Google Earth (Archaeology)

Scott Madry from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, presented a paper at CAA2006 (Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods for Archaeology) which summarised some of his very successful work with Google Earth to find potential excavation sites in the Burgundy region of France, a method which he is quoted as saying provided him with more meaningful results in a matter of hours than he had gathered in years of carrying out aerial photography and land-based surveys.

References to Google Earth’s interoperability with GIS data assume the use of Google Earth Pro version, which requires licensing after a 7 day trial period. The benefits of using this system are however enticing and begin to offer the user some quite sophisticated geospatial referencing functionality. In conventional GIS (Geographical Information Systems), the overlaying of one map onto another, or one layer of information over a related image, is carried out by a process of georeferencing where point data on both source files are matched up sequentially, ultimately allowing the images to be accurately superimposed. Google Earth provides a ‘rubbersheeting’ function which involves specifying corner markers and stretching one terrain over another to provide a similar degree of synchronisation between two representations. In conjunction with a GIS data import function, distance measurement tools, and the ability to find, mark, map and export data to other applications, Google Earth has the potential to provide serious benefits to archaeologists, not least in terms of the time that it takes to achieve certain tasks in comparison with using standard GIS packages and dedicated aerial or satellite imagery.

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