1. Introduction

Over the past fifty years, hundreds of regional field surveys across the Mediterranean and Near East have documented tens of thousands of surface scatters and revealed the scale and complexity of ancient rural landscapes. The number of new and ongoing surveys attests the continuing popularity of this technique (Cherry 2003). However, the long-term erosion and deterioration of surface archaeological remains means that the results of earlier fieldwork projects are becoming more, not less, valuable over time. New methods to re-analyse and extract more meaning from these older survey data are therefore urgently required. At the same time, much attention is now focused on comparative survey, exploring inter-regional variability, particularly in areas of enhanced connectivity such as the Mediterranean. Legacy survey data are vital for this work, as no individual survey can provide the necessary coverage.

Over the last ten years, new field surveys have routinely used GIS for the storage, management, analysis and presentation of results (Gillings 2001). In the future, the importance of this technology will increase further, as mobile GIS applications take analysis into the field, and online archives and GIS allow data to be more freely exchanged. The centrality of GIS for current and future regional survey work is therefore assured. But is there a role for GIS in the study of the legacy data produced by surveys between the 1950s (and even earlier) and the 1990s?

This article provides background to the use of legacy survey data within GIS, consideration of some theoretical issues involved and case studies of practical applications concerning digitisation and analysis. In particular, it explores methodological issues of data comparability and interpretive issues concerning past social action.

Integrating the results of different field surveys is always problematical because methodologies vary significantly. This is particularly the case with legacy data as survey methodologies have evolved rapidly. The aim of this article is to demonstrate that GIS is a critical tool for the integration and re-evaluation of this massive 'back catalogue' precisely because it can foreground and accommodate these complexities. Armed with more nuanced appreciation of these data, GIS then provides a powerful environment within which to realise their potential in the service of new research agendas. Case studies from northern Lazio and the Biferno valley in Molise, Italy are used to illustrate specific issues.


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Last updated: Mon Jun 30 2008