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GIS in Archaeology

I recently decided to take some courses online on Coursera. I attempted to do an Archaeology one but I was at a bunch of conferences during the course so I could not complete it. There is, however, one course I recently completed called “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution”. I took this course in order to learn a bit more about GIS and how it can be applied to various fields, in my case, archaeology. It was a very interesting course, well presented, the assignments were fun and practical and the discussions were intriguing. I would definitely recommend for archaeologists and computational archaeologists to take this course for a nice introduction to GIS.

I didn’t only complete this course, but also started a discussion on “GIS in Archaeology”, asking my fellow students if they had had ever used GIS for archaeological purposes and what their experiences were. I didn’t think I would get much of a response, but I had a very pleasant surprise. The students not only told me about their experiences but also gave some links and asked further questions about GIS in archaeology and Computational archaeology. It made me feel very happy to see that other people were as excited about the subject as I was. This blog post summarizes that thread. Thank you to all who contributed, you are awesome!

Some institutions that deal with GIS and Archaeology:

  •  University of West Florida teaches a course in GIS in Archaeology
  • Jezreel Valley Regional Project: This is a project investigating the history of the Jezreel Valley. Their computational archaeology activities include remote sensing, photogrammetry and the creation of an online repository for the data gathered about the area.
  • Coursera – Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secret: The people commenting that had taken the course stated that the use of GIS in the field was mentioned in the course. It was judged as a great course and it will possibly take place again in 2014.
  • ArcLand: Mentioned in previous posts, is a project dealing with remote sensing and aerial imagery used in archaeology. They have a linkedin page you can follow as well.
  • Gim Geomatics (in Spanish): deals with GIS in many fields, including archaeology. Here are some PDFS (also in Spanish) dealing with GIS being used in caves, sites and artefacts.

Interesting sources:

Interesting Articles:

Quotes on experiences:

  • Commenter A: “I have been working in GIS in Archaeology; but more than in recording data in running simulations or predict situations at macro, semi-micro or micro scales. It is a very interesting brench. When you are working at macro or semi-micro scale, sometimes it is called Spatial Archaeology or landscape archaeology”
  • Commenter A: “We run different types os situation, depending on the scale (spatial is “special” and scale is a key factor).
    At Lower scales (macro or regional level), we use to run process with 2D – 2.5D data (and sometimes time), based on statistics and “weighted overlay” analysis such as minimum cost paths, watersheds, viewsheds, find of spatial patterns to fin sites, etc.
    In the semi-micro environment (site level); most of the times, we continue using “traditional GIS”, based in 2D – 2.5 D analysis to “build a history” from the recorded data and simulate situations such where was the home, calculate working areas, etc. As far as time advances, it is more common to work with  “pure” 3D data such as meshes, voxels, NURBS, etc. Basically, the main differences is that one pair of XY coordinates accepts several Z and the 3D topology. Caves is the case that you have to always use them and typical simulations are light analyses, climate control, wind movement, height calculations, stability analyses, etc.
    Micro level usually requires 3D data to draw conclusions and explode data.
    Obviously computations Intelligence is present in the “processing stage” and the use fuzzy logic, ANN, data mining and even bio-inspired processing algorithms is not very strange.”
  • Commenter B: “We use GIS systems on a Trimble when we’re in the field. This is very helpful for finding our project locations and mapping sites we find along the way. Some experiences have led to frustration, for instance, when there is cloud cover. Also, any approximation of points due to imprecise capturing of data (some GIS systems are less precise within a meter or several meters) can make relocating a site somewhat difficult. It may be important to relocate a site, for instance, when Phase II testing is required. “
  • Commenter C: ” I am finding that most jobs in archaeology today are looking for people who know GIS systems”, “GIS systems are making it easier to locate sites for archaeologists, it may also make it easier for criminals to find them as well”
  • Commenter D: “I used to be a gypsy digger on archaeological sites around Britain many years ago before GIS. Some sites did have aerial photos to help them locate buried walls and other areas of disturbance. I believe that the excavations they did in Turkey near Mount Ararat on what they believed was the site where Noah’s Ark landed was located using these methods.”
  • Commenter E: “GIS has been used in Archaeology for some time, especially for predictive modeling (such as using topographic and social variables to infer site location) and the use of remotely sensed imagery to identify features that may indicate sites. “
  • Commenter F: “I work for an engineering consultancy in the UK and we have archaeologists. Alongside our environmental dudes, they are the biggest users of GIS in the company: If you build anything in the UK you have to assess what the likely impact is on the surroundings, including any affect that you might have on the archaeology. They use GIS initially to do desktop studies of what records of archaeology or other historically important stuff there is about. They then report what the likely impact of the construction will be.Sometimes they then have to be involved in supervising any archaeological investigation and providing input to the design to prevent or reduce the impact on the archaeology.

    Recently they’ve also been using 3d scanners to record investigations.”

  • Commenter G: “Funny you should say that, I’ve just been draping C16th and C17th century maps of a Manor House that friends of friends own. They also want to put stuff from the UK archaeological record on the same map, too.”
  • Commenter H: “Kristina, I’ve used a GIS to model source material for the Chinchorro mummies in Peru/Chile, viewshed analysis for evaluating territoriality, line of sight between geoglyphs down valley and modeling historical pathways (trails, travel networks) using cost-distance analysis. All have limitations and embedded assumptions but offer a refined starting place.”
  • Commenter I: “A friend of mine used GIS to map out the artifacts we found during our summer field school and the results were pretty cool. You could actually see a ring of artifacts. Looked kind of like a group of people sitting around, tossing things over their shoulders (aka Binford’s Dimensional Analysis). Very cool.
    I’m also about to start an internship where we will use it in conjunction with surveying.”
  • Commenter J: ” I’ve used a trimble for mapping in artifacts and setting nails”
  • Commenter K: “I’m learning GIS to develop skills in photogrammetry and in 3D rendering of site maps.  Photogrammetry involves digitally rectifying photographs taken in the field to make them “to scale”.  It uses a mixture of both GIS and AutoCAD.  3D rendering also uses GIS and AutoCAD.”
  • Commenter L: ” I’m using GIS to layer maps and plans of a 1650s Spanish fort, today located in a slum community in San Juan, PR. There’s a big question for folks here interested in the fort where exactly it is and what’s left of it. By using aerial photographs as layers, the last time it was seen from above was 1930s. Using GIS for the initial remote sensing and basis for a discussion on cultural formation processes, a la Schiffer.”
  • Commenter M: “At a regional archaeology conference for the Caribbean, there were several presentations showing the use of GIS for predicting pre Colombian sites”
  • Commenter N: “Some time ago I had the opportunity to work with a machine called HDS Scan station used, among other domains, also in archeology to realize very precise 3D scenes of archeological sites. Using laser technology, this device returns point-clouds that are then post-processed using some dedicated software solutions.”

There was also a link provided for another discussion thread dealing with viewsheds used in archaeology. That post linked to this article.

I hope this discussion summary is useful to those of you interested in GIS in archaeology.


One comment on “GIS in Archaeology

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