Tag Archives: Maritime Archaeology

Lights, Cameras… Artefact!

By Danielle Wilkinson (MMA student)

Technologies are constantly evolving to assist in gathering, representing and sharing data. Photography is one area with constant developments, where new advances enable increased accuracy, simpler use, and quicker results. Artefact photography has retained basic principles over time, but there have been great advancements in its application and potential in archaeology.

Artefact photography has the potential to be a very informative and scientific resource for archaeologists. Photographs can be used as a technique for recording and to track changes the artefact has undergone over time. They also provide a way to keep a ‘back-up’ record of the artefact in case of loss or damage. Most importantly, digital photographs can be shared very easily for wide and fast dissemination. But, it is important to remember that an artefact photograph can be useless if the appropriate principles are not followed. The success or failure of a photo rests on a number of different variables, and every photograph requires considerable thought and preparation. It is not as easy as a click of a button!

Background and Lighting

Background and lighting should be re-considered before every shot as different arrangements may be necessary depending on the size and shape, material, and colour of the artefact.

The usual backgrounds used are: black velvet, which prevents shadows and reflections but cannot be used for dark objects; white (such as paper), although shadows are very visible so must be used with correct lighting; glass, used against an illuminated white surface to reduce shadows; and matte (sacking or canvass), which reduces contrast and hides shadows.

The most important aspects of lighting is to reduce the amount of shadow and highlight features. Tungsten lights are most common as they are cheap and convenient. Fluorescent lights are ideal only for black and white work due to colour distortion. Flash is vey difficult to handle, with an intense localized light that is impossible to predict. Natural light can create less shadow, especially in overcast conditions, but again is limited to black and white due to colour distortion. As you can see, lighting and background arrangements can depend on each other, and vary depending on the artefact.

Scale and Identification

From: http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/record/web/scale.html

IFRAO Scale (Image: http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/record/web/scale.html)

Usually a one-centimetre scale is used. When the photograph is taken, the widest plane of the artefact will be seen in profile view. If the scale is not level with this plane then the measurements of the scale to the artefact will be distorted. Hence, the scale should be raised to coincide with the outline of the object. It may be necessary to use multiple scales if a specific feature is also being photographed, or multiple photos should be taken. The scale should be placed near the frame of the photo without touching the artefact, so that it can be cropped out later on. Identification is handled with the inclusion of the artefact registration number tag, which is also placed near the frame.

Westerwald ware jug from the Batavia – notice scale placed in plane of outline, identification tag near frame, and black background to contrast (Image: Green (2004) Figure 12.5)

Camera

Advances from the ‘old school’ conventional cameras are phenomenal. Digital cameras are becoming cheaper and much easier to use. Instant review on LCD screens allow the photographer to adjust settings and re-take photographs, and saving onto a memory card enables easy transfer to a computer. Computer software is another major development, essentially making a ‘digital darkroom’ where the photo can be adjusted in a number of ways.

Without getting technical, there are basics that any archaeologist should be aware of. The first is that there are different kinds of cameras and lenses that are appropriate for different shots. The camera most commonly used in archaeology is the 35mm, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with interchangeable lenses. Lenses range in angle, length and zoom, but the most useful for artefact photography is a general purpose 35-105mm macro zoom lens, which can also be used in expedition photography, as well as the Macro telephoto of 100 or 200mm focal length, for accurate and detailed object photographs.

Aperture, Shutter Speed and Focus

Aperture and shutter speed settings may be unfamiliar to anyone new to artefact photography (they certainly were for me!). Aperture, or f-stop, controls the ‘depth of field’ – how much depth remains in focus. This is done by altering the size of the hole controlling the amount of light passing through the lens. The depth in focus is increased by reducing the f-stop number (if it helps, imagine the diameter as a fraction with the diameter divided by the f-stop number [d/f] i.e. ½ for a larger hole and larger depth, or ¼ for a smaller hole and smaller depth). This setting is important when photographing an object with a varying depth, as the whole artefact should be kept in focus. Shutter speed has a combined effect as it controls the length of time that the chip (or, originally film) is exposed to light, controlling the darkness of the picture. If the aperture is adjusted, the lightness of the photograph will be affected, hence the shutter speed also needs adjusting.

Lastly is the focus. When adjusting focus, it is important to watch the detail and profile. The outline of the artefact should appear sharp, as if the object is hovering. Focus is not something to be done quickly, and it may take some adjusting of the f-stop to get it right. Always review the photograph and check the focus before moving on. It could also be suggested to take multiple photos at different f-stops and shutter-speeds so that they can be compared.

Saving

All archaeologists know that it is important to catalogue and store data correctly and in an efficient manner, and it is no different with photographs. The photos should be labeled with the registration number of the artefact, and with any other necessary details such as the site name and date. A computer database is the best system for storing, but photos should at least be saved on a disk or external hard drive, which are economical and can be very large – in fact, most students I know own a hard drive of at least one terabyte, just for movies and music!

Artefact photography has a large potential for the sharing of information. With new technologies, it is becoming an easier, quicker, and more accurate method for recording and as a resource. With more accurate photographs there is less of a need to handle the actual artefacts, and archaeologists far removed from its location are not disadvantaged or restricted by access. Future developments are difficult to predict – perhaps three-dimensional technology will become more accessible, and 3D images will be taken of artefacts to recreate their complete shape. What about projected holograms? For now, archaeologists should take advantage of photography and use it to their advantage. It is simple to learn and, as long as you follow the principles, anyone can do artefact photography.

References:

Green, J. “Artefact Photography” in (2004) Maritime Archaeology: A Technical Handbook. 2nd Edition, pp.325-345.

Dorrell, P. G. “Principles of Object Photography” in (1994) Photography in archaeology and conservation. 2nd Edition, pp.254-176.

Bowens, A. (ed.) “Photography” in (2008) Underwater Archaeology: The NAS Guide to Principles and Practice. 2nd Edition, Wiley–Blackwell, London, pp.71-82.

Volunteering: an experience

by Gwynneth Pohl, student

Like many people hitting their 30s, I have long had a desire to find not just a ‘job’, but a career, something I would enjoy participating in, whilst at the same time giving back to the community. Also, like many people, I was fascinated by pirates as a child. Not just pirates, but anything underwater, particularly if it was related to archaeology – the myth of Atlantis, sunken cities, tragic tales of shipwrecks, and adventurous stories of discovery. Unlike most other people, however, this fascination has continued on into my adulthood, and affected the direction my tertiary studies have taken. I began my university career with Egyptian archaeology, but not being satisfied with that, tried my hand at what is termed ‘Public History’, which essentially teaches how to present history to the public (perhaps a better term would be ‘Historical Public Relations’). I found I was not diplomatic enough for such a career, and it was suggested to me that perhaps maritime archaeology would suit my interests better. I believe that person was right. Through my studies in the Master of Maritime Archaeology at Flinders University, South Australia, I have discovered that my fascination lies in the artefacts themselves; more specifically, in the conservation of these artefacts.

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Archaeologists, Biologists and the Pied Piper

By Julie Mushynsky (MMA Student)

From May 16 to May 27, 2011 the South Australia Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) embarked on a Commonwealth funded project in the Investigator Strait off the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.  Maritime Heritage Officer, Amer Khan and everyone’s favourite handyman, Ross “Mouse Whisperer” Cole of the Coastal Management Branch of DENR headed the project.  Two volunteer researchers on board included Shea Cameron, a Flinders University Marine Biology student and me, a Flinders University Maritime Archaeology student.  Kevin Jones, director of the South Australian Maritime Museum joined the group for a few days during the first week.  Lastly, Assistant Director for Maritime Heritage for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC), Andy Viduka also joined the group during the second week.

Perimeter fixing. Photo by: Amer Khan

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Futtocks, gunwales, catheads – OH MY!

It’s Friday and you know what that means – Master Classes! Today we ran a master class called “Ships as material culture.” This MC examined the “ship” as an artefact. From the wood it was constructed with to all of the fittings like winches, capstans, anchors and cannons, we explored their use, materials and positions on ships. A few fun exercises got the hearts racing. The first was to label the basic ship timbers in a frame-first constructed vessel. The second exercise was a bit more challenging and had a bountiful book prize. Participants were split into teams and given a ship model to label. Approximately fifty ship parts were on the list to be labelled with little stickers. Our winners were Lynda Bignell, Roger Halliday, Phyllis Coxhill and Maddy McCallister. Congratulations!

I think everyone walked away with a finer appreciation of ship construction. When you next see Lynda, Roger, Phyllis and Maddy ask them what a “cathead” is and I’m sure the will enlighten you.

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Phyllis and Maddy hard at work labeling

Mannum boat recording

Hello from Mannum on the river. We are here recording small river watercraft for Phyllis Coxhill’s Honours thesis project. So far we’ve taken the lines off both the port and starboard sides and are taking scantling measurements of timbers. It’s been a challenge trying to measure the boat with another boat over our heads. Lots of bumps on our heads.

The two boats in the photograph are called punts. They’d be used for travelling and fishing and other activities. They are flat-bottomed with no keel and have a hard chine. The interesting bits are the repairs and alterations made during its working life. We’ll be looking for and recording those too.

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Mt. Dutton Bay Maritime Archaeology Field School: one student’s experience

By Pete Colvin

Each year Flinders University runs a maritime archaeology field school as a part of its commitment to student skills development. This year was no exception: from the 31st January to 12th February 2011, an intensive period of field work was conducted in the Mount Dutton Bay region. In previous visits made to this area Mount Dutton Bay was known to have significant historic and maritime cultural heritage potential. It was from these previous visits that the 2011 field school developed, its aim was to conduct further survey and excavation work on the historic shipwreck Caprice and to further develop and understand the maritime cultural landscape of the area.

Mt. Dutton Bay Maritime Archaeology Field School students and staff, 2011

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Society for Underwater Historical Archaeology lecture and AGM

Society For Underwater Historical Research presents:

Peter Christopher talking about Australian Shipwrecks

Where: The Box Factory Community Centre, Adelaide, on Friday 19th November from 6.30 pm.

Everyone welcome!

And…

SUHR’s AGM and Christmas Party (and a sad farewell to Sam Bell and Matt Hanks!)

Where: The Box Factory community Centre on Monday 6th December from 6 pm.

We look forward to seeing everyone at the lecture and AGM!

Drinks and light refreshment will be provided.

For more information contact
Toni Massey
SUHR President

temassey@hotmail.com