GIS on the Körös Regional Archaeological Project

The Körös Regional Archaeological Project (KRAP) is a multidisciplinary Hungarian-American collaborative research project in the Körös River Valley on the Great Hungarian Plain. Led by Drs. William A. Parkinson (The Field Museum), Attila Gyucha (Field Service of Cultural Heritage, Hungary), and Richard W. Yerkes (Ohio State University), the project has been investigating the organization of Neolithic and Copper Age settlements in the region since 1998.

In 2010, a new phase of the project began at the site of Szeghalom-Kovácshalom, near the town of Vésztő. The site is representative of an archaeologically defined group called the Tisza, who lived on the Great Hungarian Plain from about 5000 to 4500 BC. One of the goals of this new phase is to learn more about the environmental, ecological, and social factors that led to the formation of tells – mounds formed over centuries or millennia of continuous occupation at a site. This research will help shed light on the political and economic processes that characterize the beginning of the Neolithic period in the region.

Ceramic distribution at Szeghalom-Kovácshalom, showing a high concentration on the tell (at center). All maps by Rebecca Seifried.

From the beginning of work at the site, the team employed a rigorous and innovative survey strategy that could be combined easily with geographic information systems (GIS) software. They began by laying out a systematic grid of wooden stakes using a Real Time Kinematic Global Positioning System (RTK-GPS), a device that measures coordinates with sub-centimeter accuracy. Once the grid was established, the surface collection team got to work, with one person collecting all the ceramics, stone tools, and daub (hardened or burned clay from prehistoric houses) lying on the surface of a 10x10 or 20x20 meter square. After fifteen minutes, he or she moved on to the next square. Between 2010 and 2013, the team collected more than 3,600 of these units.

Daub distribution at Szeghalom-Kovácshalom, showing high concentrations off the tell.

After bringing the artifacts back to the lab for washing and analysis, the resulting data could be incorporated into a geographic information system (GIS) database to visualize their distribution across the landscape. The resulting maps show that clusters of ceramics and daub are not always associated – and in fact, daub is a much better indicator of prehistoric houses lying below the surface of the earth. Lining up the collection maps with the results of geophysical analysis (in particular, magnetometry), the outline of one house clearly corresponds to a cluster of daub on the surface.

Magnetometry data showing the outline of a prehistoric longhouse and a 10x10 meter excavation block (in red), overlaid with surface collection data: ceramics (left) and daub (right).

Meanwhile, another goal of the project was to create a high-quality digital elevation model (DEM) to record very minor elevation changes across the site using the RTK-GPS. This was an important task to complete, since most remotely-sensed elevation data (i.e., from various government satellite missions) is almost useless for areas as flat as the Great Hungarian Plain. Dani Riebe, a Graduate Research Assistant at The Field Museum, spent several weeks walking around the site with the RTK-GPS attached to her backpack, but the resulting DEM was well worth her efforts. The tell is clearly marked, along with a paleomeander (ancient riverbed) to its east. While these data are important for visualization and public dissemination, they are also critical in the analysis and interpretation phases of KRAP’s research.

Digital elevation model (DEM) of Szeghalom-Kovácshalom.

See an introduction to the Körös Regional Archaeological Project

See the Field Museum Expeditions website for updates from the field.