University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

Font Size: 
Open source GIS for archaeological data: two case studies from British and Egyptian Archaeology
Anna Kathrin Hodgkinson, Stefano Costa, Luca Bianconi

Last modified: 2011-12-21


This two-part paper demonstrates how open source software has been successfully adopted for the visualisation and analysis of archaeological data in both commercial and academic archaeology. Proprietary software can put archaeological data at risk by placing unnecessary barriers of entry to studying the past: Closed file formats present issues for preservation and dissemination, especially through locking data in. In particular, the use of CAD software can present a threat for the archaeological data with its inability to maintain topology.
We will describe how, in 2009, Oxford Archaeology employed open source GIS software for daily use on a large fieldwork project, thus overcoming a general reluctance amongst archaeologists. Training material was produced and disseminated on the internet, in addition to introducing more sustainable spatial on- and off-site methodologies. Initially, the gvSIG OA Digital Edition was chosen as desktop GIS package for data visualisation and analysis, but Quantum GIS (QGIS) was also used alongside for extended functionality.While the project GIS was maintained successfully in gvSIG and QGIS, the on-site work-flow was documented in detail and this material was released online: guiding the archaeologist though the stages of setting up survey equipment, explaining the download of the data introducing the archaeologist to open source GIS. Over time further manuals have been released, for example for the use of open source illustration software, Inkscape. PostgreSQL databases were set up for data maintenance in PostGIS for larger projects, as this facilitated access and gave additional query capabilites, reducing the use of proprietary formats even more.
Another successful case-study of the use of open source GIS software within Egyptian archaeology is the Gurob Harem Palace Project: This is a collaborative international team of archaeologists led by the Universities of Liverpool, Copenhagen and University College London, studying the urban and funerary remains at the 'harem town' of Mer-wer at the site of Gurob (or Medinet el-Ghurob) in the southern Faiyum region of Egypt.The main focus of this project is archaeological and topographical survey. A detailed map of the site is still lacking, and permission to excavate has not been in place for very long.All download and processing of archaeological data is done using open source geospatial software:
Total Open Station for downloading and processing of the survey dataQuantum GIS for visualisation and analysis,PostGIS for maintenance and querying,GRASS GIS for advanced and 3D analysis,Paraview and VisIt for 3D visualisations,Inkscape for digitising of section drawings, finds illustrations and re-touching of GIS mapsUsing the documentation available any archaeologist is now able to use the GIS and Illustration tools above, which means that the data can be disseminated much easier as well as that our data archives have become much safer and more sustainable overall.
These two successful case studies demonstrate how open source GIS replaces proprietary software within archaeology: both within the highly cost-sensitive commercial sector, and within international and educational archaeology, becoming the tool of choice for the visualisation and analysis of spatial data.


Open source, GIS, QGIS, gvSIG, Inkscape, PostGIS, Egypt, Oxford Archaeology