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The effectiveness of cartographic visualisations in landscape archaeology

Lookup NU author(s): Dr David Fairbairn



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Using several case studies in England, a variety of terrain visualisations of archaeological study sites have been constructed. The intention is to examine the effectiveness of different visualisations for rendering the nature of the landscape and for gaining 'added-value' from its representation. The three sites chosen exemplify surficial human mining activity in different time periods (from Neolithic to the 20th century) with their complex terrains comprising pits, spoil heaps, collapsed chambers, extraction channels, and related mining undertakings. Such features are manifest on traditional field survey plans, but much more comprehensively held within LiDAR datasets or derived digital surface models of the sites. The visualisation of such radically different data sources (such as point clouds) and high resolution digital surface models (DSMs) has been examined to assess the improved ef! fectiveness of contemporary displays for archaeological practice. The DSMs were transformed into a number of terrain representations - including contour diagrams, symbolised topographic maps, hill-shading and other image-based scenes, oblique views and fly-throughs. Further processing yielded other cartographic constructs of interest to archaeologists, such as 'sky-view' plots, ridge and channel maps, and principal components shading. Such mapping has also involved the integration, in a GIS environment, of the DSMs with supplementary data, such as mineral and geological mapping, and with standard topographic map representations. Primarily this has been done for the detection and quantification of landscape disorder, but also to allow for the locating and reconstruction of mining activity by archaeologists. An assessment of the effectiveness of different cartographic visualisations has been undertaken through a user survey of experienced archaeologists and archaeology students. It is uncertain whether users will prefer the generalised, object-based rendering of the landscape on a map, or a fly-through image capability, for the purposes of archaeological investigation. Comparisons of the efficiency of contour maps with hill-shading of the same area, for example, can be made by running task-specific tests on these user groups. It is expected that the maps/visualisations produced should allow for the more accurate identification of locations where shafts were sunk, the nature of spoil management, the construction of ancillary facilities such as transportation tracks and buildings, and the extent of human intervention in landscape. Further characterisation of the terrain can be undertaken, notably using GIS-based derivation of landscape parameters such as aspect, slope, structural elements and visibility. An eventual aim is to use the data and its visualisation to classify the mining remnants in the terrain by era and by function, and to enhance the study of comparative landscape archaeology across the sites. The examination of traces and relics from human activity in the landscape is a core activity in archaeological study, as is the modelling and explanation of such activity. Using high-resolution terrain data and visualisation procedures, the long-standing collaboration between cartographers and archaeologists can be maintained and enhanced.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fairbairn D

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 28th International Cartographic Conference

Year of Conference: 2017

Online publication date: 02/07/2017

Acceptance date: 02/04/2016

Date deposited: 24/07/2018

Publisher: ICC


DOI: 10.5194/ica-proc-1-36-2017