Open Context & Carleton Prize for Archaeological Visualization

Increasingly, archaeology data are being made available openly on the web. But what do these data show? How can we interrogate them? How can we visualize them? How can we re-use data visualizations?

We’d like to know. This is why we have created the Open Context and Carleton University Prize for Archaeological Visualization and we invite you to build, make, hack, the Open Context data and API for fun and prizes.

Who Can Enter?

Anyone! Wherever you are in the world, we invite you to participate. All entries will be publicly accessible and promoted via a context gallery on the Open Context website.


The prize competition is sponsored by the following:

  • The Alexandria Archive Institute (the nonprofit that runs Open Context)
  • The Digital Archaeology at Carleton University Project, led by Shawn Graham


We have prizes for the following categories of entries:

  • Individual entry: project developed by a single individual
  • Team entry: project developed by a collaborative group (2-3 people)
  • Individual student entry: project developed by a single student
  • Student team entry: project developed by a team of (2-3) students


All prizes are awarded in the form of cash awards or gift vouchers of equivalent value. Depending on the award type, please note currency:

  • Best individual entry: $US200
  • Best team entry (teams of 2 or 3): $US300 (split accordingly)
  • Best student entry: $C200
  • Best student team entry (teams of 2 or 3): $C300 (split accordingly)

We will also note “Honorable Mentions” for each award category.

Entry Requirements

We want this prize competition to raise awareness of open data and reproducible research methods by highlighting some great examples of digital data in practice. To meet these goals, specific project entry requirements include the following:

  • The visualization should be publicly accessible/viewable, live on the open Web
  • The source code should be made available via Github or similar public software repository
  • The project needs to incorporate and/or create open source code, under licensing approved by the Free Software Foundation.
  • The source code must be well-commented and documented
  • The visualization must make use of the Open Context API; other data sources may also be utilized in addition to Open Context
  • A readme file should be provided (as .txt or .md or .rtf), which will include:
    • Instructions for reproducing the visualization from scratch must be included
    • Interesting observations about the data that the visualization makes possible
    • Documentation of your process and methods (that is to say, ‘paradata’ as per theLondon Charter, section 4)

All entries have to meet the minimum requirements described in ‘Entry Requirements’ to be considered.

Entries are submitted by filling a Web form ( that will ask you for your particulars and the URL to your ‘live’ entry and the URL to your code repository. You will also be required to attest that the entry is your own creation.

Important Dates

  • Closing date for entry submissions: December 16, 2016
  • Winners announced: January 16, 2017

Criteria for Judging

  • Potential archaeological insight provided by the visualization
  • Reproducibility
  • Aesthetic impact
  • Rhetorical impact
  • Appropriate recognition for/of data stakeholders (creators and other publics)

Attention will be paid in particular to entries that explore novel ways of visualizing archaeological data, or innovative re-uses of data, or work that takes advantage of the linked nature of Open Context data, or work that enables features robust/reproducible code for visualizations that could be easily/widely applied to other datasets.


The judges for this competition are drawn from across the North America:



Simple Omeka to Wikitude Hack

I’m working on some projects at the moment, aiming to make augmented reality and cultural heritage discovery easier and gentler for the small scale historical society, student groups, etc: folks with a basic level of web literacy, but no real great level of programming skills.

To that end, here’s something one can do with Omeka, to push items from its database into the Wikitude augmented reality platform.

  1. In Omeka, have the Geolocation plugin installed and working.
  2. Navigate to http://[your omeka]/geolocation/map.kml
  3. You should see the xml structure of your geolocated items.
  4. In a new tab, go to, and sign up for a developer account (it’s free).
  5. Click ‘add new world’.
  6. Click ‘upload KML file’.
  7. Fill in all required fields (you’ll have to create a 32 by 32 pixel icon to serve as a dot-on-the-map, and upload that too).
  8. Under ‘KML/KMZ’ file, click on ‘Enter KML URL’. This will give you a box into which you may paste the URL from #2.
  9. Hit save.

If you’re successful, the next screen will tell you how many points have been uploaded. If, at some later point you’ve added many more items to Omeka, you’ll have to go back to your World in Wikitude and hit save again, to upload the most recent stuff.

Now, with Wikitude on your phone, you might not be able to find your world right away. There’s a solution. If you log back into the Wikitude developer zone, and click on the world you just created, you’ll find a string of letters under ‘developer key’. On your Iphone, go to ‘settings’ , select ‘Wikitude’. Under ‘Developer Settings’, there’s a box for the developer key. Enter that developer key there. Start Wikitude up, refresh the display, and your items from Omeka will be under ‘Around Me’.

…And there you have it. Right now, this just does the basic text descriptions, and the location. By fiddling with the Geolocation plugin code, one might be able to add the other information that Wikitude can display, like images, video, audio, etc.

For a similar approach, but directly from Google Maps, see this video by drmonkeyjcg:

Tales of Things

Just seen:

Wouldn’t it be great to link any object directly to a ‘video memory’ or an article of text describing its history or background? Tales of Things allows just that with a quick and easy way to link any media to any object via small printable tags known as QR codes. How about tagging your old antique clock, a building, or perhaps that object you’re about to put on eBay.

They have a free iPhone app to allow you to “scan, comment, and add location to things”.  Cliocaching, anyone?

Digital Research Tools Wiki

I came across the DiRT page this morning, run by Lisa Spiro. What an awesome resource! If you know of tools that are useful in your own research, suggest them to Lisa and get them listed on this page. From the front:

This wiki collects information about tools and resources that can help scholars (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) conduct research more efficiently or creatively.  Whether you need software to help you manage citations, author a multimedia work, or analyze texts, Digital Research Tools will help you find what you’re looking for. We provide a directory of tools organized by research activity, as well as reviews of select tools in which we not only describe the tool’s features, but also explore how it might be employed most effectively by researchers.

Please provide feedback on DiRT and recommend tools not included here (yet).

If you’re interested in contributing to this wiki, please email Lisa Spiro at  Please see Guidelines for Contributors to learn how to add new information to the wiki.

I love how it is organized by asking what it is you want to do.  While focussed on the humanities and social sciences, there is a distinct lack of Agent Modeling or other simulation tools, which I suppose indicates that simulation hasn’t made great inroads amongst the digital humanities set yet.

Some great dynamic map tools though!


  • ArcGIS: “an integrated collection of GIS software products that provides a standards-based platform for spatial analysis, data management, and mapping” (Commercial, Windows)
  • GeoNames: “GeoNames geographical database covers all countries and contains over eight million placenames that are available for download free of charge.” (Free, web-based)
  • Google Earth: “Google Earth lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, from galaxies in outer space to the canyons of the ocean. You can explore rich geographical content, save your toured places, and share with others.” (Free, with Pro version available; PC/Mac/Linux)
  • Google Maps: allows you to view maps and directions, with practical applications for transportation and diverse viewing options to further specify location (Free, web-based)
  • Open Street Map: “a free, editable map of the whole world…allows you to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth” (Free, web-based)
  • Platial: “the world’s largest social map service…hundreds of thousands of people around the world share and discover all kinds of Places. Anyone can map just about anything including their towns, lives, travels, feeds, files, photos, video and stories in one simple interface…Maps are free and can be embedded on any Web page” (Free, web-based)
  • TimeMap: A Java-based client-server/standalone temporal mapping applet for distributed datasets, developed by the Archaeological Computing Laboratory at the University of Sydney (Open Source or support license)
  • UUorld: a program that “provides an immersive mapping environment, high-quality data, and critical analysis tools” through the production of four-dimensional, interactive maps (Free, with Pro version available; Windows/Mac/Linux)
  • Yahoo! Map Mixer: allows you to create your own basic map, view maps and directions, and search existing maps (Free, web-based)


Examples of Usage:

  • PoliMap: Will Riley’s students gathered location data about politicians using a Google spreadsheet and mapped it on a Google Map



Visualisation in Archaeology

An interesting project hosted by Southampton in the UK and English Heritage – see the full website here. They’re hosting what looks to be a fascinating wee conference in October:

Visualisation In Context:
An Interplay of Practice and Theory

22 – 23 October 2009
Hosted by the University of Southampton

The 2009 VIA Workshop is designed to probe the intersections between theory (which might traditionally be represented in terms of critique – linear and written) and practice (which might increasingly be expressed in terms of production – non-linear and visual) within the field of archaeology as well as other disciplines from the humanities and the sciences.

Check out the VIA  showcase:

Online Research Showcase
Centred on the visualisation of data in both archaeology and the wider fields of the social sciences, arts, and science and technology studies. Like the bibliography, these summaries aim to link practitioners across disciplines, highlight innovative visual projects, and offer a platform for future planning and discussion of best practices around archaeological visual method and theory.
Click to view full entry and abstract... Archaeology and Community Museology: Ancient Egyptian Daily Life Scenes in Museums
Gemma Tully
University of Southampton
Click to view full entry and abstract... Choreographic Morphologies: Interdisciplinary Crossovers in the Use of Digital Visualisation Methods in Dance and Archaeology
Helen Bailey, Stuart Dunn, James Hewison, Martin Turner
King’s College London
University of Bedfordshire
University of Manchester
Click to view full entry and abstract... Fractured Media: Challenging the Dimensions of Archaeology’s Typical Visual Modes of Engagement
Sara Perry
University of Southampton
Click to view full entry and abstract... Framing Machu Picchu: Science, Photography and the Making of Patrimony
Amy Cox
University of Florida
Click to view full entry and abstract... Imag(in)ing the Other at Dura-Europos
Jennifer Baird
Birkbeck College, University of London
Click to view full entry and abstract... Institutionalising Images: Early Visualisation Networks in Aegean Archaeology
Deborah Harlan
University of Sheffield
Click to view full entry and abstract... Interactive Panoramas and 3D Modelling Based on Panoramas
Karol Kwiatek, Martin Woolner, Simon Standing, Jes Martens
University of Plymouth, Institute of Creative and Cultural Industries
University of Oslo, Norway, Museum of Cultural History
Click to view full entry and abstract... OKAPI Island in Second Life
Ruth Tringham, Noah Wittman, Colleen Morgan
University of California, Berkeley
Click to view full entry and abstract... Pervasive Gaming, Education, and Cultural Heritage: Emplaced Interpretive Games at the Presidio of San Francisco
Ruth Tringham, Colleen Morgan
University of California, Berkeley
The Presidio Archaeology Lab
Click to view full entry and abstract... Reflexive Representations: The Partibility of Archaeology
Andrew Cochrane, Ian Russell
Cardiff University
University College Dublin
Click to view full entry and abstract... Representing Prehistory: The Biographies of the Robenhausen Lake Dwelling Collections at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (2008-2009)
Katherine Cooper
University of Cambridge
Click to view full entry and abstract... SahulTime: Rethinking Archaeological Representation in the Digital Age
Matthew Coller
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Click to view full entry and abstract... Scandalous Artefacts
Alessandro Zambelli
Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
Click to view full entry and abstract... Strategies of Visualisation in German Archaeology, 19th-20th C
Stefanie Klamm
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Humboldt University, Berlin
Click to view full entry and abstract... The Archaeological Eye: Visualisation and the Disciplinary Foundations of British Archaeology
Sara Perry
University of Southampton
Click to view full entry and abstract... The Gateway to Sarup
Niels H. Andersen, Maria Isenbecker, Camilla Bjarnø, Jan Solheim
Moesgård Museum, DenmarkSamsøgades Skole, Denmark
Supported by the Danish Ministry of Culture and the Danish Ministry of Education
Click to view full entry and abstract... The Remediated Places Project
Ruth Tringham, Michael Ashley, Steve Mills, Eric Blind, Jason Quinlan, Colleen Morgan
University of California, Berkeley

Historical Maps, GIS, and Second Life

I’ve just come across a presentation (in three parts) given by David Rumsey, over a year ago. Worth a view!

“A talk given by David Rumsey at the March 6, 2008 launch of his historical map library and exhibition in the virtual world of Second Life. The talk was delivered at the Rumsey Map Islands in Second Life. All of the maps in the talk can also be seen and downloaded from Rumsey’s free online map library at

Part I

Part II

Part III

PMOG is now the Nethernet

Pm0g – the passive multiplayer online game – has gone in for some rebranding, calling itself ‘The Nethernet’.

I rather like the term, ‘nethernet’, as it implies a game played in some sort of metaspace outside (above/below/beside) the regular ol’ internet.

However, in the transition, Nethernet has lost some of the old steampunk aesthetic and charm that Pmog had – whereas before there were scrolls popping up inside your browser, and neo-victorian characters assaulting/assisting you, now there is the same-old same-old web2.0-ish vibe. No doubt the game runs better and is more secure this way, but I rather liked the old charm.

For old time’s sake, here are my missions made back in the Pmog 0.4 era (and rejigged to run under the new regime):

“How in the world can I find sources on the motivations of ancient Olympic athletes?? Maybe if you told me what to read, then I could answer the question.” read the email. The prof looked away from his computer, groaning inwardly. And no doubt, just parrot back to me a webpage, he thought. Why do students expect to be spoon-fed everything? “Follow me. First, let us search ‘ancient olympics’ properly. Where would you go first, O student at the University of Manitoba with its excellent library resources?’

Ruins on a Distant Planet

4 stars!
created by doctorg 9 days ago

New long range telescopes have identified a distant, inhabitable planet. There appears to have once been intelligent life…

Who Killed William Robinson?

4 stars!
created by doctorg 11 months ago

Between 1867 and 1868, a tiny community at the north end of Salt Spring Island, populated by about 25 families, was the scene of three brutal and seemingly unconnected murders. But were they really unconnected? All of the victims were members of the island’s Black community and all of the murders were blamed on Aboriginal people. Two of the murders were officially unsolved. In the case of William Robinson, an all-White jury found an Aboriginal man, Tshuanahusset, guilty of killing the Black settler and sentenced him to death. Was Tshuanahusset guilty? Why was he convicted? If Tshuanahusset did not kill William Robinson, who did? (Great Canadian Mysteries, by John Lutz and Ruth Sandwell)

Archaeology: Let’s Build Something New

Colleen throws down the gauntlet:

We must interfere in the public’s understanding in the past. Change it. Surprise, enlighten, destroy when necessary and rebuild a better, stronger, more curious and more passionate interest in what we do. This is my charge to myself and to other archaeologists and to anyone who wants to join us.

What are you doing to Participate?

Good question. What am I doing? At the very least, I hope that what I write in this blog rises to that challenge. Rob MacDougall, in his tribute to Digital History Hacks, writes

…one meta-idea which Bill [read his work now! – SG] taught me is that the loftiest questions about what we do are not separate from the nuts and bolts of how we do it. As above, so below: lofty philosophical issues are practical technical questions and vice versa. Change the tools available to the humanities and you have the opportunity to rethink what the humanities are.

That’s what I aspire to do. I try to find the leading edge of what’s happening in new media, tech, games, society at large, and I try to wonder, intelligently, about how these things intersect with archaeology. Sometimes, it’s archaeology at the edge, sometimes not. Bill is passionate about getting historians to do their own coding. Archaeologists should do the same. Moreover, Bill’s pushing the historians and the humanities people more generally to get into making the digital devices themselves:

In my new research program, I’m exploring ways to build historical interpretations into physical devices and environments. This work is backward looking, in the sense that it engages with the histories of measurement, materials science and machine tools. It is also very present-minded, since I am approaching the project as a form of critical technical practice, building on new developments in ubiquitous / pervasive computing and desktop fabrication. To support this work, I have put together a modest Lab for Humanistic Fabrication with an associated Fabrication Wiki.

Read the wiki. Let’s build something!

At the very least, why not let’s try an open-source approach and make the most excellent Iphone Archaeology App ever? (Link thanks to Colleen)