Pompeii World Heritage Site

Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata


The site of Pompeii is part of the world heritage site that also includes Herculaneum, and Torre Annunziata. Pompeii was inscribed onto the world heritage list in 1997. The famous volcanic explosion on the 24th of August 79 A.D. tragically sealed the fate of many. The entire town as it stood in 79 A.D is fairly well represented, and to walk these streets is to really get a sense and feel for what urban life was like in a Roman town.

Map Location

My wife and I visited this site in January of 2012, and we like to call it our “prehoneymoon” trip. We took our awesome vacation prior to our wedding rather than before.

Pompeii is located along the eastern coast of Italy in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. We were based in Rome for our trip so we took a train from Rome, to Naples, and then another to Pompeii. A highly recommended excursion from Rome. My wife and I do not speak Italian, however, it was an adventurous and interesting way to see other aspects of Italy.

In my introductory classes in archaeology as an undergraduate, Pompeii was always a site included in the textbook. An example of a static snapshot of what life was like at one point of time sealed by a volcanic eruption.

To see this site in person is an experience I will never forget. The greatest heritage aspect of this site, in my opinion, is the ability to walk an entire town. Walking through amphitheaters, a colosseum, a bakery, prostitute houses, temples, residential homes, etc. is a unique heritage experience.

A feeling of tragedy permeates the entire site, and a question of why we never seem able to learn our lessons from history. Mount Vesuvius will likely erupt again one day and will likely bury the city of Naples. Yet, people continue to live in the path of the volcano with each generation tempting fate.

Place of Ill Repute




Chavín de Huántar

Chavín de Huántar

At over 10,000 feet Chavín is the highest cultural world heritage site in the Americas.

Chavín was inscribed onto the World Heritage list in 1985.

The main occupations at Chavín date between 850-200 B.C. An early ceremonial center that contains a series of sunken courts and platform mounds. Depictions of animals that originate in the Amazonian basin indicate exchange between neighboring peoples was an important aspect of this society. This site represents an early Andean civilization and the development of a socially stratified society.

The Lanzón stone is a rock pillar in the shape of a lance and is located in Building B at the site.

The Chavín de Huántar site and the Lanzón stone has been laser scanned by CyArk, with detailed images and 3D models for viewing.


World Heritage: First Steps


Our heritage begins approximately 2 million years ago. An early hominid Homo habilis “handy man” began making simple pebble tools. This is our first evidence of our ancestors making and using tools.

Stone tools are not easy to make. Knowledge of rock properties and how to manipulate the properties of the rock to control how the rock fractures is required to make a stone tool.

The significance of this moment in time is the knowledge exhibited in making stone tools. This knowledge illustrates a culture had developed. It is not enough for one person to figure out how to make a stone tool by chance. After learning of the advantages of chipping stone for tools, these early people transmitted this knowledge to others in the group and to future generations. This is culture, this is heritage.

Discoveries of Homo habilis crania remains indicate this group had a larger brain size than previous generations. The larger brain size likely allowed for the development of higher order cognitive reasoning and the development of a culture.

Louis Leakey discovered, in the 1930s, these simple pebble stone tools in a sediment layer sandwiched between volcanic ash layers in Olduvai Gorge. Olduvai Gorge is located in the East African Rift Valley. The rift valley formed from the continental plate pulling apart and exposing ancient sedimentary layers dating to the development of our early ancestors. Potassium-Argon (K-Ar) dating of the ash layers provided an estimate of when these tools were made.

Louis Leakey defined the process of making these pebble tools and called it Oldowan technology after Olduvai Gorge. Oldowan technology is the oldest known cultural tradition preserved in earth's heritage record.

First Steps: World Heritage Sites

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, located in the United Republic of Tanzania, was inscribed onto the world heritage list in 1979. This 809,440 ha site encompasses Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest caldera, and Olduvai Gorge. The famous Lake Laetoli footprints, discovered by Mary Leakey, is also located in the park. The Lake Laetoli footprints provide evidence of early bipedalism approximately 3.6 million years ago.

Ngorongoro is also home to a diverse population of ungulates and the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa such as the lion. The Maasai, a pastoralist people, also inhabit a portion of the park for the grassland.


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.

Archaeology is a Science with a Little s

A saying of one of my professors at the University of Oklahoma was that archaeology was a science with a little s. What he meant with this statement was that archaeologists can never know for certain what happened in the past. We do not have a time machine. Instead archaeologists use science to better interpret the past.

Scientific methods in archaeology such as radiocarbon dating, sourcing materials, dendrochronology, etc. give archaeologist more accurate data to interpret the past. Science in archaeology also holds archaeologists accountable in their story telling by making sure the story is told from a perspective so that other researchers can judge the value of the story. This is the theoretical framework of archaeology.

There are many different theories used in archaeology such as cultural transmission, evolutionary ecology, agency theory, optimal foraging theory, etc. Each theory has its advantages and weaknesses in interpreting the archaeological record. However, in the development and use of theory – the manner in which the archaeological record is interpreted and used to tell a story – other researchers can examine the data to see if the information fits with the perspective of the theory or story teller.

A recent problem within the field of archaeology is the extreme use of post-modern theory. This has been labelled as post-processual theory to signify a change from the more scientific approach of processual archaeology. In post-processual theory, the individual perspective is the center and there are many different possible interpretations of the archaeological record. The problem with this perspective is that there is no accountability, and it does not progress our understanding of the past.

Many researchers now label themselves as processual+. This simply means archaeology should also study intangible aspects of the archaeological record such as identity while also holding onto a scientific perspective. In these types of studies often a science perspective is used as a yard stick to more objectively document intangible aspects of past culture. For example, I am using GIS to objectively measure prominent locations on the landscape, defined as differences in elevations over a given distance, to ascertain if rock art localities and campsites are more frequently associated with prominent places than would be expected. This allows me to get at an intangible aspect of past culture within a scientific framework.

Archaeology is best situated within a scientific framework, but also allowing for more subjective interpretations that can be actively debated due to well-defined perspectives. This is the essence of archaeology as a science with a little s.

GIS in Archaeology

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is a necessary tool for all researchers in the field of archaeology regardless of area of expertise. Archaeology above all things is a science of material culture and a critical facet of understanding material culture is interpreting the relationship between material culture across the landscape and also how material culture is related to different components of the landscape. Archaeology is like a great detective story, it is an attempt to understand pieces of an unknown puzzle.

A key principle in the geographical sciences is that the closer things are to each other the more related they will be.

Archaeologists use this principle to understand past human behavior by mapping in the location of sites, their features and artifacts. By examining the spatial distribution of artifacts and sites – archaeologists can then interpret past spatial behaviors at a site, and the different types of activities that took place across a region and within their territories.

There are 4 key benefits of using GIS in archaeology:

1). Examining spatial patterns across a site or region for interpreting past behavior. Included within GIS packages are powerful spatial statistics.
2). Correlating the relationship between sites, or individual artifacts within sites to the landscape. The landscape in GIS can be modeled with such things as elevation, distribution of water, location of lithic resources, most prominent landmarks, etc.
3). Making pretty maps. A lot of archaeologists stop at this level of expertise, and this is an important aspect. Archaeology is a visual science and making great maps are important for displaying the location of artifacts and sites on the landscape.
4). Managing data. The story of archaeology is told across space and time. GIS offers a great database function to manage information that is tied to a place on earth. Artifacts collected in the field occur from a particular place with an x,y,z coordinate, however, intangible information can also be tied to space, such as an oral history told by an elder about a particular site or place.


ArcGIS: is the most popular commercial software coded by ESRI out of Redlands, California. It is very expensive, but most universities do have an academic license for this software. The main benefit of ArcGIS is that it is easy to use, and this is the main type of software taught at universities.

Grass GIS and QGIS: Grass GIS was developed by the U.S. Army with the help of several universities and other federal agencies. This software is free! It has been around a long time and is now a lot more user friendly to start up and use. There is more of a learning curve in getting started, but for coders I feels this software offers many more benefits to developing add-on specific applications than for ArcGIS.

Caveat: I am not a coder, but have learned to work through the specific commands of the software.

I have been using Grass GIS for several years now and prefer it over ArcGIS for some functions, but I use both in combination. I was attracted to Grass GIS early on due it’s availability on Macs – ArcGIS only works on PCs. Another big difference between ArcGIS and Grass GIS is how it handles files. In ArcGIS different types of files can be scattered all across the hard drive of a computer. I have spent countless hours for an important source of data that I have put in a subfolder and can not relocate. If you are working on a map with a data source and move that file in an organization attempt to clean up your hard drive, then ArcGIS will not be able to display the information on the map. Although in recent versions of ArcGIS, ArcGIS will automatically load other data sources within the same map if you can locate one of the files and if the data sets are within the same folder. In contrast, Grass GIS stores your datasets within its specific folder structure system associated with a particular map and projection. Therefore, you are less likely to lose data on the computer, but it is a more rigid system and requires that all of the data is in the correct projection and set geographic boundary. I spent a lot of time figuring this out about Grass GIS.

QGIS (Quantum GIS) is a more user friendly shell for GIS and works with Grass. It is also open sourced it works on most platforms including a mobile Android version. If you are interested in Grass GIS then you will also use QGIS.

Total station for elevation control

Using an EDM (Total Station) for elevations only.

I discovered this trick when several of our transits and levels were damaged and stopped working.

Set Up:

No need to set up over a grid point. Simply set up the total station anywhere at the site. Make sure that it is level. Then shoot to a known elevation point. Add or subtract this difference in elevation to the total station’s instrument height. Sometimes it can make it easier to zero out the HI for the total station to know how much to add or subtract to the total station HI. Then reshoot to the known elevation point to confirm that the resulting elevation is the correct elevation of that known point. You can also shoot to other elevation points to confirm the elevation accuracy. This method is easy to use, and there are no calculations necessary to subtract the elevation from the HI of a transit or level from the stadia rod. The total station does all of this for you. This method also works great when there are dramatic elevation differences at the site.

Special Note: The total station also works great around camp for star gazing at night.