GIS and archaeology

Archaeology provides us with a historical timeline of human life and development that dates back over one hundred thousands years. The discipline is a means by which we can track changes in various aspects of human culture, making it a two-dimensional field of study, comprised of both a spatial and a temporal aspect. There has been increasing interest in integrating GIS, remote sensing and GPS into archaeology. These tools can be used for large-scale research and data processing, acting as a means to combine results of different archaeological studies into an integrated database.

One such way GIS is applicable to archaeology is in something called “aerial archaeology”. Aerial archaeology encompasses satellite imagery, whether it be from SPOT or GPS satellites, color aerial photography or high-resolution height data, that are then used to generate digital terrain models (DTM) of archaeological sites and monuments. With DTMs, GIS provides a form of landscape management through an easily accessible computer database, which allows for analytical purposes.

The initial stage of aerial archaeology involves digitizing. A scanner digitizes the surface of an artifact or monument in the form of x, y, and z co-ordinates. A connectivity list describes the relationship of the points to each other. Through computer aided design (CAD), the DTM of the archaeological site or object is created. After RE (reverse engineering), which is the process of acquiring point data from the surface of the artifact, the point co-ordinate data is then converted into a physical prototype using an RP (rapid prototyping) technique. The final digital 3-dimensional replication of the object or monument can then be accessed, altered, or analyzed with ease by archaeologists. Here’s an example of modelling artwork and archaeological forms.

This is one example of how GIS can be used as an interactive tool for modeling and analyzing archaeological information. Who knows, maybe in the future this will replace traditional archaeological methods.

Thanks to MP for the post.

For another instance of GIS and the social sciences and humanties, see the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, a spatially catalogued digital library of cultural and historical resources.

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