Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Making Archaeology Work in Open Source

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Once in a while, Oxford Archaeology get called upon to do some really big archaeological projects, like road schemes and airport expansion, that cover huge areas, go on for years, and generate loads of data. We love these, because it’s not very often that you get to look at whole landscapes- how multiple prehistoric villages interact, for example, rather than tantalising snapshots where you have to play “join the dots”.

Not only do we generate loads of data (thousands of artefacts, records, environmental samples, photos etc), but we ask difficult questions of them, based on statistical analysis of finds distribution, travelling salesman algorithms, best-path analysis. I think you can call this “real GIS”, though often people are surprised to hear that archaeologists use GIS at all.

As part of our ongoing “open approach”, and to prove that we put our money where our mouth is, we are now trying to do all of this in open source software rather than using the “standard” proprietary packages.¬† I’ve blogged previously about how pleased I was with the integration between QGIS and PostgreSQL, and how easy it was to manage large amounts of data without regress to proprietary packages, well¬† our current large project needs 3D analysis and large amounts of imagery manipulation, and again we’re finding that the open source tools out there do the job splendidly. Furthermore, we have a choice of tools, so if one approach doesn’t quite work the way we expect or want, then we can choose another. Now that can’t be bad, can it?

So, in brief, we’re using Quantum GIS and GvSIG pretty much interchangeably for our desktop GIS. All the vector data is in PostgreSQL. We use the QGIS Grass plugin to get data into a sensible format for 3D display and analysis in Paraview and Visit. We’re mosaicing up aerial photos using GDAL tools, and using Geoserver to publish everything to people who just need read-only access, and a direct connection to PostgreSQL for those that need to edit. We’ve developed a workflow for creating high-quality cartographic output by exporting to Inkscape, and the next step is a project website with links to our database and a nice openlayers map. Simples!