This site requires a modern browser with javascript enabled for full functionality

For the best experience, please use the latest version of one of these browsers:



GIS stands for ‘Geographical Information System’, a powerful computerised method of data analysis and presentation, which is becoming an essential part of archaeological work.

GIS works by linking databases and maps.  Any data which has a geographical or spatial location can be included in a GIS.  The locational details are entered into databases using co-ordinates; these are almost infinitely flexible in scale and may cover areas as large as continents or as small as individual buildings or features on an excavation.
Environmental, geological, topographical and hydrological data are some of the other types of information which can be entered in linked databases so that they can be easily compared and combined with archaeological data.  A GIS can produce series of 3-dimensional maps, the scale, angle and orientation of which can be altered instantly by the user  it is possible to zoom in to look at details on the map, zoom out to view the wider picture, or click through various layers giving different information.  Data can be analysed statistically and the results presented in map and graphic form.  The two types of GIS software which are most popular at present are ArcView ™ and MapInfo ™.
An example of the value and utility of GIS might be in researching sites of a particular type, such as areas of Roman pottery manufacture.  The known sites can be mapped onto other data showing the likely areas for this type of activity; each individual site could be investigated by clicking through to progressively more detailed maps and plans.  By widening the search, new areas of archaeological interest may be identified where it is obvious that suitable conditions exist but where no archaeological investigation has been carried out.
There are many potential uses for GIS.  Archaeologists have created models of intervisibility between prehistoric monuments such as barrows and hillforts, this is known as ‘viewshed’ analysis.  Settlement and agriculture have been mapped in relation to soil types, rainfall levels, flood zones and patterns of light and shadow caused by hills and valleys.  Although many researchers make use of GIS, it is also very suitable for recording and managing information and most County and National Records offices are now either GIS-based or actively seeking to become so.