Transforming near-surface geophysical archaeological prospection: from square metres to square kilometres – from postholes to landscape archaeology


Over the past decade, near-surface geophysical archaeological prospection methods have evolved from manually operated survey solutions for the investigation of limited archaeological sites to highly efficient motorized multichannel sensor arrays permitting the non-destructive investigation of the buried remains of entire settlements, including corresponding cemeteries, infrastructure and the assumed empty space in-between. After pioneering work conducted since the early 2000s by Stümpel, Rabbel and Erkul at Kiel University (Erkul et al. 2003), the 2010 in Vienna established Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology is attempting to push the boundaries further towards increased spatial imaging and ever-greater coverage rates (Trinks 2012). In the framework of so-called archaeological prospection case studies, the methodology, involving remote sensing in form of aerial archaeology, airborne laser scanning, hyperspectral scanning, and near-surface geophysical prospection methods with a focus on magnetometry, high-resolution ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic induction measurements has been advanced, tested, and applied at unprecedented scale at different archaeological sites in northern and central Europe. The generated comprehensive archaeological prospection datasets covering large parts of archaeological landscapes are analyzed archaeologically through integrative interpretative mapping. The prospection data offers insights into buried archaeological remains as well as any other naturally occurring geological and anthropogenic structures in the ground that exhibit sufficient physical contrast. In particular, extensive high-resolution GPR measurements can be well suited to provide information on paleoenvironmental conditions, mapping sediments, bedrock, filled gullies or waterways, erosion and deposition horizons. In the case of superimposed anomalies of different character or orientation, the three-dimensionality of dense GPR data sets can permit relative chronological classifications. The Valetta convention stipulates that non-destructive methods of investigation are to be applied wherever possible in a professional manner in order to preserve the archaeological heritage. State-of-the-art near-surface geophysical prospection methods play an increasingly important role in archaeological research as well as rescue archaeology for the scientific exploration, investigation, and documentation of threatened buried cultural heritage. While still much technical development for improved subsurface imaging and methodological advancements regarding data processing and modeling remain, it is likewise important to gain a better understanding of the physical and pedological properties that do – or fail to cause geophysical detectable anomalies. Academic teaching, professional training and a continued dialogue between the community of archaeological prospection practitioners and the users of the prospection results and interpretations are necessary for the common goal to gain wider acceptance as well as for the protection of our declining cultural heritage. Erkul E., Rabbel W., Stümpel H. (2003). Development of a mobile multi-sensor system: first results. Archaeologia Polona 41, 159-160. Trinks, I., Neubauer, W., & Doneus, M. (2012). Prospecting archaeological landscapes. In M. Ioannides et al.: Proceedings Progress in Cultural Heritage Preservation. EuroMed 2012. Springer, 21-29.

International Open Workshop. Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 15,000 Years: The Creation of Landscapes VI. Kiel University, March 11 - 16, 2019