Making a Mess of Maps

This week I am focusing on making maps for the final publication of the survey component of the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. As I have mentioned before on the blog, making maps is not my specialty and the illustrations in recent survey publications put mine to shame. 

On the other hand, maps remain a vital component of survey publications and can – when properly executed – communicate information in a more clear and straightforward way than even the most eloquent text.

My goal is to keep thing simple. I’m using Myriad Pro font. It’s sans serif for legibility and is fairly narrow without sacrificing clarity. I’ve picked a narrower font to attempt to counteract the name of our project and site “Pyla-Koutsopetria” being fairly long and our site itself stretching east-west for over a kilometer. Anything I can do to save a few points of width on the page is welcome. 

In its simplest form, my basic map looks like this:

Figure1 2

I’ve decided to keep topolines on our map because our illustrations will all be in black-and-white as a result, I need to manage my use of grey scale in a very deliberate way. So I was uncomfortable using a greyscale DEM as the back ground for the survey area. 

Throughout our text we use local topographic terms for our site. Those are easy enough to add without getting the map too cluttered, but it is sometimes tricky to put the name of the feature – such as the Kokkinokremos ridge or the Vigla plateau – on the actual feature. So I put it close and figure that the text will make the exact location of the feature more clear.

Figure1 2 ALT

I experimented with using a Bing Maps satellite image as the backdrop. It looks decent in color, but not as crisp in black-and-white:

Figure2 3ALT

Figure2 3BW

We also used our own terms for various features on the survey site. We broke the site into 4 zones for analytical and interpretive purposes. This is where things get more cluttered in greyscale:

Figure2 3

And the wheels really come off when trying to represent the more complex geological map of the site in grey-scale:

Figure2 13

More standard survey data, however, like artifact densities and visibility look fine.

Figure2 3b

Figure2 11

One of the more “fun” maps to make showed the relationship between artifacts and the area the infilled embayment or harbor. A grey line marks the extent of holocene silt.

This one shows Late Roman artifacts and it makes clear the intensive activity around the edges of the embayment. The remains of this activity was likely smeared to the south by centuries of ploughing:

Figure2 17a

This map shows the distribution of Medieval artifacts over the same period. Note the small cluster of objects at the western edge of the embayment:

Figure2 17b

For the Modern period, the artifact scatter might coincide more clearly with the course of a modern road along the southern edge of the infilled embayment. In general, these roads follow and stabilize the beach ridge. Crushed ceramics may have served to reinforce the road and the route of the road probably saw more opportunities for discard. I wanted to include the roads on this map, but it made the map cluttered.

Figure2 17c

As you can tell, producing maps is neither something I am good at or my favorite thing, but I think I am slowly getting better at it. My maps are cleaner, simpler, and show some more attention to little details. They may not be better or even “good enough”, but they’re heading in the right direction.

One Comment

  1. Yeah, grayscale gradients tend to look fine for maps where you expect continuous data – intensity maps, elevation maps, etc. – but weird for things like geology maps. I’m no master cartographer, either, but I’ve found those tend to look better in black-and-white if you limit solid fills to a few, very distinct shades and use pattern fills for the rest. I usually have to play around with things for a while to find patterns that aren’t really obnoxious, but it helps to avoid the “wait, is that section dark gray or slightly darker gray?” problem.

    On a slightly different note, I recently had to simplify some maps to black-and-white line drawings, and I must say, yours look pretty darn good in comparison.


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