GIS and Eagle Help Preserve NZ’s Archaeological Heritage

Abstract

Preserving our archaeological heritage is a matter of national importance. But in order to protect that heritage, archaeologists, local councils, the NZ Historic Place Trust and other stakeholders need to know where archaeological sites are located, their extent and condition, potential threats and ownership. To help manage their archaeological records, the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) has turned to GIS technology and Eagle Technology Group for the expertise and infrastructure to help update, validate, standardise and distribute information about New Zealand’s archaeological heritage.

Preserving our archaeological heritage is a matter of national importance. But in order to protect that heritage, archaeologists, local councils, the NZ Historic Place Trust and other stakeholders need to know where archaeological sites are located, their scope and condition, potential threats and ownership. To help manage their archaeological records, the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) has turned to GIS technology and Eagle Technology Group for the expertise and infrastructure to help update, validate, standardise and distribute information about New Zealand’s archaeological heritage.

 

We started looking at GIS as an enabling technology to help us distribute SRS information to our stakeholders, including local councils

 

Since 1957, the NZAA has been collecting and collating archaeological site data in the form of the Site Recording Scheme (SRS). This paper-based record system, which may contain plans, section drawings, photographs, artefact drawings and field notes, currently contains some 58,000 records and is still growing. Records have been contributed by many different individuals and agencies over many years and vary in quality and level of detail offered. Since the advent of the Resource Management Act 1991 and the revised Historic Places Act 1993, there has been a greater use of the SRS in planning and legal issues for site identification, protection and management. 

In order to ensure that the data held in the SRS was as accurate as possible, the NZAA council in 1999 initiated a project to upgrade and standardise the information contained in the SRS. “We started looking at GIS as an enabling technology to help us distribute SRS information to our stakeholders, including local councils,” says Karen Greig, an archaeologist under contract with NZAA who is assisting with the GIS aspect of the update project, “and found that many of the councils and other interested parties used ESRI GIS formats. We approached Eagle to talk to them about the project and found them very helpful. To make a long story short, Eagle offered to help design the geodatabase, develop the Web Form for the SRS data capture, serve the data to the web and provide GIS software.”

Data Capture

Currently, the NZAA is coordinating a number of field crews who are physically inspecting archaeological sites around the country. “We’re about half way through validating the existing sites,” says Greig. “We’re carrying out the surveys in conjunction with the local councils who are co-sponsoring the upgrade. This is the area where GIS is really facilitating the process. The crews go out into the field and record the information – grid reference, site location, condition, threats and land ownership status – on a paper form. When they return to the office, they log-on to the password-protected SRS Upgrade web site where they enter the information into the database via a custom-designed Web Form. Eagle helped us design the Web Form with drop-down menus and pick lists as much as possible so that the information would be entered in a standardised format.”

Once the data has been uploaded, it is validated to ensure accuracy and completeness. The revised data is then incorporated into the main SRS spatial database.

Web-based Access

To access the SRS database, users only need a web browser as the mapping capability is embedded within the browser itself, thanks to ArcIMS. “Stakeholders can view SRS database via a password-protected web-based interface,” says Greig. “They can either query the database via site number or other key words or call up a map via the ArcIMS server, hosted by Eagle, and visually select the site records for a given area. Eagle has also assisted with the development of a series of map symbols that graphically depict the confidence in the accuracy of the individual record, sort of a visual metadata description.”

 

...the ability for councils to pull up the data when required can speed up the process of determining if applications will affect archaeological sites.

 

One of the most significant benefits has been the ability for stakeholders to access the SRS database in real time and from any location.  This assists local authorities with the timely processing of resource consents and LIMs. “The SRS data can provide useful information to local authorities during the process of considering consent applications under the Resource Management Act,” says Greig, “and the ability for councils to pull up the data when required can speed up the process of determining if applications will affect archaeological sites. Additionally councils can use the data for their roading and utility planning as well as for incorporation into Land Information Memoranda (LIM) generation. In the past, councils had limited access to static data derived from the SRS. Using this information took time and if they required additional information they had to request copies of paper records directly from NZAA’s voluntary filekeepers. The ability to streamline the process, and be assured that the council’s have access to the most up to date information available, results in greater confidence, better outcomes and significant time savings.”

The data is also available to selected users via ‘feature streaming’ over the internet. “Feature streaming allows us to select certain features of each record for individual user groups,” says Greig. “This gives us more control over who gets to see what information. Right now participating local councils and the Historic Places Trust are using the system and we hope to roll it out to the Department of Conservation in the near future. As more councils come on board, we will be able to increase the user base significantly.”

During the first five years of the project, funding assistance was received from the Lottery Grants Board, through the Lottery Environment and Heritage Committee.  From July 2004 the Ministry for Culture & Heritage provided three years of funding for the national project administration, digital database development and Iwi participation. This funding has now come to an end. NZAA is currently pursuing alternative funding options to complete the project and ensure the ongoing operation of the GIS and continued availability of the web services

Why NZ Archaeological Association Selected Eagle Technology Group and ESRI

  • Eagle’s expertise in developing web-based GIS applications
  • Many stakeholders already used data in ESRI formats
  • ArcIMS’ capability to provide browser-based mapping capabilities to stakeholders
  • The ability to upload field data into the SRS database via browser-based Web Forms
  • Eagle’s database hosting service could provide secure and scalable storage and access

Benefits for the NZ Archaeological Association and Stakeholders

  • Provides local government with archaeological information which enables improved decision making and better outcomes for the management and preservation of archaeological heritage;
  • Ensures archaeological information is maintained in a manner that meets best practice data management principles;
  • Ensures that the most up to date data is always available for resource management purposes;
  • Provides easily accessible method to incorporate SRS data into planning, development and heritage preservation activities throughout New Zealand.

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