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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

Week 5: Field Methods & Geophysics


Archaeologists often use a total station to record the site topography and artifact locations. A total station records X, Y, and Z coordinates by shooting a laser situated in a fixed place at a prism on a stadia rod at other locations around the site. It calculates some wicked math (probably basic trigonometry actually) and creates a digital file which can then be inputted to other programs for analysis. We went outside to see how this is done, setting up the total station tripod over a water drain for our Datum 1 point. Because most of the students were experienced with a total station from field experiences, it was a quick introduction for those of us without prior knowledge of it.

Archaeologists also employ Google Earth, using their database of aerial photos and historic imagery to locate possible locations of archaeological sites. These can be seen by discolorations of the soil, particularly along floodplains which were magnets for ancient populations.

Archaeologists also need to know how to read a topographic map, so we took some time to go over an old map of the school’s area, back when it was known as Indiana Central. Archeologists work with maps primarily at 1:24,000 scale. This means that it is 7.5 minutes latitude by 7.5 minutes longitude. Also indicated are northing and easting units. One section is a square mile, or 640 acres. You can get a small plastic card to further break down the sections, into quadrants and smaller – down to 1/8 square miles.


We went over how to use Surfer 9, which is a mapping program that the total station file can be imported into, allowing creation of a contour map.

We also talked about the upcoming field trip to Lew Wallace, where geophysics would be seen in action.

Then we went into class discussion on chapter 15 and I presented on these three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Current Practices in Archaeogeophysics: Magnetics, Resistivity, Conductivity, and Ground-Penetrating Radar
  • Situating Remote Sensing in Anthropological Archaeology
  • Palaeotopography: The Use of GIS Software with Data Derived from Resistivity Surveys and Stratigraphic Profiles to Reconstruct Sites and Past Terrains

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