GIS at Dickinson College

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Tag: Archeology

Archaeology Students Rebuild Pennsylvania’s Past

 Did you know that located only 16 miles from Carlisle there was once a secret prisoner-of-war (POW) camp operated by the U.S. Army during World War II, which was used as a site for interrogating German and Japanese prisoners?  And did you also know that there are still visible relics and remnants of this camp on the landscape that you can visit and learn about?  The students in Professor Maria Bruno’s Archaeological Field Method and Theory class (ARCH 300) are studying these remnants by using GIS to conduct an archaeological survey of the area known as “Camp Michaux,” which is located in the Michaux State Forest just southwest of Dickinson College.

The forest and mountain areas surrounding the camp have a long history of human occupation possibly dating back to the Native Americans, but the Camp Michaux area traces its origin to the Bunker Hill Farm, which was associated with the Pennsylvania iron industry during the late 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s.  After the iron industry died out, the site was converted into a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and then used as the POW camp in the 1940s during World War II.  Following the war, the site was leased by a group of churches from the Carlisle area for use as a summer camp, an enterprise that continued until 1972 when the main lodge burned to the ground.  After the fire incident, the churches closed the camp, the state auctioned off all the remaining useful buildings, and the site quickly began to revert back to its natural habitat (1).

Today, Professor Bruno’s archaeology students are learning about the rich history of the site by implementing the archaeological methods and theories they learn about in class, such as survey and mapping.  Under a permit from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and with guidance from the Cumberland County Historical Society and the PennDOT Cultural Resources Program, Professor Bruno and her students spent the SP13 semester completing an initial site survey, which is a necessary first step before in-depth archaeological excavation is possible.  Using GIS to help plan their survey and identify site locations in the field, the students discovered and mapped a variety of historical features at the camp, including paths, foundations, monuments, culverts, and even an old swimming pool!

Professor Bruno plans to begin the second phase of the project at the camp next year with her students, which will continue to survey the research area and possibly select areas for test excavations.  GIS will again play an important role in this phase of the project, as the students will use the technology to maintain an accurate map of the dig site, as well as to record the location of any artifacts they discover.  For more information about the Dickinson College Archaeological Project at Camp Michaux, please contact Professor Bruno at



(1) Information about the history of the Camp Michaux site was obtained from the Camp Michaux Self-Guided Walking Tour, published by David Smith from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Map and photos courtesy of James Ciarrocca, GIS Specialist and Professor Maria Bruno, Dickinson College.

Geospatial Analysis of Archaeobotanical Remains from Kala Uyuni, Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia

Christopher Wolfe, Spring 2012

Atlas of Mycenae

Dan Ehrlich, Spring 2012

Spatial Analysis of Skeletal Remains

Project in Fall 2010 by Kathryn Rapp


For my GIS final project, I will be mapping the burials discovered at the archaeological site in Mycenae, Greece. In 2008, three bodies were discoved at the end of the season in the Lower Town. My project will be analyzing the position of the burials and the artifacts discovered there with relation to the citadel. I’m interested in this area due to my major of archaeology and my hopeful concentration in the field of osteology (study of bones) or forensic science.

Spatial Analysis of Skeletal Remains

Lower Town Mycenae, Greece

Introduction Problem Methods Results Conclusions & Recommendations References


In most cultures, ritual and religion are associated with death and burial. Current practices can include funerals, headstones, and caskets where the dead are honored and we pay our last respects. These traditions are not new; they have been around since the beginning of societies. A spatial analysis of human remains in the archaeological site in Mycenae, Greece was important in determining the site’s age, structure, and function. During the excavation period from 2008 to 2009, a total of four human skeletons were discovered within three gravesites. This project looks to illustrate the importance of these finds, spatially, with regards to the position of the bodies and small finds.

The type of grave in which the remains were buried in was called a pit grave. Pit graves are shallow, oval or rectangular graves with no roof or lining and include few funeral offerings. They were rarely more than half a meter deep and often only one body was laid to rest. These graves were simple and cut out of soil or soft rock and the body was laid in a flexed position with the knees close to the chin and the hands in front of the face (Wave 1949). Often, these simple types of graves were used for the burial of children (Desborough 1964).

There is a lot that can be told about a culture by analysis of the dead; it is important to determine some of the spatial relationships. Human remains in an archaeological context tell a lot about the past through classification of religion, culture, material items, and social status among other traits of a society. During digs, when a body is found, it is treated with the utmost respect and carefully analyzed before it is even removed from the ground. Once an artifact is moved, it loses any context it had while still situated in the ground.

Context of a site is important to consider upon analysis of artifacts discovered within the site. In order to determine the relationship between finds in the site, it was necessary to perform a spatial analysis. For the project, I illustrated the location of the skeletons in relation to the architectural features and the important finds located within them. The areas of the site being studied are grid squares 42 and 54. Specifically, the young female (GS 42) and the three infants (GS 54) were analyzed with the artifacts discovered in the burials. During the course of this project, a study of the depth, context, artifacts, position of the body, and geographic location was done in order to begin to formulate hypotheses about the ritual culture of ancient Mycenaean, Greece.


The current archaeological dig in Mycenae, Greece is a personal fascination of mine having visited and participated in it this past summer. During my time there, I was able to work with the remains and a professional osteologist who gave me insights into her field of study. I wanted to apply my passion for the study of human remains and archaeology to the GIS final project.

For my analysis, I proposed to answer the overarching question, “Is the spatial relation of the different remains linked and can any ritual practices be determined from their location?” As an archaeology major, I have previously read about sites that have been situated according to their position with the sun as it rises or sets. I performed the spatial analysis with this question in mind while at the same time, illustrating the burial sites with relation to each other and the features surrounding them. The grave offerings located within the three features were also of particular importance.

During the excavation, theories are formulated daily as new artifacts, architectural features, and contexts are discovered. A part of the daily life at the site is the collection of data points using an instrument called the Total Station. This instrument allows precise coordinates and depths to be recorded. This information allows a map to be created giving the exact position. Archaeologists can then use this information to support their theories about a specific site as I did with my analysis of the skeletal remains. The GIS software simplified the information (coordinates, depths, small finds) obtained from the field notes. There is only so much information to be gleaned from written documents until they can be illustrated visually. By looking at a map layout of the burials, it is much easier to see how they are interrelated.


1. Gather Information:

The first step to performing analysis of the gravesites found in the Lower Town was to consult and obtain information about the project from two excellent sources, Geographic Information System (GIS) Specialist Jim Ciarrocca and Professor Christofilis Maggidis. Data was retrieved in two forms- a previously configured ArcMap document and two PDF files of field notes from the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Professor Maggidis was able to direct me to the proper locations to begin my study.

The bulk of the work came from sorting through approximately 1200 pages of field notes from the past two years and narrowing down the information to that which pertained to the three graves. These notes gave onsite analysis when artifacts were discovered. For the major finds, coordinates and depths were noted in the accession list.

The next step was to conduct research of the topic. Much is known or speculated about Mycenae and therefore, Professor Maggidis and Dr. Katie Lantzas ‘05 were able to provide a list of references to use. Research began with the broad topic of Mycenae and the Argolid and eventually was limited to Mycenaean death and burial.

2. Study Prepared Map:

The ArcMap was made by a previous student, Ryan Shears ’10, and had multiple shapefiles and layers already created. This document was an important addition to my collection of material as it saved a good amount of time by already having illustrated the areas containing gravesites with grid squares, architectural features, photos, and a defined projection (GreekGrid.prj).

3. Create New Shapefiles:

Through comparison with the ArcMap document, I discovered that the small finds in GS 42 and 54 where the burials were located were unmarked and needed to be referenced. Significant finds from the field notes were georeferenced and placed into the map. Three new shapefiles were created in order to display the spatial context of objects within the three separate graves. The shapefiles were overlaid on the photos previously georeferenced by Shears within each grid square.

4. Map Preparation and Analysis:

Three separate maps were prepared. Two illustrating the separate grid squares and the finds relating to each separately. A third was produced in order to determine any relationship between the gravesites or between the gravesites and surrounding features. A Google map was used to illustrate the location of the site within Greece.

I found the shapefiles illustrating the architectural features and grid squares the most useful. These layers gave a general idea of where in the site each feature was located and from that I could narrow my analysis to GS 42 and 54 where the skeletal remains were discovered. To these layers, I added my own shapefiles containing information about the small finds discovered by using the coordinates listed in the field notes. After the maps had been prepared, I conducted my analysis according to the list of questions I anticipated answering.

Questions to Answer:

1. Can any ritual practices be determined from the position of the remains?

2. Are there any ritual practices associated with the burials?

3. Are the positions of the skeletal remains linked?

4. How do the depths of the graves compare?

5. What time period is defined by the small finds within the gravesite?

6. How can the graves date the features (walls) in the surrounding area?


Upon analysis of the information collected from the excavation, GIS was helpful in order to visualize the layout of the site and of the artifacts discovered. During this analysis, the questions I proposed in the Methodology section were considered:

Figure 1. Map of the gravesite features with relation to the surrounding walls.

Figure 1. Map of the gravesite features with relation to the surrounding walls.

1. I hoped to illustrate that the placement of the human remains was a direct result of ritual practices (Figure 1). However, even though each skeleton lay in the expected flexed position (knees to chin, hands in front of face), they were all facing in different cardinal directions (Wace 1949). The female from GS 42, feature 26 was facing south on her right side with her head pointing to the west. In GS 54, the infant within feature 39 was facing west with the head pointing to the north; the heads of both infants of feature 42 were pointing east. From sources, it was found that many of the remains do not lie in the same position (French 2002). The fact that the bodies do not all lie in the same position, does not mean that there are not any practices involved with burial during Mycenaean times; it just means that the placement of the body may not be affected by ritual.

Figure 1. Map of SK.1.

Figure 1. Map of SK.1.

2. According to several literature sources, it was common practice for Mycenaeans to bury their dead with ornaments or supplies (Feature 2). For women, it is especially common to find bronze pins located by the shoulder as was discovered in the Lower Town. Bronze pins were jewelry used to fasten the dress, or peplos, at the shoulder (Desborough 1972, French 2002). Also used to determine sex of the remains is one of the vases called a pyxis (Field notes 2008). The determination of the sex by these items was later supported by osteological analysis of the pelvis, skull, and teeth. Other artifacts discovered within the grave were four more vases of different shape and pattern, a stone object, and a bronze ring. The vases were identified by a Geometric specialist on site. Geometric vases are identified mainly by their shape, short rims, and reserved bands of decoration (Langdon 1995).

Figure 3. Map of SK.2 and SK.3.

Figure 3. Map of SK.2 and SK.3.

The map illustrated in Figure 3 identifies the locations of the two infant burials discovered in GS 54. With these burials, no large significant finds were discovered except the remains of the infants. However, in each grave, at least five small bead-like items were discovered identifying the burial as significant. Small beads have been the sole finds at other child burials (Wace 1957). Acknowledgement of these finds supports the idea that there was ceremony associated with the death of the respective children. Even though one body had been covered by the remains of a second in feature 42, it does not mean that the human had been less important. The two infants could be related and have corresponding times of death.

The area along the eastern side of feature 39 was marked by three stones in the layer above the site. Because of their position and relation to the grave, it could be hypothesized that these stones were a type of grave marker used in the burial of the child (Wace 1949).

3. The skeletal remains cannot be linked in any way except by the presence of funeral objects and burnt material. These are two indications of significant burials, significant indicating that time was spent in preparation and interment of the bodies.

4. There is potential for the depths of the graves to be related in that the closing of context 101 was 216.40 masl and the closing of context 120 was 216.54 masl. There is a difference of 0.14 masl which depending on the topography of the land could be small or great.

5. Only the era of feature 26 could be determined from the finds within the grave. From the five vases found, the grave in GS 42 was determined to be from the Middle Geometric Period (850-800 BC.). According to a resource, the bronze pin could also potentially be indicative of a Geometric grave. The shape was long with a globe near the top (Desborough 1972). Shapes and materials used for the production of the pins changed throughout time becoming more and less decorative depending on the social and economic climate.

6. Analysis of the depth measurements led to conclusions of the time period of the features surrounding the grave in GS 42. From the burial in GS 42, the wall, feature 6, could be dated. The opening level of context 101 correlated to the lowest pass stones of the wall indicating that at the time of burial, the wall was the main structure in the area. The grave had been dated mainly by the vases found surrounding the remains, but after researching burials and ornaments, I discovered that the bronze pin could also possibly be an indication of the Middle Geometric era due to its shape (Desborough 1972).

The placement of the stones in GS 43 along the eastern edge of feature 39 could indicate that the area in GS 54 is located outside of the walls. Grave markers were used when remains were buried on the outside of structures; they were not common practice to use upon burial within a house.

Conclusions & Recommendations

During the summers of 2008 and 2009, a combined total of four human skeletons were discovered, one young female and three infants. These discoveries were the major finds of the seasons and have the potential to give endless insight into life during the Middle Geometric (850-800 B.C.). Tombs and burial customs can contribute towards understanding social structure (Desborough 1972). The inclusions, artifacts, and location are all important in the analysis of the gravesites.

Conclusions from the GIS analysis of the skeletal remains found at the excavation site were not what were expected. Having hoped to illustrate the possibility of ritual practices attributable to of the arrangements of the bodies, I instead showed that GIS was still a useful tool in illustrating the archaeological site and the relationship between graves and funerary objects. The vases found within feature 26 were determined to be from the Middle Geometric era (850-800 BC.). Then, because of the depths recorded for the contexts associated with the walls, feature 6 was also established as being from the same time period. Comparison of the average depths from the base of feature 39 to the base of feature 26 yielded similar results of 216.40 masl to 216.57 masl. However, further analysis is needed in order to be able to associate the sites as being from the same time period.

To further develop this project, a stratigraphic map would be helpful in illustrating the contexts with relation to the walls and graves. Visualizing the strata this way would lead to easier analysis of the features in the area with regards to the separate graves and from there be dated.

Excavation at this site continued in 2010 and it will open again during the summer of 2011 where there is the potential to discover more human burials.


Desborough, V. R. d’A. (1972). The Greek dark ages. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Desborough, V. R. d’A. (1964). The Last Mycenaeans and their successors. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

French, E. (2002). Mycenae: Agamemnon’s capital, the site in its setting. Great Britain: Tempus Publishing Ltd.

Langdon, R. P. (1995). Artifact and assemblage: The finds from a regional survey of the Southern Argolid, Greece (vol. 1). Standford, CA: Standford University Press.

Wace, A. J. B. and others. (1957). Excavations at Mycenae, 1939-1955. Athens: Thames and Hudson.

Wace, A. J.B. (1949). Mycenae: An archaeological history and guide. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Field notes. (2008). Mycenae Lower Town.

Field notes. (2009). Mycenae Lower Town.

ArcMap document created by Ryan Shears (2010).

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