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.
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.
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
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.
Visualisation: The visualisation of results can
range from a photographic print to a virtual reality exploration of
data, with various degrees of computer manipulation.
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.