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Large-scale geophysical surveys of Early Medieval settlement areas

Johannes Frenzel M.A.

Survey techniques, data modelling and archaeological interpretation

In recent years, the employment of non-destructive geophysical surveys at archaeological sites, prior to or during the course of excavations, has clearly increased. In particular, it is not now possible to imagine archaeological settlement research without the use of these new survey methods.

Whereas settlement remains of stone, as seen for example in the Near East or in the Mediterranean area, mostly provide relatively clear results and, against the backdrop of these clear structures, settlement areas and town plans are comparatively simple to interpret, a completely different problem is faced in the investigation of settlement sites from Early Historic times in Northern Europe. Here, the traces of human settlement are, at best, represented by pit-houses and posthole features or refuse pits, activity areas and oven-, kiln- or furnace structures, which are more difficult to recognise in geophysical mapping. Experience demonstrates that the results of geophysical surveys can indeed be included in general evaluations and are very well suited to the location of approximate concentrations of settlement objects, i.e. features and structures. As yet, however, further interpretation of the often numerous randomly distributed anomalies is, not least due to the lack of a suitable filtering process, mostly not possible without excavation. The great potential of the geophysical mapping therefore often remains unexploited.

On the basis of experience gained during surveys carried out jointly in recent years by the “Institut für Geowissenschaften” at the CAU in Kiel and the “Archäologisches Landesmuseum” Schleswig at several North European settlements dating from the 1st millennium AD, such as Wiskiauten and Suzdal in Russia, Einfeld and Füsing in Germany, Szurpily in Poland and Sorte Muld on Bornholm in Denmark, it has become clear that attempts must be made, in conjunction with the survey procedure, to compare the geophysical data records for the various sites with currently available excavation results. As a consequence it will, at best, be possible, by implication, to develop methods and procedures for improving the predictability of the geophysical mapping and render the technique more applicable to future excavations.

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