Background and rationale
SEAHA (Science and Engineering in Arts Heritage and Archaeology) is a PhD research training programme delivering the next generation of research leaders in heritage science. It is a collaboration between UCL, Oxford and Brighton and supported by the EPSRC. SEAHA is funding 60 four-year PhD studentships between 2014 and 2022, involving over 70 heritage and industrial partners and offering an exceptionally rich and well-supported PhD experience for our future heritage scientists. A SEAHA PhD consists of a one-year MRes at UCL, followed by a three-year PhD programme at the host institution (in this case, University of Brighton).
All SEAHA projects are supervised by a team of academic, heritage and industrial supervisors, who are involved in the project throughout the four years, and often involve substantial placements with heritage or industrial partners. In addition, SEAHA students take part in additional training and professional activities with other students across the programme, have access to heritage science facilities in all three institutions and partners, and have individual research budgets of £3K per year.
Digital imaging techniques offer a unique approach for the analysis of stone monuments. In the case of Stonehenge, recent high-resolution laser scanning has revealed unexpected insights into the surface features of the sarsens and bluestones that make up the monument, including the identification of 71 Early Bronze Age axe-head carvings, and variations in the techniques used to dress the stones prior to erection.
The presence of lichen on the stone surfaces, however, caused significant problems for laser beam penetration, meaning that potentially valuable archaeological information could not be detected. Targeted research is now needed into alternative technologies that have the potential to see what lies beneath the lichen cover at Stonehenge.
The proposed research programme has two aims:
- to evaluate available technologies for the high-resolution imaging of lichen-covered surfaces, using Stonehenge as a case study
- to assess the potential of these technologies for revealing new archaeological information at the monument.
The project will involve the testing of three suites of imaging approaches. The specific methods to be explored will be identified by the candidate during the early stages of the research, but are likely to include:
- terrestrial scanning approaches that use waveform or first/last return measurement approaches
- close-range scanning approaches (eg structured light scanners and laser-based systems)
- remotely-sensed imaging approaches (eg x-ray, infrared, multispectral and terrahertz imaging).
Having identified the most appropriate method(s), each will be tested on control stones prior to application at Stonehenge. It is anticipated that the project will generate higher-resolution data than the 2011–12 laser-scanning survey. As a result, any newly revealed surfaces will be subject to detailed analysis to identify previously undetected archaeological features. The outcomes will have wider applicability for Historic England and other heritage custodians (eg Historic Environment Scotland, The National Trust), as a non-invasive technique for measuring, sensing and monitoring the microtopography of vegetation-covered stone surfaces at monuments and historic buildings.
The University of Brighton will provide expertise in remote-sensing methods, digital data analysis and cultural heritage. Historic England Geospatial Imaging and Breuckmann/AICON/Hexagon will provide access to imaging equipment and expertise. Dr Abbott and Professor Darvill will provide guidance on the interpretation of any new archaeological features identified.