Photographic Equipment Has Arrived

Yesterday our equipment to create a digital photo archive arrived. Lensart has supplied us with the Book2net photographic studio. The setup has a 71-megapixel camera which allows us to take high-resolution images of the documents within our archive. The installation was completed by the lovely Martin French at Lensart.

Photo of equipment arriving
The equipment starts to arrive.

With the installation complete, Martin took time to train two of our team, Fran and Caitlin. He demonstrated how to adjust the camera to get optimal focus for a range of document types. He then showed us how to use the Tocosa software to capture our documents and how to adjust that software so that we can best present each individual piece of our archive. Almost every item is different and so requires slightly different photography.

Once we felt comfortable using the set up we started photographing one of the photo albums from Keillers 1934 excavation at West Kennet Avenue (78510300). This allowed us to get a better look at the 1934 dig team. for the first time, we were able to see the detail of workers’ faces within the image. We invited the team to view the work we had done. Members of the team were able to point out familiar faces within the 1934 excavation team

Thanks for reading, Caitlin 🙂

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Archive scoping

What comes to mind when you think of a ‘digitisation project’? For me, it’s a vision of a beautiful photography studio, with soft raking light, a camera poised above, the gentle ‘click’ of the foot pedal, and a hard-drive whirring away keeping digital files secure.

However, the reality is that digitisation begins far from any camera, with extremely analogue tasks!

I joined the Avebury Papers project team in July 2022. One of my first jobs was to scope out the paper archive: to work out what materials we are dealing with, how much, and whether there any preservation needs. All of this would inform what kind of studio set up to go for.

What’s in the collection?

The bulk of paper materials at the Alexander Keiller Museum relate to excavations supervised by Alexander Keiller himself in the 1930s. There are also documents and photographs from Harold St George Gray, who excavated at Avebury in the early 20th century, and later documents including preparatory notes by Isobel Smith and Denis Grant King made as they brought together and analysed findings from the 1930s work, commissioned by Gabrielle Keiller.

The National Trust has a catalogue of items in its collection (this link shows you everything at Avebury – not just the paper items). However, many of the paper items are accessioned (organised) into bundles or groups – which is quite normal for a collection of this type. So my first task was to conduct a manual quick count of all paper materials.

For facts and figures fans, here’s an overview:

2700 items in the paper collection, including:

  • Photographic prints (loose, mounted, or pasted into albums)
  • Letters
  • Notebooks and diaries
  • Plans and drawings
  • Printed books
  • Photographic slides (glass and cellulose)
  • 1 roll of cine film
  • Two CDs, 16 video tape, and 3 cassette tape

From these 2700 items, we will be creating 13,500 unique digital objects. This number accounts for individual pages of multi-page items.

In addition to the paper items held at the Alexander Keiller Museum, we’ve also identified relevant letters, diaries, and scrapbooks at the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes. There may also be materials to draw in from the Historic England archive. I’ll share more about these holdings in future posts!


The variety in item size and type directed my search for the ideal photographic studio set up: we needed equipment that can cope with a range of documents and bound books, handwriting, print, and drawings, as smoothly as possible.

216 items (8% of 2700) are larger than A2, with 50 items larger than A0. So, we’re currently scoping out the best way to deal with these outsized (and often oddly-shaped!) papers.

The fact that 70% of the collection is hand written also presents a challenge for transcription (creating digital, searchable documents). Whereas typed documents may quickly and easily be run through OCR (optical character recognition) software which automatically turns analogue writing into digital type, Alexander Keiller’s handwriting especially needs human eyes – and patience!

This image shows a double page spread of the 1934 excavation diary kept by Alexander Keiller and Stuart Piggott. The spread shows entries for Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 May 1934, and a list of gear on loan from 'O of W'. Keiller's handwriting is cursive and difficult to read!
A double page spread of the 1934 excavation diary kept by Alexander Keiller – with some entries by Stuart Piggott. The spread shows entries for Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 May 1934, and a list of gear on loan from ‘O of W’. Keiller’s handwriting is cursive and difficult to read! Accession number: 78510467.


Scoping out the collection raised a bunch of questions as well as challenges. Now we know what we have, how exactly would we like people to be able to see and interact with digitised items on their screens at home? Because the collection is so varied, we need to ask this question for each item type.

This question is also guided by what sort of experience we’d like digital archive users to have in the future. This is not a decision that the core project team will make alone – we are planning various workshops in the coming months to find out what users want to see, and how they’d like to use the collection.

I’m also particularly inspired by elements of the Courtauld’s approach to digitising their art and architecture photographic collection. As Tom Bilson explains, they look to facilitate:

“An appreciation that every image presented online has a physical counterpart that still sits in a library box – a set of visual cues pointing to the personalities and voices enmeshed within our collections, and the recognition that appearance online is absolutely not their year zero, but another milestone in their malleable history”

Tom Bilson, 2020

For instance, take the Keiller-era photo albums held at Avebury. These consist of photographic prints pasted onto pages that are bound together, sometimes with more than one print per page. One approach to digitisation would be to focus on the prints only, and crop out the mount and album details. However, we’re leaning towards capturing the entire page, so that archive users can get a real feel for the photographs as physical objects with varied contexts.

There are many more decisions to be made about how we photograph and add detail to the collection. Let us know your thoughts and questions below!


The Avebury Papers

Hello world! Below you will find our first press release – we hope the first of many exciting updates. Share the news, and follow this blog for more.

Bournemouth University, University of York, The National Trust, the Archaeology Data Service, Historic England, and English Heritage.

Update: January 2024: University of Bristol replaces Bournemouth University as a project partner, as the home institution of the project Principal Investigator.

A project is underway to bring 5,000 years of history to life at Avebury World Heritage site.

A team of experts from Bournemouth University, the University of York, the Archaeology Data Service, and the National Trust, with support from Historic England and English Heritage, are creating a public, open access digital archive of Avebury, and the archaeological discoveries made there.

Professor Mark Gillings (Bournemouth University) and Dr Colleen Morgan (University of York) have been awarded £804,142 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for ‘The Avebury Papers’. This four-year project will analyse, expand, digitise, and share Avebury’s unique multimedia archive, detailing its Neolithic origins and its subsequent life-history, from a medieval hamlet to a modern site of heritage, tourism, creativity, and spirituality.

Currently dated to the first half of the 3rd Millennium BCE, the megalithic monuments at Avebury, North Wiltshire, form part of the UNESCO Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Avebury comprises one of the UK’s largest Henge monuments, containing the world’s largest stone circle at almost 350m in diameter, with avenues of paired standing stones that extend out into the landscape for 3.5km to link Avebury to a host of other important prehistoric structures. Alexander Keiller led archaeological excavations at Avebury in the 1930s, and the documents and finds from this period – which are now held at the Alexander Keiller Museum – are the core of the Avebury Papers project. 

Professor Gillings said: “Despite its international importance, the only large-scale archaeological excavations to take place at Avebury were concluded just before the outbreak of WWII. Whilst a masterful summary of the results of this work was produced in the 1960s, the incredible detail they revealed has remained unstudied and unpublished”. 

The Avebury Papers project will add to the archaeological work that was ended abruptly by the outbreak of war, bringing together and contextualising not only the findings from the 1930s work and other 20th century interventions, but also exploring the lives of the people and organisations that made the work possible. Importantly, the entire archive will be made available online on an ‘open access’ basis for anyone to use for research, enjoyment, and artistic projects.

The Avebury estate was sold to the National Trust by Alexander Keiller and the monument placed in the Guardianship of the state in 1944. Some years later in 1966, the collection of the Alexander Keiller Museum was given to the nation by Gabrielle Keiller, Alexander Keiller’s widow.  Overarching responsibility for the collection and the paper archives now lies with Historic England, on behalf of the nation. Historic England’s national collection of historic sites and artefacts is managed by the English Heritage Trust and at Avebury the Alexander Keiller collection is on loan from English Heritage to the National Trust, who own and operate the site.

Avebury’s significance extends far beyond the British Isles, informing research on a range of fundamental questions concerning the European Neolithic, such as why and how people went to the trouble of building such vast monuments. By providing a fuller understanding of the history of this World Heritage Site, this research and the multimedia digital archive it will generate will enable more effective heritage management, education, and tourism programmes. The project will therefore bring enormous benefit to visitors, enthusiasts and students of prehistory, artists, and heritage organisations, telling the full story of the origins and re-use of Avebury across over 5,000 years. 

Notes to editors

The Avebury Papers is a four-year project to analyse, expand, digitise, and share the unique archive related to the Neolithic Avebury site, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The research team comprises Principal Investigator Professor Mark Gillings (University of Bournemouth), Co-Investigator Dr Colleen Morgan (University of York), Dr Ben Chan (University of Bournemouth) and Dr Fran Allfrey (University of York), in collaboration with Dr Rosamund Cleal (The National Trust), and the Archaeology Data Service, supported by Historic England and English Heritage.

About the National Trust Wiltshire Landscape

The National Trust looks after approximately one-third of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site, which is recognised as internationally important for its complexes of outstanding prehistoric monuments.

Avebury: The National Trust cares for around 650 hectares of this outstanding prehistoric landscape as well as many of the major monuments within it. These monuments include Avebury Henge and Stone Circles – the largest stone circle in the world, West Kennet Avenue, Windmill Hill and many Bronze Age barrows. For more information visit

Stonehenge Landscape: The National Trust cares for around 850 hectares of the fragile and archaeologically rich landscape around Stonehenge which includes globally significant monuments such as Durrington Walls, the Stonehenge Cursus and the Stonehenge Avenue. This landscape is recognised for its Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology reflecting past ceremonial practices. For more information visit

Wiltshire Countryside: The National Trust looks after a number of special countryside sites which are particularly precious for their rare and protected wildlife, natural beauty and archaeological importance.  We work to maintain and improve these fragile natural habitats.  Our sites include Figsbury Ring, The Coombes at Hinton Parva, Calstone and Cherhill Downs, Lockeridge Dene and Piggledene, Sutton Lane Meadows, Pepperbox Hill, White Barrow and Cley Hill.  These can all be seen at

About the National Trust

The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people: Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley, who saw the importance of the nation’s heritage and open spaces and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. Today, across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we continue to look after places so people and nature can thrive.

The challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have shown this is more important than ever. From finding fresh air and open skies to tracking a bee’s flight to a flower; from finding beauty in an exquisite painting or discovering the hidden history of a country house nearby – the places we care for enrich people’s lives.

Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 780 miles of coastline and 500 historic properties, gardens and nature reserves.

The National Trust is for everyone – we were founded for the benefit of the whole nation. We receive on average more than 26.9 million visits each year to the places we care for that have an entry fee, and an estimated 100m visits to the outdoor places that are free of charge. Paying visitors, together with our 5.6 million members and more than 53,000 volunteers, support our work to care for nature, beauty, history. For everyone, for ever.

About Historic England

We are Historic England, the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. We protect, champion and save the places that define who we are and where we’ve come from as a nation. We care passionately about the stories they tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work and play among them. Working with communities and specialists we share our passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all.

About English Heritage

English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites – from world-famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles, from Roman forts on the edges of the empire to a Cold War bunker. Through these, we bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year. Registered charity no. 1140351

Media Contact Details

Bournemouth University
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, Poole, Dorset, BH12 5BB, UK
Tel: +44 (0)7715 812218

University of York
Department of Archaeology
University of York, King’s Manor, York, YO1 7EP, UK
Email: archaeology@adminTel: +44 (0) 1904 323972