1.3 GIS, the internet and archaeology

Since the 1980s, the use of GIS in archaeology has rapidly become commonplace (Chapman 2006, 17). The term GIS essentially describes information systems designed to store, display, manipulate and query spatial data, which in a contemporary context are ubiquitously computer based (Maguire 1991, 10). The proliferation of GIS technology has enabled spatial analysis to be conducted on an unprecedented scale. Within archaeology, the use of GIS has been championed as a tool to deconstruct orthodox archaeological categories and schema, moving beyond site- and region-specific foci (Wheatley 2000, 123). However, Curry posits that two types of GIS exist, PaleoGIS and GIS2 (1998, 143). PaleoGIS, by definition, under-represents human experience, and obscures the intentions, nature and methods of the creator and creative process (Curry 1998, 145).

In 2003, most, if not all, archaeological applications could be defined as PaleoGIS (Lock 2003, 174-5). Curry proposes that in order to harness GIS2 the formation of tools that enable creation of community and public participation are needed, which incorporate the facility to express shared connections of place and fosters a community appreciation of space (1998, 143). These GIS2 systems, in essence, already exist through computer- and paper-based media and the considerable store of knowledge in any community (Curry 1998, 148). Ideally, coupling this store of knowledge with geographic data may create the forum to enable communities to have greater engagement with their spatial surroundings and appreciation of how time and space are interconnected in the formation of place.

Iit is understandable that aspirations to make geographic data available and accessible to a wide range of social groups has led to the development of WebGIS, which offer a suite of online services to allow access and analysis of geographic information via the internet (Sebillo et al. 2003, 3). This has developed in tandem with Web 2.0 technologies that have enabled web sites to be increasingly populated with user-generated content, facilitated by the development of protocols that allow interaction and addition to data held on web servers (Goodchild 2007, 215). The development of more engaging maps supported through internet technologies has encouraged wider public use and understanding (Caquard 2005, 348). These technologies are aimed at creating and sharing knowledge rather than merely distribution or crystallisation of existing knowledge (Lee 2012, 38). A bewildering array of terminology exists to explain such systems and approaches e.g. GIS 2.0, wiki-mapping, volunteered geographic information (VGI) and neogeography (Elwood 2010, 349). To avoid confusion, WebGIS is the term employed in this article.

The success of software such as Google Earth illustrates the desire to engage with geographical information such as satellite imagery in new and innovative ways (Peterson 2008, 10). In particular, the Google Maps application programme interface (API) has allowed groups other than geospatial scientists to manipulate and store data in ways they understand, providing for socially and culturally mutable information requirements of disparate user groups previously excluded from participation in earlier GIS platforms (Miller 2006, 188-9). Archaeology has begun to harness this emerging technology in various contexts. The aims and objectives of archaeological WebGIS vary from knowledge communication to knowledge creation. Similarly, the level of interaction also varies. In the UK, a notable example of WebGIS is the Great Britain Historical Geographical Information System (GBHGIS) project, A 'vision of Britain through time' which collates historical surveys of Britain to record change within the country and its localities (University of Portsmouth 2012). The web map section of the website is based on 'OpenLayer', an open-source JavaScript library. The maps lack interactivity but have a varied and extremely useful base map library that can be displayed to enable users to research and explore a locale, fostering increased public engagement. From an academic perspective, online mapping is also a common output format for research projects as a core element in the dissemination strategy of the project. A recent example is the GIS-aided study of agriculture and landscape in Midland England, made available via ADS, which collates a diverse range of datasets into an interactive map using commercial tools developed by ESRI (Williamson et al. 2011).

Moving beyond data dissemination to data generative systems of WebGIS, at an international scale, innovative WebGIS systems have been utilised by the 'Looted Heritage' project, monitoring the illicit antiquities trade by gathering volunteered information (Graham and Blades 2012). Further examples of interactive archaeological WebGIS include 'The Yuma project', which aims to allow participants to add user-generated annotations to historical maps, producing a 'crowdsourced' layer (Simon et al. 2011). The 'Valley of the Khans' project has pioneered the public interpretation of remote-sensed data and employs a simple user interface that allows contributors to mark typologically predetermined archaeological and natural features in the landscape based on satellite imagery (Lin 2010, 1). In the UK, archaeological examples of this approach are illustrated by the excellent 'Britain from Above' project, which encourages users to 'tag' archaeological features evident within the Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs dating from 1919 to 1953 via a web-based interface. The project succeeds both in fulfilling a conservation role through the digitisation of a fragile archive and provides a public participatory medium for further data collection by users of the site (Britain from Above 2012). These projects utilise the concept of 'Human Computation', more commonly referred to as crowdsourcing, which is an approach that attempts to solve problems by harnessing the collective capabilities of a variety of people both in the physical and digital world (Crampton 2008, 95). The proliferation of geospatial 'mashups', which weave data together from different sources, has been rapid since the advent of Web 2.0 technologies and has proved fundamental to facilitating the creation of crowdsourced datasets (Anand et al. 2010, 1). Consequently, crowdsourcing and public participatory GIS projects are gaining currency across archaeology, not only as a problem-solving tool but as a way to engage wider audiences with the historical environment and generate funds or recruit volunteers (Jeffrey 2012, 562). Recent examples include the 'Flag Fen Lives' project by Digventures and the formation of multi-disciplinary groups such as the Citizen Science Alliance, whose projects have included crowdsourced digitising of Royal Navy WW1 datasets (Wilkins et al. 2012; HLF 2011, 37).

A closely linked concept to crowdsourcing is 'Citizen Science', a concept that describes the collection and/or processing of data as part of a scientific enquiry by a volunteer (Silvertown 2009, 467). Citizen Science projects have proved successful in a diverse range of fields, from monitoring climate change to collecting data on bird population boom or decline (Bonter and Harvey 2008, 376). This concept is not new and can be traced back two centuries; however, it is now believed the 'Digital Age' will present unprecedented opportunities for citizen science to flourish (Silvertown 2009, 467). The SETI@home project is probably the most famous example of the fusion of citizen science with digital technologies, harnessing the collective processing power of volunteer computer systems to analyse radio telescope data to search for anomalies through 'grid' or 'distributed computing' (Korpela et al. 2001, 78).


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