…  There are also over a thousand images in the media library.  Granted, some of those are of dogs and sunsets, but there’s nowt wrong with that!

Just a quick posting tonight as I have been struggling with some awkward data processing.  Although we lost half a day to rain, all three teams did an excellent job before the heavens opened.

The res team managed an excellent four grids today which took them over the cross roads.  The results are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Today’s resistance results.

The buildings to the east of Street 11 show very nicely.  The north side of the cross-roads does not seem to show a building, and it is this spot which the mag data has a very strong feature that I have speculated previously might be a burnt down timber building.  The street running to the SE appears to have been robbed.

The mag team completed another strip of grids in Prae Wood field.  Figure 2 shows progress so far.

Figure 2: the mag survey of Prae Wood field.

An examination of the results from today does not (Figure 3), sadly, show any more enclosures.  What a shame.  Hopefully, weather and equipment willing, the field should be completed soon.

Figure 3: the mag survey at the western end of Prae Wood field.

The GPR team have been working away down the western side of the town completing sawtooth-edged grid after grid.  I can barely keep-up.  Correlating my lists of coordinates and the sketch plans of grids / line numbers takes a bit of time, but I am getting there.  A GPR report will be available soon…ish!

Many thanks to everyone who put up with the rain today.  Fingers crossed for nicer weather tomorrow.

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Half-way point

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

It is amazing (and slightly scary) that we have already reached the half-way point in the 2019 Gorhambury survey season.  To give the surveyor a chance to get a little ahead of the game, we pulled the mag team off Prae Wood Field this morning and got them to help the GPR crew and to do some res.  After lunch, the mag finished Prae Wood and the GPR completed their 80 x 80m block.

The mag completed the last two triangles in the far eastern part of Prae Wood, and re-did one square for which the mag cart had, for some inexplicable reason, developed a horrible stagger error (Jim puts it down to cosmic rays).  I wouldn’t have been too bothered, apart from the fact that one edge of our enclosure passes through that square.  I have started to lay-out the grids for the western edge of Prae Wood field.  Hopefully, by next weekend we can be out of that field and into Church Meadow.  Figure 1 shows the whole mag survey of the field, and Figure 2 the detail of the eastern extremity.

Figure 1: the mag survey of Prae Wood field.

Figure 2: detail of the mag survey of Prae Wood field.

Not much new has shown-up in the eastern extremity of that field, but the enclosure we found a couple of days ago is now a little clearer than before.  The mass of modern noise is unfortunate.

The res survey was extended up to the hedge line in the theatre field, with hints of what is to come.  Just to the north of the hedge line their are many buildings which the res should pick-up nicely.  Figure 3 shows the entire res survey, and Figure 4 a closer view of the second block of the 2019 survey so far (the strip to the west).  As always, the edges are because the blocks have been processed separately and joined-up in Google Earth.  I’ll start to put everything together soon.

Figure 3: the Earth Resistance survey after day 10.

Figure 4: detail of the western edge of the survey showing the new data.

The res survey is now 8ha in extent.  Not counting grids we have had to do twice for various reasons, this is 320,000 measurements for the 0.5m mobile probe separation survey.  (We only started using the 1+2 survey method last summer.)

GPR this year, and last, can be a little challenging (Figures 5 and 6).

Figure 5: Dave Minty (WAS) pushing the GPR in week 1. Image © Mike Smith.

Figure 6: Jim West (CVAHS) pushing the GPR today. Image © Mike Smith.

For most of this week, we have been using a 1m transect spacing with the GPR in order to finish the field this season.  We can do this because (a) the features we know about are big such as the 1955 ditch; (b) we aren’t expecting any stone buildings in this area and (c) if we do find something interesting, it will show in the 1m data, but just won’t be very clear.  Today saw the GPR reach the bottom of the dry valley across which the aqueduct dog-legs, and also joins up with last years survey.  Figure 6 shows the entire GPR survey (very crudely!).

Figure 7: the entire mag survey after day 10.

Figure 8 shows today’s block along with the neighbouring ones.

Figure 8: the day 10 GPR block, slice 4.

The eagle-eyed amongst you would have spotted a long building running SW–NE with its short end on the big black blob.  Yup, we have a building.  Oops.  Well, at least that proves that we can see buildings even with 1m transect spacing, although it does look a bit dot-to-dot.  What are the other things?  Figure 9 shows the mag data.

Figure 9: Mag data in the area of the Day 10 GPR survey. Red square marks today’s block, blue rectangle the building.

The mag data shows us that part of the big black blob is the aqueduct.  We have been speculating whether the aqueduct had some sort of structure to carry it across the dry valley.  This may help us address this question.  The long building, however, does not show in the mag data at all.  We have come across this previously.  The further buildings are from the core of the town, the less likely it is we will see them in the mag data.  This is because, I think, the surrounding soils are less magnetic than in the core of the town.  The mag survey processes out these broad scale background changes in magnetism.  We need to undertake a magnetic susceptibility survey!

Across the SE corner of the mag plot is a long linear feature which is the 1955 ditch shown with green arrows in Figure 9.  As can be seen, some parts are strong and easy to see, other parts are much fainter.  Are we dealing with parts of the ditch that have been filled-in, or parts that were never really dug in the first place?  I suspect the former, but it is only a suspicion. Towards the south part of the 1955 ditch in Figure 9 are two strongly magnetic features in line with the ditch, either side of a low area of magnetism.  This is where Street 11 appears to cross the ditch as shown by the red arrow in Figure 9.  The street barely shows in the mag data but Figure 10 shows how clear it is in the GPR data.

Figure 10: today’s GPR block with some labels.

We have had a very successful two weeks.  Rain has only lost us a few hours (so far… touch wood!) although the wind yesterday was trying.  Many thanks to everyone who has made this all possible.

 

 

 

 

Fighting the wind

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

The weather forecast was for a windy day, and it was correct! At one point, the wind was making the flag on the cathedral look as stiff as a board, but the sun made the the yellow cross glow. Even from the far side of the Roman town it was quite striking.

Logistics led to an unusual format for the day.  Jim, Ellen, Pauline and Dave continued to expand the mag survey in Prae Wood Field.  Meanwhile, Kris, Mike, Anne and Julia firstly finished yesterday’s block of GPR data, curtailed because of rain, and the went on to complete six Earth Resistance survey blocks.

Figure 1 shows the whole of the mag survey in Prae Wood field, and Figure 2 a detail of the eastern end.

Figure 1: Mag survey after day 9.

Figure 2: Eastern end of the mag survey after day 2.

You may well ask why we have a funny diagonal edge to the survey at the eastern end.  This is because there is an electric fence creating a paddock for horses.  As we have gone a little further than we intended, we will just take what we can get.  The big new find is a ditch running across the end of the field.  I have marked this in Figure 3 with red arrows.

Figure 3: Mag survey with arrows (see text).

We have no way of knowing what date this feature is.  The first thing I will have to do is check the historic maps.  It does, however, look like much more than a field boundary.  It is 2 to 3.5m wide.  The blue arrow in Figure 3 indicates a much slighter feature than runs at a right-angle to the big ditch.  Just to the west of the ditch is a strong magnetic feature that I have marked with a yellow arrow.  The form of the feature (a bigger blob next to a smaller blob) is reminiscent of the pottery kilns we have found on the south side of the town.  The magnetic values (c. -8nT to +130nT) is also in the right sort of range for pottery kilns.  Some work I have published previously shows kilns with a maximum range of about -27nT to +180nT.  It is typical that the area where we have started finding potentially interesting features is also where there is the most modern interference from services and so on.

The GPR survey just completed the block left over from yesterday.  A quick look at the data showed no surprises.  The good news, however, is we are just one day’s worth of 1m transects from joining-up with the survey to the north.  The survey is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: the GPR survey after day 9. The red box marks the block completed on days 8 and 9.

The bare strip to the west of the GPR data in Figure 4 is what is left to be surveyed. That to the east has been done (I just haven’t loaded them onto the GE image).  The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the GPR blocks do not quite match-up as well as they used to.  This is a bit complicated but is basically because the OS have up-dated their guidelines for converting OS National Grid coordinates to lat and long.  I work in the National Grid, but Google Earth works in lat/long.  I’ve changed to using the OS’s official conversion webpages, partly because I can up-load them in bulk saving me a great deal of cutting-and-pasting.  My crude use of GE to display the results, however, involves dozens, if not hundreds of image over-lays.  As a result, I have a great deal of work to do to update all the slices from all the GPR blocks to the new coordinate conversions.  Arrgghhh.  The joys of doing a survey over five seasons.

The entire Earth Resistance survey is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: The entire Earth Resistance survey after day 9.

As can be seen, we have covered an impressive area now, about 9ha in total.  The edges in the image are the different years which have been processed slightly differently and crudely put together in Google Earth.  I will be joining them all together soon and trying to make a more seamless image.  Figure 6 shows the western 2019 block.

Figure 6: the 2019 western block of res data (the lighter strip to the west).

Most of what we managed today is the open dry valley between the buildings on on Street 23 (seen in the latest data) and Street 25 which we have yet to survey.  Tomorrow, however, we will start hitting the buildings on the latter street, and especially the cluster of buildings which lie on the junction of Streets 25 and 11 on the western corner of Insula XXXI.  In today’s data (the upper six blocks on the 2019 strip), we picked up the western half of a large building which lies back from the road with a wing running up to the road with a sequence of smaller rooms.  Fascinating stuff.

Tomorrow we are going to start off with GPR and Earth Resistance giving me time to lay-in more grids for the ever-efficient mag team.

Many thanks to everyone who braved the gales today.  We got some great results despite the weather.

 

Partial madness

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

Apologies for not posting the results from yesterday’s survey.  Prae Wood field is an odd shape, leading to a plethora of partial grids for the mag, and the consequent head-scratching as to how it all fits together back at base last night.

Starting with the mag data.  The team have had two days of multiple partial grids, many of which have to be split into several smaller blocks in order to be surveyed.  At times, the sea of flags looked a bit like bunting at a village fete.  The team, however, have made excellent progress and we should finish the field in a few days (weather willing).  Figure 1 shows the results for the whole field.  Mainly, we have found pipelines (the black-and-white linear features) and clearly something big happened in the field near the gate at the south edge (an old building, perhaps?).  Traces of more interesting archaeology are hard to come by, and I have pointed out one with the red arrow.  Slim pickings in this big field, but important to see the empty spaces.

Figure 1: the mag survey in Prae Wood field after day 7 (day 3 of mag survey).

The Earth Resistance survey took a back seat on Wednesday with Graeme and I completing a token single square after lunch.  Today, we did not even try to do any more, the ground is so dry and hard.  Tomorrow the frame is off being repaired.  The single square we did manage showed nothing at all (Figure 2, top left square).  It lies in the valley between the buildings that line streets 23 (with all the buildings that can be seen Figure 2) and street 25 which we have not yet surveyed with the res.

Figure 2: Earth Resistance survey after day 6.

The GPR team, completed a block 40 x 80 at half meter transects yesterday.  As they did not find any buildings, and generally the evidence seems to suggest that the NW side of the town is free of them, we swapped to 1m transect spacings today enabling the team to cover an area 80 x 80m.  We would very much like to complete the GPR of this field this season.  This afternoon the team was joined by Sandy Walkington, President of the Arc and Arc (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Sandy Walkington (SAHAAS) operates the Mala GPR.

Figure 4 shows the 40 x 160m block surveyed over the last three survey days (on the left) next to some blocks surveyed last year.

Figure 4: the GPR data from the last three days of survey.

Although nothing stunning jumps out, unlike the buildings to the east found last year, there are some things to note.  There are clearly some linear features showing in the NW block of data.  Figure 5 shows the mag data from the same area.

Figure 5: the mag data from the same area as Figure 4.

The large dark linear feature that turns a right angle in Figure 5 is our old friend, the 1955 ditch, the late 1st century boundary of the town (Fig. 6, red arrows). There is a second, much fainter, linear feature running parallel to the ditch, that clearly must be related to it (Fig 6, blue arrows).  Note the three faint circular features (Fig. 6, green arrows).

Figure 6: Figure 5 with colourful arrows (see text).

Looking back at the GPR data (Figure 7) we can see all these features reflected in the GPR data, albeit subtly.

Figure 7: GPR data with arrows (cf. Fig 6 and text).

The three circular things would appear to be depressions or pits into which slight more magnetic topsoil has collected.  These is going to be much correlating of features between surveys on the horizon!

Finally, the St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society (aka the “Arc and Arc”), the oldest archaeological society in Hertfordshire will celebrate its 175th anniversary next year.  They have recently launched an updated website.  John Dent, Arc and Arc member and CAGG volunteer right from the beginning, has his 15 minutes of fame on the front page (Figure 8), pushing the GPR at Gorhambury in the first season of our survey in 2015.  Go John!

Figure 8: The Arc and Arc’s new front page featuring John Dent and the GPR.

Tomorrow may, or may not be a bust.  The weather forecast has heavy rain over night but dry during our working day.  What the reality will be, who knows!

Congratulations everybody for some excellent surveying.

Verulamium 2019, days 1 to 4

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

After some wet weather just before the season was due to start, the first four days have proved to be warm and sunny. So much so, the ground is already drying out so much as to make the Earth Resistance survey a little annoying.  So far, we have been concentrating on Earth Resistance and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) in the main “theatre field”, simply due to person-power and logistics.  We are planning to start the mag survey tomorrow with the aim of completing Prae Wood field and then moving to Church Meadow. Mobbs Hole, the field through which the Fosse passes, will be completed at another time of year when we are less likely to disturb the pheasants.

The res survey (Figure 1), firstly concentrated on filling-in the triangle to the east side of the survey area, and then moved to add another strip of grid squares along the western edge.  Figure 2 shows the entire res survey so far.

Figure 1: Jim West and Rhian Morgan running the Earth Resistance meter on Day 3.

Figure 2: the entire Earth Resistance survey after day 4 of the 2019 season.

At the moment, the res surveys have been processed separately and crudely put-together in Google Earth. As a result, you can see the edges between blocks clearly, especially, for example, the triangle to the east. At some point, I need to combine all the grids into one master survey and process them properly!

Figure 3 Looks in more detail at the eastern triangle.

Figure 3: the completed eastern triangle of res data.

The very strong line near the top of the new area is a road partially excavated by Frere.  The lack of clear buildings either side of it near to the modern road is due to the excavations undertaken by Frere.  We have, however, picked up the last bits of the buildings which run parallel to the side of the Insula XVI temple, as well as some new buildings  alongside the modern road.  The building at the south of the new triangle was partially surveyed in 2017, and is not one previously known.

Today we completed five 20x20m blocks on the western edge of the survey area.  The results are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: the western survey area.

The buildings lie along a road, although the road is not at all clear.  The diagonal empty area appears to be a eroded channel cutting across the site visible in the modern topography.  The large corridor house to the east was surveyed in 2017 using the multi-depth Earth Resistance survey (aka “the beast”).

The GPR crew have been working south starting near the area which had such exciting results at the end of 2018.  The GPR leaves entertaining stripes in the grass (Figure 5)!

Figure 5: Stripy GPR grass.

Figure 6 shows the entire GPR survey up to the end of today.  This season’s block of GPR is in colour in the SW corner.

Figure 6: the complete GPR survey after day 4 of the 2019 survey.

Even more than the Earth Resistance survey, the crude use of images in GE is visible.  The data has been collected over five seasons, and processed with different software packages.  I am in the process of putting all the data together into one more consistent analysis.  It might take a while.  Figure 7 shows the four blocks completed thus far.

Figure 7: GPR results after day 4. Slice 7.

Despite the mass of buildings just 20m or so to the east of the block, and on the northern edge, very little seems to lie within the block surveyed.  Comparison to the magnetic data from 2016 (Figure 8) makes it possible to see the so-called ‘1955 ditch’, and one of the GPR blobs is matched by the magnetic blob (it is probably a filled-in gravel / chalk pit).

Figure 8: the magnetic data from the same area as Figure 7.

We are going to complete a couple more 40x80m blocks at 0.5m transect spacing, but then swap to using a cruder 1m transect spacing to ensure we complete this field this season.  Should we pick-up further structures, we can always re-survey targeted areas for more detailed survey.

Many thanks to all our volunteers.  The survey would be impossible without you!  Also thanks to UCL Archaeology and SEAHA CDT for the loan of the equipment. Also, big thanks to Lord Verulam, the Gorhambury Estate and the estate managers for enabling the survey to continue.

Hogshaw Redux

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

Archaeologists often have skeletons in their cupboards. Sometimes they are real skeletons. Sometimes, as here, they are unfinished jobs that they haven’t quite got around to completing.  There are a few surveys we have undertaken that never quite got finished, and for which there are no blog posts (shock! horror!). Way back when we got together with the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society’s Active Archaeology Group and CVAHS to undertake some surveys at Hogshaw in Buckinghamshire.  The AAG had undertaken an interesting research project on this site including topographic survey.  We managed some mag (even though the mag was down to three probes) and some Earth Resistance survey (using our old system).  The results were posted at the time.

The following year, in 2016, we returned and expanded the mag survey and undertook some Ground Penetrating Radar survey.  We had only just started using GPR and I was still learning how to process the data.  The following year, Mike and I returned with the GPR to survey another two areas.  Due to problems with that data (we were distracted by lunch), that I couldn’t solve at the time, the results were put on the back burner.  Fast forward two years and I am now a little more confident and have a better handle on the software.  Having finished processing the awkward survey at Bovenay, I thought I would have a go at re-processing the Hogshaw data.  As you might guess from the fact you are reading this post, I had some luck and so, two years late, here are the results! (See the older post for the previous results and the background to the site.)

The magnetometry survey was mainly aimed at finishing the awkward bits around the edges, and an area to the south where the landowner kindly took down his fence so we could survey across it.  The results are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: the magnetometry data after the 2016 survey.

At first sight the magnetic survey is rather busy and hard to interpret.  This is not unusual in historic period sites where iron artefacts and fired bricks are relatively common.  I have labelled the plot with some basic interpretative points (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: magnetic data interpretation.

The fence line is where the farmer kindly removed the fence so we could survey.  It is fascinating to see that even when the fence has gone, we still detect the line of it.  Iron rust etc. washes down and permeates the soil, I guess.  The platform is a large flat area in the NW corner of the site.  We do not know what it is for, and the mag does not help a great deal (neither did the Earth Resistance last time).

Perhaps the most interesting feature that we detected last time is the four squares inside a square.  This was quite a surprise.  It looks very much like a formal garden.  If it is a garden, there appears to be a line heading out westwards to an area of magnetic noise.  I rather ignored that last time, but now I wonder if that is where the remains of the manor house were?  It was abandoned in the 18th century.

There are two lines of very noisy magnetic readings, one along the current road and one along the northern edge.  I’d like to see how these relate to the topographic features.  I think they line-up with the banks, and could be lines of brick rubble.  Unfortunately, the LiDAR data for this area does not cover the site, ending just under half a mile to the north (Fig. 3).  Typical!

Figure 3: the LiDAR data overlain on a Google Earth satellite image.

Three blocks of radar data were collected.  We used SEAHA’s Mala GPR, and we thank them for the loan.  The location of the three blocks are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Location of GPR blocks.

The southern block was surveyed in 2016 because an excavation had found a couple of stone walls in this area, and it was suggested this might be the location of the lost chapel. Figure 5 shows the top nine time slices (note that north is downwards in these images).

Figure 5: time slices from the southern block.

The first time slice shows the road nicely.  Also helps build confidence when the method detects the absolutely obvious! By about the fourth slice (second row, leftmost image) the road is largely gone but there are two parallel lines running north south.  Could these be our missing walls?  Perhaps, but I suspect they are compacted earth either side of the fence which the farmer took down for us.  The area of high amplitude reflections in the bottom-right corner (north-west) is the area of wet mud around the various temporary structures that were moved.  All in all, a rather disappointing result.

The platform block was an attempt to see if we could work out the function of the platform in the NW corner of the site.  Figure 6 shows nine time slices.

Figure 6: time slices from the platform block.

Again, note north!  There is a vague hint of something in slice 7 (third row, first image) that might be rectangular, but it is quite low down in the sequence, and a bit amorphous.  Looking at the radargrams (the original vertical slices), I cannot see anything particularly wall-like.  I suspect that what little radar energy has been reflected has been greatly emphasised in these plots creating the illusion of something.  Figure 7 shows slice 7 in context.

Figure 7: platform block, slice 7, in context.

Last, but not least, is the “garden” block (Fig. 8).

Figure 8: six GPR time slices over the “garden” block.

In slice 1 (top left), the results just reflect the uneven surface. In slice 2 we can start to see something, but it is in slices 3 and 4 that we can see the “garden” feature quite clearly.  The whole feature is about 36m across with the internal square about 12m by 12m.  To the south there appears another strong linear reflection.  Maybe a road to the house?

Figure 9 shows slice 3 in context.  I’m glad to say that the mag and GPR data match very closely.  The edging around the features must be something both magnetic and that reflects radar data.  Brick is one possibility, and some form of igneous rock is another.

Figure 9: the “garden” block, slice 6 in context.

One might ask why I am so keen on it being a garden feature.  Looking at another much grander garden, we can see many similar features (Fig. 10).  The part I have outlined in red is approximately the same size as ours.  The inner squares of that garden at Hatfield are 11m across, the enclosing hedge 28m by 42m, the outer edges 37m by 57m.  As always, the only real way to tell is to dig a hole…

Figure 10: the gardens at Hatfield House.

Many thanks to everyone who helped on the four days of survey, especially to the very helpful landowner.  Also many thanks to Anne Rowe for commenting on the “garden” feature and sending me some very useful information. Hogshaw still has some secrets to give up!

St Mary Magdelene, Bovenay

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

The small chapel of St Mary Magdalene lies in the south of Buckinghamshire, not far from Windsor and Eton.  Now only used for occasional services, it is looked after by the Friends of Friendless Churches.  It is a lovely little chapel, and well worth a visit (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: the chapel of St Mary Magdelene.

We were contacted via the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society’s Active Archaeology Group to see if we would undertake a geophysical survey around the chapel.  The question was deceptively simple: are there graves around the church?  The reason for the question is partly because, usually, ‘chapels of ease’ were not used for burial, and partly because the nearness of the water table makes digging deep holes problematic.  Although the site is a long way out of our usual area, we agreed to try and see what we could find.

Three things make the job difficult:

  1. burials are notoriously  difficult to detect at the best of times.  They aren’t very big, and usually the same soil that came out of the hole goes back in again pretty quickly.  There is, therefore, relatively little contrast between the grave fill and the surrounding soil.
  2. Small areas are difficult to interpret. The whole churchyard is only 0.07ha (less than two 20x20m grid squares), and you have to subtract the footprint of the church itself and the path.
  3. GPR surveys near standing buildings suffer from airwaves.  Although the antennae are shielded, some of the radar signal will ‘leak’ and will bounce off nearby buildings etc.  Airwaves can be seen in the data as having hyperbolas with a much flatter profile than the usual point sources in the ground such as rocks or walls.

Given the very small size of the area, and the surrounding metal fence, magnetometry survey was going to be pointless.  Often, the best method for finding graves is GPR, and so that was our primary method (Fig. 2).  Due to the building, and the odd shape of the church yard, we had to do the survey in six small blocks at 25cm intervals.  Although it would have been easier to do the survey east-west, if we are trying to find graves working north-south would be more effective allowing the transects to cut across the grave rather than along it.  Lastly, we decided to try the multi-depth Earth Resistance survey, aka ‘the beast‘ (Fig. 3).

Figure 2: the GPR in action at Bovenay. Photo: © Mike Smith.

Figure 3: the ‘beast’ in action at Bovenay.

We all headed off to Bucks on a cold and slightly damp Sunday at the end of January (yes, I know this posting is late!) and we were assisted by members of the Bucks ASAAG.  Both GPR and resistance surveys were awkward due to the small space we had available.  The site is also very busy with walkers, cyclists and people enjoying their Sunday.

The idea of “the beast” is that the depth to which an Earth Resistance survey will measure is proportional to the distance between the mobile probes on the frame.  The two remote probes have to be at least 45m away!  Each time the machine is moved, it takes seven readings: one between two probes 25cm apart, one at 50cm, 75cm, 100cm, 125cm and 150cm.  Yes, that makes six.  Just for comparison, the seventh measurement is taken using a “Wenner array”.  This simply means that instead of using the two remote probes at the end of the cable, it uses the two outer probes on the frame to pass the current, and the two inner probes to take the reading.  This is an older method for laying out probes that has generally been abandoned in archaeology, although it can be useful in circumstances when having remote probes at the end of the long cable is impossible.  The results for all seven readings are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: results from the multi-depth Earth Resistance survey. (Click for larger image.)

Figure 4 looks a little odd because the satellite that took that image was clearly passing overhead a little to the south-east.  It is, however, the best one available on Google Earth Pro.  Comparing the various surveys at different depths, there is very little difference between them.  Unsurprisingly, near the walls are areas of high resistance, possibly due to the foundations.  The path was a pain.  One problem was a number of ‘spikes’ in the data.  These were probably caused by the rabbit holes: a hole with air is going to be high resistance (in fact the current passes through the soil around the hole).  I worry slightly that processing those out may also have processed out the graves, but somehow I doubt it.  It doesn’t look like we detected any graves with this method.

The GPR survey was processed using the package GPR Slice.  Figure 5 shows all the slices from the survey.  These were processed using 2.92ns slices with a slight over-lap between them.

Figure 5: the time slices from Bovenay.

The bright red line in the first slice is the path to the north entrance of the chapel. If you look at the image on Google Earth, one can see the south entrance too as a lighter blue line (Fig. 6).  Not an Earth-shattering observation, but it is always encouraging when one can see the obvious!

Figure 6: GPR time slice 1.

What seems interesting, at first, at the strong reflections (shown in red) in the lower slices.  They are at a slight angle to the hole in the survey where the church is.  Looking at slice 11 in more detail (Fig. 7) we can see they are parallel to the wall… it is my grid that is at a slight angle. (The grid was set-up along the southern fence line.)

Figure 7: GPR time slice 11.

If we look at the radar data in 3D, we can see these strong reflections low down curving-up towards the edge of the survey (Figure 8). You can see those strong reflections intersecting with the red line in the time slice (labelled ‘air waves’).

Figure 8: 3D image of the radar data.

To understand what is happening, we need to go back to GPR basics.  What is happening when we do a survey?

  1. The transmitting antenna sends out a radar pulse.  Due to the shielding, most of this goes down into the ground, but some will leak out and bounce around like echos.
  2. The receiving antenna measures the returning radar waves.  It records two things: the strength of the signal (amplitude) and the time since the pulse was transmitted.
  3. The software plots the strength of the return signal in shades of grey.  Strong returns are plotted in black and white, and weaker returns in mid-greys. These are plotted as a single vertical band below the centre point of the antenna. The radargram one looks at on the screen are all these vertical bands added together to give the overall image.
  4. Because the longer the time between the pulse and the return, the weaker the signal will be, we apply a ‘gain curve’ to the data.  This is just a multiplication factor so that the deep returns are visible compared to the shallow ones.
  5. As we push the GPR towards a wall, some of the signal will bounce off that wall.  At first, the distance between us and the wall is relatively large, so the reflection will be plotted by the software low down the profile.  As we get closer, the time taken for the signal to bounce off the wall gets less, and so the reflection is plotted higher up the profile.  As a result, the signals bouncing off the wall will show as a gently rising curve.
  6. Radar waves travelling through the air travel at the speed of light.  Radar travelling through the soil is much slower.  As a result, curves in our data which are quite steep are the result of a reflection from something in the soil.  Very gentle curves are “air waves” and are the result of the radar bouncing off buildings, or even the underside of tree canopies.

To cut a long story short, the strong, deep reflections are airwaves caused by the radar bouncing off the walls of the chapel.  Figure 9 shows the southern radargram from Figure 8 with some of the relevant reflections indicated.

Figure 9: Radargram 7028 at 12m east with some reflections marked (see text).

In Figure 9 the airwave has been marked in red.  See how it is a gentle curve across the radargram.  A more normal hyperbola from a point source is indicated in purple.  The green line near the surface represents the compacted soil outside the south door.  Notice how there are bands of strong reflections below it.  These are like echos.  There is another, deeper, surface marked in yellow.  I’m not sure what this it, perhaps an earlier entrance path?  If we look at time slice 5, we can see this area of high reflections outside the south entrance to the chapel (Fig. 10).

Figure 10: GPR time slice 5.

Archaeologists, (me included!), dislike looking at radargrams as they find them confusing (they are).  Often one will see reports with only the time slices presented.  One thing I have learnt from Larry Conyers, however, is that it is vital to look at both the time slices and the radargrams if one wants to understand in detail what is happening.  Although in general I am not a fan of pseudo-3D representations of things (don’t get me started on the invention of the Devil, the 3D pie-chart!), the 3D plots in GPR Slice do help work out what is going on.

So the million dollar question is: have we found any graves?  The short answer is: none that I can see.  The long answer is, sadly, that that does not mean there are no graves.  Geophysics does not detect everything, as much as we would like it to.  Also, I need to spend some more time going through the radargrams and trying to see if there are graves which show in the vertical radargrams but do not show in the horizontal time slices.  Later this year I plan to spend some time with a friend in the US who does this sort of thing all the time, having a look at the data from this site and a couple of others in the hopes I have missed something vital. Watch this space!