Student Blog — Plotting the Course

Trevor brings us his perspective on learning surveying and mapping during the field school. — Kate

When thinking of archaeological work the first thing most people think of is probably digging. While this does make up an integral part of the process, there is far more to it than that. I didn’t realize it before starting the course, but archaeology involves a lot of surveying and mapping. The work is tedious and some people might find it boring and repetitive but I find it quite satisfying.

Mapping involves both surveying and drawing in the field as well as digitizing the hand drawn maps in the lab. Within the first week of the course I had learned how to use a theodolite and total station, which are surveying tools used to measure distances, angles, and elevations. At first, it was difficult trying to set them up properly on the tripod, making sure they were perfectly level and centered precisely over the known datum point, but I eventually got the hang of it. Using these I could precisely measure the coordinates of any point on the site and transfer those points onto a paper map. I also learned how to draw smaller, more detailed maps using planning frames. To me, the planning and problem solving that goes into trying to find the best way of ensuring these maps are as accurate as possible is the most engaging and intellectually stimulating part of the whole archaeological process. In addition to this field mapping though, I also learned some basic digital mapping. It’s a little less engaging than mapping in the field but it’s perhaps more satisfying once it comes together since it produces and very clear visual representation of the layout of the site which we can then use to interpret the structure of the architecture.

Digital map I made of the uncovered walls of the structure by tracing over a hand drawn map drawn by James. Photo: Trevor Tyo
Digital map I made of the uncovered walls of the structure by tracing over a hand drawn map drawn by James. Photo: Trevor Tyo

The map above shows the outlines of the rocks along the top of the walls of the structure. With this, we can clearly see how the overall structure is shaped and we can make inferences about it based on this. For example, we have speculated based on our maps that the overall structure is a large rectangle with a smaller rectangle in the middle which we think is a small basement or cellar underneath it. The main advantage of having the map in digital form is that we can add layers corresponding to different depths beneath the surface which gives us a visual representation of the site at multiple points along the progression of the excavation. We can also tie specific regions of the map to the digital catalogues of the artifacts that came from them and quickly and efficiently compare the assemblages of artifacts of different regions. Having this visual representation of all the data makes interpreting the site very intuitive. I hadn’t gotten to that point yet with my map, but that would be the next step and it’s something I’m very interested in learning more about in the future.

Before taking this course, I had no idea just how important mapping would be to the archaeological process, nor did I know how much I would enjoy it. If there’s one important thing I can take away from this experience it’s the knowledge that I love surveying and mapping and that I want to do more of it. Knowing this will help to guide my choices throughout the rest of my time at Trent and beyond.

— Trevor Tyo

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