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From Archive to GIS: Recovering Spatial Information for Tholos IV at the Palace of Nestor from the Notebooks of Lord William Taylour

Michael P.A. Loy, Sharon R. Stocker and Jack L. Davis

Cite this as: Loy, M.P.A, Stocker, S.R. and Davis, J.L. 2021 From Archive to GIS: Recovering Spatial Information for Tholos IV at the Palace of Nestor from the Notebooks of Lord William Taylour, Internet Archaeology 56.


Oblique view of Tholos IV, Palace of Nestor
Oblique view of Tholos IV, Palace of Nestor

This article is a case study in doing new things with old data. In 1953 Lord William Taylour directed the excavation of a monumental vaulted tholos tomb known as 'Tholos IV' at the site of ancient Pylos, Messenia, Greece. The excavation was conducted over two months, during which detailed notes were recorded in three notebooks now kept in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The formal publication of Tholos IV, however, contains only a basic narrative of the excavation, offering neither precise detail on stratigraphy, object find spots, nor even a complete inventory of small finds. The present study goes back to the original notebooks kept by Taylour and combines the data contained in them with a new digital survey of Tholos IV to produce a comprehensive and accurate 3D GIS model for the excavation. Furthermore, the GIS has been produced in such a way that its dataset is compatible with new excavation data currently generated in the ongoing Palace of Nestor Excavations (PONEX) project, bringing together two excavation campaigns conducted under very different circumstances, methodologies, and recording protocols. Discussion follows on how the production of this GIS deepens our understanding not just of the legacy excavation, but also of the site and its wider landscape.

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  • Keywords: photogrammetry, GIS, digitisation, digital documentation, legacy data, archive
  • Accepted: 8 February 2021. Published: 7 April 2021
  • Funding: This publication was funded by University of Cambridge.
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Corresponding author: Michael P.A. LoyORCID logo
British School at Athens

Sharon R. Stocker
Department of Classics
University of Cincinnati

Jack L. Davis
Department of Classics
University of Cincinnati

Full text

All images and data are used with permission from the Palace of Nestor Excavations, Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

Figure 1: Location of Palace of Nestor, Messenia, in the Peloponnese of Greece (Figure 1b). Excavated architectural remains from the Palace, Griffin Warrior Grave and the two new Tholos tombs (known as Tholos VI and Tholos VII) are reproduced here in order to put Tholos IV into its wider site-level context.

Figure 2: Oblique view of Tholos IV, Palace of Nestor. This photogrammetry model is synthesised from four separate models (chamber, antas, lintel stone, and domed roof exterior) and is georectified using both GPS-referenced control points and locally-referenced common anchor points.

Figure 3: Photographs of the excavation of Tholos IV, from ASCSA Archives, Pylos Excavations Archive, Box 8, 'Pylos 1952-1953'. From the top, the first and third photographs illustrate the construction of an artificial staircase used by the excavators to access the tomb's chamber. The second photograph shows the division of the chamber into two sectors, and the bottom photograph shows the clearing of the dromos in front of the stomion.

Figure 4: Photographs taken during the production of the photogrammetric model that illustrate the current state of the Tholos IV reconstruction. From left-to-right, the first two images show the stomion and lintel block of the tomb, indicating also that the tomb is built into the side of the hill. The third and fourth images show the inside of the tomb, and respectively illustrate the walled cist grave and the modern reconstructed capstone on the domed roof. The fifth and sixth pictures show the state of the domed roof from the exterior, the sixth picture also showing the extent of the dromos.

Figure 5: Scans from the notebooks of Lord William Taylour (ASCSA Archives, Pylos Excavations Archive, Box 1, 'Pylos 1953 WDT Kanakares, part I', 'Pylos 1953 WDT Kanakares, part II' and 'Pylos 1953 WDT Kanakares, part III'), indicative of his recording style: Figure 5a shows his itemised running list of finds with page number cross-references; Figure 5b illustrates a technical sketch during the laying out of the first trenches across the top of the chamber, with facing narrative description; Figure 5c shows a sketch of the grid-plan used during the excavation of the final levels of the chamber, with some description of objects found.

Figure 6: GIS workspace, indicating the overlay of Demetrios Theocharis' architectural plans with the photogrammetry TIF export of the Tholos IV floor. Superimposed to the top left are the top-down images of the tholos as exported from ArcSoft Photoscan, indicating that the floorplan is a 'slice' taken out of the georectified model. Superimposed to the bottom right is another plan and section by Theocharis, showing the level of technical information available for this excavation.

Figure 7: Trench locations, superimposed on the photogrammetry TIF export of the Tholos IV floor. 'A' trenches were opened around the stomion, while 'B' trenches cover the chamber. Trenches in these two areas were opened almost simultaneously, whereas the dromos trenches in area 'C' could only be opened late in the campaign owing to the need to obtain permissions from the landowner.

Figure 8: Screenshots taken from ArcScene showing the 3d reconstruction of levels and finds. Going clockwise and starting in the top left, the first and second images include a transparent overlay of the chamber, exported from Photoscan as a COLLADA file. The bottom left image shows the levels with absolute elevation values assigned, while the bottom right image also indicates the distribution of amber (yellow points), amethyst (red points) and gold (blue points) throughout the excavation.

Figure 9: Screenshot from a CSV printout of the Tholos IV data of small finds, extracted from attribute tables linked to GIS layers. The method of findspot location reconstruction is recorded as a column of metadata, on a three-point system. Objects tagged '1' were located using sketches of the trench layouts; objects tagged '2' were located on the basis of general descriptions from the text narratives; objects tagged '3' were placed at random locations within the trench-level extents.

Figure 10: Heat map analysis showing the possible location and distribution of bronze pieces found in the excavation of Tholos IV. Heat map point radii are set to 0.7m, consistent with the highest assumed level of inaccuracy for any of the point coordinates reconstructed.

3D model: Tholos IV, Palace of Nestor. 3D model of the 1957 reconstructed tomb. This photogrammetry model is synthesised from four separate models (chamber, antas, lintel stone, and domed roof exterior).

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