Apps for Archaeologists

Archaeopad is a collection of Apps designed for and with archaeologists. I’m an IT specialist who’s been studying for a part-time degree in  Archaeology at the University of Reading and have become fascinated with the challenges, and potential benefits, of putting my IT skills to use in the field.

Archaeologists need applications that blend a practical, robust approach with sound academic content, a suitable challenge for any designer/developer.

Skelly-Pad is designed for osteologists to record skeletons in the lab or in the trench, and has proved particularly useful for fragile human remains that need to recorded and measured in situ.

Level-Pad is a very simple App for recording and calulating levels,  designed to let you get on with the interesting stuff.

All my Apps are available on Apple and Android devices – if there’s an App you’ve always wanted but not ahd time or inclination to write – let me know!


Skeletons in bulk!

The tricky thing about developing Apps is that you don’t know until they’re published how people will use them. The feedback I got during development suggested that most users would be analysing skeletons in the lab rather than recording them during excavations, but thanks to some very useful feedback from user in Israel and Iceland it seems that Skelly-Pad is proving very useful for on-site, in trench use. That’s particularly true when the bones are very fragile so that this is the only time that measurements can be accurately taken.

Recording a whole cemetery at once means there are more skeletons being held in the App than I’d anticipated so I’ve added a paging feature that means you can flip through the skeletons more easily and some basic search functionality to locate a particular skeleton in a long list.  Only available on iPad and iPhone right now, a new version of Android introduced a new bug 😦 – but hope to get the Android version updated soon.

The current record is 51 skeletons, if you’ve done more let me know!



Last summer I spent a happy 2 weeks digging at Marden Henge with students and staff from Reading University. One image that sticks in my head is the (very hot) afternoon a group of us spent scratching our heads over various mistakes in the levels book. In an off the cuff comment I said that an App for calculating levels would be a really good idea, which was greeted with a chorus of “yes, please!” from the students.

Several months later a search of various App stores revealed plenty of Apps that do indeed calculate levels, and much more besides, but all aimed at surveyors rather than archaeologists.

Level-Pad is my attempt to fill the gap with a simple, easy to use App that  works the way that excavators work on site. Looking just like a traditional levels book, when you move to a new page it asks how many levels you’re planning to take and all you have to do is enter the TBM, BackSight and ForeSights and Level-Pad fills in the calculations for you.

You can write the levels in a physical book when you’re done, email or print a copy of the page or send it to another Level-Pad user to store in their phone or tablet.

No more sums!

Fed up of spending time calculating levels in your head, searching for a calculator or checking you’ve used the backsight and foresight properly? Level-Pad does the sums for you, just enter your Dumpy level readings and it will calculate the levels for you.

• automated level calculations
• generates level book page to print
• share pages with other users

Free version has full functionality but limited to 5 pages of levels.

iPhones included

When I started building Skelly-Pad iPhones were still mostly small, so I decided it didn’t make sense to publish the App on them because it would be too difficult to use.  But in the last year or so they seem to have got bigger and bigger – so much that some phones are almost as big as small tablet. I’ve also had people ask to try Skelly-Pad on a phone so after a bit of tinkering around the latest version is now usable on even the smallest iPhone.

With smaller phones you’ll need to switch between landscape and portrait mode a bit to get the best results but everything is usable – you can zoom in and out of the pictures if need be.

This version also has some changes to try and prevent crashes on iPad Air devices (which are prone to crash if you turn them around and the App flips around to match) and a bug in the import utility that caused some imports to fail.

Version 1.1.10 is available on the iTunes App store and Google Play.



Skelly-Pad is for Sharing

So, like any typical IT project, the latest version has taken a bit longer than I’d hoped to emerge from testing. There were some new features that I decided really had to be added before the next version went live.

Specifically, I’ve added a new form of export that lets you share skeleton reports with other Skelly-Pad users. You can already share them as HTML pages or in Excel format but this new format (JSON for any technies) is designed to make it easy to import the data back in.

If you send a skeleton by email the recipient can just tap on the Skelly-Pad icon that will appear when they select the zip file attached to the email and it will let them import into Skelly-Pad.

In theory this should also work if you share via Dropbox and similar methods but there seem to be some oddities in the way Dropbox is built that mean that doesn’t happen. If the sharing method you try doesn’t work probably the best approach is to revert to email.

New version, 1.0.9, is now live on the Apple App Store and on Google Play (haven’t quite fot the Kindle version wokring yet).

Also – please note that the free version only lets you record 2 juvenile skeletons, there’s a modest charge of £3.99 for unlimited use – mainly to cover the cost of publishing which is £100+ pounds a year!

Any issues please either comment on this blog or email



Unexpected chuckles

I’m just doing a full test of the latest version of Skelly-Pad, this includes a juvenile skeleton and the ability to upload photos. Testing is one of the less fun parts of any IT project, but very necessary – especially in Apps which are distributed to a wide range of tablets with different versions of software. So always nice when something unexpected but nice happens.

I was randomly typing characters into the App to check that it copes OK with apostrophes and other special characters when I accidentally tapped an emoticon on the iPad keyboard. Wasn’t planning to test that but it turns out to work fine, so my test skeleton is now looks like this;

smily skeleton






Getting Help with Skelly-Pad

The initial feedback from the survey and Skelly-Pad users has been great. Top of the list for new features is the ability to record Juvenile skeleton and dentition, which has been quite tricky but is nearly done. I’m hoping to publish the new version in the next month or two so watch this space.

In the meantime a few people have commented that they’ve had trouble running Skelly-Pad reliably, but unfortunately I don’t have their contact details to work through what the problem is.

If you have any problems with the App, or suggestions for new features, then please email and I’ll do my best to sort things out.

Please include as much information as you can about the type of tablet you’re using and the problem you’re having.


Feedback please!

Skell-Pad was built to form the basis of my undergraduate dissertation – so I need some formal feedback to close the loop and provide the research element. The survey I sent out to BABAO before starting work produced some fascinating results, the 60 people who responded record around 7000 skeletons per year between them – which takes a whopping 20,000 hours.

This survey is about how useful Skelly-Pad is and what extra features would make it more useful – all contributions gratefully received- the link is

Thank you

First Bug Fix Available

So, I thought I’d tested the App pretty thoroughly – but then had to upgrade my development environment so it would work on the newest ipads and a sneaky one slipped through. If you’ve tried to enter the number of ribs or phalanges on the original version you’ll find you can’t.

The bug is now fixed but you’ll need to go to the App Store to download the updated version.