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As previously reported, a project is underway at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Cornwall, to reconstruct a Bronze Age log boat. The remains of three Bronze Age ships were discovered at North Ferriby on the Humber foreshore between 1937 and 1963, and design of these are being used to devise the current boat, which could be as much as 50+ feet long when completed.

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The construction, which is still in it’s early stages, can be viewed by visitors to the museum. Currently, two large (3 ton) English Oak trunks are being sculpted, using nothing more than bronze axes, to form the keel of the boat. Sculpted, because the design requires various ‘blocks’ to remain attached within the body of the boat.

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The block of wood on which they’re standing above, will be only 4 inches thick when completed Once the keel’s two halves are completed, a further large tree (8 tons of wood!) will be used to form the planking for the sides of the boat. The whole will be secured with flexible yew stems, and caulked with other vegetation.

Of the 14 tons total of wood, it is estimated that around 9 tons will be waste – though in the Bronze Age such a term would not be used. The chippings and off cuts would be used as fuel for fires, and possibly for insulation or packing.

As part of the exhibition about Bronze Age seafarers, the master copy of the Nebra Disk is also on show, the connection being that it is thought that panned gold, from Carnon Downs near to Falmouth, was used in it’s construction along with Cornish Tin.

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The exhibit, which through until September, is well worth a visit, if only to provide some encouragement to the volunteers doing all the hard labour!

 We live in a world of Apps these days. There are apps to take photos, to issue diary reminders, to keep a journal, to play games, to socialise online with others, whatever you can think of, as the saying goes: There’s an app for that!

But there is one app that is not available yet that we’d dearly like to see. A Heritage Crime App – A crowd-sourced app for centrally compiling statistics on heritage crime.

There is something that comes very close, and that’s an app developed by Abavus/iTouchVision for reporting problems to your local council, called aptly ‘UK – My Council Services‘. It’s available free for all the major platforms; iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and web, and allows a user (after registering) to send a report to their local council (selectable) about things such as abandoned cars, noise nuisance, litter, potholes in roads etc – there’s a long list of report types available and reports can include photos taken ‘on the scene’. Compiled reports are then forwarded on to the relevant Council.

Now imagine a similar app ‘My Heritage‘ that would allow a user out on a site visit to capture details of a heritage crime: graffiti, broken windows, metal theft, tractor or 4WD ruts on/near a scheduled monument, damaged information boards or other vandalism. Photographic evidence could be taken, and geotagged for inclusion in the reports which would then be automatically forwarded to the relevant authorities; National Trust, English Heritage, CADW, the Police, ARCH, County Archaeologists (if there are any left!) Instant statistics would be available to organisations to quantify hotspots for crime by type, location etc. which could prove invaluable in the efforts to reduce such crime.

An alternate version of such an app could also prove very useful for crowdsourced surveys such as this recent example on the Isles of Scilly, checking for coastal erosion.

So how about it, any app developers out there fancy following up on this one? Are any of the large organisations already investigating going down this path that we haven’t heard about yet? What heritage related app would you like to see available, or better yet, which apps do you already use, and why?

In February 2011 we suggested that a possible solution to intrusive onsite ‘interpretation boards’ could be to utilise volunteers to create web site entries that could have non-intrusive pointers at heritage sites to allow access via mobile phones utilising a QR Code scanner as part of the then relatively new ‘Big Society’ idea.

It now appears that such a system already exists, is in use successfully in France and Belgium, and is rapidly spreading to other countries. That system is iBeaken.

We met recently with Jo Van Hove, one of the founders of iBeaken, and his UK representative Jenny Ridland, to discuss the merits of the system. Here at Heritage Action, our primary focus is on the Pre-Roman sites of Britain, but the iBeaken system can be applied to a much wider range of applications.

The system works off a collection of ‘beacons’, short entries (up to 250 words and one photo on a free ‘Lite’ account) created against a map. Each beacon provides a ‘story’ about a location, or an object at that location. At it’s heart is a simple content creation system and a mobile enhanced (.mobi) site to access the content when out and about. Once the entries have been located, the fun begins! Each beacon is given a unique code within the system to aid retrieval.

Content creators are free to download the QR codes for their own content and use the codes and mobile site in any way they choose, in their own literature or signage or whatever. Alternatively, iBeaken can provide robust physical signs in various formats which include a printed URL to the .mobi site, a QR code, and an optional NFC tag (NFC: Near field communications – similar to an Oyster travel card or the new contactless bank cards. These tags can be read via an app on new generation smart phones). Interestingly, Jo mentioned that to date, less than 10% of people are actually scanning the QR codes, most opting to type in the URL to a mobile browser.

A sample iBeaken sign, showing the URL, NFC and QR Code to access the location story.

A visitor onsite, upon seeing an iBeaken sign has the option of using any of the three methods to visit the .mobi site (enhanced for mobile visitors) to read the story for that location. Research has shown that visitors are not generally too interested in being overwhelmed with information for a site, a short, snappy tidbit of information suffices in most cases, although the higher levels of account for content creation allow for inclusion of video and audio files, as well as multiple photos. But these come at a cost to the user of waiting for mobile downloads on possibly slow connections. Content creators also have the option of providing transalations in multiple languages if desired, which the visitor may then select.

The real beauty of the system though, comes via an API. This allows beacons to be included into existing mapping web sites. This was demonstrated to me using the Cirkwi website which allows users to create their own routes, and has incorporated the iBeaken system into its design. To see an example of this, go to the Cirkwi website for a walk through the City of Brussels. Select the ‘Around the Tour’ tab on the map, and select the iBeaken checkbox. Return to the map and zoom out. Multiple iBeaken icons now appear on the map. Click on an icon to see the attached story.

This API has the potential to allow content creators to create guided walks, with audio at each location to describe what the walker is seeing. The API has already been included as a layer in the LAYAR augmented reality mobile application.

Content creators have the option of three different levels of membership to the system:

  • LITE – The LITE account is absolutely free of charge. No annual fee, no set-up. You can make an unlimited number of iBeakens, but only one photo can be included in a story.
  • PRO – For the PRO account you need to pay a ‘small, reasonable annual fee’. This fee differs from country to country, and allows a wider range of content including multiple photos to be included in the stories, as well as allowing stories to be ‘locked’, requiring e.g. an email address to open them up, thus allowing marketing opportunities.
  • PREPAID – Earn money! The iBeaken PREPAID card has been made especially for museums and outdoor sites that want to monetize their iBeakens. Visitors must purchase a card and enter a code to access the stories.

Created beacons can be given a Category to aid searching and filtering, and Sub-Categories are currently being planned. We can envisage many uses for such a system, and not just within our own field of interest. Jo mentioned that many small village councils in Belgium have used the system for general tourism, putting up signs in their location (often sponsored by local businesses), and the system has spread. Many museums are also using the system for in house display, attaching the iBeaken codes to display cabinets allowing visitors to see additional information about the items. The potential for the system is immense, and we can only hope that heritage organisations, museums and local councils in the UK take up the idea, and that iBeaken signage becomes a recognised part of the heritage landscape.

iBeaken will have a stand at the Museums and Heritage Show, at Earls Court on the 16-17 May 2012, where they will be happy to demonstrate the system to interested parties.

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