Archaeological Maps

One of my responsibilities with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project this fall is to produce our final distribution maps. In fact, this was a collaborative effort as David Pettegrew checked all my calculations which were the basis for the first round of maps, caught a few little issues, and then created the GIS layers. All I had to do was to package these and make them legible as maps.

I find this part of the process fairly frustrating. My tastes in maps run to the old school and my patience for archaeological maps with incredibly high data density is pretty limited. As I result, I tried to produce maps that communicated a fairly limited amount of data in as clear a way as possible. We collected our data from a fair regularly shaped set of units set up on a coastal plain and a series of flat-topped coastal ridges surrounded by steep slopes and narrow valleys.

Here is the survey area with almost no archaeological data except the grid. The different colors of grid outlines represent the different zones that we discuss in our analysis. I have kept the 4 m topo lines rather than using only 8 or 12 m because I think that they communicate the rugged topography more effectively. I made them a rather light gray color so that the survey grid popped out more. I did not include elevation labels on the topolines because the coastline is clearly visible on the bottom of the frame.  Finally, I offset the map to the west/left in its frame to make room for the legend, north arrow, and scale on the right side of the frame. 

PKAP Zones

My next map shows the overall artifact density across the site with the colored outlines still representing the different zones. I think the outlines are hard to see against the gray gradient used to indicate different artifact densities. The legend records the artifact densities per hectare.

PKAP ZoneDensity

The gray gradient for artifact densities on the next map are made 40% transparent. The distribution of Early Roman ceramics are red. 

PKAP RomanEarly

I think this design shows low density scatters (like the Classical period) and high density (like the Late Roman) scatters effectively.

PKAP Classical

PKAP RomanLate

I remain torn about the need for a north arrow.


  1. That Late Roman plot is just silly.


  2. I’ve had maps kicked back to me in compliance reports for lack of a north arrow. I’ve pointed out that a-it said in the text all maps oriented north unless otherwise noted, b-the maps were overlays on USGS topos, and the labels make north obvious, and c-there was a TRS overlay that also makes north obvious. This was meet with silence. Arrows were added. I also have had maps with a UTM grid overlay kicked back for missing a scale, which made despair for the future a little bit. So I generally include both. That said, I think N unless otherwise noted should be acceptable. Distribution maps are hard enough to produce and read without adding more clutter. Cross reference Kourelis’ mysticism blog. For some, maps are mystical incantations that wont work without the proper symbols.


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