Developing SASSA: a Soil Analysis Support System for Archaeologists

Clare Wilson, Donald Davidson, Edward Pollard, Julie Cowie*, David Cairns* and Martin Blunn*

School of Biological and Environmental Science, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA.
* Department of Computing Science and Mathematics, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA. Email:


There is constant pressure on field archaeologists to be familiar with the core concepts of a diverse range of specialist disciplines. Soils and sediments are an integral part of archaeological sites, and soil and sedimentary analyses applied to archaeological questions are now recognised as an important branch of geoarchaeology. However, the teaching of soils in archaeology degrees is variable and many archaeologists complain they lack the confidence and skills to describe and interpret properly the deposits they excavate.

SASSA (Soil Analysis Support System for Archaeologists) is a free-to-use, internet-based system designed to familiarise archaeologists with the concepts and possibilities offered by the scientific study of soils and sediments associated with archaeological sites. The aims of SASSA are:

SASSA consists of two core components: a knowledge base and a field tool. The 'front-end' of the website is the knowledge base; this uses wiki technology to allow users to add their own content and encourage dialogue between archaeologists and geoarchaeologists. The field tool uses an XML data structure and decision-tree support system to guide the user through the process of describing and interpreting soils and sediments. SASSA is designed for use on both 'static' (PC) and 'mobile' (PDA and laptop) hardware in order to provide in situ field support as well as office-based 'reference book style' help.

This article presents SASSA as a user might experience it, and discusses the computing technology used to construct the system.

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Last updated: Mon Dec 15 2008