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It's all in the Pixels: high-resolution remote-sensing data and the mapping and analysis of the archaeological and historical landscape

Erwin Meylemans*1, Karl Cordemans2, Katrien Cousserier1 and Isabelle Jansen1

1. Flanders Heritage Agency, Koning Albert II laan 19 bus 5, B-1210 Brussels, Belgium
2. Flemish Land Agency, Gulden Vlieslaan 72, B-1060 Brussels, Belgium
*Corresponding author: erwin.meylemans@rwo.vlaanderen.be

Cite this as: Meylemans, E. et al. 2017 It's all in the Pixels: high-resolution remote-sensing data and the mapping and analysis of the archaeological and historical landscape, Internet Archaeology 43. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.43.2

In Flanders (Belgium) a large amount of remote-sensing data has been acquired and processed over the past few years, including high-resolution lidar and multi/hyperspectral aerial photography. These new data are contributing to the detection of archaeological sites and the characterisation of the cultural/historical landscape. Of particular use in historically stable areas under forest and pasture, lidar demonstrates the presence of a large number of previously unknown features and sites.

The analysis and modelling of these data, combined with other landscape data such as soil maps, augering data, geological and historical maps, and aerial photographs, also provide possible new instruments for the characterisation and evaluation of prehistoric and historic landscapes.

This vast amount of new remote-sensing data, plus the information it delivers, however, presents not only obvious opportunities but also a number of challenges. A centralised online system was developed by the 'GIS-Flanders agency', storing both processed and raw data from multispectral recordings, airborne lidar, mobile mapping images etc., and presenting several download and visualisation possibilities and tools. A new system has also been set up to handle specific archaeological and cultural historical data (historical images and aerial photographs, archaeological field data). Dialogue is needed so that the preservation and management needs of the archaeological heritage are also included.

This extended abstract is also available in hard copy in K. May (ed) 2017 Digital Archaeological Heritage, EAC Occasional Paper No.12, Archaeolingua, Budapest.

In Flanders (Belgium) a large amount of remote-sensing data has been acquired and processed over the past few years, including high-resolution Lidar and multi/hyperspectral aerial photography. These new data are contributing to the detection of archaeological sites and the characterisation of the cultural/historical landscape. Of particular use in historically stable areas under forest and pasture, Lidar demonstrates the presence of a large number of previously unknown features and sites such as the so called 'Celtic Fields', burial mounds, medieval field systems, in some cases constituting extended fossilised cultural landscapes (Meylemans et al. 2015).

As well as the value to archaeological prospection, the analysis and modelling of these data, combined with other landscape data such as soil maps, augering data, geological and historical maps, and aerial photographs, provide possible new instruments for the characterisation and evaluation of prehistoric and historic landscapes, for example erosion risk modelling of archaeological sites and landscapes (Meylemans et al. 2014). In combination with the archaeological data gathered in the 'Central Archaeological Inventory' of Flanders (Van Daele et al. 2004), this in turn allows the development of new ways of looking at and analysing archaeological data (for example Finke et al. 2008), for both scientific purposes as well as heritage management.

This vast amount of new remote sensing data, plus the information it delivers, however, presents not only obvious opportunities but also a number of challenges. One of these is data storage and dissemination. For this a centralised online system was developed by the 'GIS-Flanders agency', storing both processed and raw data from multispectral recordings, airborne Lidar, mobile mapping images etc., and presenting several download and visualization possibilities and tools. Besides this, a new system is being set up to handle specific archaeological and cultural historical data (historical images and aerial photographs, archaeological field data).

A second challenge concerns heritage management. This mainly applies to the historically stable forested areas, which in a large number of cases are shown to harbour almost continuous and well-preserved archaeological landscapes. These areas are mainly managed with ecological purposes and goals in mind. For some of these sites and landscapes, dialogue is needed so that the preservation and management needs for the archaeological heritage are also included.

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