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Dr Elias Lopez-RomeroMarie Curie-IEF Fellow from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University introduces the ALERT app that allows users to upload information about vulnerable archaeological sites near European Atlantic coastlines.

Present climatic change and anthropogenic pressure increasingly affect the coastal zone. Hundreds of archaeological sites are currently threatened along the European Atlantic coasts by the accelerated relative rise in sea level, erosion, and various anthropogenic modifications to the environment. In spite of this situation little attention has been paid to the development of methodologies for monitoring the vulnerability of this kind of heritage. This is particularly true in areas like Western France or the Iberian Peninsula where, unlike research initiatives in England, Ireland, Scotland or the Mediterranean Basin, there have not been long-term dedicated approaches to this topic.

Since 2006, the ALERT project has brought together researchers involved in coastal archaeology. This group quickly moved toward developing an interdisciplinary approach aiming at the construction of a vulnerability model for coastal heritage, developing assessment and monitoring maps, and assessing the strategies for research and action adapted to the local and regional scales.

As a result of this, a dedicated tool for the vulnerability assessment of coastal archaeological heritage was developed: the Vulnerability Evaluation Form (VEF). This is a field grid including ten variables (natural and anthropogenic factors) which are evaluated in terms of distance from the archaeological site (e.g. distance to the cliff) or intensity (e.g. biological erosion). The evaluation form is deliberately simplified so it can be filled out by all volunteers and researchers participating in the project without having had any specific training.

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Using the ALERT app in the field.

In order to improve the field procedure of data collection the ALERT project has recently developed ALERT Mobile.  Conceived and developed by J.-B . Barreau, M. Sachet, M.-Y. Daire, P. Olmos (CReAAH Rennes, France) and myself, this is a web application accessible from a range of different devices (laptops, smartphones etc.) and connected to a central online database. The app allows the user to type and transmit all the relevant information of the Vulnerability Evaluation Form (VEF) for each site to a secure server. This also includes the automatic transmission of GPS positions (if available through the device), photographs of the sites and/or relevant information about its vulnerability.

This application, which is ergonomic for mobile use, has been developed thanks to the jQueryMobile framework. This one is compatible with many smartphones and language based on HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. The production of dynamic secure web pages, via a dedicated web server in CReAAH, has been programmed in PHP. The display of the interactive maps based on Open Street Map was made using the plugin osmLeaflet.jQuery. There is also a classic web version for administering users and adding administrative information requiring desk-based research.

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Map of vulnerable archaeological sites.

The application will be further tested through several case studies in Western France by Dr Pau Olmos (University of Rennes, OSUR), in the framework of the ARVOR post-doctoral fellowship funded by the Brittany region.

Further steps in the development of the ALERT research perspective include testing the suitability of close-range photogrammetry and LiDAR as monitoring tools for coastal archaeological site erosion. This will be one of the tasks of the Evolving spaces: coastal landscapes of the Neolithic in the European Lands Ends (eSCOPES) project.

For further information send email to elias.lopez-romero@durham.ac.uk.