Where are we? Reviewing the Integration of Complex Spatial Data in Current Field Archaeology

Peter Jensen

Centre for Digital Heritage, Aarhus University. Email: peter.jensen@cas.au.dk

Cite this as: Jensen, P. 2017 Where are we? Reviewing the Integration of Complex Spatial Data in Current Field Archaeology, Internet Archaeology 44. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.44.8


Conceptual illustration of how the Danish excavation methods could gain from a system that allows 3D georeferencing of individual 2D fragments. Illustration based on data from the Jelling Project (Holst et al. 2013)

This article examines the background and current challenges of integrating spatial data in field archaeology, particularly in the light of ongoing technological advances. This is done through a brief comparative overview of the development of field recording principles in the UK and Denmark. Archaeology in the two countries historically represents two different standpoints of methodological traditions and corresponding ideals of documentation. The question is, if technological developments – and not least the limitations of the applied digital frameworks – have been an important defining factor and continue to affect the reconditions of the methodological development when it comes to spatial data recording and the advent of more complex spatial data.

This article demonstrates that 3D documentation techniques are indeed increasingly accepted and applied despite the limitations of technical frameworks such as GIS or CAD. Even more interesting is the potential of Structure from Motion and similar techniques for archaeological field recording as it may constitute a new methodological framework, bridging the gap between different field archaeological traditions; a middle ground of documentation principles, where single context planning and strict stratigraphical approaches meet the arbitrary, pragmatic geometric sectioning of features.

Although different methodological approaches clearly relate to an ideal with consequences for our archaeological praxis, excavation and documentation methodologies are not necessarily restricted or determined by the available technology. Modern archaeology tends to be sufficiently open-minded and in support of continued experimentation, which is required to manage new and different methods of data acquisition and spatial documentation and representation.

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