iPhone (ios) for use in archaeology: essential apps

Carrying a portable computer and camera in one small package is great for archaeological field work. I have relied upon my iPhone in the field for the past four seasons. Currently, I have the iPhone 5, which had a significant camera upgrade from the iPhone 4. It now has a great macro mode, and I use it to take great shots of artifacts in the lab. Here is an updated list of apps I use in the field.


Topo maps is a relatively inexpensive app for downloading and viewing USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle maps of the United States. The app provides a grid view of the topo quadrangles, and to download a map you simply click on one of the maps (for free). The real value of the app is that it uses your iPhones GPS capabilities to show your location on the topo map. You can set a waypoint, but what I mainly use it for is viewing my location on the topo map so that I can orient myself to the paper topo map that I carry with me in the field. It also uses the iPhones compass function and will also orient the map based on the direction you are facing.


GIS Roam

This is the best GIS app I have found. ESRI has some basic apps out for use on the iPhone, but I found these apps to be limited and too reliant upon their public cloud system. With GIS Roam you can view shapefiles and raster files of your project area right on your iPhone. You can also edit and add new data. Transferring files to the iPhone is a bit cumbersome, you have to do it through iTunes, but I found that it works rather well. It is a 10 dollar data connect fee to transfer the files. The major limitation of this app is that you are limited to the GPS accuracy of the iPhone. So you would not want to rely upon your iPhone for accuracy within a few meters, but within 20 meters the iPhone is accurate enough for site scale plotting and management.


Bento is a database. I use it for storing site information, c14 ages, etc., any information that I might need to have with me in the field. Unfortunately, they have discontinued Bento and is no longer supported. There is a rumor going around that Apple will include a Bento like product in their next iWorks update, which is already a few years over due.


If you have a phone signal than you can use soilweb. It uses your iPhone’s GPS location to determine the soil series that you are standing upon. Now there is no need to carry the County NRCS soils series book with you into the field if you have a connection.



As mentioned earlier, the iPhone camera just keeps getting better and better. Sure you can take better photos with an SLR, but who wants to carry around that bulky thing?

Check out this National Geographic blog on the use of the iPhone 5s camera.

One of Manitou Springs’, CO water fountains



I use the iPhones basic notes app, for record keeping, however, there is a multitude of other writing apps, you can PDF forms as well.


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