University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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@OccupyWatlingStreet: Can we find out Who was occupying What, Where and When in the past?
Keith May

Last modified: 2011-12-20


What do we imagine will be the archaeological remains of the Occupy Wall Street or Occupy London protest camps or events, in say 10 years, or 100, let alone 1000 or 2000 years? Will any evidence survive of where protesters occupied buildings, or indeed when the occupations began, or how long they lasted (a question yet to have an answer at the time of writing this abstract), let alone any idea of who was involved (protesters, homeless people, police, clergy, musicians, etc).

While the possibility of an archaeological record of these events surviving my seem unlikely right now, it may be worth noting that buried below the current area of the St Pauls Churchyard occupation is one of the most commonly identified, and to some extent ‘popular’, layers for archaeologists excavating in London. This archaeological layer is commonly described as “the Boudican fire layer”, a direct result of a riotous and destructive occupation and sacking of London in 60-61AD.

This paper will explore some of the questions raised about how events might be recognised in the archaeology and recorded or interpreted by archaeologists. It will partly do so by considering the options, using methods currently available, for researching the connections between the site of the St Pauls Churchyard occupations and the relevant archaeological evidence for the events at the time of Boudica which have survived in the archaeological record (noting also that much of the evidence also derives from textual historical sources). Usually in current systems only data from single archaeological investigations, or multiple sites residing in a single database system, are queried or searched and even then queries do not amount to the complexity of, say, “show contexts which are burnt deposits containing finds of animal remains that are directly stratigraphically above a context that has been identified as a floor”. This paper will explain how the STAR project (Semantic Technologies for Archaeological Resources) used semantic technologies, utilising an ontology driven semantic search system, to demonstrate the possibilities of searching both data and free text together, across multiple sites and including OASIS archaeological investigation reports. The techniques involved and results achieved may point to new paradigms for how archaeological research may be carried out, reported or re-used in the future.

One major issue to be considered is that in order to accurately return all the possible data associated with more complex queries requires considerably more rigor and accuracy in some of the underlying recording systems, and in particular whether people are able to agree on shared meanings in their semantic terminologies. SKOS based thesauri can greatly aid the power of search techniques and enhance the capabilities of joining up data across different but related domains.



Semantic technologies; research questions; Linked Data;