When I learned that one of my secondments would be on Cyprus, I was of course more than happy! Amazing archaeology, wonderful people, delicious food, beautiful beaches and – most important – great weather, especially compared to rainy UK. But then I thought that this meant to work together with some of our neuroscientists, Andy and Chris from AAISCS, and I was a bit nervous. I mean, they’re the REAL science guys and I’m just an archaeologist trying to apply some computational stuff to my data. However, after some initial conversations with the two of them, it turned out that they already had some ideas how to deal with my data. More precisely, how to find my missing data.
Missing data is a really big issue in most scientific disciplines, but even more in archaeology. Why? Because first, we can only find what people before us left behind. So, even if we could find everything that’s still left, it would be already an incomplete. Second, natural processes that happened since the deposition of those material remains might have (partly) destroyed them. For example, textiles, wood or other organic matter are often decomposed over decades, centuries and millennia. Third, we humans also destroy a lot of archaeological finds and findings when we alter our environment to suit our needs – and we do this quite a lot. And fourth, although we archaeologists try to find everything, we’re not able to look everywhere, so there are a lot of areas and regions all over the world where we haven’t been able to excavate.
During the first steps of my analysis, I realised that the missing data is a huge problem for me. Not only are there a lot of blank spaces on my maps, but also additional information for ancient sites like dating, size and population is rare. The latter is hard to obtain without fieldwork and we can only fill some of the gaps with estimations. Therefore, with Andy, Chris and Ioannis from EUC, I went looking for my missing sites to fill at least some of those blank spots.
We decided to develop an algorithm that would use the information we have to locate potential missing sites. Algorithm – that means maths, something my poor social science brain is usually unable to cope with. Luckily, Chris did all the nasty equation stuff (phew) while I helped him to make sense of my data and to understand what we want to achieve.
The basic idea is this: hollow ways (remember, the ancient routes I’m looking at? If not – read my previous posts! :D) are radiating from settlements, i.e. two or more of them lead to a specific settlement. With this in mind, we developed an algorithm, based on a decay function, to find areas where a lot of hollow ways intersect. The result is a heatmap where higher values indicate a higher chance that this is the location of a potential missing site.
From this heatmap, I can extract the coordinates of the potential sites and display them together with the hollow ways and the known sites:
The only thing left to do is to cross-check the locations with historic satellite images and Google Earth to verify that there are actually sites there. Fortunately, those settlements are relatively easy to identify from above because a lot of them are so-called tells which means that they were situated on little hills. Those hills formed when settlements were built time and time again at the same place, literally on top of each other. They can be almost 50m high which makes them distinguishable in an otherwise flat landscape. With all the “new” settlements we found this way, I can improve my analyses and hopefully get more significant results.
Needless to say that despite all these exciting new things I did together with Andy and Chris, I also enjoyed Cyprus, said to be the most beautiful island in the world (according to Chris, who arguably is a Cypriot). All that’s left to say is that I wouldn’t mind having another secondment there – to benefit from our neuroscientist’s expertise, of course!
Thank you, Andy and Chris, for having me and for your invaluable help and support!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!