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1. Informatics in archaeological prospection

The purpose of archaeological prospection is to collect data that can be used for the non-destructive investigation of buried archaeological remains. The processes leading to this end can be subdivided into different stages, which all require computer manipulation of data.

  1. Measurements and data recording: While an excavator is guided by variations in soil colour and composition, remote sensing and geophysical surveys detect contrasts in those soil properties that are not recognised by humans (e.g. electrical resistance, magnetic susceptibility). Similarly, aerial photographs allow perspectives of sites which are not otherwise available. In addition, a large volume of information is recorded for further analysis and often stored digitally.
  2. Acquisition procedure: The way data are collected is partly influenced by the method used (e.g. air photography) and partly by the data handling and manipulation (e.g. gridded geophysical data).
  3. Data processing: Computer processing can help to amplify significant features in the collected data if the chosen mathematical operators respect the nature of measurements (e.g. perspective distortion of oblique photographs, complex magnetic signals of simple features). The efficient implementation of these operations as computing algorithms is often challenging.
  4. Visualisation: The visualisation of results can range from a photographic print to a virtual reality exploration of data, with various degrees of computer manipulation.
  5. Interpretation: The final archaeological interpretation of prospection results requires considerable understanding of the characteristics of used data and of the underlying archaeological remains. Appropriate computer technology can assist such interpretation.

While a separation of archaeological prospection into these five stages is useful for analysis, it has to be remembered that they are all interrelated. For example, interpretation requires visualisation, which in turn is dependent on meaningful data processing. The acquisition procedure, on the other hand, can depend on the available visualisation techniques and on the level of interpretation that is required as a final result.

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Last updated: Tue Jan 27 2004