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Where on Earth are We?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) in archaeological field survey

2003 Where on Earth are We? The Global Positioning System (GPS) in archaeological field survey
2003 Where on Earth are We? The Global Positioning System (GPS) in archaeological field survey

Where on Earth are We?

Surveying has always played a fundamental role in the recording and analysis of archaeological sites and landscapes. In recent years, there have been a number of significant technological developments in surveying equipment. As a result, the world of archaeology has had to embrace and learn to translate a new language developed by surveying equipment manufacturers, surveyors and mapmakers to describe their ever-developing products and techniques.The most recent of these developments is known as GPS (Global Positioning System).

This paper is intended to provide guidance to field archaeologists on the use and application of GPS in archaeological survey. Its principal aim is to simplify complex surveying and technological processes to enable archaeologists to make informed decisions as to whether this is a technique that should be used for site-based surveys or for the mapping of large landscapes. As well as providing a number of case studies, it explains in simple terms some of the background and implications of using GPS that an archaeologist cannot ignore if the technology is to be used for surveying and mapping purposes.


Global Positioning System (GPS) is a term that is now probably familiar to most people, particularly sailors, pilots, hikers, motorists and a multitude of professionals and hobbyists who have a common requirement, to know their position in relation to a map or chart. For these groups of people, small, portable GPS equipment exists that can easily be carried in the hand or mounted on a vehicle dashboard. The variety and availability of these ‘hand-held’ GPS sets in the high street stores is testament to how this once secret military technology has entered our everyday lives. In the professional world of surveying, GPS has also become an everyday tool. It is routinely used to make maps, to set out roads, to record the locations of street lamps and to measure volumes and levels in quarries, as well as a multitude of other tasks, including those undertaken in the area of archaeological field survey.

It is impossible in a technical paper such as this to cover all aspects of archaeological surveying with GPS. The intention of the paper is to provide sufficient background on the subject to inform archaeologists as to whether this might be a suitable tool for them, and to illustrate how GPS might be deployed. The Archaeological Investigation teams in the former RCHME 1 and English Heritage have many years of experience of using GPS for earthwork and landscape recording, and it is hoped that, through this paper, some of the experience and lessons learnt can be passed on to the wider archaeological community. GPS has been deployed on numerous upland and rural landscape projects and is now the bedrock of any survey task undertaken by the teams. It has been used on a wide variety of projects with differing survey requirements, ranging from recording vast tracts of surviving archaeological landscapes on moorlands at mapping scales, to recording individual stones in large-scale surveys of prehistoric roundhouses. To help archaeologists to understand GPS, this paper has four main sections:

Global Navigation Satellite Systems – an outline of the satellite systems

Understanding space and time – important background information that it is necessary to understand before using GPS for surveying and mapping

GPS equipment – practical information about types, choices and applications of GPS equipment. The types of GPS equipment are broken down into three categories, navigation-grade (low accuracy positioning and small-scales mapping), mapping-grade (medium-scales mapping and GIS data recording), and survey-grade (high precision survey control, large-scale site surveys and large-scales mapping).

Surveying with GPS – the practical aspects of using this technology in the field. Five case studies, illustrating the use of GPS in archaeological projects, are included as a guide to the possible range of applications.

It should be remembered that GPS is purely a surveying tool that provides data that can be turned into maps, plans and models. It does not provide any archaeological analysis skills, which are the foundations for the interpretation and understanding of archaeological sites and landscapes. These skills are still the province of the earthbound archaeologist. However, a metrically accurate survey underpins the process of analysis and it is important that its results can be relied upon. For many archaeological projects, the survey process is the first stage towards recording and understanding, and there are normally three main requirements of the survey data. The first is to know where any point is on a site, usually in three dimensions; second is to know where each point is in relation to each other point so that a plan can be made of the site; and third is to know where the site is in relation to a map. So what is GPS and how can it help the archaeological community fulfil these requirements?

1 Terms and acronyms italicised at their first use are defined in the Glossary at the end of this publication.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems

GPS is a phrase commonly used to define the satellite-based NAVigation Satellite Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) positioning and navigation system. The system is operated and controlled by the US Department of Defense, 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado and although originally designed solely for military purposes, it is now widely used for a multiplicity of tasks throughout the world.

used for a multiplicity of tasks throughout the world. Fig 1 NAVSTAR – a constellation of

Fig 1 NAVSTAR – a constellation of satellites orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 20,200km. (Portions © 2003 Trimble Navigation Limited. All rights reserved.)

GPS provides free, twenty-four hour, all weather, global coverage and comprises twenty-four satellites (Fig 1). These satellites orbit the Earth approximately every twelve hours at an altitude of 20,200km and broadcast continuous navigation signals. With the proper equipment, users can receive these signals to obtain an instantaneous, real-time position to c 10m, anywhere in the world. The constellation of orbiting satellites is continuously monitored by the US Department of Defense through a system of control stations located on the Earth’s surface. This system consists of five monitor stations and four ground antennas, which passively track the navigation signals broadcast from the satellites. Data from these stations are routed to, and processed at, the GPS Master Control Station at Schriever Air Force Base, which transmits updated navigation information to the satellites via ground antenna. This telemetry also allows direct commands to be issued to the satellites and in return receives data about the state of health of individual satellites.

In its simplest form, GPS works by measuring the distance between GPS satellites and the user’s receiver. The distance is computed by measuring the time interval between transmission of the satellite signal and its reception by the receiver. As the positions of the satellites are known, simultaneous measurements to more than four satellites enable the unknown position of the receiver to be computed by trilateration. This calculation requires an exact knowledge of the position of the satellites in space and very accurate timing, as the distance is derived from the time it takes a signal to travel from the satellite to the receiver. GPS receivers need to receive a signal from at least four satellites: three to perform the triangulation and the fourth to synchronise timing.

GPS is not the only venture into Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). The Russians have developed a parallel system of satellite positioning known as GLONASS (Global Orbiting Navigation Satellite System). Owing to economic difficulties GLONASS has not been operating at its full capacity for some time and is not widely used by the surveying market (although recently, December 2002, the Russian authorities have shown a renewed commitment to a full GLONASS constellation in the next few years). Europe also has plans to develop its own satellite navigation system known as GALILEO. Currently under construction, GALILEO will be an independent, civilian-operated system, but will be compatible and interoperable with GPS. It is planned that GALILEO will be fully operational by 2008.

This paper is only intended to be a guide to the use of GPS in field archaeology, and cannot aim to cover the complex and specialist nature of the science of how GPS works. For those who wish to find out more about GPS generally, there are a number of publications available (Kennedy 1995; Leick 1995; Hoffman- Wellenhof, et al 1997; RICS 2003; Sickle 1996) and a basic guide on how GPS works is available on the internet at www.gps.gov.uk/additionalInfo/


Understanding space and time

GPS receivers can be used in all weather, day or night anywhere in the world, and depending on the type of equipment used can provide an instant, real-time position.

This location is accurate to c 10m using a basic hand-held receiver, and up to sub- centimetre accuracy using survey-grade receivers and techniques (see below, GPS Equipment). The accuracy of any point recorded by a GPS receiver is governed by

a number of factors relating to the

environment, the equipment used, the surveying techniques used, and, if the GPS position is to be related to background mapping, the coordinate transformation used. Archaeologists generally understand the concept of accuracy in relation to site surveys of limited extent, but are increasingly having to cope with accuracy in relation to large- area surveys and mapping projects that might cover many square kilometres. It is in this latter area that GPS can make its biggest impact.

It is important to recognise, before discussing the equipment and applications of GPS for archaeological surveying in the field, that there are four underlying principles (see below) that need to be understood by anyone wishing to venture into this type of technology. Although the science and mathematics of GPS is very complex, in reality the archaeological practitioner needs only to know enough of the basics to permit making informed decisions about the following:

the type of equipment to use for a particular task,

how that equipment can be used efficiently for any given surveying task,

ensuring that any data derived from GPS can be used to produce accurate surveys, maps, plans or records to suit the particular project or task.

This paper aims to provide sufficient information to guide the potential new archaeological user through these basic choices and decisions.

Underlying principle 1: geodesy

It is impossible to venture further into the

applications of GPS in archaeological survey without some discussion of how it can be used to survey accurately on the Earth’s surface using satellites that are invisible to the eye, 20,200km out into space. It is achieved through the branch of mathematics (known as geodesy) that deals with the size and shape of the Earth and precise positioning above, on or under its surface. It would be very easy to simply ignore the theory behind this and just accept that it works. However, it is useful

for the user to have a very basic understanding of some of the principles and terminology. This will enable informed decisions to be made as to whether the right equipment and techniques are being applied to a particular project and will ensure that when data have been collected, they can be deemed reliable for surveys, maps, databases and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Those who have worked with Ordnance Survey National Grid references, maps and archaeological records systems will be familiar with the importance of coordinate grid references for the accurate location of information. Unfortunately, in many rural and remote moorland areas these are not always accurate enough for archaeological purposes. The coordinate might be inaccurate, either because it was fixed by insecure methods, such as compass bearing and pacing, or was simply guessed, particularly in areas away from mapped detail. Traditionally, a coordinate is likely to have been defined in relation to features shown on the map, such as walls, buildings or other features, and thus the farther away from the mapped detail, the more likely it is that the grid reference will be wrong. Unfortunately, in many cases, the inaccurate grid reference still appears either on the current archaeological record or in the GIS. It is also essential to recognise at this early stage that a coordinate derived from GPS might not necessarily be correct for a point, the position of which you wish to find or confirm, and might be very different from one derived from the detail shown on the map. To understand why this is and how it can be remedied, it is necessary to understand three terms, ellipsoids, geoids and coordinate systems. All three terms are relevant to understanding the accuracy of a position, grid reference or height derived from a GPS receiver. They will enable the user to understand the nature of the positional and height information they are collecting with GPS equipment, and also to understand the process needed to transform that data to local maps. Also, and on a more practical note, they are terms that a user will encounter on GPS software in the field and in the office; therefore the better they are understood, the easier it will be to make appropriate choices in the field and in the data processing.


Whether providing a position on the Earth’s surface by an old fashioned sextant or by a modern GPS receiver,

underpinning the mathematics and projection of any map will be an ellipsoid (Fig 2) – the mathematical surface that best approximates the curved shape of the Earth’s surface. Historically, however, accurately measuring the size of the Earth has been difficult and as a result the ellipsoids defined in the past were often chosen to best fit on a regional rather than on a global scale.

to best fit on a regional rather than on a global scale. Fig 2 Ellipsoid –

Fig 2 Ellipsoid – a mathematical surface that approximates the shape of the Earth (based on Ordnance Survey 2002).

The Earth is a complex and dynamic body and geodesists through the centuries have applied themselves to the science of defining various ellipsoids on which to base mapping projections. Map projections are necessary to allow the actual curved surface of the Earth (or for simplicity, the ellipsoid) to be represented as a flat plane. To address local mapping requirements, many countries have devised their own map projections and referencing systems. On a more global scale, long before satellites had ever been invented, maps and charts covered the surface of the globe using latitude and longitude positions based on celestial observations. However, it is only since the advent of man-made satellites that there has been the capability to measure distances on truly international scales and the possibility to construct a precise global coordinate system. In recent years, geodesists have had to respond to this advance and determine the relationship between the old and new coordinate systems in use. This relationship is achieved mathematically using a transformation.

This procedure means, in practical terms, that if points surveyed using GPS need to be related to existing map detail, then they require transformation from the global reference system provided by the satellite navigation system onto the local map projection and its reference ellipsoid. In the case of Great Britain, this is the Ordnance Survey National Grid, and the Airy 1830 ellipsoid. This process of

transforming coordinates is now mostly carried out by computers using pre­ defined mathematical models. Ordnance Survey freely provides a model to relate GPS derived coordinates to National Grid, the OSTN02™. This subject is discussed in more detail below, in Underlying principle 2.


The geoid is another theoretical surface. The surveyor needs to visualise this in order to understand heights derived from GPS. The geoid is the surface formed by mean sea level over the Earth and its imagined extension under the land areas (blue on Fig 3).

its imagined extension under the land areas (blue on Fig 3). Fig 3 Ellipsoid, geoid and

Fig 3 Ellipsoid, geoid and topographic surfaces (based on Ordnance Survey 2002).

In order to give meaning to the concept of relative heights around the world the geoid provides a theoretical figure similar to the ellipsoid, thus providing a worldwide datum to which heights above sea level can be related (Fig 4).

to which heights above sea level can be related (Fig 4). Fig 4 A simple representation

Fig 4 A simple representation of ODN height of a point P on the land surface – that is, its height above sea level.The dotted line continued under the land is essentially a geoid model (based on Ordnance Survey 2002).

This acts as a fundamental reference for all height measurement. Historically, in mainland Great Britain, heights have been related to Ordnance Datum Newlyn (ODN), which is on the actual topographic surface, and to which all heights on Ordnance Survey maps and bench marks are related. Just as the ellipsoid coordinates have to be transformed to local maps, so heights derived from GPS have to be transformed

to ODN, or the other vertical datums 2 in use in Great Britain (Table 1). The transformation from GPS coordinates to the relevant national height datum – for example, ODN – is most accurately carried out using Ordnance Survey’s OSGM02™ geoid model. Failure to take this transformation into account can render height values derived from GPS seriously inaccurate by up to 50m!

Table 1 The main height datums used in Great Britain



GB mainland


Outer Hebrides


Isle of Man






St Kilda

St Kilda

Scilly Isles

St Mary’s

As a new GPS user, it is easy to set up a GPS receiver and to produce some coordinates and numbers relating to latitude, longitude and height, or to eastings, northings and height. However, without some understanding of the above it will be hard to know which coordinate system they belong to and which transformations will be necessary to relate them to an Ordnance Survey map or bench mark. Some GPS receivers or software use very basic transformations, which can be in error by up to 10m, so it is important to know what transformation is being used. The most accurate method in Great Britain is to pass the GPS coordinates through OSTN02™ or OSGM02™.

Underlying principle 2: maps, grid references and coordinate systems

To use GPS data for archaeological mapping in Great Britain, it is necessary to understand the different coordinate systems used by the Ordnance Survey. As the government agency responsible for national standards in spatial positioning in Great Britain, the Ordnance Survey has defined three national coordinate systems and it is to these that all modern GPS data are referred. These are:

The National Grid or Ordnance Survey Great Britain 1936 (OSGB36 ® ). Historically this is a ‘traditional’ horizontal (eastings and northings) coordinate system using the Airy 1830 ellipsoid, originally realised by a national network of triangulation pillars.

It is based on a Transverse Mercator map projection and has formed the basis of all mapping in Great Britain. It is the national coordinate system for topographic mapping at all scales for most maps available both in print and digital form, including Land-Line ® data, and is commonly used as the reference grid for spatial records in archaeological records collections. The definition of OSGB36 ® has recently undergone a subtle but fundamental change (see below, The National GPS Network).

ODN – Ordnance Datum Newlyn, a ‘traditional’ vertical coordinate system based on mean sea level tidal observations at Newlyn in Cornwall between 1915 and 1921. ODN is realised by a network of 200 fundamental bench marks and half a million lower-order bench marks throughout mainland Britain (Table 1 gives the other main official vertical datums used throughout Great Britain). All observations for this network were undertaken by traditional levelling techniques. All bench mark values, spot heights and contours on Ordnance Survey maps throughout mainland Britain are related to ODN. This is the usual definition of heights above mean sea level in Great Britain. The standard grid reference used for most archaeological recording systems in archaeology, such as SMRs, NMR and other systems is a combination of National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) and ODN eg eastings, northings and height.

ETRS89 – European Terrestrial Reference System 1989. This is the national coordinate system for three- dimensional GPS positioning. It is a more precise version of the WGS84 GPS coordinate system (see below) and is now the standard system used throughout Europe. If the accuracy requirement of a survey is 1m or worse, then WGS84 coordinates can be accepted and converted to National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) if necessary. If the requirement for accuracy is better than 1m, then ETRS89 coordinates should be derived using the National GPS Network.

GPS coordinate systems:WGS84 and ETRS89

While a grid reference is thought of in relation to a coordinate system on a map, such as the National Grid on Ordnance Survey maps, a position derived from GPS data is related to a global coordinate system known as the World Geodetic

2 See Glossary for specific definition of datum as used in this publication.

System 1984 (WGS84). WGS84 is an internationally agreed, global reference framework of coordinates within which a point can be defined anywhere in the world. Coordinates in this system are usually expressed as latitude, longitude and ellipsoid height. While most people will be familiar with latitude and longitude, ellipsoid height might be more confusing. This is not the same as a height above sea level, as shown on a map, and exists only mathematically.

In Figure 4 it can be seen that, while actual survey measurements at P is taken on the topographic surface (brown), land levels are usually related to mean sea level (blue). Heights derived directly from GPS relate to the theoretical

mathematical surface of the ellipsoid (red). In order for GPS ellipsoid heights

to be related to mean sea level another

theoretical datum, the difference between the two surfaces, needs to be defined as a geoid model.

The introduction of WGS84 has meant there is no longer a requirement for regional coordinate systems (see Fig 2). WGS84 was designed for navigation applications throughout the world, where the required accuracy is 1m or worse.

A high-accuracy version of WGS84,

known as ITRS (International Terrestrial Reference System), has been created in a number of versions since 1989, and this is suitable for international high-accuracy applications (it is used mostly by geoscientists).

There is a problem, however, with trying

to use a global coordinate system for

land surveying in a particular country or region. The problem is that the continents are constantly in motion with respect to each other, at rates of up to 120mm per year. There are in reality no fixed points on Earth. In common with the rest of Europe, Great Britain is in motion with respect to the WGS84

coordinate system, at a rate of approximately 25mm per year. Over a decade, the WGS84 coordinates of any survey station in Britain change by c 0.25m owing to this effect, which is unacceptable for precise survey purposes.

For this reason, the European Terrestrial Reference System 1989 (ETRS89) is used as the standard precise GPS coordinate system throughout Europe. ETRS89 is based on ITRS, except that it is tied to the European continent and fixed in time (1989).

It is hence steadily moving away from the

WGS84 coordinate system. In 2000, the

difference between the ITRS coordinates

of a point and the ETRS89 coordinates

was c 25mm, and increasing by c 25mm per year. The relationship between ITRS

and ETRS89 is precisely defined at any point in time by a simple transformation

of the coordinates, published by the

International Earth Rotation Service, available from the information section of the National GPS Network web site.

In summary, while these global coordinate systems might seem confusing, it is important to recognise that they have implications for using GPS for relating objects or sites to Ordnance Survey maps (see below, National Grid). ETRS89 has been officially adopted as a standard coordinate system for precise GPS surveying by most national mapping agencies in Europe. By using ETRS89 it is possible to ignore the effects of continental motion because, to a high degree of accuracy, the ETRS89

coordinates of a survey station stay fixed

as long as there is no local movement of

the survey station. If control from the Ordnance Survey National GPS Network

is used, then the survey will automatically

be in ETRS89.

The native format for any GPS receiver is the World Geodetic System (WGS84), expressed in latitude, longitude and ellipsoidal height. Whenever results are required in a local grid system it is necessary to use a transformation. In Great Britain Ordnance Survey makes their latest and the most accurate transformations (OSTNO2™ and OSGM02™) available free through their web site. While using this transformation cannot improve the basic quality of navigation solution positions from single GPS receivers, using it will ensure that no extra error is added in transforming from latitude and longitude to National Grid coordinates.

Ordnance Survey mapping and the National Grid

A true representation of the three-

dimensional Earth’s surface cannot be

correctly reproduced on a flat piece of paper, nor can the properties of position

or relative positions of features all be

retained. To best represent the surface being mapped, a cartographer has to define or choose a map projection. For Great Britain, the Ordnance Survey in the

19th century adopted the Cassini projection for its County Series mapping. The result of this exercise was to produce a series of maps for each county, with individual mathematical adjustments for each. After the Second World War, it was decided that the County Series 1:2 500 survey should be recast on National instead of County sheet lines and that a single National Grid should be superimposed on all maps. This resulted in a new series of National Grid maps, which were compiled from the earlier Cassini projection onto a single, national Transverse Mercator projection. This new projection was adopted to achieve a better fit over the whole of Great Britain, to which the earlier Cassini was mathematically unsuitable. Thus, the majority of 1:2 500 maps in use today (many still forming the basis of SMR systems) were created in this way and consequently combine the errors and adjustments of that recasting from many individual county projections to a single national projection. Although this solution enabled a rapid production of National Grid maps, it inherently contained many inaccuracies (for more background see Harley 1975; Seymour 1980; Ordnance Survey web site). It is important for the archaeologist to be alerted to the potential metric differences between the 19th­ century maps and the National Grid series, as these earlier maps remain a major source of map-based surveys of sites and landscapes that have subsequently been destroyed. This is particularly true of industrial landscapes, for which it is a common requirement for modern surveys of surviving remnants to be correlated with features on County Series and National Grid mapping. This continues to be a problem in many areas of archaeological recording where new surveys using GPS have to be integrated into a map regression exercise, and where metrical accuracy is important (the accuracy of GPS in relation to Ordnance Survey mapping detail is discussed below, in Underlying principle 3).

With the advent of GPS, coordinates can be produced that are more precise than the existing National Grid mapping. Accuracy has become such an issue for users of maps that in recent years the Ordnance Survey has issued numerous information and consultation papers on the subject, and has had to make fundamental changes to the mapping database to accommodate and address this problem. As Ordnance Survey maps are

fundamental to archaeological surveying and recording systems it is sensible for potential GPS users to familiarise themselves with these changes (Ordnance Survey 2000a–f).The Ordnance Survey has initiated a programme of accuracy enhancement of its large-scale maps, which will address the historical inaccuracies noted above, but this might take some years (Ordnance Survey 2002).

From the standpoint of archaeological records systems, however, it is important to recognise that the Ordnance Survey National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) is staying the same. Critically, the Ordnance Survey does, however, enable GPS users to tie GPS positions to its mapping through the use of the National GPS Network and published transformations.

The National GPS Network

To ensure compatibility between the differing coordinate systems, Ordnance Survey has defined a new GPS national positioning infrastructure based on ETRS89. This infrastructure has replaced the traditional network of triangulation stations so familiar on mountain- and hilltops, which formed the realisation of the National Grid (OSGB36 ® ). This new network of fixed points is known as the National GPS Network. Using survey- grade GPS receivers, data can therefore be collected on site by any user and post- processed in relation to this network, thus providing precise positioning relative to the ETRS89 coordinate system. GPS data collected by any user can now be related to Ordnance Survey maps and recording systems based on them. The National GPS Network consists of GPS stations of two types:

Active stations – a network of 32 GPS receivers (December 2002) that have been permanently installed at locations throughout Great Britain. They have been distributed so that any point in Great Britain should be within 100km of an active station and most major urban areas are covered by more than one. Data from these stations are continually monitored and processed by the Ordnance Survey in Southampton and are available for each station through their GPS web site. They are termed ‘active’ because they operate continuously and their inclusion in a GPS survey does not require the user to physically occupy the control point. The precise position of each is known in relation to the ETRS89 coordinate system. The establishment of these stations and the

availability of data via the internet from the Ordnance Survey GPS web site has made
availability of data via the internet from the
Ordnance Survey GPS web site has made a
massive impact on the ease of use of GPS
for high-accuracy surveying.
Passive stations – a network of about
900 ground-marks that have been
established throughout Great Britain.
These are in accessible locations and the
position of each has been established in
relation to the ETRS89 coordinate
system. Any point in Great Britain will
normally be within 20–35km of a passive
station. The main difference (and
disadvantage) between this passive
network and the active station network is
that a passive station has to be occupied
by the user’s own GPS receiver.
Coordinates, stations descriptions and
photographs can be freely downloaded
from the Ordnance Survey GPS web site.

Using data from the active stations or from the coordinates of the passive stations means that newly surveyed points can be accurately related to the National GPS Network. By using this facility the surveyor can obtain ETRS89 coordinates for their unknown points. These points can then be transformed to eastings and northings on the National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) by applying the Ordnance Survey Definitive Transformation (OSTN02™), and to heights above mean sea level that are consistent with the traditional bench marks by using the National Geoid Model (OSGM02™). These are computer-based transformations and are available within many GPS software packages, as well as free through the Ordnance Survey GPS web site (Fig 5).The National GPS Network and the online coordinate converters ensure that modern survey data collected with GPS are easier to integrate with databases and GIS mapping systems than was previously possible. A comprehensive booklet describing in more detail the coordinate systems and the use of GPS datasets with Ordnance Survey mapping (Ordnance Survey 2002) is available from the Ordnance Survey web site.

Alternatively, GPS surveys can be locally fitted to mapping by using a local calibration/transformation (usually incorporated within GPS software). This enables surveyors to sample survey points with known map coordinates before starting their surveys, to provide a good fit to local map detail. It should be understood that this type of survey will be no more accurate than the local map, so that if mapping accuracy is poor in that

Fig 5 Conversion of GPS data to National Grid coordinates and Ordnance Survey Datum heights (based on Ordnance Survey 2000a).

area, the resultant GPS survey will contain the same errors and the survey will be skewed by the mapping errors.

A word of warning

Many software packages and GPS receivers have different GPS (WGS84) to Ordnance Survey (National Grid) transformations other than the more robust OSTN02™ and OSGM02™. Using these simple transformations might add between 1m and 10m of error into the survey as a result of the poor level of modelling. This might not be an issue if the survey is in a remote area, but if it needs to be fitted to Ordnance Survey mapping the user should be aware that these errors will be added. It

is extremely important therefore for a user

to find out whether the software uses OSTN02™ and OSGM02™.

In summary, collecting GPS data in ETRS89 from the National GPS Network

will make it possible for archaeological or topographic features to be mapped against existing National Grid mapping and will raise future mapping based on ETRS89 to

a defined European standard. GPS data

will also enable the user to establish true

heights in relation to Ordnance Survey height datums regardless of where the nearest bench mark is.

Underlying principle 3: accuracy and GPS

In the context of GPS, the term accuracy can be confusing. For simplicity, ‘accuracy’

has three distinct meanings when used in conjunction with GPS and survey: relative, map and absolute. These terms are characterised as follows:

Relative accuracy means the relative direction and measurement between points.

Map accuracy means the accuracy of those points on a map; in Great Britain this would normally be an Ordnance Survey map.

Absolute accuracy means a measure that indicates how closely the coordinates of a point agree with the ‘real’ coordinates of the point on the surface of the Earth.

Relative accuracy

Underpinning any surveying technology is the concept of relative accuracy – the measurement and spatial relationship between points in a survey. This applies to all surveying equipment and methodology, not only to GPS. The final scale of a plan to be produced for an archaeological site or landscape will usually determine the type of equipment needed to give the required accuracy. For example, this can be equated with the need to set up and produce plan information within a 1m grid on a site, with heights relative to a site datum. The archaeologist needs to be able to rely on the points on the grid being precisely 1m apart when measuring between them, and at right angles to each other, as well as having confidence that heights are all relative to each other and to a temporary bench mark. With such confidence in the relative accuracy, the site surveyor can produce a plan at an appropriate scale and assign heights to finds and stratigraphy. Where the recorded points are in relation to the large- scale Ordnance Survey map is not relevant at this stage.

Relative accuracy can be easily achieved with traditional technology such as theodolites, tape measures, EDM (Electromagnetic Distance Measurement) and levels. The concept of relative accuracy and making choices in relation to appropriate surveying equipment and techniques for archaeologists is covered in detail elsewhere (Bowden 1999; 2002). In terms of relative accuracy, survey-grade GPS offers no advantages over traditional equipment such as theodolites and EDM. In terms of speed of data collection, however – especially where accurate three-dimensional modelling is a requirement – this type of GPS is a much more cost-efficient way to gather large

volumes of data to a high degree of relative accuracy. It can be a far more effective way of setting out grids over large and undulating areas. Hand-held GPS cannot produce sufficiently accurate relative measurements to be used for plan making or height calculations (see below, GPS Equipment).

Map accuracy

To use GPS successfully, it is important to recognise at an early stage that there are differences between relative accuracy and map accuracy and therefore to ensure that the correct equipment and methodology is adopted for an archaeological project. Where GPS makes the most impact in surveying is the locating of site surveys, objects, monuments and landscapes relative to maps. In the past, long traverses with EDM and theodolite between triangulation pillars followed by copious calculations were necessary to fit archaeological features on the ground onto Ordnance Survey large-scale maps. This was a time-consuming and specialist task. Because of this, easier and less accurate methods were devised, with the position of archaeological surveys being ‘best fitted’ onto paper maps, or onto digital maps using CAD systems. These practices were not very satisfactory solutions to maintaining accuracy in computer-based geo-referencing systems, where the correct spatial relationship between features on the ground and the map is important.

This positional deficiency for future archaeological records management was recognised some years ago by the archaeological field investigators of the RCHME. Throughout the 1980s they directly related surveys to large-scale, Ordnance Survey maps using triangulation pillars to ensure that they were accurately recorded onto the National Grid for longer-term integration into GIS datasets and archaeological data records. This was particularly relevant to the more open landscapes of the moorlands, where the acquisition of accurate grid references was otherwise difficult (RCHME and PPJPB 1993; Ainsworth and Barnatt 1998). At about the same time, similar techniques were being used by other archaeological units for recording excavations into large-scale urban mapping, using Ordnance Survey control points. However, the sort of skills necessary to do this with traditional survey equipment lay mostly within the specialist land survey disciplines.

The advent of GPS, however, has meant that the accurate location of surveys and monuments onto maps and geo-referenced databases is no longer the realm of the specialist land surveyor, and can be undertaken by the archaeological site surveyor. Now, survey-grade GPS equipment and software are sufficiently sophisticated to combine relative accuracy and map accuracy in the same package. To position sites, finds, trenches and landscape surveys accurately into the national mapping of the Ordnance Survey

– and subsequently to GIS, SMR and

NMR databases – the archaeologist now only has to identify the GPS equipment that will achieve the relevant map accuracy required. He or she will also need to understand some of the concepts that are outlined in this paper related to Ordnance Survey mapping.

The relationship between relative accuracy and map accuracy can be illustrated by

taking two theoretical field corners (a and

b on Fig 6). The relative accuracy of two

field corners might be correct (that is, the measurement between them is correct compared to the measurement on the map), but where they appear on the map might be wrong in relation to the National Grid printed on the sheet. If the position of those same points were measured with survey-grade GPS, and fitted to the National Grid using modern mathematical transformations, they would potentially appear at a different place on the map to those published (a1 and b1 on Fig 6), but would retain their same relative accuracy.

b1 on Fig 6), but would retain their same relative accuracy. Fig 6 Relative accuracy as

Fig 6 Relative accuracy as opposed to map accuracy.

The GPS user has to recognise that plan positions of features recorded by GPS might not agree with the same features as shown on a large-scale Ordnance Survey map. At one level, this inaccuracy might simply be because the type of GPS receiver is navigation-grade and cannot be

accurate to better than c 10m (see below, GPS Equipment). At the other end of the scale, it might be because the map is not as accurate as the GPS-derived position. This is less of a problem in the urban areas, where 1:1 250 mapping is more accurate, than in rural areas. The positional accuracy that might be expected for large-scale Ordnance Survey map detail is illustrated in Table 2.

Table 2 Positional accuracy expected for large-scale Ordnance Survey maps (based on Ordnance Survey 2000a)

scale of

achieved absolute



(map) accuracy


63% confidence


1:1250 – urban

< 0.5m

< 1.0m

1:2500 – rural resurveyed

< 1.1m

< 2.4m

1:2500 – rural

< 2.8m

< 6.0m

1:10000 moorland

< 4.1m

< 8.8m

It is possible to undertake independent surveys using survey-grade equipment (see below, GPS Equipment) and to transform these to local map detail to fit in with older large-scale mapping using a local calibration/transformation, as explained earlier. This solution, although only being as accurate as the local map detail used, is a pragmatic methodology for fitting small archaeological surveys into existing map- based records.

Absolute accuracy

This is a measure of the closeness of a point’s coordinate to its true value. Although high relative accuracies have been achievable for some time prior to satellite surveying techniques, precise measurements were restricted to line of sight only. This meant that each continent was positionally isolated and that interrelationships between continents were imprecisely known.

It is this level of accuracy, on a global scale, that is known as absolute accuracy. Because of the worldwide nature of GPS, and its underlying coordinate system, high absolute accuracy on a global scale is possible. As well as underpinning the coordinate structure of Ordnance Survey mapping through mathematical transformations, the relevance of this fact for archaeologists in Great Britain is to be found particularly in the recording of intertidal zones and maritime archaeology around the coast. In the past these measurements have been inconsistently

recorded in a variety of coordinate systems, including National Grid references, geographical latitude and longitude, and GPS WGS84 latitude and longitude.

Now, global coordinates – as defined by WGS84, and through mathematical transformations based on it – are providing a common referencing system for all data collected using GPS anywhere in the world. Thus, through software transformations, positions derived from GPS can be plotted onto, or recovered from, different map grids and navigation charts. Also, most GPS equipment has a number of worldwide map and chart projections built into the software to enable WGS84 positions to be converted to local maps, ensuring that GPS can be used anywhere in the world.

GPS accuracy and types of equipment:

Navigation-grade GPS. Map accuracy and absolute accuracy approximately 10m. Good for finding location in relation to maps and relocating sites, but not suitable for site survey. Notoriously bad for height information. Mapping-grade GPS. Map accuracy and absolute accuracy down to 1m can be achieved, in real-time or if post-processed. Suitable for mapping up to 1:2500 scale but not suitable for site survey. Survey-grade GPS. Centimetre relative accuracy. Map accuracy and absolute accuracy to the nearest 100mm can be achieved either in real time or by post­ processing.

Increasing the accuracy of positions derived from GPS

The most common technique for increasing the accuracy of positions obtained with GPS equipment is that of Differential GPS or DGPS. Differential GPS positioning is the correction of the raw GPS position given at a roving receiver. GPS data collected at a static reference (base) station located at a known coordinate is used in the computation of the position of a rover–receiver located at an unknown position, either in real time or afterwards in post-processing (Fig 7).

Two of the main error sources of GPS are the predicted positions of the satellites themselves (which affects the distance) and the delay in the transmitted signal due to

the atmosphere (which effects the timing). By locating a GPS receiver at known coordinates, tracking the same GPS signals simultaneously and calculating the difference between the known and computed positions, these errors can be limited. This technique works on the concept that the errors in the signals received at the reference station will also be present at the rover. However, as the distance between the two increase this assumption becomes less valid.

The technique of DGPS correction can be utilised either by collecting data in the field at a base station and rover simultaneously and subsequently post­ processing it with computer software, or by using GPS equipment that has the capability of receiving and using transmitted base-station data in real time. With post-processing, a base station remains static at a fixed point and collects GPS data, while a rover unit moves around collecting data for a short period at each point of interest in the survey area (see below, Static surveying). At the end of the survey all the data are processed in a computer and each of the survey points is accurately fixed relative to the base station. With real-time surveying (see below, Underlying principle 4), the base station calculates the inherent errors in GPS (by using its known position and the GPS signal) and then continuously transmits this error correction factor to the roving unit (Fig 7). Using the National GPS Network, the position of the base station can be tied to the National Grid for mapping purposes, if required.

Real-time correction services are available that enable a user to operate a single

receiver. Accuracies of 1m to 2m are achievable (depending on the service and GPS equipment used) through correction signals broadcast from either ground- based transmitters or from geo-stationary satellites. These correction services are available free in Great Britain from the General Lighthouse Authority (GLA beacon correction service:

www.trinityhouse.co.uk), from commercial providers (GPS suppliers can provide details) or from the soon-to-be-fully- operational (2004), ESA-funded EGNOS satellite system.

Underlying principle 4:

coordinates now or later

An important aspect of understanding the basics of GPS sufficiently well to make informed decisions about appropriate equipment and methodology is identifying whether positional data are required in real time in the field, or whether it can simply be collected in the field in a data-logger and processed at a later date on a computer in the office (known as post-processing).

At the lowest level, a hand-held, navigation-grade GPS receiver is a real- time system as it allows the user to view or store a coordinated position in the field. However, as explained above, the horizontal accuracy of this procedure is unlikely to be any better than c 10m. Some more sophisticated hand-held GPS sets do allow the storage of GPS data that can then be post-processed on a computer, which can increase the level of accuracy.

As explained above, positions can be fixed in real time in the field and these systems are more commonly known as real-time kinematic (RTK) for survey-grade systems

known as real-time kinematic (RTK) for survey-grade systems Fig 7 Differential GPS. With real-time kinematic survey,

Fig 7 Differential GPS. With real-time kinematic survey, data are broadcast from the base station to the rover via a telemetry link.

and differential GPS (DGPS) for mapping-grade systems. The major advantage to real-time surveying is that the user can be confident in the GPS fixed

positions before leaving the site. If there is

a data-logging device equipped with a

visual display, such as a pen computer or Personal Data Assistant (PDA), the resulting coordinates can be instantly plotted and visualised as they are recorded. This could have digital maps and plans pre-loaded into it so that revision and updating can be instant. The position of features that are not visible on the ground, but that are known from historic maps, aerial photographs or geophysical surveys can also be set out on the ground. Data- logging devices might also accept input from other survey equipment to complete surveys where GPS is not an appropriate capture method; these include tapes, theodolites, reflectorless distance lasers, and other equipment. Office time is saved as the whole survey can be completed and visualised in the field. The disadvantage of real-time surveys is that the equipment required is generally more expensive than systems that use post-processing techniques, but this aspect has to be balanced against operational requirements.

Post-processing is performed at some time after the raw GPS data have been recorded. This process is performed on a computer using suitable processing software. One advantage of post-processing is that the equipment is cheaper than the equivalent real-time systems for a similar level of accuracy. Post-processing often requires the learning of yet another software programme; however, most manufacturers produce their own proprietary processing software and run training courses if required. A major disadvantage is that survey data cannot be visualised until it has been processed on a computer. Post­ processing is often used to provide control for a site with real-time methods being used to locate the detail or to set-out points.

GPS Equipment

Having looked at some of the underlying principles that underpin GPS and its use, it

is necessary to move to the next stage,

which is to describe the equipment itself. It

is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer

number of articles, technical reviews, mathematics, science and advertising literature that accompanies the field of GPS. To simplify this ever-expanding equipment market, the types of GPS that should be considered by field archaeologists

of GPS that should be considered by field archaeologists Fig 8 Navigation-grade (hand-held) GPS (photograph by

Fig 8 Navigation-grade (hand-held) GPS (photograph by Alun Bull, © English Heritage).

can be listed in three categories: navigation- grade (hand-held); mapping-grade (GIS data collection) and survey-grade.

These types are principally defined by their respective levels of accuracy (as defined above in Underlying principle 3) and suitability to archaeological recording practices in the field. The differences among the various systems are largely due to the different signal processing techniques used by the receivers to determine their positions. It is important to remember that the receivers are not the only pieces of equipment necessary; there will almost certainly be a need for tripods, poles, batteries, chargers, computers and other bits, especially for mapping and survey- grade GPS. Without these peripheral pieces of equipment – which can be costly to purchase – the receiver will be of no use.

Navigation-grade (hand-held) GPS

Hand-held GPS receivers are generally marketed at walkers and sailors, and for in-car and aircraft navigation (Fig 8). They are of very limited use as surveying instruments. However, they are still useful as a means of positioning archaeological sites or finds in areas where there is little map detail (see below, Case Study 1). Because they use the coarser code part of the signal they can often work better under woodland canopy than survey-grade GPS can. It must be understood, however, that this type of equipment will not generally provide a horizontal position to better than c 10m. In remote areas this is certainly better than nothing, but attempting to plan

a site, or to record features relative to one another at this level of accuracy is not to be recommended. Some receivers make it possible to record positions against mapping at smaller scales, which can subsequently be transferred to other computer systems; and hand-held receivers have been used successfully to record routes and data from archaeological aerial reconnaissance projects. The inbuilt software in navigation-grade GPS often also provides positioning within a number of international and local map datums, for example National Grid (OSGB36 ® ), but usually at the 2m to 10m level of transformation accuracy. It is possible with some units to download positions in WGS84 and then to use the OSTN02™ and OSGM02™ transformations from the Ordnance Survey GPS web site. Some systems can add differential capability to navigation-grade GPS receivers at a small cost.

Mapping-grade (GIS data collection) GPS

These are lightweight systems that can be used for surveying and mapping purposes where accuracies between 0.5m and 5m are acceptable.

This type of unit consists of either a back- pack-mounted receiver, linked to a data- logger, to a portable computer, or to a hand-held unit. Mapping-grade hand-held GPS units are distinguished from navigation-grade ones by their level of sophistication, specification and price tag. Mapping-grade GPS receivers often incorporate provision for viewing against a

pre-loaded map background and allow feature and attribute coding to be attached to surveyed points, producing plans with information attached to component features (see below, Surveying with GPS).

This type of receiver can achieve accuracy in the 0.5m to 5m range with the use of differential correction or by post­ processing. Differential correction can be obtained from radio beacons or from geostationary satellites, such as EGNOS (see above, Underlying principle 3). Post­ processing can be carried out using data from active stations in the National GPS Network, with just a few tens of seconds of data recorded at each point. This type of system is ideal for mapping at scales up to 1:2 500 and recording associated details for database and GIS systems. Because this type of system is often used in wooded environments, they usually have built-in software that helps pick up the weak signals when under trees.

Survey-grade GPS

Survey-grade equipment is the most accurate, and usually the most expensive GPS option (see Table 3). It is the only type of GPS that can produce survey quality data at the centimetre level and is comparable to higher order EDM survey. There are two principle methods of collecting data with survey-grade GPS; static and real-time kinematic (RTK). All survey-grade systems use a differential approach to survey processing.

Static surveying

Static and fast static are the simplest forms of GPS surveying using survey- grade equipment. These post-processing techniques require data to be simultaneously collected at two (or more) locations and used later in computations to determine the baseline (or baselines) between the receivers. Baselines are the three-dimensional distances between survey locations. The time required to collect sufficient data varies from minutes to several hours. Data must be acquired from a minimum of four satellites, with the amount of data increasing with baseline length and accuracy required.

Static surveying is the technique used to tie local site surveys to the National Grid using the National GPS Network. With a DGPS survey the base station is usually static for a long time while the rover- receiver collects data to construct the plan, contour model, etc. The common data enable calculation of the baselines between

base station and rover points (and thus their positions in relation to each other) in real time or during post-processing. Such a survey could be plotted out, but it would not be related to Ordnance Survey mapping. If the same base-station data were processed against data from the National GPS Network active stations for the same time period, then baselines between them could be calculated (and their positions in relation to each other). As a result, the positions of the base station and rover points would be fitted accurately onto the National grid. Baselines from a survey site to the nearest active stations are routinely up to, or more than 100km in length and require data to be collected for several hours to achieve the best accuracy. With dual-frequency receivers, baselines of tens, hundreds or even thousands of kilometres can be accurately measured.

Fast static is a derivative of static surveying, and, as its name suggests good results can be obtained more quickly, owing to advances in the hardware and software used. These techniques can be used to measure distances accurate to one centimetre over a few tens of kilometres.

Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS

This is currently the ultimate in GPS surveying equipment and techniques (Figs 7 and 9). The receiver at a fixed point, or base station, transmits GPS correction data to one or more roving units

transmits GPS correction data to one or more roving units Fig 9 Typical real-time, survey-grade GPS

Fig 9 Typical real-time, survey-grade GPS equipment in use at Norham Castle, Northumberland. In this photograph, the rover GPS receiver and data-logger are mounted on the pole (see Fig 7); the batteries, circuitry and aerial (for telemetry link to base station) are all carried in a backpack. In some models, all these are mounted on the pole (see Fig 19).

in real time via a telemetry link, a VHF/UHF radio or mobile telephone. This technique provides an accurate and flexible way to carry out land survey on open sites. The rover can be set to record continuously, or by short occupations of the survey points; the length of occupation can be varied depending on the accuracy required, normally between a few seconds and a few minutes (see below, Methods that increase the usefulness of GPS). These systems achieve a relative accuracy of one to two centimetres between the base station and rover over a range of up to three kilometres with a radio and up to twenty- five kilometres with a phone connection. Because of the high accuracy, flexibility of recording at large and small scales, and the time saved by not having to post-process data, RTK GPS has shown itself to be the most practical and cost-efficient methodology for GPS survey in the English Heritage archaeological investigation teams.

It is perfectly possible to combine the col­ lection of data at the base station for static post-processing at the same time as it is transmitting correction data for RTK use.

Navigation-grade (hand-held) GPS offers:

low cost positioning to c 10m on the ground

the ability to relocate approximately the positions of monuments from grid references

Mapping-grade GPS equipment offers:

less complicated and less expensive equipment than survey-grade

less complicated data processing

levels of accuracy that are acceptable at mapping scales

data collection tailored to GIS

Survey-grade, real-time, differential GPS equipment offers:

high levels of relative accuracy, and thus eminent suitability to site survey

high level of map accuracy to the National Grid via the Ordnance Survey National GPS Network

rapid collection of accurate three­ dimentional points on the landscape for ground modelling

the potential for creating a digital site plan that can be taken through to CAD & GIS

the potential to locate observed features accurately from sources such as historic maps, air photographs or geophysical surveys, but which are not otherwise visible in the landscape, and to set these out on the ground

Making choices

For an archaeologist, making informed decisions about surveying technology can be a difficult task. Some might be more fortunate than others in having access to a university surveying department or have a professionally trained surveyor on the

taken into account when making choices about using GPS for an archaeological project. The best policy to adopt is to think backwards, that is, define the end product first and then determine the appropriate survey strategy to achieve this.

driven by the surveying and engineering profession, and upgrades are frequently made to satisfy this market, sometimes at the expense of lesser users.)

Can the data be easily integrated with traditional data from EDM and other forms of survey?

team. However, for many, surveying is still viewed as a skill that can be picked up along the way by one of the archaeological team; after all, some would say, with modern electronic kit, all you have to do

Other factors to consider are:

Do the archaeological unit staff have the correct level of training to use the equipment? Does the unit have sufficient computer power to process the voluminous amounts of data that GPS produces? Has the unit got high-quality printers and plotters to produce plans or will data have to be sent to a bureau for printing? Might it be more cost efficient to hire GPS rather than to buy it? Should the work be contracted out to a GPS surveying company (of which there are many) to do the positioning part of the work and then do the rest with EDM? What quality control mechanisms will be applied? Is redundancy of equipment and replacement built into the costs? (Batteries, cables and other peripherals can wear out and are costly to replace. Repairs can be very expensive.) Does the unit have software to make full use of GPS data, such as feature coding, CAD and GIS? Can the GPS data be easily exported into CAD and GIS software? Can the data-loggers be upgraded to accommodate changes to the software? (The GPS equipment development is

Ask the salesmen to provide a list of users of their equipment so that you can contact them. (Because the GPS equipment market is so competitive, choosing one manufacturer instead of another is


press a button and the ‘black box’ will

do everything for you. Unfortunately, the ‘black box’ myth is frequently perpetuated by equipment salesmen – their job is to sell equipment and software, not skills – and there has been much hype in recent years in selling GPS as the ultimate in ‘stand here and press the button and an accurate survey will emerge’ technology. Nothing can be further from the truth.

In the previous sections, it has been highlighted that the potential archaeological user has first to understand some underlying principles before venturing anywhere near the hardware. Once the principles have been grasped, judgements have to be made as to whether

difficult. The most honest appraisals of equipment, support, benefits and problems come from those who are using it in an environment similar to yours.)

Many such questions need to be asked before deciding that GPS is the way forward and saying yes to the salesman. As with computers, the technology of GPS is developing at a fast pace. New equipment and facilities appear on the market almost daily. This might be a sound reason for only purchasing very expensive survey-grade GPS if it is to be used regularly over a long period of time. If the requirement for high-quality survey is infrequent and limited, then hiring the equipment or commissioning a survey company to do the work might be more cost effective. However, the relative low cost of mapping-grade and navigation-grade GPS is probably more easily justified for lower-accuracy survey.

the final product is one that will lend itself


or benefit from GPS data capture, and

also, the suitability of GPS to the terrain and task has to be assessed.


technical paper such as this cannot aim



cover all possibilities related to GPS

For example, take a survey of a hypothetical, isolated archaeological monument on moorland. The end product might require a detailed survey at 1:500 scale (relative accuracy), and an eight-

and decision making in archaeological survey, but Table 3 provides a summary of some of the basic considerations to be

Table 3 Criteria for making a choice of what equipment to use

figure National Grid reference for a record system. This could be done with traditional EDM, and tape measures. If only the centre-point of location is needed to be located on the Ordnance Survey basic scale mapping (1:10 000 for moorlands) then a hand-held GPS will fulfil that need for map accuracy, as at that scale a point can only be plotted to c 10m anyway. However, if the project is more complex and will result in a number of other ‘products’, such as:

a detailed 1:100 scale survey of a monument,

end product

map accuracy required


locations to be identified by a grid reference and plotted on a 1:10000 base map

c 10m

navigation-grade GPS (hand-held)

approximate cost in 2003: £100–£300

objects and monuments to be plotted against an Ordnance Survey 1:2500 map, or production of plan of a similar scale

c 1m

mapping-grade GPS; accuracy can be improved for free-standing surveys by differential survey technique and by post-processing approximate cost in 2003: £1,000–£8,000

accurate, measured survey plan at 1:1 000 and larger scales, and three- dimensional data

c 0.10m

survey-grade GPS; data available in real- time or post-processed; c 0.01m relative accuracy can be achieved for free-standing surveys using differential survey techniques approximate cost in 2003: £15,000–£22,000

a 1:2 500 scale survey of its contemporary and historical landscape (which has be to fitted into the context of a wider landscape of other monuments, and which will all be surveyed to similar specifications over a number of years),

a landscape survey to be fitted onto the Ordnance Survey digital map base and with possible long-term further research through GIS,

establishment of permanent survey control to aid excavation, waterlogging monitoring, geophysical survey, fieldwalking and similar studies,

creation of a three-dimensional model of the monument,

then consistency of relative accuracy and map accuracy need to go hand in hand. To achieve both types of accuracy using EDM traversing and tape measures would be time and labour consuming, tedious and prone to error, while using a hand-held GPS could not provide either relative accuracy or map accuracy over a large area, with each point being potentially 10m in error. Mapping-grade GPS could not achieve the accuracy required for the detailed survey and establishment of control for further work, and therefore survey-grade GPS would be the answer, as this can fulfil all needs, as well as being significantly faster than traditional EDM survey.

The role of the Archaeological Investigation teams is to improve the understanding of our historic environment by identifying, interpreting, and recording archaeological and historic landscapes, monuments and buildings.This is achieved wherever possible by working through partnerships with other organisations with an interest in the historic environment.The results of the surveys undertaken are used by English Heritage and other organisations to provide the solid understanding necessary to conserve, manage and display the archaeological resource.

The work of Archaeological Investigation principally comprises field survey – the careful examination and analysis of physical remains surviving above ground, and is undertaken in conjunction with the study of historic maps, documents, aerial photographs and many other sources of evidence, including any previous archaeological research and excavation.The normal products are analytical reports and surveys, which are available to the general public through the National Monuments Record.

English Heritage supply Ordnance Survey with archaeological information for inclusion on its maps for England. GPS is routinely used by the survey teams as part of this process.

Surveying with GPS

It is important for any archaeologist using this paper to recognise that GPS is such a flexible technique that it can be applied to most surveying tasks where traditional techniques have been applied in the past. Archaeological landscape survey, excavations recording, monitoring, contouring, site planning and topographic survey are but a few of the areas to which GPS can be applied. As well as in archaeological recording, survey-grade GPS is now the principal technique used by surveyors, mapmakers and many other bodies and organisations who require accurate positioning of features, objects or assets in a plan or map-based form. Of course, the ability to make maps and plans is nothing new, and most people in archaeology have been happily recording sites and landscapes using traditional surveying techniques based on theodolites, EDM, plane-tables, tape and offset, grids and other equipment. Although it might be the latest surveying technology, GPS is simply another option, with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Some basic surveying procedures

While GPS might initially seem a rather intimidating package, its use in the field is relatively simple. As a means of providing the fast and accurate location of points on the Earth’s surface it has no rival when used correctly and subject to the right conditions. It should always be remembered that GPS equipment is only one of the tools in the survey cupboard, and many sites will require more than one survey methodology to produce the accuracy and level of detail required, for example reflectorless EDM, taping or other method. Choosing the best and quickest tool for the job is all part of the art of surveying. The basics of surveying apply to GPS, just as they do to any other method of survey (for basic archaeological surveying procedures see Bowden 1999, chapters 4 and 5).

The terrain, site topography and geography should be assessed to see if there are any factors that might affect clear reception of signals from satellites, such as trees, buildings, cliff faces or other obstructions. Where differential GPS techniques are to be used, a safe and secure location for the base station should be found. If surveying in real time, then there should be no obstructions to radio communications between the base and rover–receivers. This requirement can be a

problem in very hilly terrain and urban areas, and in these locations it might be necessary to fix more than one base station, a repeater station or use a mobile telephone. If there is a block of woodland, GPS might be used to fix control stations around the edge from which to run EDM traverses under the trees; this same method can be used to good effect in complexes of high walls and buildings such as castles and monastic sites.

Integration of feature coding and datasets from GPS and EDM is a normal software facility with most equipment manufacturers. For complex earthwork surveys, where subtle stratigraphy does not lend itself to rapid electronic feature coding (see below), the positions of pegs can be fixed by GPS and then the resultant plots used for tape and offset survey (Bowden 1999, chapter 4; 2002). For sites where geophysical survey and excavation require grid-based recording, GPS can be used as a rapid and accurate way of setting out the grid on the ground, regardless of visible sight-lines. The combination of speed and accuracy also makes GPS an ideal tool for surveying in intertidal environments (Chapman et al 2001 and below, Case Study 5).

Locating the position of an archaeological feature on an Ordnance Survey map has always been one of the most fundamental requirements of the archaeological record. In modern computer-based GIS environments, this has become even more relevant to modern archaeological records management. Whether it be a National Grid reference for a single find, or an analytical plan recording complex multi- period landscape features, the precise location of finds and features has always been the most difficult objective to achieve using traditional survey methodology. It is in this area that GPS has been a major breakthrough in archaeological recording, and depending on the level of equipment used (navigation, mapping-grade or survey- grade), objects and features can be given a National Grid reference in real time and/or be directly surveyed onto the Ordnance Survey map. Positioning is instant, simple and reliable, and no other surveying method can achieve the same speed, reliability, accuracy or cost efficiency.

Whereas previously, surveying was governed by line of sight along the ground, whether it be across the landscape or among features in excavation trenches, GPS has removed that constraint and this has made it a much

more flexible tool than traditional EDM survey. The only governing factor with GPS is that the receiver must be able to ‘see’ the sky. This is probably the easiest concept to grasp, although in practice it is not quite that simple. The amount of sky visible is one prime factor; how many satellites are in the bit of sky that can be seen is another; and finally, the positioning of the satellites in relation to each other. Fortunately, the operators on the ground do not have to concern themselves with this too much, but have only to be aware that these factors will affect the quality of the data and resultant positioning. This is one of the big advantages of real-time survey-grade equipment, as the operator knows immediately whether the data are acceptable or not. In contrast, with post­ processing, awareness that some data has not been captured would only emerge later, and could be costly to put right.

Summary of Ordnance Survey infrastructure to aid GPS Surveys

Ordnance Survey basically provides access through www.gps.gov.uk to an array of services, utilities and information on how to carry out surveying with GPS in Great Britain. A summary of the services offered includes:

access to a comprehensive information ‘frequently asked questions’ resource, including an overview of GPS, how to use GPS with Ordnance Survey mapping and a guide to coordinate systems;

access to raw GPS data from a network of thirty-two permanent high quality GPS receivers across the country; this facilitates the location of a local base station in the area to be surveyed, and enables the location of the survey within the Ordnance Survey coordinate system;

access to the coordinates and station descriptions of about 900 GPS coordinated stations across the country; this also enables the accurate coordination of a local base station within the survey area, but requires two receivers;

access to a coordinate converter facility – changing from Ordnance Survey to GPS coordinates and vice versa.

Methods that increase the usefulness of GPS

The application of differential GPS techniques with survey-grade equipment provides for improved relative accuracy,

enhanced map accuracy (using a suitable transformation) and better absolute accuracy than a stand-alone position. The effectiveness of survey-grade GPS in the field can be increased by permutations of hardware and software applications. Descriptions of some examples of these applications follow.

Multiple rovers

More than one rover–receiver can be used with a base station. Thus, assuming there are sufficient trained surveyors to use them, large volumes of data can be collected speedily. It is often efficient to have two rovers working on a site, receiving correction data from a single base station (see below, Case Study 3). This can be used as either a post- processed technique or in real time (where the signal broadcast by the GPS base stations can be used to provide corrections to any GPS rover units within range).

Ordnance Survey active stations in the National GPS Network

The Ordnance Survey active stations in this network are examples of the potential for many surveys to benefit from data collected at a single, static base station, or in this case a network of static base stations covering the entire country. The data are supplied in Receiver INdependent EXchange Format (RINEX) and so can be used in the post­ processing of data collected with any manufacturers’ equipment. Information on surveying with the National GPS Network can be found at the Ordnance Survey GPS web site.

Ground modelling

Using survey-grade equipment, large quantities of three-dimensional points can be collected by walking or driving over the site and these points can then be readily turned into ground models using computer software. Ground models can then be used to generate contours, three- dimensional grids as the basis of computer visualisations and analysis in a GIS environment, as well as enabling calculation of volumes and analysis of slope and drainage. Data collection can then be repeated at intervals to provide comparative data for monitoring sites for conservation purposes to measure coastal or other erosion (Fig 10; see also Figs 17 and 18; Case Studies 3, 4 and 5).

Feature coding

It has to be remembered that although a high degree of relative accuracy can be

achieved using survey-grade equipment and differential GPS techniques, it still only produces a series of three- dimensional points. To turn these points into lines, shapes and colours that are normally associated with a plan or map, they must be combined with ‘feature coding’. Feature-coding software is normally installed on the data-logger or pen computer and processed through CAD. With such software, the GPS data can be converted into a meaningful plan of the site. With time and experience it is possible to create feature codes that will provide a clear representation of features in the landscape, archaeological or modern, with little need for post-survey editing. It is rare that feature coding can be used to record every aspect of a complicated site, and it would be normal to take the plot back into the field for final checking and possible additional survey (see Fig 14).

Feature coding is a technique that can be applied to all electronic survey data collection, with varying degrees of sophistication. It involves setting up a library of the features to be surveyed; these can be points such as survey pegs, trees, cairns or other fixed points, or linear features such as fences, roads, tops and bottoms of slopes (Figs 11 and 12). As each point is recorded, a feature code is attached to it by the surveyor, which determines how it will be treated when it is processed. A point may have a symbol inserted on it, or points may be joined with a particular type of line. Feature codes might also have associated attributes, for example the height and diameter of a cairn, its state of preservation, grid reference and other attributes. All these data contribute to the preparation of a site plan or map, and can be used in a GIS (see Fig 13).

Real-time GPS

The ability that GPS surveying equipment affords, of knowing precisely where in the world you are at any moment in time, is one of its greatest assets. The GPS receiver can be connected to a field computer that has existing maps loaded onto it, so that the relationship between what is being surveyed and what has been previously surveyed can immediately be seen. On complex sites this procedure offers the advantage that the surveyor can see how effectively data coverage is being achieved by viewing it on the screen as it is being collected. Equally, the position of features that are not visible on the ground,

Fig 10 Contour model of the topography of Yeavering Bell, Northumberland derived from survey-grade GPS.The

Fig 10 Contour model of the topography of Yeavering Bell, Northumberland derived from survey-grade GPS.The plot shows the spatial distribution of roundhouse sites and their relationships to the topography within the Iron Age hillfort.

to the topography within the Iron Age hillfort. Fig 11 Using survey-grade GPS and feature coding

Fig 11 Using survey-grade GPS and feature coding to record tops and bottoms of earthworks within an Iron Age/Romano British settlement complex at West Hill, Northumberland (photograph by Alun Bull, © English Heritage).

but that are known from historic maps, aerial photographs or geophysical surveys, can be digitised in CAD from the original data, transferred to the GPS logger and then set out on the ground. Grids for field walking and geophysical survey can be similarly designated on the GPS receiver and set out in the field. This is possible because real-time equipment provides a facility to ‘give directions’ on-screen by displaying bearing and distance to a particular coordinated point. Apart from older GPS equipment, which was built for

collecting data for post-processing only, this facility is available with all grades of equipment, making it possible to achieve results at different levels of accuracy, as discussed earlier.

Kinematic GPS (surveying on the move)

GPS equipment has the ability to track its position over time, thus providing the ability to produce a continuous plot of its movement. This is sometimes referred to as a kinematic survey. This, coupled with feature coding, enables the surveyor to

record linear features such as fences or tracks by setting the receiver to record its position every few seconds, or every few metres, and then walking along the feature. This technique is particularly useful for gathering large amounts of data for contouring and three-dimensional modelling, as the surveyor simply keeps moving and does not have to stop at every point and press a button. To acquire this type of data for large areas of topography, GPS receivers can be mounted on vehicles.

Planning GPS surveys in advance

Most GPS processing software includes functions that can predict satellite availability at a site at any time of any day. These functions use the broadcast ephemeris or almanac (orbital information) data that contains predictions of current satellite positions and is received as part of the GPS signal. This can be of great benefit when working on sites that are difficult for GPS data collection because of obstructions to sky visibility, for example close to cliffs or buildings or in woodland clearings.

Factors that limit the use of GPS

Despite the fact that GPS offers many advantages to the archaeological site or landscape surveyor, there are a number of factors that effect how and where it might be used:

GPS signals are weak radio signals that are easily blocked by foliage, buildings or other obstructions. GPS receivers have to be able to ‘see’ a minimum of four satellites to work, five to work in real-time kinematic mode.

Signals might be affected near high- voltage power lines and transmitters and these are best avoided if possible. Problems have also been encountered

close to airfields and military establishments.

The environment can introduce an error source in GPS, for example multipath. Multipath occurs when the signals received by the antenna have not arrived by a direct path but have been reflected off another surface, such as a building, foliage or fencing. Multipath cannot be corrected by differential GPS as it is specific to a site and satellite constellation. The antenna, receiver and post-processing software detect and resolve multipath errors, but it might still introduce errors to a survey.

Other major error sources in GPS are due to the troposphere, the ionosphere, the satellite and receiver clocks, and the satellite orbits. Careful survey practice together with choice of equipment and software will limit these effects.

GPS satellites operate in circular 20,200km orbits, in six orbital planes. Because of the way in which these orbits have been arranged, satellite availability is always biased towards the Equator. Thus in the UK and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, obstructions to the south of the user, such as steep slopes or buildings, can be a problem.

Since GPS reached full operational capability in April 1995 the availability of sufficient satellites for surveying is rarely a problem. Very occasionally, however, satellites are switched off electronically for maintenance, or they become ‘unhealthy’ because there is a problem with the broadcast signal. Such an occurrence might create troughs of lower coverage that cannot be predicted.

Real-time kinematic GPS often uses VHF/UHF telemetry to transmit the correction data between the base station and the rover. In the UK the power and frequency of radio transmissions are controlled and they limit the operational range to about 3km. Obstructions such as hills or buildings can also adversely affect radio communications. Real-time surveying systems, however, do allow the collection of data for post- processing if the radio link is lost; this means that the survey can carry on until the link is re-established. This can be a common occurrence in very hilly areas, but is easily overcome by simply moving the base station to a more suitable location or by using repeater stations. Other delivery methods are available, such as the use of mobile phones; this solution, however, incurs higher running costs.

this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage
this solution, however, incurs higher running costs. Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage

Fig 12 Feature-coding library devised by English Heritage and used on GPS and EDM data-loggers.

Case Studies

The following case studies are used to illustrate some of the ways in which GPS has been used to record archaeological sites and landscapes.

Case Study 1 Archaeological survey of the Quantock Hills ANOB (Area of Outstanding National Beauty)

Use of navigation-grade (hand-held) GPS to record the locations of newly discovered sites in Slaughterhouse Combe and Somerton Wood (a Level 1 survey as defined in RCHME 1999).

Introduction and objectives

The Exeter Office of English Heritage undertook a survey of the extant archaeological sites in the Quantock Hills AONB. The location and distribution of sites of all types and time periods were within the scope of the project. Most of the sites could be recorded using survey-grade GPS or EDM, but the woodlands presented significant problems in terms of survey work.

The wooded combes of the eastern escarpment of the Quantock Hills are a characteristic feature of the landscape. They contain mostly oak, with some hazel and beech. Most of the oak has been coppiced at some time in the past, but the woodland is not now managed. Two of the major combes, Slaughterhouse Combe and Somerton Wood (centred ST 142 401), were selected for an initial study. There were no archaeological sites recorded in the area in either the SMR or NMR. Initial reconnaissance showed significant numbers of charcoal-burning platforms and building platforms on the valley sides and valley floor respectively. Locations of individual sites or groups of sites were required to assess the nature of the archaeological resource in the woodland and to facilitate decisions on the type of further survey work required.

Survey methodology

The fieldwork was carried out in early March and mid-April. In March, the trees had yet to come into leaf, and there were few problems in receiving signals from five or more satellites. Topography was not a problem during these sessions. In April, however, the leaves were beginning to appear and this caused some problems with satellite availability on the valley floors.

The centre of each site was recorded using a hand-held GPS. Care was taken to

maximise the number of satellites available, and to minimise the error display on the unit. The points were downloaded onto a computer, then transformed to the National Grid using the Ordnance Survey’s coordinate converter, available on their GPS website. A note of the position of each site in relation to neighbouring sites and the topographic or map detail was taken in the field, then sketched onto the 1:10 000 base map. The results showed that the accuracy of the location of the sites at 1:10 000 scale was acceptable in most cases. Errors were in the order of 10–15m, possibly placing a site on the wrong side of a track, for example. A test, which recorded the same site on different days, gave a difference in position of less than 10m.

The GPS was used to record the location of four sites on the open moorland; these same four sites were then recorded using survey-grade GPS. The coordinates for these four sites are given in Table 4. Generally, the results were good, with three of the four sites giving the same eight-figure grid references. The fourth site, however, was some 35m to the north­ east of its plan position as determined by survey-grade GPS. Height differences ranged from 3m to 116m!


From this work, a number of conclusions can be drawn:

The hand-held GPS proved to be robust and easy to use. It is portable, and stood up to long periods of use in wet conditions.

The results were viable in fairly open woodland during the winter months.

The results were adequate for plotting sites at 1:10 000 scale, providing that additional positional information was noted as a check.

Hand-held GPS is an excellent tool for quickly locating large numbers of newly discovered sites, enabling a rapid assessment of the resource.

Hand-held GPS with no post­ processing facility should not be used as a substitute for locating or surveying sites with mapping-grade or survey- grade GPS or EDM.

Case Study 2 Archaeological survey of Dartmoor

Use of post-processed and real-time kinematic, survey-grade GPS and differential techniques to record archaeological landscapes on Dartmoor (a Level 2 survey as defined in RCHME 1999).

Introduction and objectives

Dartmoor is the largest expanse of open moorland in the south of England and contains large tracts of prehistoric landscapes surviving above ground. Since 1988, the RCHME and latterly the Archaeological Investigation Section of English Heritage have carried out several area-based recording projects on the moor. Work began in the form of a joint project with the Duchy of Cornwall to investigate the entirety of the enclosed land on the Duchy’s Dartmoor estate. It continues in the form of partnerships with the Dartmoor National Park Authority, the National Trust and the Ministry of Defence, among others. By 2002 some 240 square km (35% of the area administered by the Dartmoor National

Table 4 Coordinates of open moorland sites (All coordinates are in metres; eastings and northings are on National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) and heights are above ODN.)


hand-held GPS

differential GPS




difference (m)

Cairn 1, Higher Hare Knap













Cairn 2, Higher Hare Knap













Cairn 3, Higher Hare Knap













Cairn 1, Black Hill













Park Authority) have been recorded. A total of about 2,500 monuments have been surveyed.

The enormity of the archaeological resource had been alluded to by previous fieldworkers, although its true extent only became apparent after the first season of fieldwork. The range of monuments that was recorded was expanded from the previously traditional concept of archaeological categories to include such diverse items as slotted gate-posts (good indicators of pre-19th century enclosure) and military observation posts and targets dating from the Second World War. The extent and importance of the industrial archaeology, mostly relating to the remains of the early tin industry, but also including gunpowder mills and early 20th­ century clay works, had also become apparent over the years.

century clay works, had also become apparent over the years. Fig 13 Typical HSIS window; each

Fig 13 Typical HSIS window; each monument is linked to a text-based record.

Survey methodology

In the early days of the project, only a post-processed, survey-grade GPS facility was available. Since then, new equipment has been developed enabling real-time kinematic techniques to be employed. This has formed the backbone of subsequent projects and is used as the tool of first preference. It provides accurate three-dimensional points relative to each other and to the National Grid. Feature coding has enabled the investigators to assign a number of linetypes, colours and symbols to the individual points. When processed within CAD software these create satisfactory depictions for most monuments, with little need for post-survey editing. While this system of feature coding was developed specifically for the archaeology of Dartmoor, most elements are of use in other upland areas.

The discovery and interpretation of monuments was supplemented by their accurate location – a process not always strictly observed by earlier workers – which in itself led to the creation of a new survey methodology applicable to most upland areas. From the outset monuments were located using EDM within the National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) framework, which, while a relatively easy process on the enclosed fringes and central basin of the moor, became more time consuming in the more remote parts.

Perhaps the most ambitious project undertaken during this period was a complete survey of the open moorland

owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. This involved the investigation of some 140 square km centred on the highest parts of the north and south moors during a three-year period. While the archaeology of these areas was relatively sparse, much was concealed from general view in narrow valleys and on broad ridge crests. EDM survey became increasingly arduous and inappropriate. By the beginning of the third season, when GPS became available, only the most accessible 80 square km of the designated area had been investigated. The use of GPS enabled the remaining area to be completed within nine months. It proved the ideal tool in this environment, providing the required accuracy and unhindered by the line-of-sight problems that beset EDM survey.


By-products of this digital process are seamless maps of the surveyed areas at 1:10 000 and, since 1996, 1:2 500 scales. The results of this project have overcome earlier problems of piecing together large hand-drawn surveys. For the first time it is possible to examine large archaeological landscapes in sufficient detail to begin explaining, rather than simply describing, the archaeology.

Additional value is added to these surveys by their insertion into GIS, whereby each monument depiction is linked to the relevant text-based record (Fig. 13). The principal archive for this

work is the Heritage Spatial Information System (HSIS) operated by English Heritage. HSIS graphical data can easily be translated into a variety of outputs to suit the needs of both national and local organisations, and also the various types of GIS now in use. The HSIS dataset for the parts of Dartmoor so far surveyed is being integrated into the GIS of the Dartmoor National Park Authority for use in the day-to-day management and conservation of the moorland archaeology. This accurate depiction and description of the archaeology of the moor is also helping the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to evaluate the archaeological resource when compiling Countryside Stewardship schemes. The relevant HSIS information will be loaded onto the GIS systems of the National Trust and the Ministry of Defence, who are major owners or users within the moor. This new dataset will allow a closer characterisation of the ‘ancient moorland’ component of the Historic Land Characterisation (HLC) study of Devon.

The quality and format of graphical depiction within HSIS is also suitable for use on Ordnance Survey digital products.

The logistical problems caused by the topography and built environment of Dartmoor have helped shape a methodology for archaeological survey that has proved both efficient and

multifunctional. The speed of survey has increased dramatically; in less than a decade the person formerly operating the EDM is now available for reconnaissance and note taking, and a square kilometre of complex landscape now takes less than a week to investigate. Feature coding is not a new idea, having been available in a crude form for EDMs in the pre-GPS age, but its association with GPS and CAD have enabled the construction of graphics with the flexibility to be used in a number of applications.

Case Study 3 Archaeological survey of Ring Chesters hillfort, Northumberland

Use of real-time kinematic, survey-grade GPS and differential techniques for detailed, analytical survey of an Iron Age hillfort (a Level 3 survey as defined in RCHME 1999).

Introduction and objectives

In 2001, the English Heritage Archaeological Investigation team at York carried out a detailed survey of Ring Chesters, an Iron Age hillfort in Northumberland, together with an

an Iron Age hillfort in Northumberland, together with an Fig 14 Ring Chesters: GPS data translated

Fig 14 Ring Chesters: GPS data translated to plan data using feature coding and plotted through CAD.

to plan data using feature coding and plotted through CAD. Fig 15 Ring Chesters: hachured archive

Fig 15 Ring Chesters: hachured archive plan drawn after field checking of data plot (see Fig 14).

extensive area of historic landscape around it.The investigation was intended to further the understanding of the hillfort, both as an individual monument and as an example of the class as a whole, and to inform the conservation, management and display of the site.The analytical survey was one of thirteen similar surveys of hillforts and landscapes being undertaken by English Heritage in partnership with the Northumberland National Park during a period of three years.

The analytical survey demonstrated that the defences of the hillfort consisted of two concentric oval circuits formed by earthen banks and, positioned eccentrically within these, a near-circular circuit constructed of stone. The pair of earthen banks would probably have served to support timber palisades or hedges, while the innermost rampart would have been formed by a broad stone wall. Most previous investigations on the site had tacitly accepted that these three circuits represent a single phase of construction. However, the English Heritage survey showed that the two outer circuits represent a ‘bivallate fort’ constructed in one phase, that the stone-built inner circuit represents a later phase, and that parts of all three earthworks were modified during the Romano-British period. In addition, the re-assessment suggests that there might have been an earlier enclosure on the hilltop, potentially predating all the circuits that had been recognised previously.

Survey methodology

The entire survey was carried out using a real-time kinematic, survey-grade GPS system. The base receiver was set up on the summit on a permanent survey station, and two rover–receivers collected data simultaneously, using feature coding to record information relating to the points being surveyed. The methodology even allowed recording of small details such as individual rampart facing-stones. As well as plan data, the immediate landscape was recorded in three dimensions enabling the setting of the monument to be demonstrated through contours and ground models (Fig 17). The resultant feature-coded data was processed through CAD to produce plots on polyester (Fig 14), which were subsequently taken back into the field for checking and addition of other detail using graphical survey methods. Nearly 90% of the ground features were recorded using GPS, with the remaining 10% being

Fig 16 Ring Chesters: interpretation of the phases of archaeological remains. Fig 17 Ring Chesters:
Fig 16 Ring Chesters: interpretation of the phases of archaeological remains. Fig 17 Ring Chesters:
Fig 16 Ring Chesters: interpretation of the phases of archaeological remains. Fig 17 Ring Chesters:
Fig 16 Ring Chesters: interpretation of the phases of archaeological remains. Fig 17 Ring Chesters:

Fig 16 Ring Chesters: interpretation of the phases of archaeological remains.

interpretation of the phases of archaeological remains. Fig 17 Ring Chesters: three-dimensional computer model of

Fig 17 Ring Chesters: three-dimensional computer model of the hillfort produced from the GPS data.

added with the plot in hand at the field- checking phase. The final plots formed the basis of the hachured archive plan and interpretative drawings (Figs 15 and 16).

The coordinates of the base receiver were computed using Ordnance Survey active stations in the National GPS Network, and

then transformed to the National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) using the transformation available on their website. Two intervisible and permanent markers were established with the GPS to facilitate future work with conventional survey equipment such as EDM. The positions of both stations were marked by brass rivets set into rock

outcrops and their locations were indicated on the plans and in the form of a witness diagram in the final report (Oswald, et al 2002).The final archive plan of the hillfort was plotted at 1:500 scale and the surrounding landscape at 1:2 500 scale.


The application of real-time kinematic, survey-grade GPS on the hillforts project produced a number of other working methodologies to suit individual site circumstances. This was an upland project and therefore Health and Safety considerations prevented lone working. However, in less potentially hostile environments, real-time kinematic GPS techniques can be used by a single surveyor. On some of the other hillforts in the project, two surveyors working together often found that in areas of complex earthworks with subtle surface relationships, it was more effective to have one surveyor observing and interpreting the earthwork relationships while guiding the second surveyor (with the rover) into position.

Other methodologies used in this project included one rover deployed on recording topographic features such as fences, tracks, walls and other like features, while the other rover concentrated on the archaeological features, or one rover operating in purely kinematic mode, rapidly gathering data for infilling the three-dimensional model and contouring. Where earthwork relationships were particularly complex and difficult to interpret for the feature-coding approach, the best results were obtained by simply fixing pegs with the GPS in the area to be examined and using these as the basis for tape and offset survey once the plots had been produced.

Case Study 4 GPS and the dynamics of wetland landscapes, Sutton Common, South Yorkshire

Use of post-processed, survey-grade GPS and differential techniques for practical conservation.

Introduction and objectives

The dynamics of organic preservation within wet deposits present far more complex management issues than are experienced on dry sites. Saturation excludes air, thereby inhibiting the activity of bacteria and fungi in the soil. This provides conditions whereby organic degradation is inhibited, potentially indefinitely. However, while wet sites often

provide a far greater range of archaeological material preserved in the ground, they are also subject to a wider range of threats to their continued survival. Activities such as agricultural drainage and water abstraction can reduce the level of the water table over large areas, thereby drying out the sediments containing the archaeological or palaeoenvironmental remains. The subsequent introduction of atmospheric oxygen will result in the re-introduction of microbial activity. This will inevitably lead to the degradation of organic material and consequently to the loss of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental information.

Current methods aimed at managing wet preserved archaeology have focused upon sustaining the level of the water table over a site to provide permanent saturation. This requires an appreciation of the three- dimensional positions of deposits across the site, the level of the water table and the position of the ground surface. Potential management challenges lie in the complex dynamics experienced by wetland sites. For example, when organic sediments dry out they shrink, resulting in a lowering of the land surface. This means that any relative measurement, such as the distance between the land surface and the water table at a given position, will not be a true measure of conditions for sustained preservation. Only absolute measurements will be of any use in determining the success or failure of any management regime.

Landscape management is currently undertaken at the wetland area of Sutton Common in South Yorkshire. The Common has produced archaeological remains representing human activity from the Mesolithic to the Post-medieval period, but with a focus on the early Iron Age. At this time a large oak-palisaded enclosure was erected on a small ‘island’ adjacent to an infilled palaeochannel. At a later date, but also within the early Iron Age, this enclosure was replaced by a multivallate earthwork. In this second phase of construction a smaller univallate earthwork enclosure was constructed on the opposite side of the channel, apparently forming an annex or gateway.

Several excavations have been undertaken. The first published work was done in the 1930s, when extensive trenches across the earthworks revealed the survival of wooden and other organic material, including stakes, posts, bone and a wheel. In conjunction with these excavations,

the first and only earthwork survey of the archaeological remains was undertaken using conventional methods.

In 1979–80 the site was damaged when the tenant farmer bulldozed the whole of the larger enclosure and part of the smaller enclosure and began to establish arable cultivation. At this time increased land drainage and local water abstraction were both having a significant influence on local water table levels. As a result of these threats, English Heritage commissioned a series of projects aimed at assessing preservation, using the 1930s survey as a basis, owing to the recent earthwork destruction. The excavations by Doncaster Museum, South Yorkshire Archaeology Service and Sheffield University through the 1980s and into the 1990s confirmed that well-preserved deposits still existed, evidenced by the survival of a possible wooden ladder, preserved spelt and other organic material. However, it was concluded that the deposits would not survive within the contemporary conditions.

In the late 1990s the Carstairs Countryside Trust (CCT) purchased the site, for its protection, with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage. After nineteen years of arable cultivation, the Common was finally left to revert to wet grassland. Following the purchase, a programme of survey, excavation and monitoring was undertaken, funded principally by English Heritage and the Countryside Agency – in conjunction with drainage engineering to re-establish high water table levels.

Survey methodology

The first phase of work was to establish a snapshot record of the site through a high- resolution topographical survey related to absolute heights. This and all subsequent surveys of the site were conducted using differential GPS equipment. The efficiency of GPS enabled a large survey to be completed in a short time by a single surveyor. The high accuracy of the equipment meant that minor differences in height could be identified once the data were modelled, so that subtle shrinkages of organic sediments due to drying out (such as archaeological ditch fills) could be identified. It was postulated that, because shrunken organic deposits cannot regain their shape, the evidence of this shrinkage represented decay in the months since the most recent ploughing. Consequently, this supposition indicated

that there was some preserved organic material still remaining.

The second phase focused upon monitoring water table levels across the site. A grid of fifty monitoring points was set out over the positions of the two enclosures, and surveyed using GPS to give absolute three-dimensional accuracy within the same coordinate system as the initial survey. The height of the water table at each of these points has been monitored approximately every two weeks since. The results from this demonstrated that the water table formed an extremely irregular shape, with great vertical fluctuations in some areas through the year.

At the time of writing, two seasons of excavation have been undertaken at the site, and the positions of organic material recorded using GPS in order to understand their positions in relation to the annual water table fluctuations within a given spot. In this way, the levels of preservation experienced by the organic material could be compared with levels and permanence of saturation. Correlation between preservation levels and saturation has been determined and it is becoming possible to create models of predictive levels. This provides a baseline against which the results of the re-wetting programme can be tested (for more background see Chapman and de Noort 2001).


The work at Sutton Common is ongoing, addressing the many issues and problems provided by the dynamics of wetland archaeological landscapes and in situ preservation. Thus far we can begin to see the limitations of what might be preserved in situ and areas where prolonged preservation might be possible. The need to work within absolute measurements is arguably more crucial for wetlands than for many other types of site. The dynamics of these environments mean that any relative measurement is inappropriate and can be misleading, and that it is here that the value of GPS is highlighted.

Case Study 5: using GPS to survey the intertidal archaeology on the beach at Westward Ho!, Devon

Use of real-time kinematic, survey-grade GPS and differential techniques to monitor change.

Introduction and objectives

Since the middle of the 19th century, the submerged forest at Westward Ho! on the

coast of North Devon has attracted the interest of scientists and souvenir hunters alike. The ancient trees lie on thick lenses of peat, which are only visible at low tide. These trees were part of a forest c 5,000– 6,000 years ago. Their location on the beach today is just one indicator of the long-term rise in sea level that has taken place at this part of our coastline. Mesolithic period flint tools and flakes lie in the blue clay beneath the peat and are some of the earliest traces of human activity in this part of the south-west.

By 1980, concern was expressed at the rate of erosion of these fragile archaeological deposits, owing both to erosion by the sea and to damage by souvenir hunters. This situation prompted a detailed examination of the site by English Heritage in 1983–4 (Balaam et al 1987). In the spring of 2002 it was clear that the site was still being eroded. The site had been surveyed during the course of the work in 1983–4. A new survey was needed to assess the amount of damage done in twenty years, and to see how much of the archaeological resource remained. As part of the deposits are only visible at the very lowest of tides, the survey had to be accomplished rapidly, within a narrow time window – two four- hour sessions. The survey also needed to be located on the National Grid, to make possible comparison with the previous survey. Survey-grade, real-time kinematic GPS survey was therefore the ideal tool to map the location and extent of the deposits (Riley 2002).


The plans from 1983–4 were superimposed, revealing that the peat has since suffered a substantial amount of erosion , particularly on the seaward edges (Fig 18). Most of the ‘midden’ deposits that contain the Mesolithic cultural

material have disappeared and the large linear blocks of peat have suffered the same fate,
material have disappeared and the large
linear blocks of peat have suffered the
same fate, leaving only four peat islands.
suffered the same fate, leaving only four peat islands. Fig 18 Westward Ho!: interpretative plot showing

Fig 18 Westward Ho!: interpretative plot showing exposure and erosion of surfaces.

The future

Technologically, the GPS industry will continue to address some of the areas where GPS cannot currently be used, and will continue to make equipment smaller and lighter, less power consuming, and with improved user interface. A particularly interesting and little known development that mightc have a major impact in the future is that of pseudolites. These are small devices that act as GPS satellites and transmit a GPS look-alike signal. They enable GPS surveys to be conducted in places that current GPS signals cannot reach, such as inside buildings, tunnels, under heavy tree canopy and other concealed locations. They are, however, prohibitively expensive at present and the technology is still very much in development stage (December


GALILEO, the proposed European Global Satellite System will also have an impact on the nature of surveying, giving greater access to satellite constellations. GALILEO is not set to become fully operational, however, until 2008. The first stage of the European-funded satellite system, EGNOS, augments the currently operating US GPS and Russian

GLONASS systems. The Russian GLONASS constellation is also improving and provides useful additions to the GPS satellites. Improved mobile phone

telemetry (access and cost) should provide more real-time differential survey capability at the mapping-grade level.

The designers of the GPS system could never have predicted the widespread use of this technology. It is used in meteorology, machine guidance, oceanography and asset management, for accurate timing as well as for everyday surveying and mapping. Who knows what other applications might be discovered. Clearly, GPS has a place in archaeological survey, and as more archaeologists use it, the more its applications will be developed and defined for this purpose. However, it must be remembered that GPS is a surveying tool like any other. There are many surveying problems that it cannot solve and it should be viewed as another piece of equipment to be used when the circumstances are right.

For the foreseeable future, it will need to be integrated with EDM survey and with other traditional survey techniques to cover the places with no or restricted sky coverage. Finally, and most important of all, however accurate and complex, GPS cannot interpret archaeological evidence on the ground. For this, the spatial ability of the brain coupled with signal clarity from the eyes and processed through software called experience, will always be the best.


active stations A network of continuously operating, high-quality GPS receivers located throughout Great Britain and managed by the Ordnance Survey. GPS RINEX (Receiver INdependent EXchange Format) data are downloaded hourly from each station and are released onto the National GPS Network web site. Almanac A set of parameters included in the GPS satellite navigation message that a receiver uses to predict the approximate location of a satellite. The almanac contains information about all of the satellites in the constellation.

CAD Computer Aided Drawing coordinate converter A software utility that transforms coordinates from one coordinate system into another. The Ordnance Survey on-line converter transforms ETRS89 coordinates into Ordnance Survey National Grid coordinates (OSGB36 ® ) and heights above Ordnance Datum (mean sea level) using the OSGM02 and OSTN02 models. coordinate system A pre-defined framework onto which coordinates can be related.

datum A permanent reference from which heights and depths for a particular country, or part of a country, are calculated. Note that in this publication the plural used is datums. differential GPS (DGPS) A technique for increasing the accuracy of GPS-derived positions by using additional data from a reference GPS receiver at a known position.

EDM Electromagnetic Distance Measurement – a type of surveying equipment – (usually integrated with, or mounted on, a theodolite) that uses an infra­ red beam to measure distances. EGNOS European geostationary navigation overlay service ellipsoid A three-dimensional geometric figure used to approximate the shape of the Earth ETRS89 The European Terrestrial Reference System 1989. This is the standard precise GPS coordinate system used throughout Europe. It is a more precise definition of the WGS84 GPS coordinate system, fixed in 1989. ephemeris A description of the path of a celestial body indexed by time. The navigation message from each GPS satellite includes a predicted ephemeris for the orbit of that satellite for the current hour. Precise ephemeris data files can be downloaded from the US National Geodetic web site (http://www.ngs.noaa.gov/). The precise ephemeris contains the recorded positions and is available after one day for the NGS Rapid Orbits version or after eight days for the NGS Precise Orbits version. Precise ephemerides provide a more accurate solution when post-processing than the broadcast orbits do.

GALILEO The developing European satellite GPS constellation set for full deployment in 2008 geoid A mathematical model of the level surface closest to mean sea level over the oceans. The surface is continued under the land and acts as a fundamental reference surface for height measurement. GIS Geographical Information System. A system for capturing, storing, checking, integrating, analysing and displaying data that are spatially referenced to the Earth. This is normally considered to involve a spatially referenced computer database and appropriate applications software. GLONASS Global Orbiting Navigation Satellite System – a satellite positioning system maintained by Russia

Land-Line ® Ordnance Survey large-scale digital map data. Great Britain is covered by 230,000 map tiles, which were surveyed and digitised at three scales according to location: 1:1 250 scale for urban areas,

1:2 500 scale for rural areas, and 1:10 000 scale for remote areas such as mountains and moorland.

National GPS Network A network of reference stations throughout Great Britain maintained by the Ordnance Survey. It consists of some thirty-two active stations and 900 passive stations. This network enables users of GPS to carry out positioning in the precise ETRS89 coordinate system. National Grid (OSGB36 ® ) The national standard co­ ordinate system for Ordnance Survey maps. This is the grid shown on Ordnance Survey maps and digital data. NMR National Monuments Record

ODN Ordnance Datum Newlyn. This is the standard reference system for measuring heights above mean sea level across mainland Great Britain. It is measured relative to a value taken at Newlyn in Cornwall. OSGB36 ® see National Grid OSGM02 Ordnance Survey National Geoid Model 2002. This is a gravity-derived model used to convert from ETRS89 coordinates to Ordnance Survey height datums, eg ODN. OSTN02 Ordnance Survey National Grid Trans­ formation 2002. The new Definitive Transformation to convert ETRS89 coordinates to OSGB36 ® coordinates. This provides a more accurate resolution than the previous transformation (OSTN97 ® ). OSTN97 ® Ordnance Survey National Grid Transformation 1997. A transformation to convert ETRS89 GPS coordinates to OSGB36 ® coordinates, now superseded with the release of OSTN02 .

passive stations Publicly-accessible survey stations located throughout Great Britain and maintained as part of the National GPS Network by the Ordnance Survey. The locations and precise ETRS89 coordinates of these stations are known and can be acquired through the Ordnance Survey.

RCHME Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England

SMR Sites and Monuments Record

transformation A coordinate transformation enables a user to convert from one coordinate system to another, for example from ETRS89 to OSGB36 ® , using the OSTN02 transformation.

WGS84 World Geodetic System 1984. This is the standard coordinate system for GPS data throughout the world.

References and further reading

Ainsworth, S, and Barnatt, J 1998 An Archaeological Survey of the Landscape on Big Moor and Ramsley Moor, Baslow and Holmesfield, Derbyshire. RCHME Archaeological Investigation Report Balaam, N, et al 1987 ‘Prehistoric and Romano- British sites at Westward Ho!, Devon: archaeological and palaeo-environmental surveys 1983 and 1984’, in N Balaam, B Levitan and V Straker (eds) Studies in Palaeoeconomy and Environment in South West England, BAR 181, 163–264 Bowden, M (ed) 1999 Unravelling the Landscape: an inquisitive approach to archaeology. Stroud: RCHME/ Tempus Bowden, M 2002 With Alidade and Tape: graphical and plane table survey of archaeological earthworks. London:

English Heritage Brown, A 1987 Fieldwork for Archaeologists and Local Historians. London: Batsford Chapman, H P, Fletcher, W G, and Thomas, G 2001 ‘Quantifying the effects of erosion on the archaeology of intertidal environments: a new approach and its implications for their management’. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 4, 233–40

Chapman, H P, and de Noort, R 2001 ‘High­ resolution wetland prospection, using GPS and GIS:

landscape studies at Sutton Common (South Yorkshire), and Meare village east (Somerset)’. J Archaeol Science 28, 365–75 Dickinson, G C 1969 Maps and Air Photographs. London: Arnold Harley, J B 1975 Ordnance Survey Maps – a Descriptive Manual. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Hoffman-Wellenhof, B, Lichtenegger, H, and Collins, J 1997 GPS Theory and Practice, 4 edn. Wien:

Springer-Verlag Iliffe, J 2000 Datums and Map Projections for Remote Sensing, GIS and Surveying. Caithness: Whittles Publishing Kennedy, M 1995 The Global Positioning System and GIS. London: Taylor and Francis Leick, A 1995 GPS Satellite Surveying, 2 edn. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ordnance Survey 1972 ‘The overhaul of the 1:2 500 county series maps’. Ordnance Survey Professional Papers NS 25 Ordnance Survey 2000a ‘Coordinate positioning – Ordnance Survey policy and strategy’. Information Paper 1/2000 Ordnance Survey 2000b ‘Digital national framework’. Information Paper 11/2000 Ordnance Survey 2000c ‘ Digital identifiers’. Consultation Paper 3/2000 Ordnance Survey 2000d ‘Digital national framework (DNF) – Metadata – for improved distribution of change information’. Consultation Paper 4/2000 Ordnance Survey 2000e ‘Positional accuracy of mapping data at 1:2 500 scale’. Information Paper


Ordnance Survey 2000f ‘Associating data with the digital national framework (DNF)’. Consultation Paper 5/2000 Ordnance Survey 2002 A Guide to Coordinate Systems in Great Britain: an introduction to mapping coordinate systems and the use of GPS datasets with Ordnance Survey mapping. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Oswald, A, Pearson, P, and Ainsworth, S 2002 Ring Chesters, Northumberland: an Iron Age hillfort and its environs. English Heritage Archaeol Investig Rep Ser AI/2/2002 Pearson, F 1990 Map Projections: theory and applications. Boca Raton: CRC Press Pearson, T 1998 Yeavering Bell Hillfort. English Heritage Archaeol Investig Rep Ser AI/24/1998 RCHME 1999 Recording Archaeological Field Mon­ uments: a descriptive specification. Swindon: RCHME RCHME and PPJPB 1993 ‘An archaeological survey of the northern halves of Gardom’s and Birchen Edges, Baslow, Derbyshire’. NMR unpublished report RICS 2003 Guidelines for the Use of GPS in Surveying and Mapping. Coventry: RICS Riley, H 2002 Intertidal Deposits at Westward Ho!, Northam Burrows, Devon. English Heritage Archaeol Investig Rep Ser AI/18/2002 Seymour, W A 1980 A History of the Ordnance Survey. Folkestone: Dawson Steers, J A 1965 An Introduction to the Study of Map Projections. London: University of London Press Van Sickle, J 1996 GPS for Land Surveyors. Chelsea, Michigan: Ann Arbor Press

For those with a desire to keep up to date with developments in GPS, additional material can be found in a range of subscription periodicals aimed at the professional surveying, mapping and GIS communities. Some of these are Surveying World (PV Publications /GITC/RICS), GI News, Geomatics World (GITC/RICS) and GPS World (Advanstar Communications USA). The Ordnance Survey web sites contain a wealth of information relating to all aspects of GPS and mapping.

Written by Stewart Ainsworth and Bernard Thomason, with contributions by Hazel Riley (Case Studies 1 and 5) and by Simon Probert (Case Study 2). Dr Henry Chapman of the Hull Wetlands Unit contributed Case Study 4.


Mark Bowden and Pete Topping commented on the text. Illustrations were prepared by Philip Sinton. Photographs in Figures 8, 11 and 19 were taken by Alun Bull.

Special thanks go to Dr Paul Cruddace and to Colin Fane from the Geodetic Section of the Ordnance Survey for their support and invaluable editorial contribution to the more complex aspects of the mysteries of time, space and mapping. We also thank Trimble for providing the image of the satellite used on the front cover and in Figure 1.

Cover figure: Surveying with GPS. (Portions © 2003 Trimble Navigation Limited. All rights reserved.)

This Technical Paper has been produced in association with the Ordnance Survey.

Published September 2003
Published September 2003

Copyright © English Heritage 2003 Edited and brought to press by David M Jones and Andrew McLaren, English Heritage Publishing Designed by Mark Simmons Produced by English Heritage Publishing Printed by Latimer Trend & Company Ltd

Product Code 50788

The English Heritage Archaeological Investigation teams communicate their discoveries and new insights to an increasingly wide audience, initially through the Archaeological Investigation Report Series (ISSN 1478-7008), which are available through English Heritage’s public archive, the National Monuments Record (NMR).These reports include a full textual description and analysis of monuments and landscapes, plans, digital terrain models, interpretation drawings and photographs. A list of sites surveyed by the Archaeological Investigation teams can be viewed on the English Heritage web site at www.english-heritage.org.uk. Copies of reports can be obtained from the NMR, Kemble Drive, Swindon, SN2 2GZ; tel 01793 414600; fax 01793


English Heritage is the Government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment. English Heritage provides expert advice to the Government about all matters relating to the historic environment and its conservation.

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01793 414926 E-mail: customers@english- heritage.org.uk Fig 19 Centimetre levels of accuracy are achievable with

Fig 19 Centimetre levels of accuracy are achievable with survey-grade GPS (photograph by Alun Bull, © English Heritage).

Fig 19 Centimetre levels of accuracy are achievable with survey-grade GPS (photograph by Alun Bull, ©