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Having access to the PARP:PS database was invaluable when developing the Sangro Valley Project’s database and paperless workflow (see my first post for an overview and this post for more background information). In that sprit of cooperation I have made available an unlocked version of the database originally developed for the SVP. The database – which we have dubbed “Cera,” the Latin word for a wax writing tablet – can be downloaded here (see licensing below and in the ReadMe file that comes with the database). You can no longer download a demo of FileMaker Pro 11 directly from FileMaker. The file will work with the demo of FileMaker Pro 12, but it will need to be converted first.

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Sophie Graham photographs part of the site

Image tagging has long been one of the least efficient areas of our workflow. In previous years, photos of the site during excavation were taken with digital cameras. At the end of the day the trench supervisors were expected to upload the digital images to a computer, rename the files and add captions to the photos’ metadata with Adobe Bridge, and store them on the server. In the best of circumstances this meant that an image taken early in the morning would be tagged 9-10 hours later, likely after numerous other photos had been taken. To make things worse, as the season progressed and the trench supervisors became busier they tended to defer these tagging processes for a day or two. By that time they often had difficulty remembering exactly what was intended by the photo—even for archaeologists, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between two photos of dirt.

This year we decided to move the captioning process out into the field. One of the key pieces of technology that enabled this was the Eye-Fi Connect X2, a camera memory card with built-in Wi-Fi. This card allowed us to continue to use dedicated digital cameras, which currently produce images of a much higher quality than the cameras built into many tablets and mobile devices, and to operate away from existing Wi-Fi networks. Using Eye-Fi’s Direct Mode we paired each card/camera with one iPad. After a photo is taken the card automatically broadcasts a Wi-Fi network to which the iPad connects. The card then transfers images to the iPad, putting the photos directly into the Camera Roll. The Eye-Fi app on the iPad does the actual transfer, but it can run in the background. The entire process takes from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on the number of photos.

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Before I go too far into the details of our systems, I think it would be beneficial to lay out the SVP’s operating environment in order to provide a fuller picture of the context in which our systems are being employed.

(Warning: if you don’t get excited by dry discussions of infrastructure, you probably shouldn’t read this.)

Physical environment

As a regional project, the SVP does not excavate at a single site. Instead, we move from site to site depending on the amount of time required to do a proper investigation at a particular spot. We also employ survey and various other methods of data collection. This means that our infrastructure needs to be mobile and flexible, and we cannot count on having access to anything other than what we bring with us into the field. Among other things, this means all field equipment has to run on batteries and stay useable for at least 6 hours before needing to be recharged. Cellular 3G coverage in the area is also quite spotty (despite the fact that there are several large telecommunications towers on top of the mountain where we do most of our work…go figure), so internet access is assumed not to exist. We do have a pretty stable and consistent headquarters in the largest nearby town, Tornareccio, where the local Comune has been kind enough to allow us the use of one or two public buildings.

This year our lab and network setup was greatly constrained by the space that we were given. The main lab area consisted of three rooms slightly larger than your average dorm room. The first was for pottery processing, the second was the computer lab, and the third was for small finds processing. There was space outside for washing pottery and processing environmental samples. At the other end of the building was the photography lab, several hundred feet away.

Technology

The project operated on a local network, with both wired and wireless access. The only spot with internet access was at the other end of the building (out of Wi-Fi range, and with too many doors in between to run cables), and it was not connected in any way to our local network. Likewise, since the photography lab was at the other end of the building it was not connected to our local network. While this was not ideal, we decided that the other specialists had a greater need for constant access to the database, so they got assigned the two rooms next to the computer lab.

The major equipment we used is listed below. All Macs (except the server) have Boot Camp partitions for ArcGIS and other Windows-only software.

Hardware:

  • 1 Mac Mini Server (network management, local file server, sharing the FileMaker Pro database over the network, and iTunes syncing for iPads)
  • 1 moderately recent Windows server (legacy data from previous seasons)
  • A handful of MacBook Pros of various ages (image processing, GIS, and multipurpose)
  • 1 Mac Mini (GIS and multipurpose)
  • 2 older Gateway laptops (finds and pottery specialists)
  • 6 iPad WiFi 16GB
  • 1 iPad WiFi + 3G 32GB
  • 2 Trimble handheld GPS units
  • A handful of point-and-shoot cameras of various ages
  • 1 Canon DSLR
  • 2 Eye-Fi Connect X2 cards
  • Various networking and other equipment

Software:

  • FileMaker Pro (and Pro Advanced) 11
  • ArcGIS 10
  • Adobe CS5
  • Adobe Lightroom 3

My name is Chris Motz, and I am delighted to be the newest contributor to this blog. I will be writing a series of posts detailing the paperless workflow implemented at the Sangro Valley Project this summer, and will post updates as we revise that workflow throughout the year.

This year the Sangro Valley Project proudly joined the ranks of paperless archaeological projects, with great success. In this first post I will give an overview of our paperless initiative, and in later posts I will get into some of the more technical aspects. John’s writing has been a great help while developing our database, so I hope I can also be of some help to those creating paperless systems in the future.

The Sangro Valley Project (www.sangro.org), or SVP, was founded in 1994 and is now managed by Oberlin College in collaboration with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Abruzzo and the University of Oxford. The project operates a summer field school in Italy for Oberlin and other students; it employs a multi-disciplinary team of specialists from Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The project’s goal is to characterize and investigate the nature, pattern and dynamics of human habitation and land use in the longue durée within the context of a Mediterranean river valley system—the Sangro River valley of the Abruzzo region of Italy, the territory of the ancient Samnites.

(Shameless plug: to get the latest news about the SVP and to see photos from this season, including our use of iPads in the field, please visit our new Facebook page.)

View from the site.

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