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Posted by Daniel Pett on

Preparing the British Museum Bronze Age index for transcription

Since late 2013, the MicroPasts team has been preparing the British Museum‘s (BM) Bronze Age Index to be the first offering on our crowd-sourcing platform. This corpus consists of around 30,000 (roughly A4 sized) cards (holding information going back to as early as 1913).  The majority of these are double sided and generally have text on the front and a line drawing on the reverse (there are many variants that have been discovered, such as large fold out shield plans.)

MicroPasts · Application  British Museum Bronze Age Index Drawer B16 · Contribute

The Crowd sourcing platform

Over the last few years, several curators have mooted exercises (Ben Roberts, now at Durham University attempted to turn the transcription into an AHRC funded collaborative Doctoral Award) to turn this amazing resource into a digital archive, but this had not come to fruition until the advent of the MicroPasts project. Internal discussions had been raging on how best to deal with these cards for a number of years, and it was felt that this project could perhaps be the ideal solution and provide museum and public interaction of a new type, which the BM had not explored previously.

To enable this corpus to be digitised is reasonably straight forward and we have employed Dr Jennifer Wexler (@jwexler on Twitter) to manage the scanning process, and she has been doing this since February after her return from field work in Benin.

The equipment needed for this is relatively straight forward, the BM has acquired two high capacity/speed scanners (Canon) which can scan 60 and 100 sheets per minute at 600 dpi and once this initial project is over, they can be reused for turning more archival materials into potential crowd sourcing materials. You can see a picture of Neil’s former office (he’s just moved to a nicer one -we’re not jealous) being used as the scanning centre below in one of his tweets:

The first drawer scanned is known as A9 (this application on the platform), and this was done by the Bronze Age Curator Neil Wilkin (@nwilkinBM on Twitter) over a few weeks whilst dispensing with his other duties. Once Jennifer returned, scanning started in earnest! These high resolution images were then stored in various places to facilitate good data preservation (on an external 4TB hard drive, the Portable Antiquities Scheme server cluster and onto Amazon S3) and they were then stitched together by Daniel Pett (@portableant on Twitter), as composite images using a simple python script and then uploaded to Flickr (for example see this set) for the crowd-sourcing platform to access and then present them as tasks for our audience to assist with. All of these images have been released under the most liberal licence that Flickr permits (we would have ideally liked to make them CC0, but this option does not exist) and so they are served up under a CC-BY licence. The data that will be transcribed, will also be made available for download and reuse by anyone, under a CC0 licence. The embedded tweet below, shows an example of one of the stitched cards:

The platform that we’re using for serving up the crowd sourcing tasks has been created by Daniel Lombraña González (lead developer – @teleyinex  on Twitter) and the Pybossa team, and it is a departure from the usual technology stack that the project team has used previously. Installation of the platform is straightforward and it was deployed on to Portable Antiquities Scheme hardware in around 15 minutes. We then employed Daniel to assist with building the transcription application skeleton (in conjunction with project lead Andy Bevan (not on Twitter!) and Daniel Pett) that would be used for each drawer, whilst we also developed our own look and feel to give MicroPasts some visual identity. If you’re interested, the code is available on GitHub and if you have suggestions from improvements, you could either fork the code or comment on our community forum.

For the last few months, building up to launch, lots of debugging and user testing was conducted to see how the site reacted, whether the tasks we offered were feasible and interesting enough. Chiara Bonacchi (@Chiara_Bonacchi) and Adi Keinan (@Adi_Keinan) worked on the main project site, building our Facebook and Twitter engagement.

Chiara has also developed our evaluation frameworks, which we were integrating into the system and feel are vital to discovering more about people’s engagement with our platforms and how their motivations progress through time, and hopefully the project’s success! This evaluative work hopes to be one of the first following the development of individual users’ interaction on a crowd-sourcing website.

And then we launched and tasks are ongoing:

This project is very exciting for the BM and especially for our curatorial staff. It could unlock new opportunities and Neil sums up very succinctly, why we are doing this public archaeology project, so we’ll leave it to him:

Thank you for participating!

Posted by Chiara Bonacchi on

MicroPasts goes to Paris

Hi all, last week we had the opportunity to introduce the MicroPasts project at two international conferences: the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, in Austin, and the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference in Paris.

In Paris, we discussed our experience of developing the MicroPasts platforms so far, our aims, the challenges we have encountered and our evaluation plans and results until now. This talk was given as part of a very interesting session on Community Archaeology and Technology, which brought together lots of projects that are currently supporting people’s participation in archaeological research and their engagment with heritage resources via digital technologies. The MicroPasts presentation is embedded below, we hope you will enjoy it!


Posted by Adi on

MicroPasts Latest Tech Update

So what has been new with MicroPasts? Well, quite a lot. We have successfully launched our crowd-sourcing platform last week, and lots of people are now transcribing object cards and using the photo-masking application to delineate the outline of Bronze Age tools. From a technical perspective, we needed to take care of two main issues before launching: the first one was, naturally, to finalise the customisation of the crowd-sourcing platform; and second, to design a landing page at

To start with the latter, the platform on which we chose to host the main MicroPasts website is WordPress. WordPress is a free and open source content management system which has been around for over a decade and has millions of users. You don’t have to be web savvy to install and use this platform for your website – especially since it offers some very useful documentation. After installing its software on the hosting server, you can start modifying your site’s appearance and fill it up with content as you like. But before that, you need to choose a Theme – which is basically a bunch of templates that allow you to change the design and functionality of your site. You can customise your Theme of choice using CSS, PHP and HTML if you really want to.

We chose a responsive Bootstrap theme for But what does that mean? A responsive web design means that your website would be easily navigated (as well as look great) on a wide range of devices, i.e. desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. That is, in addition to your aiming for an optimal viewing in different resolutions and browsers. And what is a Bootstrap theme? Bootstrap is a package of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and HTML templates that can help you managed the look and feel of your website. One of the many advantages of Bootstrap is that it provides a layout grid system that you can use to manage the layout of your content. It also comes with a full set of Glyphicons – useful icons that you can incorporate into your code. You can go with these, or check out Font Awesome, which also provides a wide range of high quality, completely free icons, which are also fully compatible with Bootstrap. These icons are not graphic elements – as the name suggests, they are actually fonts, which can be manipulated using CSS.

In tandem with creating our main MicroPasts site, we had to finalise our crowdsourcing platform. The code for this platform was forked from a site called CrowdCrafting – a portal for crowdsourcing applications built using the PyBossa software. To ‘fork’ a project means to make a copy of all its files and code so you could customise it for your own needs (or contribute to the original project). This can be done freely only with open source projects, and a very convenient environment to do this is GitHub. GitHub is a platform that hosts software development projects, where a team of several people could work on the same project at the same time. GitHub is completely free and claims to include over 10 million project repositories! So, especially in the last few weeks, we’ve been raising issues (i.e. things that need to be taken care of), fixing bugs and doing lots of tweaking until we felt ready to open up the crowd-sourcing platform to the public.

This is proving to be a huge success for far – people are not only engaged with the different applications, but are also active on our community forum, asking questions and giving some very useful feedback. Next on our to-do list is to launch our Crowd-funding platform – so stay tuned for some more tech updates!