The latest in our occasional series takes a peek Inside the Mind of Tom Goskar, Digital Archaeologist.
Tom Goskar is an independent archaeologist and digital heritage specialist living in west Cornwall. After a decade working for a commercial archaeology unit, he now works freelance.
The Ten Questions:
What sparked your interest in Archaeology?
I grew up in rural Cornwall and was fascinated by the ruins of old tin and copper mines, abandoned clay workings, and anything old. Family picnics on Bodmin Moor near stone circles, and days out to Truro visiting the Royal Cornwall Museum (especially the mummy of Iset Tayef Nakht) got my imagination racing. I can remember being 9 years old and wanting to be an archaeologist. That wasn’t a fashionable ambition to have in the playground, when everyone else wanted to be a fireman or racing car driver, but I stuck with it.
How did you get started?
After college I studied archaeology at Southampton University. During the degree course I volunteered for whatever practical work I could, from cataloguing pottery to geophysical surveys, to digging test pits. I loved it. After finishing the degree I worked at Surrey History Centre for a year, helping people undertake research and answering written enquiries about the archive’s holdings. Then I returned to Southampton to embark upon the MSc in Archaeological Computing. It was hard work, but very rewarding, helping me learn to deal with large quantities of archaeological information, digitise, and interpret it. After the degree, and a bit of piecemeal work for the Archaeology Department, I got a job at Wessex Archaeology doing monument condition assessments. I was suddenly a professional archaeologist!
Who has most influenced your career?
I’ve worked with some great people over the years, in many different areas of archaeology, and it would be tough to weigh everyone’s influence on me to list here!
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
The laser scanning and analysis of three stones at Stonehenge back in 2002-2003 was just fantastic. We discovered previously undiscovered rock art and demonstrated the potential of 3D technologies at Stonehenge to a global audience. From the initial “wow” of the discovery to the crashing of our website due to the sheer number of visitors, and the publication of my first article, I will always remember it. Recently I have begun to record medieval inscribed stones in west Cornwall, getting me out into the open again, capturing my own data. I’m testing some new methodologies for digitally enhancing 3D surface detail. Testing past interpretations and maybe lining up some new ones. That’s what’s exciting and gripping for me right now.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
Chysauster, which is a courtyard settlement in west Cornwall. The excellent preservation of the houses and a ‘street’, coupled with the incredible views over Mounts Bay, make it a stunning place to visit (in good weather!). There’s much to wonder about – and being able to walk into rooms built around 1,800 years ago – can still set the imagination going.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
Upon leaving university, access to journals and mapping data becomes difficult, and I’m certain that it causes the unhelpful division in the archaeology sector between academic and commercial archaeology
(and anyone else for that matter). I am looking forward to the change towards open access, and further democratisation of information.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
I would make Historic Environment Records statutory. I would also make all information held by them publicly accessible via the web using open formats, for good or for bad. Heritage in general needs to be protected and enjoyment of it encouraged, and open information about it is key.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
I would remind the House that heritage is a huge draw for millions of tourists visiting the UK each year, who in turn generate billions of pounds for our economy. It’s time to fund archaeology and heritage accordingly.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I would probably be working in an antiquarian book shop, designing theatre lighting, or be involved in television production. Although I have managed to do the latter two within an archaeological context…
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
Listening to lots of music, reading, cooking Indian food, learning to play the Irish Bouzouki, staring out to sea, and drinking scrumpy. I also like to walk the West Penwith footpaths when the weather allows, but living here, it invariably involves archaeology somewhere along the way!
As always, thanks are due to Tom for answering our questions. We hope to take one of those walks with him later this year.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind of’.
If you work in community archaeology and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.