Note: this is a post that originally appeared at my old blog and generated a reasonable amount of interest there, so I am posting it again here.

Google Earth and Google Maps are both wonderfully useful resources for archaeologists and people in allied disciplines. Google Earth in particular is a quite a powerful little program largely because of its simple, intuitive interface and the fact that it is free. But can students, researchers or academics use these images from a copyright perspective?

Continue reading ‘Publishing with Google Earth and Google Map products’

Leszek at Free Geography Tools has written a brief post about using a freeware GIS tool (FGIS) that would be of some value for archaeos engaged in field sampling (on any scale). The tool allows you to create files containing either a series of random points or systematically spaced gridded points. Creating such files is a useful skill most archaeologists will need at some point: for example, I have used random and systematic points for field surveys (eg. to define centre points of areas to survey) or as part of a detailed recording or excavation sampling strategy (eg. to define 1 metre squares on large sites for detailed recording work).

The tool allows you to define a geographic area (polygon) that you would like to sample and then allows you to populate this with points. You can create a random or systematic (grid) distribution of points and can define both point spacing (for grids) or number of points (for random points). Resulting points can be saved as a shapefile, a common and mostly open GIS format as well as a few other formats.

Once you have your shapefile of points you can upload it to most GPS devices using DNRGarmin and similar Windows software, or GPSBabel for fellow Mac users. You can even covert it to display in Google Earth and print the resulting image with Lat/Long or UTM coordinates attributed to each point.

There are more advanced options for doing this with many commercial GIS applications but they’re not free and therefore less accessible for students. This method also seems rather low-tech, and low-tech is king on fieldwork in my experience! Also, if you are not already a regular reader of Leszek’s blog I highly recommend it as he writes about many useful tools for archaeos.

Check out Leszek’s post here.

DNR Garmin website



Gary Vines and the community of users at the Ozarch Google Group (previously posted about here) have developed a really handy list of Australian Archaeology web resources. It includes Government agencies, Indigenous organisations and other relevant resources and is quite a handy resource that can be accessed here. Group members can edit the document and add new links and resources to the list.

If you’re not already a member of the Ozarch Group I highly recommend joining. It is moderated rather well, does not overload your email inbox and appears to be turning into quite a nice little web community.

I apologise for the slim offerings to be found here on my blog so far this year. By way of explanation (particularly for my regular readers!) I have had a touch of writers block due to an identity crisis regarding the overall purpose of my blog. To my mind, my blogging seems to have drifted a little away from archaeology and more into technology and gadgets which is not at all where I want to to take it. While relevant, I want to make that type of content more of an aside to posts that are principally about archaeology: it is after all supposed to be an archaeology blog. So in this post I thought I should get the ball rolling again, so to speak, by writing about a research project I am working on at Weipa in northern Australia. It will be split up over a few separate posts, with what follows simply serving as something of an introduction to the issues were are exploring.

Way back in 2005 I was in a meeting with a number of Elders from the Aboriginal community of Napranum (near Weipa). At that stage I was managing an Indigenous land and sea management program, so my role was to liaise with people about land management issues – which almost always came back to heritage management – and obtaining funding to do management oriented projects. Although we were supposed to be discussing weed management issues (a particularly exciting topic I might add), the conversation quickly drifted onto more interesting issues.

The Old Ladies I was meeting with had all grown up in the mission dormitories which, by all accounts, appears to have been a traumatising experience for many. Removed from their families at a very young age they were essentially locked in dormitories at night and were only able to see family on a fairly infrequent basis. Often their only substantive interaction with older kin was during camping trips out bush away from the mission. Along with the need to regularly attend church and school, they were also expected to work which the Presbyterian Mission superintendent considered to be a form of preparation for the practicalities of their adult lives. This meant domestic chores for girls and young women, and gardening and manual tasks for the boys and young men.

During our chat I scribbled down a few quick comments and wish now I had recorded the entire conversation. In particular, in talking about the original mission (which operated from 1898-1932) one of the women stated:

“they were healthier times (at Waypa). Waypandan, that is my mothers land. They ate wallaby, drank Nonda milk, collected ambanum [hairy yam], sugarbag, all those things. We need to tell people about those times”

The quote was quite significant at the time because from earlier work in the area I was well aware of a widely held view at Weipa that bush foods (i.e. bush ‘tucker’) are considered more healthy than store bought foods. This is because many people associate getting bush foods and being on Country with a sense of health and wellbeing. Simply put, being on Country and eating bush food is good for you in all respects: socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually. In my view, the statement was important because it indicated that the Elders saw a link between history, learning about history, wellbeing and health. Looking at it now, I’m not so sure that this quote best demonstrates this point, but it was certainly the idea that I went away with that day. The other idea that those Old Ladies shared with me was that despite all of their bad experiences, people remember the ‘mission days’ as a period of comparative health and happiness compared with today. In short, ‘they were healthier times’ in the sense that health meant more than just physical health as such.

After that meeting it took a further few months of discussions with Elders to develop a research project. We entitled it ‘they were healthier times: indigenous health and wellbeing within the Weipa Presbyterian Mission’. The broader project idea was to look at the history of Indigenous health and wellbeing (defined broadly as emotional, physical, social and spiritual health, after Anderson 1996) from an historical perspective. Simply put, our core question was: what was the nature of Indigenous wellbeing throughout the history of missions in the area and how is this relevent to the community today? The project also explores an important view held by community Elders: that younger people in the community do not ‘know’ the real history of their community, and that learning about this would in fact contribute to improving their wellbeing. This is because they associate a knowledge of history, culture and Country with improved health and wellbeing.

Our evolving project involves recording of oral history, Traditional Knowledge, archaeological surveys around key mission settlements and also work on historical documents. We obtained initial funding from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in 2007 and from the Federal Government’s Indigenous Heritage Program (IHP) in 2008 and began work on the project in early 2008. Since my original conversations with Elders and anthropologist Darlene McNaughton, several other people have become involved in the project including fellow archaeologist Justin Shiner and more recently historian Geoff Wharton.

Our results are preliminary at this stage, with our first concerted period of fieldwork mid 2008. In the next post I shall write about the original Weipa Mission site which operated from 1898-1932 and the results of archaeological and oral historical work we completed there last year. The photograph below was take in the early 1900s at this site.

From Weipa historical photos

Anderson, I. 1996. Aboriginal well-being. In C. Grbich (Ed.), Health in Australia: sociological concepts and issues (pp. 57-78). Sydney: Prentice Hall.

The internet has revolutionized the research process providing a range of new, on demand sources for scholarly articles. In today’s post I wanted to briefly look at some free tools for finding and keeping track of research sources on the web that I have found useful in writing a PhD and also working as an archaeological consultant.

Finding references: Google Scholar
Most people are familiar with Google Scholar, the search engine that retrieves information about research papers, books and so on. It can be incredibly useful, particularly if you are delving into a new field or research area and you quickly need to identify key sources. Scholar is reliant upon search engines having discovered a source in order for it to show up in your search results. Thus, if a source is not available on the web in the correct format then, logically, it does not show up in scholar search results and so searches on any particular topic might only return a small number of relevant sources available. Typically, there was a bias towards recent journal articles that were on the web.

This was once a real limitation to scholar’s usefulness. However, during the past two or three years things have changed as more and more academic sources – both new and old – are being posted to the web. Today, scholar is a powerful tool that returns relatively comprehensive results in many subject areas. You can search for articles by author as well as those which are published within specific journals or in a particular date range; results can be directly imported into your bibliography software (see below). It has its limits though and the number one limitation in my view is scholar’s inability to monitor your searches. At present it is not possible (easily and reliably at least) to monitor a particular search for new articles as they appear. For example, if I search for ‘coastal archaeology’ in December it would be useful for scholar to notify me when a new article appears in those search results in February.

If you’ve not used scholar for a while it is well worth revisiting. It is constantly improving and is (in my experience) the easiest way to quickly find relevant scholarly articles on the web today.

(Zoh-TAIR-oh) is, in the words from their website, “a free, easy to use firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources”. It is an open source project based out of George Mason University and is free to install and use without restrictions. It serves three main purposes:

– Collecting sources. Zotero uses bits of code called translators that allow you to import citation information from a website automatically. Many popular journal databases and major libraries have working translators and more are being actively developed. The result: you can visit many major sources of references, search and find what you are looking for and with one click import these into your Zotero bibliographic database. In other words, no more manual entry of citation information into your bibliographic software!

Major journal publishers such as Elsevier as well as Google Scholar, Amazon and many, many other websites are supported.

– Manage your sources. Zotero imports your references into a database file on your Mac or PC which is accessed by using your firefox web browser. You can create folder hierarchies (Zotero calls them ‘collections’) in which you can store your references. Once you have a source in Zotero you can add tags (keywords), enter notes, create links to any website (e.g. to reviews of a book) and attach a link to a local file or web document. Figure 1 below shows the browser interface.

– Cite sources and create bibliographies. This part of Zotero is important as it allows you to directly cite a source from your database in a document, and automatically create a bibliography of sources cited. I use Word 2008 on a Mac, which is not supported yet, however this function works on most other versions of word and on all versions of open office. You simply install a small add-on, select the reference you want to cite, and you’re away.

With these sorts of options Zotero is emerging as a serious stable alternative to commercial bibliographic software such as Procite and Endnote. It’s clean, fast, stable and customizable. It’s web interface is its real strength. I use it mostly for importing references I find in google scholar: simply run a search on scholar, click the ‘Save to Zotero’ button and select the references to import.

Figure 1 – The Zotero interface

Citeulike is best compared to a social bookmarking utility for scholarly articles. Users create their own account and add articles to their library by using a small bookmarklet (a bookmark that opens a pop-up window – see Figure 2, below). This process is automatic for most major journal websites, and so once you find an article you simply click your bookmarklet and it is directly added to your library. Citeulike doesn’t yet have the functionality of Zotero so for example, you can not automatically add references from Google Scholar to your library, however most major journal databases do work well.

Citeulike has other advantages that make it a crucial part of my work flow at the moment, mainly because it supports web feeds. All users have a web feed, meaning that others can subscribe to your feed and be notified when you add a new reference. You can also create and subscribe to feeds published by groups, for example I have created the group “Archaeology and Palaeoenvironments of the Australia-Pacific” which is open for anyone to join. Any members of this group will be automatically notified of new references added to the group’s library. So, for me the great value of citeulike is that it makes it much easier to share references between people interested in similar areas.

Figure 2 – Citeulike bookmarklet pop-up

So in summary, my web workflow consists of the following:

1) find references in scholar, citeulike or by browsing journal websites;
2) add my reference to citeulike OR zotero depending on which platform allows me to automatically import my reference;
3) download the article PDF to my computer;
4) export the citation from Zotero or citeulike into my local endnote library (one click);
5) attach the PDF to the endnote item; and finally,
6) read!

It may seem like a lengthy process but in most cases it takes me only 1-2 minutes to find, import and cite a new reference using these tools. Zotero is rapidly improving and will soon allow users to share libraries, thereby replacing much of the functionality of citeulike. Although for many using these sorts of tools may be quite new, they are typically very easy to use and can speed up the time it takes to find and manage your research sources.

I’d be interested to hear from others who use these or other tools or have suggestions for improving this system. You can do so in the comments below.


Google Scholar



My citeulike library

Citeulike group: archaeology and palaeoenvironments of Australia and the Pacific

Anyone familiar with the recent demise of the Australian archaeology list-server, Ausarch-L may be interested to know there is now an alternative: Ozarch.

The new list has been established via Google Groups which is much more flexible than a traditional email list-serve. You can elect to read posts on the web (like a forum), subscribe via the feed, or receive emails; overall a much better set of alternatives to email-only lists which I find quite restrictive. I was a member of the Ausarch list from ’97 or ’98 until it ended late last year and often found that similar debates and questions would regularly reappear (most frequent being ‘where do I buy an <insert obscure item of archaeology related equipment here>!). Hopefully this will now be reduced.

More importantly though the new list is moderated and membership is restricted to people with some sort of specific qualification or interest in archaeology. I urge students particularly to subscribe as the type of information you recieve via these types of lists can be really important.

More information can be found here.

Readers may be interested in a new service from Garmin that allows you to download results from web-based mapping applications directly into your Garmin GPS device. Window’s Live and Google Maps both support the service which I suspect exports the results of web based searches for directions (i.e. drive 200 m to X road, turn left at Y street…) as a route then uploads this to the GPS.

It’s a simple browser plugin that works on Windows and the Mac and is apparently compatible with any Garmin GPS that is able to connect to your computer via USB. It’s free and can be found here:

I found this service on the  Free Geography Tools blog: if you have a background in archaeology, earth sciences or other allied fields and you use ‘maps’ (which will be all of you!) I highly recommend visiting. Many tips for free software, web services and so on.

At the moment I am reading up on evidence for climatic variability during the past 5,000 years or so as part of my PhD dissertation. There is a fairly substantial and specialised body of literature in this area in journals such as Quaternary Science Review, The Holocene, Quaternary International and so on. Research in this area proceeds at a very swift pace with numerous new publications being produced each year that can have important implications for models of past environments in specific regions or at a global level.

As a non-specialist it can be a little difficult to access this body of knowledge without first consulting an authoritative overview of many other more specialised (and often arduously complex!) sources. There are several publications that I thought I would quickly highlight here today which may be of relevence to anyone interested in writing or learning about Holocene climate change.

Figure 1: Reconstructed temperature for the past 2000 years*

Climate change 2001: the scientific basis

The first is a book published in 2001 by Cambridge University Press for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) entitled ‘Climate change 2001: the scientific basis’ and edited by Houghton et al (1). This report was developed as a contribution to the IPCC Third Assessment Report and is intended to provide “…the most comprehensive and up-to-date scientific assessment of past, present and future climate change” and to “…form the standard scientific reference for all those concerned with climate change and its consequences” (2). The book principally focusses upon analysing and assessing evidence for recent climate change and in particular those changes bought on by increasing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases however as part of this it reviews evidence for past environmental change, particularly in the past few thousand years. It is written in a very accessible style and provides clear explanations of key concepts and terms that appear regularly in more specialised publications (such as ‘climate forcing’, ‘proxy indicators’). Chapters 1 and 2 are probably of most relevance to people interested in understanding past climatic systems.  Almost a decade has passed since it was published and thus new data are available from more specialised sources, however this book nevertheless provides a readily accessible starting point for anyone interested in understanding past climates.

The full report can be accessed online at no cost here

Mid- to late Holocene climate change, Wanner et al 2008

A second comprehensive technical paper of note has recently been published in Quaternary Science Reviews by Wanner et al 2008 entitled ‘Mid- to Late Holocene climate change: an overview’.  As it is written for a specialised audience this particular article may not be for everyone however it provides a comprehensive review of proxy-based climatic reconstructions which apply to the past 6,000 years. It is global in coverage and aims to develop an explanatory framework for climate change and variability during the past 6000 years or so. Unfortunately, it is not freely available and you will need institutional or library access of some type, or you can purchase it online at the link below. You can download the citation directly into a bibliographic database from my citulike webpage.

The abstract is available online at the Elsevier website.

* Note: Figure 1  is a Creative Commons licenced image created for Global Warming Art, originally prepared by Robert A. Rhode. It is not drawn from either of the sources I have discussed in this post. It represents a comparison of 10 different published reconstructions of mean temperature changes over the past 2000 years and is simply included here to highlight the extent of recent (past 2000 years) climate change.

Off to AAA!


I’m off to the AAA annual conference in Noosa today (For non-Aussie readers that’s the Australian Archaeological Association). I have posted about our paper and the session I am co-convening before so there is no need to repeat myself here. I hope to throw up a few posts about the conference over the next few days, with any luck some pictures too, as well as a short summary of how our session goes. It all depends on the availability of wifi, so finger’s crossed.

The program looks good, I heard some gossip that there are expected to be some fiery exchanges between a few prominent people (who shall remain nameless here) during the session on the Burrup Peninsula. Readers unfamiliar with this area should take a quick look at this website. I’m also looking forward to the session on the archaeology of the recent past, the AACAI session and the Burrup sessions. As I said, I’ll post more information here over the next few days as time and wifi connectons permit. So stay tuned, folks!

I am pleased to say that I have just rediscovered a wonderful blog by David Horton, a self proclaimed ‘greeny’, social justice advocate and – in a former life or career? – rather eminent archaeologist. Recent topics he has written about include politics, health, environmental management, financial markets, welfare and twitter (and that was just his front page). I first discovered it  a year or more ago but only stopped by to read it recently.


His writing style is rather enjoyable:

Unfortunately he does not write about archaeology on his blog, though he does touch on history regularly. I remember reading quite a bit of Horton’s work as an archaeology undergraduate: ‘the burning question: Aborigines, fire and Australian ecosystems’; ‘Water and woodland: the peopling of Australia’ and of course his book ‘Recovering the tracks: the story of Australian archaeology’. I think this latter work is probably the most thorough and useful review of the development of archaeology in Australia written to date, largely because through the use of extensive quotes and extracts from original works, he highlights a sense of the philosophies of early workers and the significance of their contributions at the time. It was never a set reading for me as a student, I suspect now that it was not written in a format that would have been immediately accessible for undergraduates (or for that matter, for hurried lecturers seeking a few easy ‘dot points’ for their power point presentation!).

I guess the big question I have  is what happened to Horton’s career in archaeology? I am unable to find any academic references to his work after the mid 1990s. I suspect it was a choice on his behalf to try something new or do different things, such as gardening (which in my view is an admirable choice!), his blog certainly suggests he is a man of many talents. But I shall investigate and report back. Oh, his blog is called ‘Green views’ and can be found here. I recommend subscribing.

Horton, D.R. 1981. Water and Woodland: the peopling of Australia. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Newsletter, 16, 21-27.
Horton, D.R. 1982. The burning question: Aborigines, fire and Australian ecosystems. Mankind, 13(3), 237-251.
Horton, D. 1991. Recovering the tracks: The story of Australian Archaeology. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.