archaeological illustration

Valerie Woelfel

1178 Thomas Ave

St. Paul, MN 55104


651 649-1506

GIS for Archaeology

Archaeological data is spatial. We learn about the past by studying the contexts, connections and patterns of the archaeological record. We are only beginning to explore the potential of geographic information science (GIS) in archaeology, classics and cultural resource management (CRM). It is important to my clients to have someone on board with training specifically in the use of GIS for archaeology. My training and artistic experience make my GIS skills important in other fields as well, and I have also studied remote sensing and Python programming. Please review the archaeological examples below, but feel free to contact me for other projects as well.


Iron Age kingdoms of CyprusA good map tells a good story. Knowing what to include on a map and how to display that information is an important skill. The map needs to be clear, accurate, and oriented to the appropriate audience and the media that will be used for its display.  I often use graphics programs, such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, to put the finishing touches on a map after it is created in ArcMap. The final result is the product of my training in cartography combined with 30 years of experience as an archaeological illustrator. This map shows the locations of the Iron Age city kingdoms of Cyprus. The goal of the map is to indicate the locations of the cities with minimal background distraction.


Least cost path analysis between archaeological sites Dots on a map are useful for visualizing archaeological data, such as showing the locations of sites or the distribution of artifacts on the site itself. The space betwen the dots on a map, however, should not be neglected. The analysis visualized on this map explores that space between the dots. The inland sites on Cyprus produced copper which was then sent to ports on the coast. I ran a least cost path (LCP) analysis between the City kingdom of Idalion and two important port cities, Salamis and Kition.  LCP lets the user combine different characteristics, such as slope and land cover to find the most likely route of travel between two points.  Performing GIS analysis on satellite imagery is very useful in places like Cyprus where the political situation has made survey and excavation impossible on a significant part of the island since the Turkish occupation of 1974.


GPS data collection and downloadCollecting data in the field with GPS allows archaeologists to accurately and efficiently create maps of archaeological sites or plot the locations of sites within a landscape. This image shows collecting GPS data in the field and what the results look like when downloaded and displayed in ArcMap. The site of Idalion has been explored archaeologically since the 1860s when Louis Palma di Cesnola relieved over 10,000 tombs of their contents. The site is currently being excavated by the Cypriot Department of Antiquities and an American expedition led by Dr. Pamela Gaber. The maps from these and other excavations were spatially disconnected, as if they were different, unrelated sites. Collecting GPS data from across the entire site allowed me to tie these various maps to their location on the Earth and relate them to each other. In addition, 2 kilometers of the city walls could be mapped in an afternoon with GPS technology. These walls are being destroyed as the neighboring town of Dali expands.  


Screenshot of GIS and archaeological trenchGIS is also a powerful tool in the day to day running of an excavation. This is a screenshot taken during the process of digitizing a map for a trench under excavation at Idalion. The architectural drawing created in the field has been georeferenced using GPS data and digitized in ArcMap. This can be updated and modified each day and printed out for the supervisor's notebooks. The shapefiles are also incorporated into the excavation database and linked to information on the finds that were recovered from each locus. Using GIS during the excavation allows immediate feedback and analysis to be used in decision making while in the field. It also results in data that can more quickly and efficiently be digitally archived and shared with other archaeologists.


Georeferenced image of archaeological siteHistoric maps hold a wealth of information for the archaeologist. In addition, many useful maps of archaeological sites can be found in old publications and site reports. Georeferencing refers to the process of associating maps with their spatial location on the Earth, which allows them to be used in GIS. This image shows a map from an excavation conducted at Idalion in the 1920s and 1930s. I used GPS data collected in the field to georeference the map. We can see how much of the excavated structure has crumbled away over time, but using the georeferenced map I can reconstruct the missing elements and also add the artifact find locations recorded on the early map. It is well worth reviewing older publications with spatial data and GIS in mind.



GIS model of soils, tombs and standing stones.The real power of GIS lies in the ability to perform analysis on the data and visualize the results. A few of the many options include visualizing the density of artifacts on a survey, creating 3D images and predictive models, and analyzing relationships in a network. This map shows the results of combining layers in ArcMap that include standing stones, Megalithic tombs and a soil map. The software can then analyze the association between sites and soils. The soil data can be combined with additional variables such as elevation, slope, aspect, and land cover type to create a model of tomb and standing stone locations. Further analysis might include creating buffers around water bodies to determine if that influences site locations, or performing least cost path and visibility analysis to see what role those characteristics played..



Flow map of immigration to the United StatesThe examples above highlight just a few of the ways I have used GIS for archaeology. For this example I step outside the field of cultural resources with a flow map. This map demonstrates the combined use of ArcMap, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop in a single map. The goal was to create a map that could be read at a glance while offering the viewer the option to explore more detailed data. It is important to keep the viewer in mind throughout the process of map creation while also having the techinical skills to capture the story behind the map.


Please feel free to contact me to discuss how I can tell the stories in your maps.