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Heritage Science and Engineering Network Blog


Presenting the latest research and ideas in Heritage Science and Engineering


STORMLAMP – End of Project Workshop

By eveallen, on 23 June 2020

An online webinar was held last month on Wednesday 13th May 2020, 13:30 – 16:00 (BST), to mark the end of the STORMLAMP four year EPSRC-funded STORMLAMP research project.


The event involved presentations on lighthouse research and other relevant areas from academics, heritage professionals and industry stakeholders. There were also discussions on future directions for related research.

The presentations can be viewed on the UCL EPICentre youtube channel here :

The project is a comprehensive EPSRC-funded project focusing on the structural response of rock mounted lighthouses to wave loading. The 4 year project commenced in May 2016 and is a unique collaboration between University of Plymouth, University of Exeter and University College London. It has worked closely with the UK and Irish General Lighthouse Authorities (Trinity House, Irish Lights and the Northern Lighthouse Board) and other industry partners (AECOM, HR Wallingford, Atkins and the Environment Agency).


The project has entailed: fieldwork to characterise structural behaviour of the lighthouses and associated long-term monitoring of their response to being impacted by waves; experimental testing to characterise the wave impacts in the Plymouth COAST Laboratory Ocean Basin alongside CFD modelling; and detailed structural assessment of historic lighthouses modelled following an in-depth study of original nineteenth century drawings.

Although the face-to-face aspects of a workshop were missed, especially the ability to have more collaborative, interactive discussions with the audience, it was great to have input from those who might not have been able to attend due to distance. The project hopes to have further discussions about the future of this research.


The programme included a range of engaging speakers as follows:

The workshop began with an introduction to the STORMLAMP project by Professor Alison Raby, STORMLAMP Project PI, based at the University of Plymouth.

Tom Nancollas (Building conservationist and author of Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet), spoke on his experiences of research, writing and publishing his book Seashaken Houses.

Rob Dorey joined us from Trinity House, a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers, providing education, support and welfare to the seafaring community. He spoke on why STORMLAMP’s research is important to the UK and Irish General Lighthouse Authorities.

Professor Dina D’Ayala who leads University College London’s side of the STORMLAMP project presented ‘Crests and Troughs: the survival of Victorian lighthouses to extreme wave impact’. The talk provided an overview of the interdisciplinary approach of the project: the fundamental relevance of the historic information to develop a realistic structural model, the need for extensive experimental and modelling work to determine the magnitude of the waves, and the role of in situ dynamic identification to validate the structural models. Through the study it is clear that it is the particular dry masonry construction and the dissipation that comes with it, that has ensured the survival of the 19th century lighthouses.

William Allsop presented on ‘Predicting safety of (old) vertical walls – the development of understanding and prediction methods’. William is an industry specialist and founder of William Allsop Consulting, formerly Technical Director for Maritime Structures at HR Wallingford, and currently a PhD candidate at University of Edinburgh writing a thesis on old British breakwaters.

Professor Paul Taylor of Oceans Graduate School, University of Western Australia, presented ‘Towers without rocks – wave loads on offshore wind turbines’. His talk brought us up to date with contemporary structures, discussing wave interactions with offshore wind turbine columns.

Michel Cousquer joined us from Cerema, the technical partner for the French Aids to Navigation authorities. He is currently the Maritime Safety Project Manager and has also been the vice-chairman of the IALA ENG committee (Aids to Navigation Engineering and Sustainability) since 2018. Michel Cousquer presented his talk, ‘Scientific community to rescue La Jument and l’Ile Vierge lighhouses’.

Key areas for the discussion were possible future research avenues, considering an interdisciplinary approach to other heritage structures on the coast. Further information about the project can be found here: https://stormlamp.org.uk/


Eve Allen, Communications Officer, STORMLAMP

Eve is a communications and digital content professional with a background in history and the arts. She trained as a design historian at the V&A Museum and Royal College of Art where her research focused on sustainable design, ecology, maritime trade and food systems.


Encapsulated and liberating: Eastern European graphics, 1960s and the archive

By jennifermchugh, on 10 June 2020

Jennifer McHugh

In one month’s time, I was meant to be taking my final research trip to investigate archival holdings in Budapest. Under travel restrictions and concern for safety amidst the pandemic, this fieldwork has been postponed at best, and at worst, possibly lost.  The ease of crossing borders and entering public archives is now suspended, making freedom of movement and accessibility all the more salient. This short piece addresses the importance of gaining access to physical archives to study art documents, arising from my PhD research project on Eastern European graphic communications and production of print design in the postwar period.  It is through the collection and preservation of these printed objects that we may know about them in the first place and the respective cultural and political moments they reflect for our collective memory and cultural heritage.

 Imagine a time capsule

 A sealed vessel, protective, firm yet fragile, stoppered at one end. In opening this vessel reveals a wealth of information, documents stored in a safe and sensitive environment so that we may see and interpret them today. These are the cultural objects, designed and printed with graphic image and text within a poster.

This considers the archive as a site of memory: one that has encapsulated ephemeral graphic expressions, moved from the openness of the street into a space for collecting. The poster, for example, acts as a tangible, material record through its use of symbolic imagery, text and aesthetic composition to communicate to the public. Its best device was to evoke semiotic meaning and often, double meanings, thus traversing into the world of the intangible, seamlessly entering the visual vernacular and public psyche. The poster occupied a visual and physical space, catching the eye and forcing the passer-by to engage and ideally, react. Creating a unique aura as an individual object, it also interacted with its immediate surroundings, forming links between objects and its allegorical contexts, becoming part of an aura in the greater landscape and immaterial way of being in the world.

 Why the poster?

While first painstakingly drawn by hand and transferred on to a lithographic stone or sheet of metal, it was then entrusted to the hands of the printer to reproduce in large format and multiplicity. Even so, these colourful and richly textured prints were not meant to last. Their ephemeral nature left them (in their A1 sheet of inked paper form) to interact with the world once pasted along hoardings or kiosks in the street and eventually to fade away. Unique to this fleeting medium is its appreciation by viewers for decades, compelling some to gather, collect and preserve them into what are today, dedicated collections and holdings within state libraries, art museums, private galleries, university special collections and auction houses.

How might stories be revealed in posters? The poster has an ability to act as a witness of living situations and character of a people. While small in physical size the poster became a principal actor evidencing public sentiment, transformed in to ‘instant historical documents’. (Sylvestrová 1992) The graphic designer is an intermediary in this process, utilising graphic tools and visual devices to create a unique sequence of coded information and ideas embedded within a poster. (Aynsley 1987)

Whence the archive

The archive acts as custodian, keeper and a means of preservation of posters. It considers the archive as a site of memory and taking a position of authority in the action of accumulating.

Acting as a place of documentation, the archive houses posters as records of social and political programmes, cultural events as well as a means of disruption and independent voice.

Archives act as source for interpretation. How do we derive information from these posters and glean their content for meaning? How do we query their place and positions within the archive and the way this information is codified to create narratives over and anew?  If not put forth and displayed, they remain sealed and hidden within the vessel.

Archives act as a system of management of a cultural heritage. These graphic records would be organised, classified, housed and stored according to international protocol for climate conditions and then made accessible for the public … or would they? Must they? To whom does this information belong or for what purposes?

The archive is not only a place but an accumulating practice, an ordering of material and immaterial information out of chaos, categorizing and creating a collection. Through its analysis the parameters of an archive emerge and begin to reveal what lies in the interstices (of our interpretation). This interstitial activity or ‘dust’ is described by Carolyn Steedman as the miniscule particles enveloping the researcher who becomes immersed in the masses of the archives and the ‘immutable, obdurate set of beliefs about the material world…’ (Steedman 2002, p. ix)

Liberated when removed, even if temporarily, from its box of dust within the archive to be brought into the open and illuminating the viewer, the poster is an example of raw data in a colour, text and textural format.  These graphics become entangled with the archive as depictions of a fixed moment in an interconnected system of ongoing, social and collective acts of remembering. (Piotrowski 2012) And it is through analysis of these archived posters there begins to unravel the rich complexities of meaning, technical skill, application of design principles and deep regional, cultural inferences present in them.

Artpool Archives, Budapest
(photo: Jennifer McHugh)












Aicher, O. (1994) The World as Design. Berlin: Ernst & Sohn Verlag für Architektur und Technishe Wissenschaftern.

Aynsley, J. (1987) ‘Graphic Design’, in Conway, H. (ed.) Design History: a Student’s Handbook. London: Unwin Hyman.

Benjamin, W. (1985) One Way Street and Other Writings. Translated by E. Jephcott and K. Shorter. London: Verso.

Blauvelt, A. (1994) ‘The Particular Problem of Graphic Design (History)’, in DeBondt, S. and de Smet, C. (eds.) Graphic Design: History in the Writing, 1983-2011. Occasional Papers: London.

Derrida, J. (1995) Archive Fever: a Freudian Impression. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore.

Dilnot, C. (1989) ‘The State of Design History, Part II: Problems and Possibilities’, in Margolin, V. (ed.) Design Discourse: History/Theory/Criticism. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Drucker, J. (2014) Graphesis. Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

Flusser, V. (1999) The Shape of Things. A Philosophy of Design. London: Reaktion Books.

Piotrowski, P. (2012) Art and Democracy in Post-communist Europe. London: Reaktion Books.

Rohonyi, C. (1951) ‘Poster Art in Hungary’, Graphis, 7(36), pp. 244-257.

Rose, G. (2016) Visual Methodologies. An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. 4th edn. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne: Sage.

Spieker, S. (2008) The Big Archive. Art from Bureaucracy. Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press.

Steedman, C. (2002) Dust. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sylvestrová, M. and Bartelt, D. (1992) Art as Activist: Revolutionary Posters from Central and Eastern Europe. London: Thames & Hudson, in association with Smithsonian Institution.


¨               ¨              ¨              ¨

Jennifer McHugh is a PhD candidate at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. She draws from an academic background in cultural heritage (Universitat de Girona), international relations (University of Sussex) and languages (University of Minnesota) and has worked in documentation and archives of graphics and design, museums and identity politics. Her research interests include graphic design, printing, geographies, contemporary archive practice and visual presentation of knowledge. (j.mchugh@soton.ac.uk)


The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author unless otherwise identified as referenced academic sources. This work follows principles of Fair Use; the images are photographs by the author.






The Future of Heritage Funding

By Charlene A Murphy, on 3 June 2020

UK coins

Although we live somewhat uncertain times there are hopeful signs for the future funding of research in heritage science and engineering.Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, there are growing funding opportunities for heritage science nationally. For example, heritage is listed as a priority in the recently published UKRI Research Infrastructure Roadmap “Opportunities to Grow Our Capability”. UKRI has recently announced a £19 million Digital Heritage/Museum Programme and the British Council has received £8 million to build on the long-term sustainability and impact of existing Cultural Protection Fund projects.

One of the founding ideas behind the establishment of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) was to bridge disciplinary silos and more seamlessly support research in disciplines – like heritage science and engineering – that span the remit of two or more Councils. UKRI funding programmes, like the Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, are open to researchers from all subject areas, from anthropology to zoology.Research Council budgets are also growing, but new funding is being focussed in the new UKRI “Collective Funds” – including the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), Strategic Priorities Fund, and Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – rather than handed out to individual Councils.

The Research Councils now need to work together to develop business cases to Government for new Collective Fund programmes. They have also established formal boards and calls to help prioritise and develop ideas put forward by the community. This is as good a time as ever to be advocating – together with our partners – for new funding for heritage science.And there are plenty of good arguments to use.

With the growing threat of political upheaval, climate change and natural disasters posing major risks to cultural heritage – both within the UK and worldwide – the growth of this sector is considerable. Funding, educational and training opportunities are already expanding rapidly to attempt to keep pace with increasing concerns both domestically and internationally.Heritage is also now recognized as having increasingly important tangible economic and intangible societal benefits. There is no denying that the historic environment has a close connection to economic activity in the UK. Historic England’s April 2019 report Heritage and the Economy 2019 noted that the heritage sector is an important economic sector producing a total GVA of £31 billion and providing over 464,000 jobs in the UK.

If you have ideas for how to champion research in heritage science & engineering, we would love to hear from you. Blog Post by Dr Charlene Murphy & Dr Matt Davis.

UCL Heritage Science and Engineering Network Blog

By aliciacolson, on 17 April 2020

Rock Art and AI


Dr Alicia Colson FSA, FRGS


Rock Art is another name for those troublesome elusive images, sometimes labelled pictographs, rock paintings, petroglyphs, engravings or rock paintings. The label shifts depending on the researcher. They are definitely in the domain of archaeology but rock image sites cannot be studied using the same techniques as might be applied to other archaeological sites. The theoretical approaches used and the questions asked may be the same but the data sources are not only radically different and but generally far more limited in number. These images cannot be excavated using the standard techniques for recovering, cataloguing, and analysing data archaeologists apply to materials in ‘conventional’ archaeological sites. The area surrounding such images may be excavated but the physical context of the site itself often provides little or no information about the meaning(s) of the images themselves. I propose that these representations should be termed rock images, or petroglyphs and pictographs (Colson 2007:8). This term is problematic (see Colson 2018: 80-82) but this is not the place for such discussion. A rich literature attests to the elusive search for meaning using a variety of theoretical frameworks (for: culture- history, contextual, analogical, homological and intuitive – see Colson 2019: 38-39). Supposition is as in any discipline, rampant. Suppositions, for example, about the physical location of the pictograph sites in the Canadian Shield, as always located on the vertical faces of granite cliff fundamentally influences their discovery, and how and by whom they are interpreted (see Brown and Brightman 1988: 55-56; Dewdney and Kidd 1962: 13-14; Kohl 1985 [1860]: 415; Rajnovich 1989: 185-186; Wheeler 1977a, 1977b, 1979).

Given the difficulties in obtaining absolute dates and finding those elusive meaning(s) the question exists can ‘machine vision’ provide a way in which these images can yield some of their ‘secrets’? Computer scientists have long considered this possibility. They have  developed and utilised algorithms for image retrieval for large databases of large collections of images from the archaeological record as well and applied machine learning (for example Wang et al. 2010; Wang et al. 2019; Zeppelzauer et al. 2016; Zhu et al. 2009). Zhu and his colleagues observed that computer scientists noticed that though image processing, information retrieval and consequent data mining has “had large impacts on many human endeavors, they have had essentially zero impact on the study of rock art” (Zhu et al. 2009:1057). Yet digital image processing, as it’s termed by archaeologists, is been considered an integral component for many in heritage and archaeology (see: Clogg, et. al. 2000; Domingo et al. 2013; Jaladoni et. al. con 2018; Tomaskova, Silvia 2015; Williams and Shee Twobig 2015).

Naturally the question stands of whose perception is under discussion here, where ‘seeing’ and ‘perception’ are crucial. In this case reference should be made to Berger’s book “Ways of Seeing’ (1973). Attributing them automatically implies they were made by someone, even might be owned by someone: person or corporate entity. Computing tools that utilize AI, which is a cover-all term, apparently offer a way forward not merely  to assist attribution, but to offer the  entrancing potential – of linking Rock Art firmly a large story, finding out what paintings ‘mean’, even debating the origins of human  species – so the stakes are high. It is hardly surprising that researchers in the rapidly-growing fields of digital humanities, digital heritage, digital archaeology, and humanities computing have pitched in with a range of tools AI tools, RTI (reflectance transformation imaging) (e.g. Diaz-Andreu et al. 2015), combining them with photogrammetry (e. g. Cerrillo Cuenca et. al. 2013; Cortón Noya et al. 2015) as well as image enhancing software such as D-Stretch (e.g. .Le Quellec et al. 2013, Le Quellec, et, al. 2015; Quesada & Harman 2019) and Adobe Photoshop (e.g. Brady 2006). All in the race to record such images in the hope of extracting something more definitive. It’s even worth checking Grau et al. 2017; Robin 2015 and Vincent et al. 2017.

There is a catch. For once recorded those pesky images, photographed in situ, previously seen only by archaeologists in laboratories, conferences or worse still in academic articles are now; irretrievably ‘out there’. Now archaeologists can’t hide from the questions. The public asks: How many images are there? What do they mean? What is their vocabulary? What’s the range of images used? Are there combinations of images? What combinations are common? These questions raise two challenges. Firstly, the tools which utilize AR, 3D printing, photogrammetry etc are mere lenses which permit us all to ‘see’ the images. They cannot tell us how to see them, still less how others see them. They do not involve ‘machine learning’. Scholars from other disciplines have considered how to describe images (see for example: (Jaritz and Schuh 1992; Sawyer 2010), some have even discussed computer vision (Brassard 1999). Secondly, since research on these images has often been funded by the general public, there is pressure to apply path-breaking AI tools successful in other endeavours to data which has been to hand for almost two decades (see Jaritz 1993; Martinez 1991; Martinez et al. 2002; Thaller 1991 & 2017).

But deploying AI (usually in machine learning) carries an ‘unacceptable risk’ for those involved– it is extremely time consuming. My decades of research and conversations with colleagues in computer science, indicate that relatively few researchers (archaeologists) have drawn on machine vision and applied it to a dataset of such images, even though the originals were all carefully, and officially, recorded some time ago. It appears that researchers suspect that the results of such an exercise might turn out to be negative – that there is no vocabulary of images: that the images themselves have little in common and comparisons not easily made which would allow for a comparison between the Rock Art in (say) Northern Ontario and that found in Norway or Sweden. Too perilous by half for junior researchers, and not the stuff others wish to hear.

That negative result is especially irritating if the work is going in other directions, and emphasizes the uniqueness of each painting, its local setting rather than larger continuities. So relatively few researchers from archaeology, digital humanities, heritage utilise AI on a large scale, undertake complex pattern matching studies, let alone experiment with machine learning. Pseudo accountability of the research funding organizations, skews against the potentially forbidding outcome of a negative result making the prospect ever more risky for potential researchers.

But Rock Art continues to fascinate the general public and, the tantalizing notion that these apparently ancient images might just throw some light on that age-old quest for the origins of humans as ‘thinking’ species continues to nag (for example: (Power, Finnegan, and Callan 2017). The saga continues – in 2002, Henshilwood, an archaeologist, and his team discovered images (on the surface of the rocks) at Blombos, an archaeological site in South Africa (Henshilwood et al. 2011). They argued the images were created by peoples who had relatively ‘modern’ cognition and behaviour. He is quoted to as arguing in ‘Nature’, “that 77,000-year-old etchings were examples of symbolic behaviour and represented the earliest known evidence of abstract thought[.]” (Tollefson 2012). But can he really say that? Are there any other visual examples in i.e. rock art, of abstract thought and what do these images really ‘mean’? The appearance ochre pigment (ochre) in the archaeological record has consequences in the debate of human origins especially if it suddenly exists, becomes continuous, irregular and then regular. It can cause some to speculate that this is possibly culturally significant.

If they are so powerful why are some AI tools not being used to consider the existence of a ‘vocabulary’ of images, and detect their potential range? It’s a worthwhile endeavour (Colson 2006 & 2011). But let’s push the boundaries even further. Why are some tools not being utilised to enable us to envisage combinations of images from the evidence provided by many rock art sites? Since archaeologists search for continuities the use of AI would be the natural approach.

Attempts to breakdown disciplinary boundaries will always burst the intellectual bubbles, which might be getting in the way. These attempts are the essence of scholarly endeavour. They exist anywhere and are everywhere. The Emperor may well be wearing nothing but fantasy, Oz had to be found out. Such activity might enable technologies still under development to surface, to get traction. Why not tackle that humanities equivalent to a Grand Challenge – when did people, human beings, actually begin to conceptualize? So could ‘machine vision’ serve as a way to meet this Grandest of Challenges? The task could not be more serious. It appears that those fields of digital humanities, digital heritage, and digital archaeology, and humanities computing involved in this particular challenge appear to define machine vision differently from the computer scientists who first developed and first deployed it. While some practitioners appeared to view machine vision as assisting them to find and provide meaning to the user, the viewer (the general public) and the researcher, computing scientists may well recoil. They know that they are being asked the impossible. Since questions of ‘meaning’ cannot be in the design specification, they cannot be tackled by this route. AI agents are trained to perform many different tasks (some in simulations and some in the real-world). But as yet, by themselves they cannot provide meaning(s). They will ‘find’ null ‘matches’ they will produce those very ‘negative’ results. Unfortunately the traditional perspective of a researcher in the humanities and social sciences who is concerned to isolate that ‘moment’ of ‘conceptual thought’ will find such results at the very least to be profoundly  problematic.

As an archaeologist and ethnohistorian who’s used computing science and intelligent agents to assess the composition and features of rock paintings I simply narrow the discussion to those images which are encountered on the surface of the rock – which are not those of my imaginings.


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Dr Alicia Colson FSA, FRGS is an archaeologist and an ethnohistorian with a PhD (McGill) and BA (Hons.) Institute of Archaeology, UCL. She’s a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Society of Antiquaries and of the Explorers Club. She’s a Patron of the Great Britain and Ireland Chapter of the Explorers Club. She trained in academic, government, and governmental organizations in the non-profit sector in the UK, Canada and the US. She is fluent in four languages and has undertaken extensive fieldwork in Canada, the UK, US, and Antigua. She has worked as an archaeologist on rock art sites, habitation sites, human remains as well as burial mounds. She’s worked for the British Exploring Society several times in Iceland, Namibia and SV Tenacious (a modern wooden sail training ship). Her research interests include: hunter-gatherers of the Boreal Forest, digital humanities, archaeological theory, history of archaeology, and sub-Saharan Africa. She is currently developing projects in various places globall with colleagues and is engaged in series of research and publishing projects in cognate fields.

Photo of Dr Alicia Colson

Dr Alicia Colson London, UK