4 Maps and beyond

Since 1997 the Danish National Record of Sites and Monuments has been present on the web with a GIS interface. It is still run by the same (now somewhat tired) in-house developed map engine, although some improvements have taken place over time, such as the introduction of more map series as background maps. Modern maps, historical maps and ortophotographs are offered at the moment and a replacement system with a MapServer GIS component with much more functionality than the present application is planned for the near future.

At the moment most of the registered sites are represented only by one pair of coordinates, i.e. as points. This is clearly not a very satisfactory representation, Only a few thousands of the c. 160.000 sites have polygons representing the actual extent. The situation is remedied a bit at present with the ongoing registration of the so called “cultural heritage areas”, which are areas of particular heritage significance such as classical archaeological sites. The cultural heritage areas frequently encompass several point registrations (representing the same settlement or burial complex), thus illustrating the need for a better representation than mere points.

The cultural heritage areas can be reported to the Heritage Agency online through a form for entering the textual information and a map window with a choice of background map for digitising the extents of the area. As an alternative, GIS files can be emailed. The same general concept is at present in development for the new site registration system. The Danish museums report c. 2500-3000 new sites annually.

The old truism “garbage in – garbage out” is frequently cited when discussing the quality of SMR data. Calling the museums' site reports “garbage” is of course totally unfair, but it holds some truth or rather: Used to. One of the areas where the “garbage situation” applied was the precision of geographical location. Back in the pre-GPS days, a small excavation in the middle of a field was not likely to be recorded correctly on a standard 1:25,000 map, and anyway the pencilled “X” mark would cover an area of 50 by 50 meters itself.

Today more than 90% of the Danish archaeological museums use MapInfo GIS. This standardisation is due to the fact that a centralised effort to supply the museums with GIS software, map data and a programme of GIS courses for archaeologists and other museum staff was launched at a time, where only a few of the museums had started in digital mapping. So through special deals with the software distributors and with national and private mapping agencies, as well as introductory courses in the use of software and maps, the museums were – so to speak – put on the map.

This obviously did not happen overnight, but the situation now is that most museums, the institutes of archaeology and the National Heritage Agency all use the same GIS software and have access to the same map data. The next step is Web Map Services (WMS). Throughout most of 2004 and 2005 the museums have had test access to cadastral maps, road maps and topographical maps for use in MapInfo, the obvious advantage with WMS being that the data is the most recent version. The national cadastral map, for instance, is updated daily, and through WMS the user can access fully up to date data.

So, to return to the “garbage situation”, with the use of GIS and access to large scale digital maps (not to mention GPS) the accuracy of the registrations is much higher now than a few decades ago. In fact one museum has started to take a critical look at their earlier registrations and systematically corrected any cases of poor geographical accuracy for reports from the last 30 years. More museums are likely to follow along this path with a huge general quality improvement of the NMR data as a result.

For more information on the implementation of GIS in the Danish heritage sector, see (Hansen & Dam 2002)


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