Arch-I-Scan’s 2022 in Review

Time can certainly be an odd thing. To me, it seems like forever ago that we were living in pre-covid times (there was a point when I would read B.C./BCE dates, and unwittingly think ‘before covid’ or ‘before covid existed’), yet each subsequent year also seems to pass more and more quickly. Maybe it’s just a sign of my getting old (which is the most likely explanation), but maybe – just maybe – it’s a sign that as more places and activities become available or life returns to ‘normal’, I’ve become less fixated on time itself. After all, time flies when you’re having fun (with Roman pottery), and 2022 was no exception.

So as we enter a new year, it’s time once again to review some highlights of all the good things the Arch-I-Scan team was able to achieve in the past year as we work towards developing an image-recognition and machine-learning service to automatically identify and record Roman pottery vessels and sherds.

Gathering Data and Sharing Some Updates

In this, the first full year without a national lockdown in place, the Arch-I-Scan team keenly took advantage of the opportunity to expand pottery data collection in collaboration with our project partners in Colchester, Leicester, London and Vindolanda, trying to make up for some ‘lost’ time due to prolonged necessary periods of lockdown and social distancing. From February to December, we organised seven different sessions spanning over 20 weeks in which thousands of sherd images were captured as raw data to train the developing AI service. These sessions were of course not possible without the expertise and dedicated time of our pottery experts, Dr David Griffiths, Liz Johnson, and Fiona Seeley, as well as the project partners who facilitated the activities and to whom we are very grateful. And when we look back on 2022, we are especially thankful to all the amazing volunteers who joined us in our local scanning programmes and who are making the research possible!

Vindolanda-based volunteers John and Ann utilise a bespoke tabletop for photographing rim sherds, a scanning process introduced this year.

In addition to collecting photographs of samian ware sherds to feed into the AI and train it, Arch-I-Scan mathematicians (or as Archaeology postdoc Daan likes to call them, our mathemagicians) also spent much of this year experimenting with digital 3D sherd and pottery vessel reconstructions, supplementing photos of actual pots where these were too scarce for machine-learning purposes. Although 2021 saw the first of our Maths-focussed publication, 2022 brought with it Arch-I-Scan’s first Archaeology-focussed paper, relating the project’s ongoing work in pottery simulation to Roman foodways. The paper is available in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology as an open access article here: https://doi.org/10.5334/jcaa.92.

The project had its first archaeology-focussed paper publication this year in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology.

Arch-I-Scan Principal Investigator, Prof Pim Allison, and Postdoctoral Research Associate in Archaeology, Dr Daan van Helden, were both active in delivering talks on the project (additional details and one recording are on our news page: https://archiscannews.com/news/). The most exciting of these may have been their paper given as part of the session ‘Approaches to Roman Pottery Use’ at the 2022 Roman Archaeology Conference (RAC) in Split in April, as the session took place in one of the towers of Diocletian’s Palace!

Split, Croatia was the location of this year’s RAC/TRAC conference, where Prof Pim Allison and Dr Daan van Helden presented a paper on Arch-I-Scan.

Closer to home, in March, the Arch-I-Scan Project team held two ‘Research Open Days’ in collaboration with our project partners, the Vindolanda Trust. These events took place in the Robin Birley Archaeological Research Centre, where our Vindolanda volunteer scanning programmes have been, and was a way for visitors to the Vindolanda Roman Fort & Museum to engage with our current publicly-funded research. In these sessions the Arch-I-Scan team, including Principal Investigator Pim Allison, talked to visitors about the project and answered questions against the backdrop of active pottery identification by Dr David Griffiths and scanning by Vindolanda Trust volunteers. Vindolanda Trust volunteers were also extremely helpful in sharing their experiences scanning and in answering site-specific questions.

New Faces…

2022 brought with it some changes to the Arch-I-Scan team.

In the spring, Arch-I-Scan welcomed Dr Tatiana as an honorary project research associate in Mathematics. Tatiana is currently also a Teaching Fellow in the University of Leicester School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences. This year, for the project, she has been primarily developing an automatic/semi-automatic tool for diameter estimation of ceramic vessels from the photos of their sherds. You can learn more about Tatiana and her involvement in Arch-I-Scan in a recent blog post: https://archiscannews.com/2022/10/14/welcome-dr-tatiana-tyukina/.

Dr Sarah Colley, who has also previously been an Honorary Research Fellow in the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, contributed to Arch-I-Scan in 2022 as an honorary project research associate in Archaeology and Digital Heritage. This year, Sarah spent many hours sorting through thousands of images of terra sigillata sherds from previous scanning programmes, selecting key views of rims to help with ongoing work by other team members in developing an automated system to identify vessel types and vessel diameters. 

Early in 2022, Arch-I-Scan’s Mathematics postdoctoral research associate, Shuihua (Sharon) Wang received an offer to become a Lecturer in the University’s School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences. Although Shuihua remains on the Arch-I-Scan project team as a research associate, we welcomed Zedong Zheng this year as our new official Mathematics postdoc. Zedong jumped right to work where Shuihua left off, and provided much of the technical heavy lifting for converting data to results this year. Zedong also shared more about his background and interests in another recent Arch-I-Scan blog post: https://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/archiscan/2022/02/21/welcome-zedong-zheng/.

In 2022, Professor Ivan Tyukin accepted a professorship at King’s College London. We are wishing him all the best at his new post, but we are also very happy that he remains as a Co-Investigator on Arch-I-Scan.

…And New Places

Not only did 2022 see project members at work in various different UK towns and cities for scanning programmes and events, but also travelling abroad. As mentioned already, Daan and Pim journeyed to Split, Croatia for the long-awaited RAC/TRAC conference in May. In June, Daan was also very lucky to travel to Olynthos (Greece) with AI consultant Qinghua Zhou to collaborate with Professors Lisa Nevett and David Stone in a new project would be a kind of Arch-I-Scan spin-off for Greek pottery. This pilot project by researchers at the University of Michigan would be using pottery material from the Olynthos Project. We’re excited to hopefully hear more on this exciting work in 2023!

The view across the archaeological site of Olynthos, about a 15 minute walk up the hill from where Daan and Qinghua worked with Professors Lisa Nevett and David Stone (University of Michigan).
Even the wildlife wanted to join in!

Although 2022 was the first lockdown-free year in the UK since the start of the pandemic, remote working stayed in fashion for the Arch-I-Scan team as Pim took up a period of research leave in Australia from June to yearly January 2023. And although I generally stayed put in Leicester, when on annual leave in August back home in the US, I couldn’t help myself but visit the samian ware on display at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where I once worked.

Despite being on vacation, Arch-I-Scan’s research assistant, Victoria, can’t help but check out some samian pottery!

All in all 2022 has been a good year for Arch-I-Scan, but I have a feeling 2023 will be even better. Keep your eyes open for updates and announcements as we round out this final year of the AHRC-funded research. Do you have any questions or comments about Arch-I-Scan in 2022? What do you want to hear more about the project in 2023? Leave a Reply below!

-Victoria Szafara (Research Assistant, Arch-I-Scan)

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