Mapping and Making Sense of the Site

By Lucille Baker-Stahl and Dawson Eriksen

When doing archaeology, you are constantly presented with a large amount of data that requires organization. There are a lot of ways to organize this information, but for a site like this mapping is a great way to make sense of our findings. After completing our grid survey, we collected our data in a variety of spreadsheet focused on distribution, artifact type, and chronology. The data we found looked like this, which can be pretty confusing at times:

Collection UnitChronology RangeGroup 1 (1946.5-1954.5)Group 2 (1954.5-1962)Group 3 (1962-1970)
L08~Post 1940100
L12~Post 1945100
M8~Post 1954010
Figure 1. Chart of Bulk Chronological Data.

This is a lot of data! Some rather useful data, too! “Diagnostic” is a word used in archaeology and other social sciences to describe something that can create meaning or provide insight. For us, a diagnostic artifact is a bottle with a logo or serial number, while a non-diagnostic object is a fragment of glass with no identification markers. So when we say “diagnostic,” we really mean useful and helpful in investigating the site. Constructing the chronologies above (Figure 1) was done largely with the help of diagnostic pieces, which had some kind of marker allowing us to determine their date.

That doesn’t mean that non-diagnostic pieces are useless! We used non-diagnostic pieces to explore different aspects of the site, primarily distribution. Distribution is the prevalence of artifacts in a given space, and the density of findings. For us, this meant how many glass/metal shards were found in our 5m by 5m grid squares. This, however, resulted in a lot of data like that above, and looked a little bit like this:

Collection UnitQuantity of ArtifactsGlassMetalPlastic
Figure 3. Sample of distributional data (Incomplete and incongruent)

Again, this is a lot of great data! Let’s talk about why it is hard to make sense of without a map. In both Figure 1 and Figure 2 we have a lot of zeros, a lot ones, and a lot a places that seem empty. This “negative space” is difficult to describe and express like this, so creating a map helps represent that space where there were fewer, or no findings. By expressing both findings and lack of findings, we can get more out of the site be showing its limits and focal points, as well as look for outliers and patterns. This is why mapping is so important! With mapping, the zeros become a part of a greater image of the site, and while these charts still communicate a lot of data, maps help build them into greater patterns.