Tag Archives: ucl

Pipe dreams

Yes, I know, blog posts are like busses…

Some of you may have seen a recent BBC News item about the holes for the gas pipe in Verulamium Park.

Fig. 1: BBC News item about Verulamium Park.

I must admit to being a little peeved that a few small roughly dug holes to look at a gas pipe got more media attention than CAGG’s extensive surveys in Verulamium!  The gas pipe has always been, however, the bane of our lives as it’s magnetic field is so strong it masks a 30m wide strip of the archaeology in our magnetometer survey.  That field, however, has no impact on the GPR and I have been intending to extend the GPR survey to cover the areas affected by the pipe. This, and the forthcoming meeting of the Roman Finds Group in Verulamium this Friday, prompted me to see if anyone could come out at short notice and survey around one of the pipe holes.

Fig. 2: Surveying the pipeline (photo: Mike Smith).

So, Mike Smith and I spent a day surveying around the site of the hole in which the traces of a Roman building were discovered.  It got a little fiddly at times, especially as the pipe had to be dragged along 11m every 30 minutes as they joined the lengths together.  The location of our new survey is given in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3: the location of the latest GPR survey shown in red.

As usual, we surveyed in 40m lengths (where possible) at 0.5m transect spacing.  The data were sliced using GPR Process and the images produced using Surfer v. 8, and imported into Google Earth via Adobe Photoshop.  The last step is needed to make the missing bits transparent. Unusually, the deeper slices (nos. 8 and 9) still showed useful information.

One annoying thing is that Google Earth have recently updated the satellite image for Verulamium.  It is a bit dark to my eyes, but more seriously it is in the wrong place.  In the time slices I could see the relationship between the path and the image was clearly wrong.  I spent some time checking my notes, but when I checked the historical imagery, I found the 2009 images matched the plots much better.  I have, therefore, used the older imagery for the figures below.

Fig 4: the magnetometer survey in the area of the new GPR survey.

In Fig. 4 we can see the magnetometer survey for the area in question.  The pipe line, running under the path and then diagonally across the football pitch, dominates the plot.  We can however, see the road running clearly SW–NE across the map (Niblett and Thompson’s Streets 16 and 17 crossing Street 12), and bit of buildings showing as the white lines against the grey and black.  As well as the gas main, there are three pipelines running from the cafe in the NE corner.

Fig. 5: third time slice, 10.5 to 13.5ns.

In Fig. 5, the topmost time slice in the sequence, we can already see the road surface running SW–NE, and we can also see signs of the pipe running across the plot although this might be a marker in the upper levels as the pipe itself shows more clearly lower down.

Fig. 6: fourth time slice, 13.5 to 16.5ns.

The next slice (Fig. 6) shows the road more clearly, and some hints of buildings.  I am unsure what the area of high reflections is to the south-east and parallel to the road is.  It is almost as if the road line was changed a little at some point.

Fig. 7: fifth time slice, 16.5 to 19.5ns.

Fig. 7 is starting to show the buildings up near the path much more clearly.  These are buildings that front onto Street 12 to the north.  Street 12 eventually leads into the forum and is probably part of Watling Street.  At the southern edge of the survey there are some white areas which may be robbed walls, with perhaps a surviving floor surface.

Fig. 8: sixth time slice, 19.5 to 22.5ns.

In Fig 8. we can now see two very clear lines either side of the road.  These maybe stone conduits or roadside drains?  The buildings near the path are starting to show more clearly, and now we can see the gas pipe quite clearer.  The fact that is disappears to the west is probably due to topography.  Ideally, time slices would be topographically corrected.

Fig. 9: seventh time slice, 22.5 to 25.5ns.

Fig. 9 shows the gas main beautifully, and more of the buildings near the path.  Those to the east of Street 16 and south of Street 12 are labelled “baths” by Niblett and Thompson.  The GPR data would make that interpretation a little more tentative, I think.

Fig. 10: eighth time slice, 25.5 to 28.5ns.

Fig. 11: ninth time slice, 28.5 to 31.5ns.

Figs 10 and 11 show some of the deeper features.  Some hints of more buildings are showing, especially in the NW corner of the plot.

Personally, I think this is much more interesting and informative than the gas pipe trench!

Fig. 12: the gas pipe.

The one thing that will be useful, is that by knowing how deep the gas pipe is below the surface, we can calibrate the speed of the GPR signal and convert nanoseconds into depth.

I am hoping to continue to expand the GPR survey when I can over the coming months.

Many thanks to Mike for coming out for the day in the cold sunshine.

CAGG on tour: Chisbury, Wiltshire

At the request of Andrew Reynolds and Stuart Brookes, medieval archaeologists at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, members of CAGG headed out on tour to Wiltshire.  The site we were asked to survey was the Iron Age hillfort of Chisbury, near Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire.  One may ask why Chisbury is of interest to early medievalists?  An early 10th century document called The Burghal Hidage records a site called Cissanbyrig (Baker and Brookes 2013, p. 228) which may be Chisbury.  The Burghal Hidage records the defended settlements (burhs) of the Kingdom of Wessex set-up after the defeat of the Vikings in the late 9th century.  The Historic England Scheduled Monument listing notes that:

Although no formal excavations have been carried out within the hillfort, observation of 20th century disturbances has produced evidence of urns, bronze swords and of storage pits containing Late Iron Age and Romano- British pottery.

The site also has a well preserved 13th century chapel under HE Guardianship.

Fig. 1: the chapel at Chisbury.

The interior is quite plain but has some interesting details.

Fig. 2: the interior of the chapel at Chisbury.

One of those details is a surviving consecration cross painted on the back wall.  Apparently these were painted on the wall when the church was dedicated.

Fig. 3: The consecration cross.

Peter Alley’s high-level photograph from the UAV shows how the chapel lies right across the defenses of the hillfort.  Maybe this position was significant in somehow slighting the earthworks?

Fig. 4: high level photo showing the location of the chapel.

The defenses are very well preserved around most of the circuit but they are covered in trees so hard to see and photograph.  From the satellite image the site is an extended oval of trees.

Fig. 5: Chisbury from Google Earth.

Jim West took a good image showing part of the defences to the west.

Fig. 6: Chisbury defences from the west (photo: Jim West).

The weather was wonderful and we all got a bit sun burnt.  The bluebells and primroses were out in force.

Fig. 7: bluebells on the defences.

The theme of the week was, however, definitely “horses”!

Fig. 8: Nosey horsey.

Unfortunately, horses are quite magnetic due to their ferrous footwear.

Fig. 9: Horseshoe alert! (Photo: Mike Smith).

Those horses are also a bit careless with their shoes…

Fig. 10: Missing footwear.

The plan was to complete as much of the inside of the fort as we were able with the magnetometer, and to do some selected areas with the GPR and the Earth Resistance meter. Right from the beginning we were beset with problems. We arrived at lunchtime on the Thursday, and managed to complete quite a few squares in the first afternoon, but the odometer started to over-run, eventually by four or five meters.  I swapped a few emails with Pat Johnson from Foerster, and the next day we managed to cure the problem.  A couple of days later, one of the pins in the “spider” — the cable that joins the sensors to the control box — snapped so we were down to three sensors.  On the last full day, the odometer started slipping again…  We did manage to survey the whole available area of the fort, but only just and without much time to try the other methods.  Fig. 11 shows the overall survey.

Fig. 11: magnetometry survey.

Although some of the major features can be seen at this scale, I have created two images with the north and south parts of the survey and some annotations.  (You might like to look at these downloaded and at full size.)

Fig. 12: the mag survey of the northern part of the site.

In Fig. 12 we can see a series of parallel linear features which have been annotated in cyan. These look like field drains to me.  Very faintly, however, there are some circular features.  These may well be the “drip gulleys” of Iron Age circular round houses.  I have marked some of the possible ones in red.  The problem with these is that the more one stares, the more one invents!  I am sure you can spot a few more possibles if you look long enough.  There is a great deal of ferrous noise, especially around the edges from fences, gates and water tanks, but also in the field from old nuts and bolts, horse shoes and the like.  Looking carefully and the little blobs and measuring the minimum and maximum values in nanoteslas (the unit of magnetism), one can start differentiating between bits of old iron and possible pits.  I have marked a small number of the possible pits with green arrows.

Fig. 13: the mag survey of the southern part of the site.

In Fig. 13 the red line is the pipe which joins the main water tank in the middle of the field.  I have marked just one piece of ferrous rubbish with a red arrow, there are lots more.  The cyan lines mark the possible field drains.  The dark blue line is a negative-magnetism feature which runs from the edge of the water tank to the pond.  This can also be seen in the GPR data (below).  I am guessing this is some sort of drainage / outflow from the water tank to the pond. There are some areas with such high ferrous noise it is impossible to see anything, for example the north end of the eastern field.  There are, however, quite a few pits once more, and I have marked just a small selection.  What is curious, however, is how much of this area seems devoid of any features at all.

Although the mag results are not exciting in the sense of being able to clearly see a building, as we often do at Verulamium, there is quite a bit of detailed information buried in the data.

We managed just a couple of days of GPR survey thanks to some local help.

Fig. 14: the GPR survey underway. (Photo: Mike Smith.)

I used the GPR Process and Surfer programs and created 3ns time slices.

Fig. 15: GPR time slice 3 from 10.5 to 13.5ns.

Fig. 16: GPR time slice 4 from 13.5 to 16.5ns.

Fig. 17: GPR time slice 5 from 16.5 to 19.5ns.

Fig. 18: GPR time slice 6 from 19.5 to 22.5ns.

Fig. 19: GPR time slice 7 from 22.5 to 25.5ns.

Fig. 20: GPR time slice 8 from 25.5 to 28.5ns.

To be frank, not a great deal shows.  The last time slice shows the suggested pipe from the tank to the pond.  The southern area has more high reflections, especially in slice 5 (Fig. 17) which one could try to make into buildings, but I find myself suspicious that these features are close to the water tank and they may be something to do with the tank’s construction.

Giving the billing this site has, the results are not all that stunning.  There are, however, features which would be worth investigating further, and hopefully we will get to “ground truth” some of these features as part of Andrew Reynolds and Stuart Brookes’ wider project.

Many thanks to those CAGG members who came all this way to do the survey: Ellen Shlasko, Ruth Halliwell, Peter Alley, Jim West, Nigel Harper-Scott and Mike Smith.  Many thanks too to the members of the local group who came to help: Shaun Wilson, James Kay and Lynn Amadio. Lastly, but certainly not least, thanks to the stud and the farm for allowing us to play on their land.

Filling in the gaps

Thanks to Stuart Gray of Strutt and Parker, I was able to contact Pete and Fiona Letanka and obtain permission for us to survey the paddock of Darrowfield House which lies immediately behind Verulamium Museum. It is the last large-ish area of Verulamium left that has not been totally surveyed using magnetometry. Members of CAGG are, therefore, spending this week filling in the gap.  Our mag was away being repaired, but Pat Johnson of Foerster kindly agreed to bring it down to us today.  We started, therefore, with Earth Resistance and GPR, but after lunch the poor old res meter was left abandoned on the grass while the team got started with the mag survey.

The paddock ought to be exciting.  It lies just behind the line of the Roman wall, and there is a road shown in publications running SW-NE across it.  The first mag results are shown in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1: the mag survey.

They are surprisingly unexciting.  The diagonal lines running SW-NE look like cultivation marks of some sort.  There is a quiet area behind the supposed line of the wall, running NW-SE, and then one high-magnetic curved feature which may match a bank we can see in the field.  No real sign of the wall, or of the road,

The GPR survey has been processed in 3ns thick slices.  As usual, I’ll work my way down from the top.

Fig. 2: GPR survey, time slice 3, from 10.5ns to 13.5ns.

Fig. 3: GPR survey, time slice 4, from 13.5ns to 16.5ns.

The third slice shown in Fig. 3 really shows surprisingly little. I’m guessing we are only looking into the topsoil here.  The fourth slice (Fig. 3) starts to show some diagonal striping similar to what we can see in the mag data.  Again, this is probably agricultural.

Fig. 4: GPR survey, time slice 5, from 16.5ns to 19.5ns.

Fig. 5: GPR survey, time slice 6, from 19.5ns to 22.5ns.

The fifth slice (Fig. 4) shows the striping very strongly, with two alignments at right angles.  I think these must be land drainage.  They look too straight for “ridge and furrow” and do not have a headland. What is also interesting — or is that worrying? — is that the wheel-ruts which show so clearly on the Google Earth image in the background, also show in the GPR data at this depth.

The sixth slice (Fig 5) faintly shows echoes of the drainage.  To the north are some black squiggly features.  Yes, folks, we have mapped the badger setts!  Nothing very archaeological, so far.

Fig. 6: GPR survey, time slice 7, from 22.5ns to 25.5ns.

In the final slice (Fig. 6), we still have the setts in the north, but we have a very strong linear feature to the south running SW-NE.  Comparing this to the proposed line of the road in Fig. 7, we can see that this would appear to be one edge of it.

Fig. 7: GPR survey, time slice 7, from 22.5ns to 25.5ns, with overlain map of Verulamium.

Right at the edge of the GPR’s signal depth where the returns are very attenuated, we are starting to see the archaeology. Unfortunately, I cannot yet easily convert the time (22.5ns–25.5ns) into physical depth.  It would seem, however, that the archaeology in the lower area may well be at the limit of what we can pick up.  If we look at the radargrams, however, we can see a big feature running across our vertical slices and I would guess this is the road surface.

Fig. 8: an example radargram showing the possible road.

Many thanks to everyone who turned out today and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine.  Also, big thanks to Pat for bringing the mag back for us, and Pete and Fiona for arranging for us to be able to survey the Paddock.

There probably won’t be a posting tomorrow, but I hope on Weds to catch-up.

Infamy, infamy (they’ve all got it in for me)?

Those of you who know Bloomsbury probably imagine I have a lovely view across one of the squares from my office window. Until recently, you would be right!  UCL are building a new student hub (everything is a ‘hub’ these days) and had to have somewhere to house the workers.  The solution? … a two storey stack of portacabins in a tunnel over the pavement.

The Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

The Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

Just to add to my joy, the staircase between levels is just by my window, so they have covered it in plastic…

The view from my office.

The view from my office.

It is scheduled to be like this until December 2018.  No wonder I prefer being out surveying. Jarrod Burks, who many of you will remember from the course, was out surveying the other day.

Jarrod surveying, December 2016.

Jarrod surveying, December 2016.

Seems a bit too extreme for my liking!

You may wonder what this tale of woe has to do with geophysics and CAGG?  UCL have put up a nice set of panels on the hoardings to advertise what the Institute does and to make the place slightly more inviting.  I was really pleased to see…

The Verulamium survey on the hoardings.

The Verulamium survey on the hoardings.

Yay, fame at last!  Sadly, the only caption near the image of our survey doesn’t mention CAGG, Verulamium or geophysics.

The caption.

The caption.

Oh well, never mind.  Perhaps I should find a plastic holder for our CAGG postcards and leave a few there for the curious.

Local Hertfordians maybe interested to see the article on Batford in this week’s Herts Advertiser and compare that to my posting about the survey.

Merry Christmas everybody.

A picture is worth a 1000 words

The Verulamium magnetometry survey.

The Verulamium magnetometry survey.

I suppose I cannot really get away with that simple a post.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to everyone, it is a fantastic achievement and I am so proud of all of you.  Secondly, a big thanks to everyone who turned out for an extra day on Bank Holiday Monday to complete the Macellum field.

How about some numbers?  Well, Verulamium is the third biggest Roman town in Britain, after London and Cirencester.  It is, however, the largest Roman town in Britain which doesn’t have a modern settlement built over most of it.  We have surveyed 64.5ha of the total area of 81ha.  It has taken us 83 working days starting in the summer of 2013, but we didn’t do much at Verulamium in 2014.  It took 12,900,400 readings to cover those 64.5 ha.   That, of course, doesn’t include the grids we did twice because of frozen sensors or other problems. People pushing the cart walked about 322km, not including having to go back to the start for partials, getting to the squares in the first place, or laying in the tapes and strings.

Let us look in more detail at the last bit surveyed in the Macellum Field.

The area surveyed during day 37) high contrast).

The area surveyed during day 37) high contrast).

Several things come to mind.  Firstly, there is very little there!  Towards the NE and along the western side there may be a ditch feature, although it is quite faint.  Other than that, the main (and annoying) thing are the strong magnetic anomalies along the edge of the field.  Some of you may remember the 12″ gas main which runs across the Park… well here it is again.  What I do not entirely understand why there are differences between the negative and positive readings along our grid lines.  Jim and I spent some time making sure I put the composite together correctly, and we are sure it isn’t a survey error.

This end of the field is know to contain two Romano-Celtic temples.  These are known from aerial photographs taken in the hot summer of 1976.  I wonder if this area of the town was kept clear of encroaching buildings, pits, ditches and the like deliberately?  If we turn the contrast down (i.e., clip the image at +/- 40nT instead of +/- 7.5nT, we can see one of the temples close to the hedge as a faint white line.

Low contrast version of the area surveyed on day 37.

Low contrast version of the area surveyed on day 37.

Yet another target for the GPR next year!

Some of the team (many thanks Ellen, Mike and Jim!) helped re-do a number of areas of the res survey, plus one extra bonus square.  The biblical deluge of Sunday night (Lamer Lane was flooded once more) was not ideal.  This is the final area completed in 2016:

The 2016 resistance survey.

The 2016 resistance survey.

It is a pretty good result.  There is almost no use of the “edge match” feature of the software to get the various grids to join neatly.  It could be improved.  The very high contrast of the temple rather makes the buildings faint, but either the creation of selective composites (i.e., processing bit of the survey separately), or use of a high pass filter, would improve that.  The survey is quite big for a res survey: 2.5739ha according to TS (or 2.6ha to sane people who round numbers), which equals about 103,000 resistance readings.  That, of course, doesn’t include the large numbers of squares we re-did due to the dry conditions.

There is a great deal more to do in terms of data processing and interpretation, but I think we all deserve a well-earned rest.  Well, at least until Thursday…!

Three day catch-up

I haven’t managed a Verulamium post for a few days so here is a quick catch-up.

Firstly, the mag has been slowly working its way eastwards along the Macellum Field.  They are getting pretty close to the end of it.

The mag survey in the Macellum field after day 35.

The mag survey in the Macellum field after day 35.

As can be seen, Watling Street stands out very clearly running from near the theatre to the Chester Gate.  There are lots of buildings along the road as would be expected.  Some are less clear than one would hope because they have been partially excavated.  The spec-ally look to the data, almost certainly because of the gravel subsoil, does make it harder to see what is going on here.  The carrot at the end of the stick — apart from just finishing the field of course — is that there are two Romano-Celtic temples known from aerial photographs near the modern road.

The next image is just to show how much of Verulamium we have now completed.  Poster, anyone?

The complete survey so far.

The complete survey so far.

The resistance survey has had a few problems.  The lack of rain has made the top-surface of the field very dry and hard.  It is very slow going, and the data is not as clean as one would like.  Despite the problems, however, some of the buildings along the road, especially at the north side of the plot, are very clear indeed.

The resistance survey after day 35.

The resistance survey after day 35.

Although it doesn’t jump out at one when just looking at the plot, the sinuous ditch does show in the resistance data when one knows where to look!

The GPR team completed some blocks along the hedgeline which I haven’t processed yet… sorry!  They also did one block up next to the Chester Gate to investigate the building here, and one over the sinuous ditch.  The latter did show the ditch but very little else.  Let’s look at the block near the Chester Gate.

The mag survey near the Chester Gate.

The mag survey near the Chester Gate.

This first image shows the mag data.  The building in the middle shows as white lines roughly parallel to the modern drive.  There are lots of other darker features, probably various pits and the sinuous ditch shows to the west.

Day 35 GPR, slice 2 (9.5 to 12.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 2 (9.5 to 12.5ns).

This time slice shows the impact of splitting the survey over two days!  The left hand side was done yesterday afternoon, the right hand side this morning.  The pattern of the ploughing and the tractor’s turning circle in the corner of the field show clearly.  Luckily, the problem is much less acute at lower depths.

Day 35 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

This time slice now shows the building beautifully.  What a wonky end wall on the north side! There is a long narrow range of rooms to the SW.

Day 35 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

This time slice shows the SW line of rooms more clearly, although at the southern end they are been partly destroyed.  We can see, however, fainter traces of the walls on the NE, a corridor, perhaps?

Day 35 GPR, slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

Day 35 GPR, slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

This time slice does show the “corridor” to the NE much more clearly.  Perhaps it is more deeply buried in the plough bank?   For most of the plot, though, nothing much else is showing.

There has been a little rain this evening.  I have my fingers crossed for more.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be dry so that the mag can plough on eastwards!

As always, many thanks to everyone, especially those working with the res meter.  It is slow and boring at the best of times, but slow+annoying is a great deal to ask.

Record breaking

It was an odd day, weather wise. Largely dry with just one quick, light shower, windy at times, sunny spells… Luckily nothing interfered with the fieldwork!

The res team consisted of myself (when I wasn’t putting in grids for people), Ellen, Tim and Pauline.  They pulled out the stops and managed a record-breaking eight grid squares.  Area-wise, that is what the GPR covers in an average day, but for resistance survey at 0.5m intervals, that is very good going.  Well done everyone.

The resistance survey at the end of day 32.

The resistance survey at the end of day 32.

Today’s grids behaved themselves and make the four odd ones from yesterday stand-out even more.  I did make sure that some of the connectors were off the ground today.  How annoying. We may have to re-do those four grids.  The survey did, however, show the buildings along the road in the SE corner beautifully.  The big question… where now?  North to the sinuous ditch?  South for more shops?  West to cover the cross roads?  Only four days surveying left, and we have to assume that we won’t cover eight squares every day.

The mag team also had a very successful day in the Macellum field.

Detail of the mag survey showing the Macellum field.

Detail of the mag survey showing the Macellum field.

We can just see a hint of the cross-roads running NE-SW across Watling Street.  The ‘1955 ditch’ barely shows.  With the eye of faith one might see it in the high readings along the edge of the cross-road, but very much with the eye of faith.  Is the ditch just so built over we cannot see it?  Or was it never built here?

With just four survey days left to go, the team is getting close to finishing the field, but I think we are a day or two short of being able to do that.

The entire mag survey to date.

The entire mag survey to date.

Way down across the field, the GPR team tackled another fiddly staggered bit along the hedge line.  In the next three images I have made the previous days’ surveys partially transparent.

The day 32 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 3 (12.5 to 15.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 4 (15.5 to 18.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 35 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

The day 32 GPR, slice 5 (18.5 to 21.5ns).

The curious shallow valley to the west of the surveyed area (‘valley’ seems a strong word for it!) that runs down the hill towards the temple is just as devoid of buildings or other recognizable archaeological features as the mag data.  In all three time slices not a great deal shows.  Was this valley always empty?  Or has the archaeology been eroded away, or even buried?  Difficult to say,  There is, however, a long narrow building just to the right of the middle of the surveyed area almost parallel with the hedgerow.  It seems fairly ephemeral, but it definitely there and one corner was picked-up in last year’s grid to the south.

Although the GPR hasn’t covered as much as the mag, we have still collected a mass of data.

Montage showing the area surveyed with the GPR to date.

Montage showing the area surveyed with the GPR to date.

It certainly takes-up a large chunk of my hard disk.

Many thanks to everyone who came out today and worked so hard.  A very successful day all round.  Our next survey day is on Thursday.