Geographic Information System- A suitable “bridge” between Epigraphy and Archaeology.

Posted on behalf of  Elisa Orlando

Archeologist (Postdoc independent researcher)


The discovery of new, effective technologies applied both to epigraphy and archaeology seems to prove how closely these two disciplines are linked. Many archaeological and epigraphic studies have emphasized the concept of inscription as a multi-disciplinary resource, closely linked to its context. So if we agree with the definition: “Inscription is a complex monument comprising three elements: text, writing and supporti we must recognize that archaeology plays an important role in the analysis of epigraphic data. Each inscription is the physical evidence of social and cultural features. As a result, the text and its support cannot be parted. ii

In recent years, many programs have been created within the framework of classical studies and cultural heritage; in particular, Relational DBMS and Geographical Information System.iii

The Eagle project, is a powerful example of how epigraphic data can be gathered, shared and managed. This European network is important for many reasons, but above all because it defines scientific standards and best practices in digitization of data, making them accessible to a wide audience. So, can the Gis solution enrich and aid this or other similar projects? Can it act as a “bridge” to bring Archaeology and Epigraphy closer together? T.Mommsen has already recognized the importance of including topographic information for the study of inscriptions in the CIL. In fact, he classified the inscriptiones on the basis of geographical areas, trying to relate them to their background.iv Today, new technologies such as GPS, GIS platform or web solution, like Google Earth, can place each single piece of evidence from an archaeological survey with great accuracy and may provide researchers and the public with documentation, which is more complete and scientific.v But these tools can also be useful for reviewing ancient corpora, in particular helping to reposition inscriptions that, for different reasons, have been removed from their original context and for which the geographic position is uncertain. Briefly, what can GIS offer for the management of epigraphic studies?

  • More precise information about inscriptions and their context.

  • Quick comparisons between different types of epigraphic data.

  • Merging of archeological, historical and epigraphic information.

  • Establishment of a scientific predictive model by means of spatial analysis and DBMS

Without doubt, it is extremely important to design the geodatabase carefully, using standard computer language and common best practices. In fact, its main purpose should be to create a system which is accessible to different users (researchers, institutions, the public) and which can be managed via different computer media (smart phones, tablets, PCs, etc.).

The project, that we want to propose here, is a platform Open Gis that could bring together, in a single geo-database, information from several databases, relating to Eagle, allowing to display data on a map. The structure of the geodatabase will allow the connection of textual information and geographical ones for each inscription found in databases. Each text will have spatial coordinates x and y, expressed in a precise reference system and viewable with a precise indication on a map.vii The possibility to have a complete database of both types of information will make it possible to achieve different types of quests: this is why the database acts as a bridge between epigraphy and archaeology. Although, the project is very large and complex, the ability to import the data into individual databases on cartography (converting dataset in shapefiles queried)viii would add new opportunities for analysis and comparison for different lines of studies, such as the epigraphic and archaeological research.

The structure of the database, consisting of geographical and textual information, managed by a geo-database, will be developed by an open source software, e.g., Quantum Gis. This Information system, released under General public license (Gnu), is a project of Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo).ix Its peculiarity is that it is compatible with all major operating systems and, through the use of plugins, you can create, edit and publish geospatial projects.

The creation of the geodatabase will allow textual information to be converted to vectors and to be displayed in raster maps. QGis lets you connect and import different formats of Rdbms and change them into spatial relational database (PostGis).x The creation of a geographic information system will also allow you to make some queries and spatial analysis directly on maps. Spatial analysis functions interpolate together textual information and geographic data: e.g. Overlay two different itemes like Iscriptiones and its context. The systems allows us to create different database queries from spatial criteria (proximity, inclusion, buffer zone,etc.). These statistics process can be useful to improve both epigraphic and archeological researches. Then the project can be published online with a QGis Sever; Qgis server provides a Web Map Service (WMS) with the same libraries of the Quantum GIS (QGIS) desktop application.xi

In conclusion, we should reflect on Mallon’s words, taken from his famous “Archéologie des monuments graphìques”: “Existe-t-il une possibilité de tirer une conclusion prudente de la repartition de inscriptions correctes et de inscriptions fautives selon leurs natures, leurs provenances géographiques et leurs époques?”. xii

The creation of Geographical information system can answer and make accessible to the public the different data coming from archaeological and Epigraphic studies.

i Campana A., Tutela dei beni epigrafici, Epigraphica, 30, Roma, 1968, p.5.

ii Archeologia ed Epigrafia, Dizionario di Archeologia, in Manacorda D., Francovich R. eds, 2000, Laterza, p.141; Buonopane, A. Manuale di Epigrafia latina, 2009, Carocci, pp.59-122.

iii For example Epigrafic Database Rome (EDR); Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss Slabi (EDCS); Epigraphische Datebank Heidelberg (EDH), Epigraphic Database Bari (EDB); Cultural Atlas Initiative; Arachne Central Object Database; IDai Gazeteer; Perseus Digital Library. For the importance of information technologies applied to epigraphic studies see: C. Zaccaria, Instrumenta inscripta Latina: potenziale informativo e importanza dei corpora elettronici. Alcuni esempi dalla Regio X orientale, in M. Hainzmann, R. Wedenig (eds.), Instrumenta Inscripta Latina II. Akten des 2. Internationalen Kolloquiums (Klagenfurt, 5-8 Mai 2005), hrsg. von G. Piccottini, Aus Forschung und Kunst 36, Klagenfurt, 2008; C. Zaccaria, Piccole iscrizioni crescono. Le possibili risposte di una banca dati epigrafica integrata con le scritte su instrumentum per la storia economica e sociale della Regio Decima, in Est enim ille flos Italiae…, in Vita economica e sociale nella Cisalpina romana, Atti delle Giornate di studi in onore di Ezio Buchi (Verona 2006), a cura di P. Basso, A.Buonopane, A. Cavarzere, S. Pesavento Mattioli, Verona 2008, pp. 369-383.

iv Mommsen Th., Henzen W. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum I, Inscriptiones Latinae antiquissimae ad C. Caesaris mortem, Berolini, 1863.

v GPS-Global Position System; Google Earth: A software that maps the Earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and geographic information system. Many archeological project use this tools for their research

The importance of multidisciplinary approaches to the study of inscriptions (understood as text and monument) is confirmed in the contribution: Panciera S., Eck W., Manacorda D, Tedeschi C., Questioni di metodo. Il monumento iscritto come punto d’incontro tra epigrafia, archeologia, paleografia e storia (a proposito dei primi tre volumi di Supplementa Italica – Imagines), in Scienze dell’Antichità, 13, 2006, pp. 583-610.

vi Panciera S., Eck W.,Manacorda D.,Tedeschi C., Questioni di metodo. Il monumento iscritto come punto d’incontro tra epigrafia, archeologia, paleografia e storia (a proposito dei primi tre volumi di Supplementa Italica – Imagines), in Scienze dell’Antichità, 13, 2006, pp. 583-610.

vii Georeferencing: To match evidence to its context with a set of geographic coordinates and a specific spatial reference system (SRS).Thanks to this process, it’s also possible to realize different spatial analysis and to interpolate different types of data.

viii Shapefile: is a geospatial vector data format for geographic information system software; this type of data describes vector features like points, lines and polygons with attributes.

ix QGis supports interoperability standards developed by the Open Geospatial Consortium: WMS (Web Map Service),WMTS (Web Map Tile Service)WFS  (Web Feature Service), WFS-T (Web Feature Service Transactional, WCS (Web Coverage Service, SFS (Simple Features for SQL), GML (Geography Markup Language);

x PostGIS is a spatial database extender for PostgreSQL object-relational database. It adds support for geographic objects allowing location queries to be run in SQL;

xi QGIS Server runs as CGI/FastCGI module within the Apache Webserver.

xii Mallon, J., L’Archéologie des monuments graphìques, “Revue historique”, 226, 1961, p.312.

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