March 2015: Dan Lee, archaeologist

Map Orkney Month

My first thoughts for the Public Archaeology 2015 project were to keep things low key and small scale and to work intensively with a few members of the public over my month to explore places significant to them through walking and mapping. Then I came up with Map Orkney Month and things got (relatively) large scale!

Map Orkney Month will attempt to create a new map of the Orkney archipelago based on everyday journeys, significant (or un-significant) places, walks, driving etc. These journeys will be mapped using basic hand held GPS receivers used to record tracks. During recent projects I have been interested in using the archaeological walkover survey as a tool to investigate contemporary archaeologies, materials and events using GPS to record this process. Walkover surveys are low tech landscape surveys commonly employed by archaeologists to characterise the cultural heritage resource in a given area by walking, basic GPS mapping, making notes and taking photographs. I’m interested in using walkovers as a methodology in their own right, and the creative potential that this encompasses, rather than a first stage or baseline assessment for other archaeological work. I’m also interested in exploring the idea of rural contemporary archaeologies to balance the focus on urban areas in Contemporary Archaeology and see where this leads.

So, Map Orkney Month will effectively be a large scale public walkover survey, but in this case the mode of transport will be widened to include bikes, cars, boats and islander planes in order to broaden the scope and accessibility of the mapping process. I hope this will capture movement and journeying between places, as well as the places themselves, and help create a new alternative map. Participants would be encouraged to visit – and record by walking / cycling / driving – a single site or experience of their choice; but their contribution will be left largely up to them. Places may or may not include heritage sites. Each participant will have a GPS for one day and leave it running the whole time. I hope to have about 5 GPS on the go throughout the month or people can use their own. Participants will be asked to photograph/film the journey or site/experience or write/record a short description of their journey and chosen site. Most of the gestures in each participant’s track will be small scale, personal and perhaps only recognisable to them, however combined they would create new multi-vocal cartography.

I have yet to work out the finer details and the above guidelines may change as I think about the idea more; logistics will certainly be key in trying to get GPSs between islands and keeping track of the data. The resulting text could be turned into some kind of diary to accompany the map. I think it’s important to let the mapping lead itself and leave it relatively open. I’m excited about the prospect of a map that makes itself (with a little bit of help).

I’m keen to hear if anyone has heard of projects like this in an arts context or had experience running similar public mapping projects on a (relatively) large scale.

Map of Papay by Walking created from festival journeys, experiences and events at Papay Gyro Nights 2014.


9 thoughts on “March 2015: Dan Lee, archaeologist

  1. Pingback: Map Orkney Month – call for participants | Archaeologists in Residence

  2. Hi Dan,

    Really looking forward to this! Have you looked at Wrights and Sites company at all? I think their book ‘A Misguide to Anywhere’ might be up your street (so as to speak). Very interested in the focus on movement between sites rather than an interrogation of place – I wonder if you’ve looked at theories of relationality in Geography, I understand that you’d like to keep it Archaeological but there might be ways of transferring these principles over? Doreen Massey (2004) is particularly strong on this.


    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for the link to Wrights and Sites – great stuff. I think I’ll have to get a copy and see where it takes me! Maybe combine it with Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost and who knows… I’ve been interested in Experimental Geography and the map work this involves (but yet to lay my hands on Nato Thompson’s 2009 book without spending £100 – new ebook pending apparently). The blend of art and geography this entails has certainly influenced recent and more experimental projects of mine.
      Relationality has made an appearance in post-medieval/modern archaeology based on ideas from anthropology, namely Tim Ingold’s work on animism and materiality (see a great paper by Herva and Ylimaunu 2009 in Journal of Social Archaeology relating these ideas to folk beliefs). Thanks for the reference to Massey’s 2004 paper, I had not come across it (or the journal, which looks interesting too). It looks very relevant. My want to keep things ‘archaeological’ is perhaps down to a perceived need to drive the project from archaeological theory and practice, but I’m also keen to embrace other approaches from art/geography/anthropology. ‘Experimental Archaeology’ of sorts (although this has long been coined by those who dress in hessian, skin animals and reconstruct Stonehenge! – very different to alternative artistic geographers?!), so better termed Contemporary Archaeology.


  3. On global scale, throughout all of history, this might be of interest:

    “The stunning visualization created by Maximilian Schich, an art historian at the University of Texas at Dallas, depicts the birth and death locations of history’s most influential people.
    Schich’s team pulled information from Freebase, a database of historical figures. The mapping starts in 600 B.C., around the dawn of the Roman Empire, and ends in 2012. The blue dots represent birth locations, and the red dots show death locations.”

    Paper: “A Network Framework of Cultural History. A Paper in Science”

    Aisling Tierney

    • Hi Aisling,

      What an interesting project and fascinating visualisation; reducing human life to start and end points on a global scale. It verges towards a map of human migration as some kind of Morton esque Hyperobject! As the authors admit, there is strong Western bias, and most likely class and wealth I would suggest. That aside, the visualisation captures a real sense of global movement, although it does leave you thinking what happened in between. Over the last 2000 years most people I would imagine were born and died in the same place and were not recorded in the history books; unspectacular unrecorded life journeys on a local scale. I guess it is the latter I’m interested in exploring with the mapping project, but I wonder how it will link itself into global scales and networks.

      Cheers for the links,

  4. Dan,

    This sounds great (and very ambitious!). In terms of contemporary mapping, I wonder whether you’re aware of John Schofield and Rachael Kiddey’s work mapping the daily routes of homeless people in Bristol? Your idea also puts me in mind of some of Mike Pearson’s work on performance and landscape, in particular how we might begin to deal with the places people don’t go or don’t identify with in a way you can see in your mapping.


    • Hi Jim,
      I think the scope of the mapping will settle down to a manageable level for the month. Making it Orkney-sized will hopefully capture people’s imagination more and encourage them to get involved. If I get lots of people wanting to take part I may have to select to keep it workable. Having a few GPSs on the go will allow for travel time between more distant participants and posting time etc. It would be great to get one or two contributions per day if possible. Lots of people have GPSs for recreation now so it may be that they can email me the data from their day and work independently. Also, there are lots of creel boats that will have GPS which passively record tracks; it would be great to include some of them. I will certainly be publicising it locally through radio, the paper and word of mouth.
      I had heard about Rachael’s homeless project, but not followed it up in detail, thanks for the reminder. I’m certainly interested in passive mapping of everyday movements and hope that people make a short detour during their day to visit somewhere. It would be great to record people talking about their journeys and places too, along with collecting very short texts.
      Yes, I like Mike Pearson’s work, but have yet to read his latest book, ‘Marking Time: performance, archaeology and the city’ (2013) which would be useful to compare/invert with rural applications. I’m aware to of the numerous mapping projects in Cultural Geography and Art, but want to approach this from an archaeological perspective.

      • Hi Jim,

        Picking up on your point about Mike Pearson’s work, it’s that kind of intensive investigation of place set out in ‘In Comes I’ (2006) that I originally thought of doing, but have now extended this out to try and encompass things at the regional scale in ‘Map Orkney Month’. This will result more extended journeys, spaces in between and more sites, perhaps at the expense of the detailed study of one small area. It will be interesting to see how people’s trajectories and navigation intersects between sites. Maybe several will choose the same locale. The strength in Pearson’s approach is how his chorography shifts between so many scales, yet remains intensely human and compelling. He suggests that the present is always multi-temporal – places are layered and folded in history, stories and experience – and in Pearson’s case gathered up into on-going performance. It will be interesting to see if any of these themes develop through in the mapping and from people’s accounts, text and photographs, and how different scales converge.

        I’m intrigued to see what routes and places people visit. Leaving it open and free will hopefully draw in a range of sites, from the mundane, unfamiliar or unspectacular to the well-worn, familiar and iconic. It will be interesting to see how people respond to carrying a GPS. In my experience it can affect people quite a lot to the point that they behave differently and feel like they are being ‘watched’ while they walk, let alone being ‘monitored’ later on when others view their tracks. This may have quite an influence on the characteristics of the final map and the experience of the participants.


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