Talk:Geophysical survey (archaeology)

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This article originally appeared under the title "Geophysical survey" It was renamed to better reflect its specialized scope, and free the more general title for a more general article.

Links to Commercial Websites[edit]

Several edits have appeared in "External links" (and been subsequently deleted) linking to the commercial websites of practitioners and equipment manufacturers. I don't think this is appropriate, even if they were to contain significant information about the subject. One exception might have been the link to the journal Archaeological Prospection [1], as this is the principal English-language journal of the discipline. They do not, however, have significant online content available to non-subscribers. - Tapatio 00:41, 28 October 2006 (UTC)

  • Removed my link. Sorry, hadn't seen this post before adding it there. Hunterd is back! 12:26, 14 February 2010 (UTC)

External Links[edit]

We actually added the external commercial link from the GFZ in Potsdam because we felt it was an important contribution to the development of Geophysical and Archaeological Prospection. It is by no means spam and is relevant to the developments being made in the field. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Gfzcrew (talkcontribs) 18:32, October 28, 2006

Start Class Physics Article?[edit]

I can imagine that this would be a rather unsatisfying article for a physicist, but it was never intended as a physics article. The intended audiences were archaeologists and non-specialists. I'm all for providing more detailed and technical content regarding the physics, but I would argue that this overview should be readable and non-technical. I think the appropriate way to treat content outside the interest or comprehension of the general reader is in more specialized articles that may be linked from the overview.

If there are inaccuracies within this article we should fix them, of course. It was my intention to convey an intuitive or "common sense" understanding of the methods and of the subject in general. where this has led to excessively vague or incorrect explanations, I would invite others to offer better ones. I would again argue that revisions should be aimed toward a general audience. Tapatio 04:57, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

Start-class archaeology article?[edit]

This article has been rated as start-Class on the assessment scale. Does anyone have an idea of what should be done to raise it up out of the mud? Generalities are fine, but it would be good to move toward a comprehensive task list. As it is, nobody has made substantial edits for quite a while. Tapatio (talk) 13:25, 22 July 2008 (UTC)

  • Hi, Tapatio (and other editors). I think the following would be needed:
  1. A much more thorough explanation of techniques
  2. An expansion of the techniques used, i.e. seismics, ground surface topography, etc. The English Heritage guide (available here) (PDF page 37 onwards) provides a comprehensive list of techniques currently in use - in England, at least.
  3. An explanation on data processing
  4. An explanation of results interpretation.
  5. Expansion on references used - I know that Gaffney and Gater have been the backbone of geophysics for over two decades (as per the back cover of "Revealing the Buried Past"), and certainly Tony Clark is an important writer on the subject, but there have been others...


The Duke of Geophysical survey (archaeology) 09:24, 9 May 2009 (UTC)

I think that these are all good suggestions. As I will be busy with fieldwork for the forseeable future and won't have a lot of time to devote to it, but I'll at least try to stay engaged in ongoing development. I would offer some commentary on your suggestions:
  • A much more thorough explanation of techniques - I agree completely. I think the best way to proceed on this is to spin these elucidations off into separate articles, at least temporarily. The reasons for this are several: adding piecemeal to the sections on different methods would tend to unbalance the coverage given to each of the methods covered in the main article; developing these subsidiary articles would give them a chance to mature without disrupting the coherence or factuality of the main article; when uniformly matured, these sub-projects could be folded into the main article, either wholly or in summary. There is a stub for Magnetic survey (archaeology), but that needs to be developed and others created.
  • An expansion of the techniques used, i.e. seismics, ground surface topography, etc - In writing this article, I restricted the discussion to methods commonly used for "production" surveys. As far as I know, seismic methods have seen little use and have apparently limited potential for archaeology. I have seen some really compelling microtopography surveys (not often enough), but does this really fall under the category of geophysics? In any case, there's something to be said for weighting the article in favor of the most used and most useful methods. It might be appropriate to list occasionally used or experimental methods, but I would argue against giving them equal weight in the main article. They could, however, be appropriately spun off into separate articles.
  • The English Heritage guide... - I had not yet looked at the most recent edition; it is an excellent resource. I have added it to the external links. It seems reasonably well in tune with North American practice as well, incidentally.
  • An explanation on data processing - Yes. I think it would be well to expand in a balanced manner, beginning with generalities. Excessively technical elaboration would be better in a specialized article.
  • An explanation of results interpretation - Yes. Because this subject is so specific to region, (archaeological) culture, physical environment, etc., I think it would be good to limit this to general principles, and perhaps a small number of simple interpretive examples illustrating diverse archaeological records, physical settings, methods, and interpretive paradigms.
  • Expansion on references used... - Absolutely. I feel that this is a real weak point, but I don't know the best approach to rectifying it. The problem is really one of defining limits of what requires citation. What is covered in the article is (I believe) correct and uncontroversial, and is generally (if not specifically) validated by G&G, Clark, and any other general work on the subject. To elaborately reference everything seems at best superfluous, as well as tedious for both editor and reader. I am sure there are people out there who are good at drawing those boundaries, but I am not one of them.
Tapatio (talk) 05:41, 10 May 2009 (UTC)
I'm similarly quite busy, however I should get some free time soon... but in the mean time, here's something else we should perhaps consider... do we want a section on the background geology/interference? I suppose these could go into each individual technique (Mag, GPR, Res., etc.) article until they're all merged...
I'd also agree on your comments re experimental techniques: we oughtn't give those techniques as much detail as the more mainstream techniques. However, from an NPOV point-of-view (ha ha!), I realize that in most places GPR, Mag and Res. are the most common techniques. However, down here in Australia, geology significantly limits the use of these techniques. This is particularly true for where most of my work is done... in the state of Victoria. There's a lot of clay (GPR is out in most places), it's all volcanic rock (Mag is out), and with the current drought, there's very little water in the ground (Res is out)! I realize that this is an extreme irregularity, but the more experimental techniques (as you would call them) are basically what my career will rely on. Due to this, my experience with mag/gpr surveys is rather limited (I have had some res. survey experience and used GPR only once). The "experimental techniques" that I use most are things like hyperspectral imaging and infrared thermography. Also considering looking into radiometry at the moment. Each of these, of course, have significant limitations. On one site, I have even used a modified metal detector to work as a magnetometer... had great fun logging all that data by hand!
I don't know of any published literature regarding the 'experimental techniques' that I use (I think Clark wrote about the temperature idea in general, but not of any actual surveys), nor regarding microtopography, but I too have seen interesting results from these methods. I would have thought that microtopography would fall under the geophysics umbrella as the elevation of the ground surface is a physical property, affected by archaeology.
Agree with your comments on both data processing and results interpretation.
Re: references. I agree that we don't want too many, but I feel that there is such a small amount of published literature on archaeology-specific geophysical prospecting that we should list more than just Clark and G&G. It is quite difficult to find academic literature on the subject. Once you've bought the ~20 books that I have, that's pretty much the entire arky geofizz library(!)... unless I've missed a whole heap somewhere. Current head of the ISAP, Armin Schmidt, has written a number of books (some with Chris Gaffney), his most recent, Geophysical Data In Archaeology: A Guide To Good Practice, has already been recognized as being significant. There are a few others that I can think of that have had similar impact. Gaffney, Aspinall and Schmidt's Magnetometry for Archaeology and GPR for Archaeology are also significant, in my opinion, at least. I believe the ISAP is working with the IfA at the moment to create a guide to the archival of data.
Speaking of which, in the article, we ought add something about data archival!
Perhaps I should send around an email to all members of the ISAP, and get their attention to this article. What do you think?
I'd love to see this article get to FA-status, but it will take a lot of work. :)
The Duke of Geophysical survey (archaeology) 08:43, 10 May 2009 (UTC)
Oops, when I mentioned Clark above as having written about Infrared Thermography, I was mistaken. I meant Irwin Scollar (et al). Clark does make mention of it, but only a small paragraph (Scollar, et al. devotes an entire chapter to the idea). The Duke of Geophysical survey (archaeology) 10:45, 10 May 2009 (UTC)

To get the ball rolling on this, I have created new stubs:

to join those that already existed:

I haven't added new content beyond what is found on the main Geophysical survey (archaeology) page, but it provides a framework form which to start. Now somebody will hopefull take the bait and start editing them. I noticed that someone added a section to the Mag article. Tapatio (talk) 15:07, 11 May 2009 (UTC)

Undid edits by anonymous user[edit]

I just undid two well-intentioned edits by the anonymous user While I appreciate the effort to contribute to the article, the edits were shaky in terms of factuality and usefullness. Specifically:

The need to insert probes into the soil can make this a risky prospect in areas with delicate artifacts near the surface.

While this would seem to make sense, in practice it is rarely an issue. I have worked on hundreds of sites on three continents, and I can't recall this having been a major consideration.

Using these probes also makes this a somewhat slower method than some other types of geophysical survey

True enough, I'll add something about this.

Capacatively coupled systems that do not require direct physical contact with the soil have been developed to help counter these problems, but are more expensive.

They may be more expensive, but the main drawback to available capacitively coupled systems is that they lack the spatial resolution and sensitivity to address most archaeological questions.

Electrical resistance meters are immune to the effects of overhead powerlines, which makes this method somewhat more desirable in urban areas.

True, but overhead lines are not a big deal for most other instruments either, although the towers or poles can really mess up a mag survey.

and the [electrical resistance] equippment is similar to that used in grounding electrical systems. This has led electrical resistance meters to gain popularity in Cultural Resource management firms, and with companies that specialize in development, but maintain an archaeological consultant.

Nonsense. The systems used in archaeology may be theoretically related, but this has nothing to do with their popularity. That has more to do with: somewhat lower cost than other instrumentation; versatility; data collection requires less training than most methods; interpretation of results is relatively straightforward and intuitive. As an aside, I would say that in spite of its relative ease of use, it is still rare for non-specialists to get consistently good results, for a lot of reasons.

Geophysical methods used in archaeology are largely adapted from those used in mineral exploration, minesweeping, engineering, and geology.

Minesweeping not so much. Terrestrial mine and UXO detection led to the development of the metal detector, but that is somewhat peripheral to the article (it has its own). GPR, conductivity, and other methods are also used for mine/UXO detection, but I don't think that there has been a steady flow of technology from those applications into archaeological ones. To some extent, the inverse has been true. Tapatio (talk) 16:50, 9 February 2010 (UTC)

Anonymous user here. I agree with most deletions, but would like you to reconsider two: First, I believe that minesweeping should be listed as a source of the technology. Magnetometers, and not just metal detectors owe a lot to DOD funding. Mine probes have also been adapted by both looters and some archaeologists, although this may not exactly fit under the umbrella of geophysical survey. Secondly, I believe that the use of sound waves ought to have at least one sentence. A textbook I was reviewing indicated that some form of ground penetrating sonar was the newest thing. I'll scout around for some references I think I have, but adding them to the actual page is not my strong point. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:33, 10 February 2010 (UTC)

Keep in mind that mere correctness is not the only criterion in deciding whether to include a piece of information in the article. If a fact does not reach a threshhold of relative importance within the subject, its inclusion will tend to distract from the main points and give the reader an unbalanced view of the subject. I keep reasonably well up on the literature in this field and am a full-time practitioner, so I figure that if I have not heard of something, it is probably not important enough for inclusion in a very brief overview like this one. This is just a rough guage, of course, and I'm happy to be corrected.
Regarding methods used for UXO detection, there has certainly been parallell development of technologies, and some of the same instruments are used for both applications, as well as for mineral exploration, etc. There has certainly been some flow of technology in both directions, but most of the sensors used were developed before there were military applications for them. One might make a better arguement for a military contribution regarding the development of digital computers, which are indispensable to the discipline. Anyway, if you have really good documentation that minesweeping technology has made a direct and important contribution to the field, by all means include it (with references). If it regards a specific instrument, this information might belong in the article related to that instrument, rather than among the gross generalizations appropriate to the overview.
Regarding sonic methods, seismic surveys are sometimes used in archaeology, but only very rarely and in unusual circumstances. In general, seismic methods are suitable for detecting large-scale and deep phenomena, and most archaeology is small and shallow. I'm not sure what the "ground penetrating sonar" you might have seen reference to might have been. I know that there has been research into high-frequency seismic methods that might be more useful for archaeology, but I don't know of anything that has reached the 'production' level of use. In both cases, I don't think that these technologies have attained the threshold of importance necessary to have them featured with the same prominence as the more commonly used methods. These might deserve a mention in a section on minor methods and emerging technologies, along with thermal IR, penetrometers, susceptibility, induced polarization, etc. That would actually be a really good contribution to the article. A good source/reference would be "English Heritage: Geophysical Survey in Archaeological Field Evaluation" (PDF). , which is available online, and is authoritative and balanced.
Regarding adding references to the article, it's not that hard to learn. See: Wikipedia:Citing_sources.
Tapatio (talk) 18:26, 12 February 2010 (UTC)


A new subsection on LiDAR has appeared. LiDAR is a real game-changer in archaeologial inquiry, and is important and exciting, but does it fall under the heading of Geophysical survey (archaeology)? I use it in my own work, and integrate it with ground-based geophysics, but I think it might fall more into the remote-sensing sphere. Any thoughts? Tapatio (talk) 08:36, 15 July 2012 (UTC)

I suspect the non-specialist would expect to find something about all the non-destructive techniques made possible by physics. Rjm at sleepers (talk) 06:32, 18 July 2012 (UTC)
It's certainly "made possible by physics," but is it geophysics? In terms of methodology, it would seem to be a type of remote sensing, which is usually distinct from ground-based archaeological geophysics. Of course, the distinction is fuzzy because some remote sensing techniques are geophysical, but I'm not sure LiDAR is one of them. In any case I would be interested in (and could contribute to) developing a more complete treatment of its use in archaeology somewhere. It's briefly treated in remote sensing, LiDAR, and elsewhere. Tapatio (talk) 05:30, 23 July 2012 (UTC)


The article doesn't mention sound radar (sonar), adapted from marine use to work with ground (by using different sound frequencies). If there is a good reason why this technology (which I believe exists) is not used in geological or archaeological surveying, shouldn't the article include it? David Spector (talk) 16:13, 17 May 2017 (UTC)

See Reflection seismology for something very similar, possibly the same. Thanks, User:Andy_Dingley. David Spector (talk) 15:08, 18 May 2017 (UTC)