Field Survey and GIS

The Durham component of the project is responsible for the training on field survey, GIS.

Durham University organised the first week (3rd – 8th July 2017) of training on the site of Iunca (Tunisia). A second week of training which included GIS and magnetometry training continued into week 4 (24th – 30th July 2017).

Training team

Anna Leone (Durham University)
Marco Nebbia (Durham University)
Nadia Khalaf (University of Exeter)
Patricia Voke (Wessex Archaeology)

Training objectives

The training in field survey techniques included both activities in the field as well as desk-based, so that the whole process of planning, data collection, data processing and outputs could be covered.

The objective of the training was to record and estimate the extent of the coastal site of Iunca (Tunisia) through a systematic field survey and surface collection of the area. The site of Punic foundation has Roman, Late Roman/Byzantine, Islamic and Late Medieval occupation phases and the material scatters on the surface are ideal for the training purposes as they represent different typologies and chronologies.

As part of the training on archaeological documentation techniques the first week of the field-school represented the first example of the many problems that archaeologist and heritage professionals have to face in the field: how big is the site? And how to define its limits? Probably one of the most difficult questions to answer both in terms of methodological challenge of how to measure the whole extent and of the theoretical definition of what is a site. However, the project proposed a way of measuring the distribution of surface material densities across the archaeological area and discussed possible interpretations of the results.


After a first introduction on the principles of archaeological field survey and sampling, the first week included data collection morning sessions on site (Iunca) and afternoon classes on data processing. The method we adopted for the training is a systematic site sampling strategy with collection points of 3m radius every 50 metres.

The first day in the field participants got familiar with the use of hand-handle GPS devices and the tract-walking sampling strategy. The aim was to walk in straight parallel lines regularly spaced (50m) and collect any surface archaeological material every 50 metres within a circle (sample area) of 3m radius. We covered a total area of roughly 150 ha in one week of survey with a team of 15 trainees. The participants were split into pairs or triplet in order to help each other with the different tasks to carry out. Typically, one person was in charge of the hand-handle GPS and the other of taking notes in the notebook. For each collection location, the participants picked up all the archaeological material within the sample area and bagged the finds in a plastic bag with a tag indicating the number of GPS device, the transect number, and the collection point along that transect. In this way, it was possible to then plot the information into a map through the use of a GIS platform.

The recording system included also a number of information regarding the sample area, such as: ground visibility, topographical settings, characteristics of the soil, and any other observation that could have been useful for a better understanding of the collected data, especially when comparing it across the site. We agreed to stop a transect when 4 consecutive sample areas were lacking any archaeological material, thus reaching a 200m linear zone with no archaeology


Overall, the reception of these methods has been positive, although some trainees highlighted and discussed its limitations. Results and interpretations generated stimulating discussions among all the parts – DoA, INP, Durham – and this showed the added value of the project in fostering the constructive dialogue which is the only successful and sustainable way of cooperation.

This aligns with the real and different nature of the Training in Action project whose intents are of establishing a dialogue between the trainers and the trainee sides rather than imposing a one-way teaching-learning relationship.

As will be explained in details in the next section the intention of providing new tools for the recording of surface scatters in order to estimate the extent of archaeological sites has been successfully achieved and a fruitful dialogue between all the parts established.