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6.1 Introduction to procedures

The following sections detail the methods for preparing printed excavation reports so that artefact assemblages can be used to study social behaviour at Roman sites. The processes involve: the selection of suitable sites, converting the printed site plans and artefact catalogues into digital formats so that the artefacts can be sorted according to provenances and activities, and then mapping these activities onto the new site plans using Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Given the overall aims of the project, we assumed that GIS would help us to aggregate the data; to discern new patterns; to investigate relationships within and between sites and artefact groupings; and to represent the findings visually. The use of GIS in archaeology is of course widespread. However, we are using it somewhat atypically. Most archaeological practitioners use GIS to map or record new sites, whereas we are using it to aggregate, visualise and analyse data collected from heterogeneous printed reports. We acknowledge that the artefact data and site plans in these printed reports are of variable precision. We are not using GIS to enhance precision, but rather as a visualisation tool to help us answer our research questions. The utility of GIS for archaeological research is highly dependent on the availability of GIS data. GIS data is readily available nowadays for many countries and regions; however, it is rarely of a resolution helpful for site-specific archaeological research. Archaeologists typically solve this problem in two ways: by surveying sites using GIS and GPS technologies to produce new maps, or digitising existing printed maps and site plans.

For this study we needed to digitise existing printed site plans. This involved three major challenges: first, we needed a cost-effective method of capturing the numeric and textual data contained in a wide range of printed sources; second, we needed to redraw the site plans digitally so they could be imported in ArcGIS; and, finally, we needed to be able to 'merge' this data with the digitised catalogue data before importing it into ArcGIS so that the patterns and relationships between sites and artefacts could be visualised, and then analysed.

The methods with which we addressed these challenges could be applied in other contexts where archaeological data is only available in printed formats, or where the merging of 'born-GIS' data and legacy data is required.

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