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SUMO Geophysics: where we came from and where we are going...

Updated: Jan 31

As the UK’s first commercially operating geophysicists in archaeology, we thought it would be interesting to look back at SUMO Geophysics’ long-standing history, what sets us apart from other groups, where we came from and where we are headed.

Geophysics equipment

So, let’s start at the beginning…

SUMO Geophysics Ltd has grown to be the largest and most experienced group of UK geophysicists working in the field of archaeology. The business emerged from the joining of the two leading proponents of near surface geophysics: (founded by Dr John Gater) and Stratascan Ltd (founded by Peter Barker).

Dr John Gater (who carried out his first surveys back in 1974) founded GSB Prospection Ltd in 1986 and at the time, it was the first commercially operating geophysics organisation and the first commercial geophysics organisation to be registered with the Chartered Institute for Archaeology (CIfA). Peter Barker subsequently founded Stratascan Ltd in 1990 and it rapidly grew to become the largest commercial geophysics supplier in the country. Fast forward to 2019, John is now Director of Archaeology for SUMO Geophysics, with Peter Barker working alongside him as a Consultant to SUMO Geophysics.

Geophysics equipment, the SIR 3 Radar System

Above: Peter Barker with his early geophysics equipment, the SIR 3 Radar System.

We are extremely fortunate to have Peter and John at SUMO, as their expertise is widely recognised throughout the industry. They have received numerous awards and co-authored many geophysics publications over the years: -

Dr John Gater was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Bradford for his "distinguished contributions to the field of Archaeological Geophysics". He has also achieved the following: -

  • John was a founding member of the now Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) and became a full Member (47) in 1993. 

  • Holds Fellow membership with the Society of Antiquarians (FSA).

  • He co-authored ‘Revealing the buried past: Geophysics for Archaeologists ‘ (2003). Tempus Publishing Limited.

  • He maintains an Honorary Research Fellowship at Bradford University and has been an Assistant Editor of the Journal of Archaeological Prospection for over 25 years.

  • For 20 years, John was the ‘public face of geophysics’ on Channel 4’s award-winning archaeology programme, Time Team.

Peter Barker was the winner of The Survey Association (TSA) President’s Award for outstanding contribution to the TSA and the survey industry during 2010. He has also achieved the following: -

  • For many years, Peter was a member of the CIfA Council, TSA Council and a committee member on the EuroGPR Association.

  • He was a member of the drafting panel for British Standard PAS 128.

  • He was Chair of the TSA Technical Committee for roughly 5 years and of the CIfA Special Interest Group in Geophysics (GeoSIG).

  • He led the production of the first edition of the CIfA Standard and Guidance for Archaeological Geophysical Surveys.

  • He was a member of the CIfA inspection panel of Registered Organisations and was Secretary to the Impulse Radar Users Association for a number of years.

Dr John Gater, Director of Archaeology at SUMO Geophysics

Above: Dr John Gater, Director of Archaeology at SUMO Geophysics.

What notable projects have SUMO Geophysics worked on?

More than 6000 surveys have been carried out over the past 33 years. These have been largely developer-led projects, but SUMO Geophysics has been responsible for carrying out numerous, high-profile research projects, all of which have been published. These projects include: -

  • Stonehenge Environs & A303, a decade of geophysics surveys during the late 1980s and 1990s.

  • Antonine Wall for Historic Scotland / Professor David Breeze in 2008.

  • Richard III for Leicester University.

  • Glastonbury Abbey for Professor Rebecca Gilchrist in 2009.

  • The Carthusian Abbeys alongside RCHME and Professor Mick Aston during the 1990s.

  • Orkney Neolithic World Heritage Site – Historic Scotland Orkney College 1990s.

  • Castles in Wales for CADW, Rick Turner and Sian Rees.

  • Rochester Cathedral.

  • Tower of London for HRP.

  • Kew Gardens.

  • We have also completed surveys at several Royal Palaces such as Hampton Court, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle for HRP.

  • Old Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

  • Butrint in Albania.

Considering its history, what sets SUMO Geophysics apart from our competitors?

SUMO Geophysics

In our mind the single biggest advantage we have, has always been the people that we employ within SUMO. We have some fantastic individuals who are well established within their fields. Our staff all buy into the ethos of going the extra mile to get the job done well.

Staff are usually qualified to degree or post-graduate level and many are affiliated to CIfA, with qualifications covering both geophysics and archaeology. With more than 30 staff at SUMO Geophysics, we have unrivalled expertise in this specialist field and consistently aim to attract the top talent within the field to maintain our current reputation and quality of work.

SUMO Geophysics has maintained a position at the forefront of geophysical advancements, even developing some of the innovative methods of surveying that have been widely adopted throughout the industry. Utilising our industry leading position has allowed us to employ the newest technology to solve a range of archaeological problems. In particular, our personnel have extensive experience of working with multi-antenna Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) systems.

Founder and Director of Aerial-Cam

Where is the future of SUMO Geophysics headed?

We are extremely lucky to have Adam Stanford (founder and Director of Aerial-Cam) on board. He is widely recognised as one of the most experienced and renowned archaeological photographers working in the UK (and abroad on World Heritage sites). He works regularly for Heritage England and the National Trust, photographing and recording both buildings and landscapes.

He holds many industry recognised licences and Accreditation’s such as:

  • Remote Pilot Qualification + CAA PfCO (formerly PFAW).

  • Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

  • Member — Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

  • Life Member — Council for British Archaeology.

  • Honorary Research Fellow — School of Archaeology, Cardiff University.

  • Member — Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Systems - UK.

  • Member — Drone Safe Register.

Going forward, exciting developments are likely to involve combining the results from differing survey techniques and presenting the data in a multi-layered format. Combining geophysical techniques with aerial photogrammetric data will also allow us to review the results in their true spatial environment. So, watch this space!

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