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Framework Archaeology Deploys DK-based GIS Archaeological Application

August 30, 2004

The following description of this TatukGIS DK based application was provided by Niall Donald, with Oxford Archaeology. Niall has been a DK-VCL licensed user since March, 2002


Framework Archaeology deploys a DK based viewer to distribute the data recovered from one of Europe's largest archaeological excavations at Terminal 5, London Heathrow airport.

Based in the United Kingdom, Framework Archaeology, a joint venture between Oxford Archaeology and Wessex Archaeology, used the DK Kernel to handle the archaeological mapping when distributing the results of archaeological investigations at London Heathrow and London Stansted airports, on behalf of BAA, the operators. The Framework Free Viewer is intended to accompany the publication of the results of the excavations (pending) and will be distributed on CD-Rom but is currently being used to aid communication between different communities of archaeologists analysing the results of the work in the field.

In capturing and analysing the work done on site, Framework Archaeology used modern surveying methods to build digital maps of the using standard mapping software from leading software companies. These could be attached to databases of the objects recovered and used as an aid to understanding what was being excavated and what had been excavated. However, in order to distribute these maps and databases widely Framework Archaeology needed to be able to side-step licensing issues with the chosen software. While royalty-free viewers are widely available for geographic information systems data, typically a user might require a detailed knowledge of the data in order to get best use from them. Framework Archaeology chose therefore to write its own viewer specifically for the types of data it was producing with an emphasis on simplicity and ease of use.

Why Framework Archaeology chose TatukGIS

Once Framework Archaeology had decided to create its own viewer, it was necessary to find the right tool to allow us to successfully create a simple but sophisticated GIS driven application which could be easily deployed. Royalty-free distribution was essential, but the final choice of tool was decided by price and by the clarity of the TatukGIS object model. Both were essential factors in allowing Framework Archaeology to minimise risk at the outset of designing the Free Viewer. It was clear that to succeed we needed to cover a lot of ground very quickly in the development, and from a programmer's point of view, the ease with which a new tool could be understood, was critical. Support from TatukGIS support staff was always prompt and effective. The finished product uses a 3.1MB executable to handle more than 300MB of data.

The product was written with a specific, if wide-ranging aim. Subsequently, Framework Archaeology has found practical uses beyond the initial target audience. Field staff who need to refer to earlier field work carried out for BAA at T5 actively choose to look things up using the Framework Free Viewer, rather than using the system provided for the purpose which was based on standard desktop database and Geographic Information software. At the end of the day, the latter is more difficult to learn and more expensive to support.

A specialist in the analysis of ancient flint tools commented that the Framework Free Viewer, in comparison to using standard methods of team working in archaeology:
"Allowed a much better conceptualisation of the spatial distribution of finds, features and phasing. Vastly more convenient than grappling with plans and databases for the context information - therefore reducing time spent liasing with Project Officers. Allowed distribution of other finds (pottery, animal bone, etc.) to be viewed, thereby avoiding the tendency to treat different material types as isolated categories. Will in turn allow wider and more complex distributive patterns to be identified"

Framework Free Viewer: main application window showing the excavated areas and base mapping. The list of options in the tree view to the left gives some idea of the complexity of archaeological data.

Some Bronze Age settlements shown with their surrounding field systems and trackways

Typically, the program is used to get an overview of the excavations and then to drill-down to refine a more detailed picture.

Locating archaeological deposits of medieval date by looking at the distribution of broken medieval pottery

Zooming in on the main concentration of medieval pottery and looking at part of the medieval landscape

Summary interpretations can be added to the map to aid understanding

Summary interpretations overlaid on the map

Further detail can then be accessed including textual descriptions and thumbnailed technical drawings

Textual descriptions and clickable, thumbnailed cross-sections across a ditch constructed in the Middle Ages

Details of any objects found, within the highlighted medieval ditch.

Graphing of the dating assigned to the objects and a thumbnail enlarged using the default image viewing program (in this case Irfanview) on the user's machine.