Geographic Information Systems

Interns & Work Study Programs

At the Cultural Resource Management & Protection Branch of the FCPA, both the Colchester Archaeological Research Team (CART) as well as other projects provide opportunities in the form of work study programs and internships. The programs focus in different areas including archaeological field and lab, office skills, archaeological collections and GIS.

While it is quieter than usual at the office and lab, the students are all here today. Jackie works on updating and organizing some of our old archaeological reference materials. Philip, our GIS intern, works on both GIS and in AutoCAD. Jonathan, the archaeological laboratory intern is helping to update our catalog before beginning his chosen project. Jen is helping with the archaeological collections.









A day in the life of a Postgraduate Research Student

Semantic graph of archaeological data

Semantic graph of archaeological data

Another year, another Day of Archaeology! Having moved on from the world of commercial archaeology, the source for my posts in 2011 (here and here) and 2012 (here), I’m now into the second year of my computer science PhD, investigating Geosemantic Resources for Archaeological Research (GSTAR) based in the Hypermedia Research Unit and Geographic Information Systems Research Unit at the University of South Wales. Today is a busy day (as usual!) wrapping up a pilot study for my PhD, writing up my Transfer Report (to move from MPhil to PhD proper) then later on, doing a bit of paid consultancy work to keep the wolf from the door. Whilst I am lucky to have a fully funded place, taking on a PhD later in life, as I have have, when you have a mortgage and two kids to support is challenging to say the least. But thoroughly rewarding nonetheless; I’m hopeful that my research can really make an impact on how we use digital heritage data within the historic environment sector and further afield but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

The fusion of semantic technologies and GIScience

My literature review identified two strands of discourse within two distinct domains, each looking at how to deal with geospatial data within semantically enabled frameworks. To give you an idea of this, see the figure below which shows a Positive Stratigraphic Unit (ie some kind of layer, deposit or structure) modelled using the CRM-EH ontology and including spatial relationships. There’s some more detailed description of this modelling here including various other classes used in archaeological excavations.

Modelling Positive Stratigraphic Units

Modelling Positive Stratigraphic Units

Firstly, within the web science arena, researchers are trying to integrate geospatial data directly within semantic resources. Geospatial data is structured using ontologies and held within triplestores alongside all other data, with geometries stored as Well Known Text (WKT) or Geographic Markup Language (GML). Both these formats are means of representing geometries using plain old text which can be embedded within semantic structures. This geosemantic data can then be accessed via ‘endpoints’ or APIs (ie web services) using an extension to the SPARQL language called GeoSPARQL which handles spatial objects and operators in addition to semantics. Such an approach also facilitates integration of other Linked Geospatial Data resources, such as those provided by the Ordnance Survey.

Secondly, within the GIScience arena, researchers are looking at leveraging the existing capabilities of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) alongside semantic technologies such as triple-stores, SPARQL endpoints and the like. This way, the established highly tuned, highly efficient spatial services such as Web Feature Services (WFS) can do their thing, optimised for handling large amounts of complex geospatial data, whilst the newer semantic systems can contribute, providing the necessary semantic support.

My pilot study has been looking at these approaches with a view to their application within archaeological resources and has resulted in a system I have used to investigate the pros and cons of different methods. It’s a Java application, built using the Eclipse IDE and using Maven to handle the various external libraries I need to work with spatial and semantic data. These include the Jena framework (for semantic support), GeoTools (the Swiss army knife of geospatial Java programming), GeoServer (a lovely GIS server), some supporting libraries for handling CSV data. There are also some other bits and bobs such as the Jetty and WebLogic webservers to serve applications and provide access via http. The data store I’m using for both geospatial and semantic data is Oracle 12c, the very latest incarnation of this powerful application, which has good support for geospatial data, RDF, SPARQL and GeoSPARQL via it’s updated Spatial and Graph component.

The data for this study comes from the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and is one of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) projects which has useable spatial data available for download and was also one of the resources used in the Stellar project (published as Linked Data at the ADS),so the data is already available in RDF format compliant with the CRM-EH extension to the CIDOC CRM ontology. The availability of the semantic data allowed me to steam on ahead without having to spend time preparing semantic data from a typical relational structure, although this is fairly easy to do with the Stellar Toolkit (as I did on the Colonisation of Britain project).

The write up from this is forming a big chunk of my Transfer Report, currently in draft to be wrapped up and submitted imminently. A fuller write report will form a chapter or two in my final thesis. There’s a bit more technical info over on my GSTAR blog.

A bit of work on the side…

A condition of my funding is a limitation on the amount of paid work I can do on the side. To be fair, this is entirely understandable; a PhD requires concentrated attention and and distractions can be highly counter-productive. But, I do need to feed my family and pay the bills so I do the full amount (6hrs/week) of consultancy for various clients through my own business, Archaeogeomancy, and through the digital heritage specialists Archaeovision. Having such a restricted programme means I have to be picky about which projects I take on but the flipside of this is that I only take on projects I can reasonably undertake and which interest me in some way. A bit of a change from working for a commercial company and having lots of management tasks to contend with and having to support whichever projects were sent my way. Although I do now have to do all my own accountancy and admin… 🙁

The Old Fire Station, Church Lane, Lincoln by Lincolnian

The Old Fire Station, Church Lane, Lincoln by Lincolnian

I’m currently working on some systems development for a client assessing police and fire stations across England, a lovely piece of work which is generating a gazetteer of sites including all manner of interesting data. The system I’m developing is a fairly typical relational database backend with an associated GIS for a spatial perspective and producing cartographic outputs for reporting. Whereas my PhD largely uses Open Source software for everything, as that is where the development focus is with academic research software, this project is back to my old toolkit of Microsoft Access, ArcGIS and some bespoke tools built around this. The bulk of this system is now complete, a draft version has already been handed over, and today I’ll be loading a revised dataset and adding additional tools to deal with specific tasks the users need to accomplish.

It’s always good to branch out too and another ongoing project I need to do some work on over the weekend is a non-archaeological spatial information system. It’s a system for assessing potential ecological impacts and strikingly similar to the kinds of approaches we archaeologists use to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments and to complete Heritage Statements and the like. So whilst there isn’t a heritage angle, my skills and experience can be brought to bear on GIS work in another environmental discipline; something current students ought to bear in mind when they come to look for jobs!

Dis Manibus Sacrum…

Lloyd Bosworth: Archaeology Technician, Classical and Archaeological Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.

My day started like any other day for me. Wake up at 7:30am (ish), make a coffee, put the Today programme on the radio and shamble about the house until the caffeine kicks in. The morning is also when I catch up with the US archaeology blogs that I follow.

Arrival at Work

First order of business is to turn on my workstation and, while that wakes up, make another cup of coffee.

I check my emails.

I’m waiting for a reply from English Heritage to my request for a license to carry out a geophysical survey at Bigbury Camp Iron Age hillfort, near Canterbury. It seems like I’ve been waiting ages for a reply, but it’s really only been two weeks.

This being Friday, my whole day is set aside for working on Professor Ray Laurence and Dr. Francesco Trifilò’s Leverhulme Trust funded research project on age across the Roman Empire.

A Little Background for the Uninitiated

Because Roman law forbade burial within settlements, the roads leading to and from Roman cities were lined with tombs and cemeteries. What may strike us as unusual, or at least unusual to our understanding of modern burial practices, is that the deceased’s age at death was not always recorded on their memorial. This is not to say that this practice was rare, just far from standard across the Empire.

What Ray and Francesco are doing is looking at the ages recorded on memorials and picking up patterns in the overall distribution of the range of chronological age at specific archaeological sites.

My Part In This

This research has produced a unique database containing around 24,000 entries. That’s 24,000 individual burials from across the Roman Empire; each entry recording many different pieces of information about the deceased, including their name, age, memorial inscription, and, in many cases, their social status, too. But this is not the only information recorded, as there is often the same detailed information about the person who erected the memorial.

My part in this is to prepare the database for analysis within GIS (Geographic Information System) software, which can be used to plot density and distribution patterns in the data and display this visually over a map of the Roman Empire.

The database as it stands isn’t suitable for using within GIS, because each entry represents an individual. To be able to plot density based on ages, I’ve been combining entries that share the same age and sex. For example, if there are ten entries from Carthage for females aged 9, it will become one entry for females aged 9 from Carthage, with a total count of ten.

Once the database has been prepared, it’ll be time to start querying the data and plotting density maps to see what the data says about chronological age across the Roman Empire.

While I’ve been working on the database, I’ve also created a website that will host the GIS and tabular data. The GIS server will be able to draw maps based on a user’s query, so that anyone can view the patterns in the data for themselves.

What Does the Data Show

Well, there’s not much I can say about the findings of the study, because, one, it isn’t finished yet, and two, I can’t just spill the beans about it. What I can say, however, is that age data from memorials is not a credible demographic tool. The declaration of age on the memorials appears to conform to the set of key ages which were considered of crucial importance to Roman society. A contemporary example could be the age of retirement as an indicator of the beginning of old age, or the age of 21 as a common indicator of a person’s entry into the world of adulthood.

Children are also poorly represented in the data. But, within this under-representation, there are greater and smaller numbers which may mean something. Roman Law explicitly stated that a child under three years was not permitted a proper funeral, (although simply having a tombstone didn’t necessarily mean that you had had a proper funeral, either). This may sound harsh to us, but, as infant mortality was much higher than it is today, they would have been more used to child death, and so there would be a certain desensitisation over an event that today would be horrific to experience. However, before we condemn Roman parents as monsters, there is a peak in the data for the age of three, which could be showing instances in which the parents lied about the child’s age in order to provide a proper funeral

Final Thoughts

So, working my way through data on 24,000 burials may be quite repetitive and a little morbid, but this kind of information is the bread and butter of archaeology. The repetition does allow time for an inevitable reflection upon life and death, though. I doubt there is an archaeologist who isn’t moved to these same reflections when dealing with data derived from burials. When data like this are analysed, what gets thrown out the other end are impersonal numbers; the reduction of 24,000 lives to a single statistic can’t really get much more impersonal!

But I think it’s impossible to forget that these were real people, as I think this one, randomly selected inscription shows:

[quote style=”boxed”]To the spirits of the dead. Lucius Annius Festus [set this up] for the most saintly Cominia Tyche, his most chaste and loving wife, who lived 27 years, 11 months, and 28 days, and also for himself and for his descendants.[/quote]

Is this really any different to what you’d find on a gravestone today? Lucius was obviously devoted to his wife, and he must have grieved at her passing. You or I would feel no different.

There’s still much work to be done, so I’ll finish this here. Thanks for reading!

A note on the title of this entry:

The phrase ‘Dis Manibus Sacrum’, (often shortened to D.M.S.), is found on many Roman graves. The Manes, to which it refers, were the spirits of the dead, so it can be translated as “Sacred to the Spirit-Gods” or, more loosely, “To The Memory Of…”.

Alaskan Archaeological Adventures in Digital Terrain Analysis

Sarah here. I am just getting this post in right at the last minute (so mind my grammar) but I thought I’d contribute and support this day because Jess is one of my dearest friends and I couldn’t have survived my M.Sc. in Archaeological Computing at Southampton without her! Anyway I will stop being gushy and tell you a bit about what I have been working on up here in ALASKA!

A client of ours last year asked for an “archaeological probability model” to assess the potential for discovering cultural resources within a proposed 2000 foot wide by 116 mile road through the Northern Brooks Range and North Slope of Alaska (way above the Arctic Circle). I will not go into the debates about predictive modeling in this blog but as you may know these models have definite pros and cons. This model was to accompany approximately 65 days of archaeological survey field work in the summer of 2010 (we are just now getting funding to continue this summer). This road is being proposed through a remote area where the Alaska Natives still rely heavily on caribou and seasonal fishing trips (for those of you who are familiar with Lewis Binford’s work, god rest his soul, he studied the Nunamiut or Inland Eskimo quite intensively and this project is within their traditional territory). The road is being designed to open up oil and gas fields (sigh).

So I decided to get in contact with a college of mine in Alberta, Canada who is well versed in archaeological predictive/potential modeling. He has been using available high resolution DEMs (digital terrain models) produced by Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data to perform digital terrain analysis and multi-criteria analysis to construct archaeological potential (suitability) models. So I decided to give it a shot seeing as we had a LiDAR DEM!
To accomplish this task, I utilized terrain analysis (LandSerf©) to highlight two types of landforms with a higher potential for the presence of archaeological sites. These two landforms are level areas near terrain breaks (such as terrace breaks-in-slope), and ridges. I selected these landforms because they are consistent with observations concerning site location made by archaeologists in northern Alaska. I then ranked the archaeological potential of these landforms based on proximity to higher order streams (fish bearing rivers are the highest) using a multi-criteria analysis (IDRISI©).
So now I am working on a field survey plan to test the model this summer. I am not nearly done and there is a chance the helicopter is going to be ready to take us out there next week! Oh boy, I’d better get after it!

The Big Picture: Archaeological Records after the Project is Done

Greetings! I’m Jolene Smith. I work for the Department of Historic Resources in Virginia, USA. I decided to post on Day of Archaeology because I am most certainly not what most people would consider a “typical” archaeologist. I manage digital and paper records and mapping for nearly 43,000 recorded archaeological sites in Virginia through our government agency, which is also the State Historic Preservation Office.

Sometimes I miss being out in the field, but certainly not today. It’s currently 100°F/38°C outside at lunch time, so I’m very happy in my air conditioned office cubicle.

Distribution of Sites in Virginia by County

Distribution of Recorded Archaeological Sites in Virginia (work-in-progress!)

My work so far today has been very heavy on GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I spent the morning creating a quick map showing the density of recorded sites in Virginia’s counties for a publication of the Archeological Society of Virginia (our state’s wonderful avocational archaeological organization). It’s still a major work-in-progress, but I’m happy I was able to easily generate this data. The ASV hopes to use this info as a guide for where to conduct future archaeological surveys. With a little more work, I’ll be able to clean up some errors, pretty it up, and label everything so the data will be easily understandable.

I spent much of the rest of the morning working on creating records for a large project conducted by a CRM (cultural resource management) consultant, making sure the GIS mapping is accurate and matches the information in our databases and in the printed site form records. Quality control is a big part of what I do. It’s fundamental to remember that archaeology is inherently destructive, so it’s critical to have good, clear records.

Here’s what I have on tap for the rest of the day: I’ll work with some more consultants to create records for new archaeological sites and add information to previously recorded sites. I’ll also be responding to a few emails from members of the public interested in recording small cemeteries in our inventory. Then, I’ll probably review a few archaeological projects that have been conducted at the future sites of mobile phone/telecommunications towers as part of Section 106 compliance to make sure that there won’t be impacts to important archaeological deposits. Quite a variety, isn’t it?

Historic Environment Record News

Hi, my name is Charina Jones, I am the Historic Environment Record Manager at GGAT.  My work is usually quite varied and so today is not really typical of any other day.  This morning I have been updating our internal Geographic Information Systems with data relating to Historic Landscapes, Conservation Areas and Archaeologically Sensitive Areas.  Having this data to hand complements the main HER data and helps when in comes to making decisions about the resource, for example, when used in archaeological planning.

Following this I attended a Trustee meeting of the HER Charitable Trust, the HER is held in Trust to safeguard its existence and protect it from being treated as a commercial, saleable asset.  These meetings occur bi-annually and as manager I present a half yearly report to the Trustees on the activity of the HER – and of course afterwards there is a scrumptious buffet lunch!

This afternoon I have been working on producing letters to accompany a data deposit agreement.  We hope that with the co-operation of other organisations, this agreement will enable us to more freely copy and distribute information to enquirers of the HER.


If you would like to search the HER for yourself, visit