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Excavations at Sissi II

Jan Driessen

2. GIS on Site: A View from Kefali Hill

Piraye Hacıgüzeller

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

  • 2 The GIS project at Sissi was directed by P. Hacıgüzeller with the valuable assistance of P. Baulain (...)

1Since the beginning of the excavations in 2007, geographical information systems (GIS) technology has been an active part of the information collection and recording process at the Kefali Hill2. Following four years of intense GIS use during the excavations at Sissi, this report aims to question how GIS made a difference at the excavation and reporting stages. More specifically, the idea below is to look beyond the obvious and now well-covered usefulness of the technology in terms of database management, digital cartography and spatial data analysis (see Conolly & Lake 2006: 164-182; McCoy & Ladefogoed 2009; Wheatley & Gillings 2002) and focus rather on how GIS affected excavation practices on site and made a difference at the reporting stage. Certainly an overview along these lines is not possible without providing a picture of the technical aspects of GIS use which is the reason why such a picture is also provided below even though this is not the main focus.

  • 3 For ethnographical accounts on archaeological practice see, for example, Edgeworth (1990); Holtorf (...)

2Why exactly does the question about the difference made by GIS technology in the Sissi Archaeological Research Project (SARPedon) matter? The reasons are twofold. Firstly, SARPedon – including a GIS-aided trajectory from its inception – is an experience-enriched context affording a more thorough questioning of the issue. Importantly, however, the account below is a provisional one and the aim is to improve this initial account by future interviews with the archaeologists and to present the results in the final publication on the Sissi excavations. A second reason is the ever-increasing importance of this particular question in archaeology. The active role of varied (technological) media in the process of creating knowledge has recently been under close scrutiny in archaeology (e.g. Yarrow 2008; Webmoor 2005; Wickstead 2009; Witmore 2007) following a broader interdisciplinary trend (e.g. Cosgrove 1999; Grint & Woolgar 1997; Latour 1999; Law 1991; Pickering 1995; Knorr-Cetina 1999). Along with this ‘rematerialisation’ tendency of social sciences (see Anderson & Tolia-Kelly 2004; Anderson & Wylie 2009; Hicks & Beaudry 2010; Latour 2005; Thrift 2008) that echoes within archaeology, a more traditional but related point of view has been questioning the epistemological foundations of GIS applications since its introduction into archaeology in the early 1990s (see Gaffney & van Leusen 1995; Huggett 2004; Llobera 2010; Lock 2009; Wheatley 1993). It would, in fact, appear today that there is an apparent difficulty to think of an archaeological excavation project without a GIS component while we (as archaeologists) are far from arguing that using information systems in archaeology is a well-established field within the discipline (Llobera 2010). Being more specific about the latter part of this conundrum we can say that archaeologists – despite the two decades of intense GIS use – are dealing with three major types of uncertainties about GIS. In terms of technicalities it is not always clear what should be expected from the technology. Nor is it clear how to fulfil technical expectations when they exist. And, thirdly, how GIS technology ‘affects’ (i.e. makes a difference in) the way in which archaeologists practice their job (i.e. excavate, conduct research, collect and represent information, conserve archaeological remains etc.) is a much under-theorised ethnographical issue3.

  • 4 ArcGIS 9.2 (Esri®) has been used as the GIS software in SARPedon.

3It is within this particular context that use of GIS technology4 in SARPedon is considered further below. The main focus is the third uncertainty mentioned which has attracted the least attention so far in the archaeological literature despite its significance (see, however, Wickstead 2009). Regarding the first two uncertainties, we can briefly say that from the very beginning of the excavations in 2007 on the Kefali Hill, there was a clear view of how to put GIS technology to use. It would be in a two way process where GIS would act as a platform to manage, store and merge spatial information collected in various formats and also to ‘feed’ this information back to the team members (see Sissi I: 11-16; see also below). Speed was important; the aim was to materialise digital spatial information collected on site relatively quickly (i.e. within a day) in the form of printed-out maps which would above all accelerate practices of collecting information at high precision and accuracy. There was considerable success in accelerating collection of high precision and accuracy spatial information in expected and unexpected manners as presented below.

2. GIS at Sissi: Four Types of Use

  • 5 For the description of the term ‘raster catalogue’ see: (...)

4One way of using GIS technology on site has been gathering various formats of spatial data in a single digital environment. This is a function GIS technology typically affords. Note that the number of TPS data points collected so far on the Kefali Hill is 58,215 (within the 2.5 hectare fenced area defined as the archaeological site). Each of these points has been integrated into the GIS database and is identifiable by a unique ID number that is recorded by the trench supervisors in their notebooks too. The numbers have allowed the supervisors to retrieve and visualise spatial information stored in the GIS database easily. Specifically, trench supervisors would ask the GIS specialist to produce maps tailored according to certain needs (planning, controlling accuracy, attaching in the notebooks, visualising location of certain objects in a certain stratigraphical unit etc.) and it would at times be through these ID numbers that trench supervisors would communicate what they wanted on these maps. In addition to TPS points there are also a large number of photographs and hand drawings geo-referenced and stored in the spatial database in the form of – in ArcGIS terminology – a ‘raster catalogue’5. Archaeologically relevant features on these images have been ‘vectorised’ as points, lines and polygons. As such, geo-referenced images and GIS spatial features (including TPS points and other vectorised features) comprise the spatial database of the Kefali Hill.

  • 6 For the Trimble VX Spatial Station provided by Couderé Geoservices, see: (...)
  • 7 Such practices of recording in 2007 and 2008 were being conducted by means of manual planning or le (...)
  • 8 For (semi-)automatic raster to vector data conversion with ArcGIS software see: (...)

5Note that during the 2007 and 2008 campaigns a large part of the spatial information was collected with the total positioning system (TPS) equipment (Leica TC 370). In these two early campaigns, however, since there was only one TPS device on site, its use had to be restricted to measuring location of archaeological objects and architectural features (that included creating two-dimensional point clouds for stone-by-stone planning, see below). From 2009 onwards, thanks to a second TPS device (Trimble VX Spatial Station) provided by Couderé Geoservices6, TPS-based data collection practices became much more frequent. The equipment started to be used then not only to measure location of archaeological objects and architectural features but also to measure ‘zembil’ elevations and to roughly plot boundaries of ‘zembils’ and varied deposits7. The practice of taking several TPS measurements prior to stone-by-stone drawings continued in 2009 and 2010. These measurements were printed out as a two-dimensional point cloud which then was used as a much accurate spatial reference for architectural planning (see fig. 2.1). After planning, these print-outs were scanned again, georeferenced in the GIS platform and had all the newly added (or spatially altered) features on them integrated into the GIS database by automatic vectorisation8.

6The second type of GIS use was creating thematic maps on demand (of the site director, trench supervisors, and specialist). These maps were used for a variety of reasons such as architectural recording (see fig. 2.1), examining artefact distributions in certain stratigraphical units (sometimes in relation to architectural features), locating certain deposits in relation to architectural features, examining wall alignments, checking accuracy of existing spatial registers, providing visitors with up-to-date general site plans etc.



7Thirdly, GIS has been used as an analytical component. Specifically, the analytical potential of the technology was made use of in order to create a digital elevation model (DEM) of the site (fig. 2.2). It is on the basis of this DEM – created by interpolating thousands of the TPS points collected for this purpose – that a topographical map of the hill was produced.

8And, fourthly, GIS was used at the reporting stage. Note that both in Sissi I and the present volume a considerable part of the digital images has been prepared using GIS software. In the process of reporting, several GIS thematic maps were created provisionally in order to be reviewed by trench supervisors. On the basis of these reviews, content and – to a more limited degree as visual consistency was sought – style of these maps were edited by the GIS specialist. In some cases, however, it was the trench supervisors themselves who edited the maps directly within the GIS platform after the first provisional version (see below).

3. GIS at Sissi: A ‘Performative’ Account

9Returning to our initial question: how did GIS make a difference for SARPedon? How did creating such a GIS-assisted excavation project and these four types of use affect the varied practices of excavations at the Kefali Hill and reporting that followed? What did GIS ‘do’ for the excavations at the Kefali Hill? In short, how did GIS ‘perform’ at the Kefali Hill? Below, I try to answer these questions with respect to the four domains of GIS use at Sissi accounted above.

10Starting with the first two modes of use – formation of the integrated GIS database and creation of GIS thematic maps – one could say that in many cases this kind of GIS use made the existence of a certain feedback loop possible that involved archaeologists, materials on site, topographers, TPS equipment, computers, GIS software, a GIS specialist and printed-out representations of the site. This was a positive loop in which archaeological remains on site were re-presented again and again in and through a variety of intellectual media which eventually led to an accumulation of spatial data in the GIS database. Specifically, those materials deemed archaeologically relevant (see Lucas 2001: 10) first got represented in the digital memory of the TPS equipment or digital camera, or through manual drawings; later this information got transported to the computer of the GIS specialist where it was positioned as part of a standardised space (i.e. geo-coded world, see Pickles 2004; Thrift 2004); at certain cases new textual information was attached to this spatial information (e.g. adding notes or other textual information about the TPS points) and/or certain spatial features were selectively re-presented (i.e. ‘vectorisation’ of certain features seen on the images and plans). Part of the digital information in the spatial database was then made stable, tangible and mobile again as the representation of the Kefali Hill in paper format (i.e. printed-out maps (fig. 2.1) or rectified photographs (fig. 2.3)).


11These papers ‘fed’ archaeologists excavating on site back a ‘purified’ (after Thrift 1996: 5-6) version of the archaeological information they deemed relevant at the first place. This representation then played a role in collecting further digital information on site or assisting manual drawings starting the feedback loop again. GIS made a difference in the described process in several ways. First of all, it was GIS technology that afforded this very feedback loop as well as the practices that comprised it, the speed in which the loop occurred, and accuracy and precision of the spatial data circulating therein. Importantly, the loop and its qualities were an expected outcome of GIS use for the SARPedon team; it had been anticipated in 2007 prior to the excavations at the Kefali Hill.

12What I want to underline here also are the more subtle and unexpected outcomes of GIS use for the project that also happened in relation to the practices that formed this loop. Firstly, I think it was important that every time archaeologists received a map of a certain area there were more and more spatial features on the map. Witnessing this particular phenomenon may have been a direct affirmation for the archaeologists regarding the accumulation of spatial information in a certain technological body. Put differently: every bit of information archaeologists collected was being added onto a large body of data already amassed in the spatial database and archaeologists were being confronted with the existence of this practice day in day out. Being aware of this constructive process perhaps may have had a positive effect on the archaeologists and stimulated spatial data collection on site.

13Secondly, archaeologists on site experienced that whenever they asked for maps with certain objects, architectural features, trench borders and/or TPS points (with specific ID numbers as explained above) they received these maps relatively fast (mostly within a day). Without GIS technology, such speed would certainly not be possible. The speed in which such demands were faced strengthened the feeling in the team that the information in the GIS database was easy-to-retrieve. And, a possible consequence of this feeling was the thought that when needed during the post-excavation stage the information in the spatial database would also be easy-to-retrieve. As Webmoor (2005: 57) suggests for the archaeological maps, the traditional designed function of (digital) cartographic media for archaeologists is to ‘transform’ data collected on site into a transportable medium that may be brought back from the ‘field’ to facilitate interpretations (cf. Latour, 1999 on the concepts of ‘circulating reference’ and ‘inscription’). Accordingly, I would argue, witnessing the fact that the spatial data kept in the GIS database was easily retrievable during the excavations may have been an affirmation for the archaeologists that the GIS spatial database would fulfil its traditional designed function at the post-excavation stage.

14As mentioned earlier, the ideas presented here should be supported further at the post-excavation stage through interviews conducted with the archaeologists about GIS use. Yet, provisionally it is arguable at this point that these two outcomes of GIS use during the excavations in the project enhanced spatial data collection on site. This certainly does not mean that without GIS, team members would not be collecting satisfactory amounts and of quality spatial information. Rather, it means that the very existence of GIS technology and all the practices that it afforded have augmented spatial information collection on site in various manners carrying the quality and quantity of the spatial information of the project beyond ‘satisfactory’ levels.

  • 9 Here it is important to be clear about what the acronym GIS refers to, a potentially confusing topi (...)

15Regarding the third mode of GIS use, the analytical component of GIS technology at Sissi was the least performative during the excavation process. Although a digital elevation model (DEM) of the site was created and employed to render the contours of the topographical map of the Kefali Hill, this digital model certainly did not make a difference for the team members and their daily routine in any way. Note that such three-dimensional models are also possible to render with CAD technology (see Eiteljorg II et al. 2003). And, this actually points to the fact that CAD software could be used just as well as GIS technology during excavations9. This observation may be significant as a future reference for other excavation projects considering the use of digital information systems in a similar fashion, especially since CAD software is generally speaking cheaper than GIS software. Also note that using CAD instead of GIS during the excavations is certainly not an obstacle to adopt GIS at a later stage; that is when an analytical toolkit becomes necessary. This is because the data exchange between CAD and GIS software becoming increasingly easier with recent software developments (Eiteljorg II et al. 2003: 21-26).

16The fourth type of GIS use in the Sarpedon project has been the preparation of final maps at the reporting stage. As mentioned earlier, this was a process in which several provisional digital maps have been created using GIS technology in order to allow trench supervisors to review these maps and report back about needed edits. Rather significantly, this process was far from ideal as GIS technology performed as an agent mangled with a process of inequality: some of the trench supervisor and specialists were more knowledgeable about, experienced in and/or familiar with GIS technology to such a level that they could directly use the GIS files to edit or sometimes even create their own images. Others, however, had to depend almost fully on the GIS specialist to create such maps and perhaps did not fully concord with what they would have done themselves given the chance. In many cases they edited the image file created through GIS software with various image editing software (such as Adobe Photoshop) where the range of editing possibilities were rather restricted. This particular quality of GIS as a technology leading to inequality (i.e. unequal opportunities to learn and use the software and, as such, to access the information stored) is severely overlooked in archaeological literature while being pointed out by geographers since the mid-1990s (e.g. Leszczynski 2009: 582; Pickles 1995). Theorising, discussing and dealing with this ethical issue about use of GIS (and other digital media) is becoming ever urgent in archaeology.

4. Conclusions

17GIS technology has been used in four main manners in SARPedon: to create a comprehensive spatial database, to produce sophisticated cartographic outputs during the excavations, to act as an analytical tool kit and to prepare final plans for reporting. In this report, after summarising these uses, I tried to provide a preliminary account of how these uses of GIS technology may have affected excavation practices at the Kefali Hill and the process of archaeological reporting.

18The excavations at the Kefali Hill have been substantially GIS-aided from the very early days onwards and GIS enhanced spatial data collection in various manners which is in fact the major conclusion of this report. GIS technology did not only speed up spatial data collection processes, or enhanced data accuracy and precision as expected through its technical qualities. The technology also increased the amount and quality of spatial data collected in more subtle manners two of which I briefly recounted above. The analytical component of GIS was left idle on site which allows us to confidently put forward that CAD technology would be as satisfactory for the project as GIS while excavations are going on. Finally, at the reporting stage, GIS may have been experienced as causing inequality: while in theory it provided equal access to archaeological spatial information stored in its database, the interpretation and manipulation of that data were unequally restricted by related experience, knowledge and skill structured through various personal histories.

19Perhaps it is clear already from what is stated above that cartographic outputs of GIS (i.e. thematic maps) did not have a significant effect on the interpretation process while archaeologists were excavating at the Kefali Hill. It is important to try and account for the occurrence of this particular phenomenon as a final note, especially because such an account would underline the intrinsic qualities of GIS technology.

  • 10 Note that in such a case, our conclusion about interchangeability of GIS and CAD technologies durin (...)

20GIS is a representational technology (see Elwood 2010: 46) meaning that it easily affords a project which understands the world as ‘out there with all its reality’ and as something to be brought ‘over here’ through representations (Anderson & Harrison 2010: 6). The aim in such representational practices is to provide strong explanations of the ‘real world’ which is considered as a pre-existing, independent from human subjects (Ingold 2000: 157-158; Latour 1988). As Latour (1988: 159) puts it: the need to represent (or explain) emerges from the wish to act at a distance. Following this line of thought, it is no wonder then that ‘being-there’ (i.e. on-site) archaeologists did not need cartographic representations of the Kefali Hill to rely on for their interpretations most of the time. It was only when distance between archaeologists and architectural remains manifested itself that representational outputs of GIS became a significant media for archaeological interpretations. The ‘distance’ mentioned here can be theorised in varied manners. In certain cases, for example, there was a distance between archaeologists and architectural remains because the area under question was relatively large and as such not immediately observable; in such cases archaeologists used GIS representations for interpretations (e.g. to check the alignment of walls on top of the hill, Zones 3, 4 and 5). Also, there was (and will be) distance between archaeologists and archaeological remains during the post-excavation stage where archaeologists had (and will have) no physical contact with the remains that have been backfilled during which cartographic outputs of GIS acted (and will act) as interpretative resources (see Herva 2010a: 86-87; 2010b: 232; Webmoor 2005). And finally, despite the fact that GIS has not been used in such a manner yet (as there was no particular demand), it could very well be that for the 2011 campaign, GIS outputs become part of interpretative practices more actively by creating transformed representations of the Kefali Hill. That is, GIS can be used for creating visually complex spatial patterns of the archaeological remains on the hill (e.g. object density maps, metric integration of architectural remains (cf. Hacıgüzeller & Thaler forthcoming)) that are representations of certain qualities of archaeological materials not immediately observable by archaeologists (see Latour 1999; see also Llobera 2010)10.


5. References

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2 The GIS project at Sissi was directed by P. Hacıgüzeller with the valuable assistance of P. Baulain and N. Kress as topographers. N. Kress’s views on certain issues related to topography are greatly acknowledged.

3 For ethnographical accounts on archaeological practice see, for example, Edgeworth (1990); Holtorf (2002) and Yarrow (2006).

4 ArcGIS 9.2 (Esri®) has been used as the GIS software in SARPedon.

5 For the description of the term ‘raster catalogue’ see:

6 For the Trimble VX Spatial Station provided by Couderé Geoservices, see:

7 Such practices of recording in 2007 and 2008 were being conducted by means of manual planning or levelling instruments.

8 For (semi-)automatic raster to vector data conversion with ArcGIS software see:

9 Here it is important to be clear about what the acronym GIS refers to, a potentially confusing topic (Chrisman 1999; Gold 2006). In this volume the acronym refers to a technology that affords three main sets of practices: displaying complex cartographic information, allowing sophisticated data management and fostering spatial analysis (Maguire et al. 1991: 13-14). Computer-aided design (CAD) technology, on the other hand, affords only first two of these practices listed (Eiteljorg II et al. 2003).

10 Note that in such a case, our conclusion about interchangeability of GIS and CAD technologies during the excavations would become invalid as CAD technology is incapable of creating such analytically ‘transformed representations of reality’ (see above).

Table des illustrations

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Doctoral research fellow at the Université Catholique de Louvain (Wallonie-Bruxelles International Fellowship).

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