Mobile Device Apps for Community Archaeology

Apps Banner (small)As part of the final output of our Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Grant AHL0132901 on the 29th June 2015 we released two new mobile device apps for community archaeologists. De Montfort University’s Digital Building Heritage Group has been collaborating with colleagues at the departments of archaeology at the University of Durham (Co-Investigator Dr David Petts) and the University of Nottingham (Co-Investigator Dr Chris King) and two community heritage groups, The Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland (Arc & Arc) and the Southwell Community Archaeology Group (SCAG) in this AHRC funded project. The objective has been to create two new, prototype mobile device apps which allow finds and other information to be uploaded by users to 3D representations of archaeological and historical sites and then explored in an intuitive way. The idea behind this was to give community heritage groups greater opportunities to interpret their own finds and present them in a way which would allow these groups to shape the stories about the archaeology they were involved with.

Binchester Banner #1There are two key new concepts in these prototype apps which make them different from other data-base archaeology apps that are available and which make a significant advance in the functionality and use-ability of apps on archaeological sites for heritage interpretation.

The first is the ability for registered users to upload finds data to an on-line Content Management System (CMS). This is done over the internet using a normal web-browser. Information about finds and the archaeology to upload can be text, images, video and audio. These finds data can be geo-located in three dimensions using a graphic x,y,z slider bar system in the app to very precise points in 3D on the archaeological site by the user during the upload. By pressing an update button on the app screen, the new finds data will be uploaded from the server and become clickable hot-spots in the app on the iPAD which will show the finds data in a new screen and also signal that there is new data for existing hot-spots. The hot spots move with the 3D model of the building as you rotate it around. There is also a Google Map view which allows you see the hot-spots in 2D in map form which is good for very large sites.

The second innovation in these apps is the use of 3D reconstructions of the buildings associated with the finds and the way they are presented. The hot-spots appear in three dimensions in the buildings. In order to reveal ones inside structures or in walls and floors or underground there is a clever section slider which allows the user to see inside the buildings and their walls and floors. In this way it really is like digging down and through the building to reveal the locations of finds so that you can click on them.

Why are this these innovations important? Public interest in archaeology has been increasingly rapidly in the UK and both professional and community archaeologists find it useful to present their work to public audiences, often on site, to show how exciting finds can inform the understanding of the communities and landscapes where we live. Presenting individual artefacts can help bring the past back to life but complex archaeological sites, with many artefacts, trenches, masonry, test pits and piles of earth can often make the ancient buildings in and around which they are found difficult to visualise for the non-expert. Furthermore recent finds are often processed and stored off-site and may not be available to the visitor so the connection between the artefact, the meaning behind where it was found and the process of archaeology may not be immediately self-evident. The prototype apps which we have co-produced with our academic and community heritage partners are intended to demonstrate a paradigm for presenting data and metadata about archaeological sites and ancient buildings in a way that meaningfully addresses these issues. It is now up to our community heritage partners to upload data to the apps and experiment with them to see how they work in practice, and how the concepts and ideas behind them may be improved in future.

The apps are free to download from Apple’s App Store and at present are available for Apple’s iPad only. Search for “Binchester” and for “Southwell” in the App Store.

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About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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