Spatial data lie at the heart of archaeological documentation. In fact, one could argue that no single piece of evidence collected at any step of the documentation process exists without some degree of embedded spatial information. The most obvious is of course the distribution of finds and features. However, any drawing we make and every photo we take - even all our archaeological interpretations and classifications -relate to a spatial record of what took place where and when, both in terms of the historical past as well as the archaeological present.
The attention to spatial recording is indeed one of the technical preconditions to the interdisciplinary nature of archaeology. Early excavations were often carried out using the skills and knowledge of not only archaeologists but in particular architects, land surveyors, and cartographers (Piggott 1965). Eventually, post-excavation quantitative methods and analyses as well as the use of predictive modelling in cultural heritage management called for skilled mathematicians and statisticians. Technological developments have revolutionised the availability and applicability of an entire array of scientific investigations, from remote sensing and geophysical surveys to isotopic and morphological dating and analyses (Kristiansen 2014). These all rely on sampling strategies where spatial information accounts for the critical assessment of context, formation processes, and the risk of contamination.
Recent decades have witnessed a series of distinct tendencies in the development of spatial recording within field archaeology, not least related to the migration of analogue methodologies into digital equivalents, where the use of CAD and GIS are the most prominent examples. These tendencies are arguably at the core of the challenges modern archaeology faces today when it comes to the integration of spatial data in the documentation process. They are in part the result of an increasing willingness and eagerness to test out and apply new technologies. The downside is that new technologies are very rarely developed specifically with archaeology in mind (Richards 1998, 331), and applications and adaptations fail to recognise potential negative consequences of this fact.
We have begun to witness the impact of new tools for creating accurate 3D content, specifically photogrammetry and range imaging techniques such as Structure from Motion (SFM), which is something archaeology has aspired to ever since computers were introduced to archaeology (McCoy and Ladefoged 2009). Most likely we have only experienced the beginning, and the technology responsible is developing fast. Just as archaeological documentation frameworks were starting to catch up with solutions for managing the new digital methodologies of spatial data, the concept of spatial recording has 'gone 3D' and expanded into new visual and conceptual representations.
It is the aim of this article to examine the background and current challenges of integrating spatial data in field archaeology in the light of ongoing technological advances. This is in part done through a comparative overview of the development of field recording principles in the UK and Denmark. Archaeology in the two countries represents different standpoints of methodological traditions. Do these differences affect the preconditions of technological development or vice versa when it comes to spatial data recording and the advent of more complex spatial data?
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