GIS in archaeology - the interface between prospection and excavation


Archaeological prospection and excavation have the same research objective, namely, the study of the material culture of humans. They investigate the archaeological record but are based on different physical properties and work with different resolution and instrumentation. In addition to the study of literature concerning antique discoveries and the collection and evaluation of surface finds, it is aerial archaeology and geophysical prospection that are the most suitable methods of achieving the intended goal. Aerial photographs provide the archaeologist with a large‐scale overview, and digital photogrammetric evaluation provides very detailed topographic maps and orthophotographs of the archaeological structures visible on the surface. These structures appear in various forms, through contrasts in the physical properties between the structures themselves and the material that surrounds them. In geophysical prospection, the contrasts between the physical properties of the archaeological structures and the surrounding material usually can be investigated only in the near‐surface or with direct ground contact. These contrasts are not directly visible, however, and must instead be measured and converted into a comprehensible visualization. The prospection methods used in the interpretation process are not significantly different from one to another. Interpretation encompasses the localization and classification of archaeological structures, the analysis of their spatial relationships, as well as the creation of models showing the main stratification at a site. Unlike excavations, through archaeological interpretation of prospection data, various accurate archaeological models of the entire site and the surrounding landscape can be made available rapidly. These models can be used for targeted excavations, so as to further condense the information and to refine the models. If all the data are made available in a geographical information system (GIS), it can be combined and further analysed by the excavator as well as by the prospector.

Archaeological Prospection