Sunday, August 22, 2021

A Draft of a talk to the Ancient MakerSpaces Conference in January 2022


I am very happy to have been invited to give a talk in January to the Ancient MakerSpaces conference in San Francisco. This is a workshop session of the AIA-SCS (American Institute of Archaeology and the Society for Classical Studies) and it provides a forum for individuals or groups who have been pioneering digital applications in several fields of the humanities.[1]

My talk, devoted to the Mycenaean Atlas Project, is only ten minutes and so affords just about enough time to state the goals of the M.A.P. , show some representative slides, and talk about lessons learned. And yet I took this opportunity to write a longer report about the M.A.P. which explains some of my positions in more detail. Those who would like to learn more about this project than is available in a 10-minute talk can refer to this short paper.

The Mycenaean Atlas Project
A Table of Contents for the Greek Bronze Age

'He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam's neighbors.'

The Mycenaean Atlas Project is a relational data base that is devoted to accurate locations for find sites of the Bronze Age in Greece. Currently it consists of 4400+ sites, 6400+ features, and nearly 4000 three-dimensional landscape models. More than six years of daily effort has gone into this project. Early on the decision was taken to make the database free and public and, to that end, the online site was created. This effort was undertaken because, to my knowledge, there was no previous effort to digitally map the entirety of the Mycenaean world.

There are now a number of digital products that try to map the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome in whole or in part.   Some of them are:
  • The excellent Aristeia Project which covers the Geometric and the Archaic for Greece.  It is  conducted under the leadership of Dr. Mazarakis-Ainian; it has some problems of accuracy but on the whole is an excellent effort.  It would be even better if it were to show signs of continuing curatorship.  No project, and definitely not my own, is error-free and so the commitment to upkeep and correction is vital. 
  • There is the Ancient Ports - Ports Antiques site which is designed and implemented by Arthur de Graauw who is an engineer specializing in harbor construction.  It is relentlessly accurate and Mr. de Graauw allows the download of his entire DB in the form of a flat-file or spreadsheet. This enables the user to convert it into a relational DB or read it into a GIS for further analysis.
  • There is the ArchaeoCosmos initiative of the Capodistria University of Athens.  This seems to be an umbrella site for housing disparate and non-integrated projects related to the geography of ancient Greece but this site appears to be still in its beginning stages. I wasn't able to reach anything useful through their online interface.
  • There is the specialized site called Topostext under the leadership of my friend Brady Kiesling.  Topostext successfully marries the landscape of Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Greece with thousands of site names mentioned in the ancient literature; invaluable for any readers of those texts.
  • The Barrington Atlas is the basis for the Pleiades project which covers the Archaic through Roman periods.  I have some questions about their attempt to repurpose the Barrington Atlas data.
  • A very useful survey of digital projects relating to the Northern Aegean (and Greece generally) can be found in the paper by Despoina Tsiafaki and Natasa Michailidou, 'Ways to Cope with the Scientific ARENA: Taking the Results of Archaeological Research a Step Further', which came out of the Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies (CHNT) no. 23, 2018.  The paper is online here.  This paper reflects the approach of the ARENA digital project which is dedicated to making information available about a large number of find-spots in Macedonia and Thrace (8th to 1st centuries BC).  Their site is here.
  • The Luwian Studies site, directed by Dr. Eberhard Zangger, is an excellent and highly accurate, source of information about western Anatolia and I have leaned on it heavily as it covers an area with which I have little familiarity.
  • The Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire seems comprehensive and well-intentioned but rather pedestrian as it tells the user little of what he or she would like to know.
  • The finest site I know of that marries specific kinds of information (Levantine ceramics) with an atlas is the Levantine Ceramics Project whose home page is here. The history of the development of this project is here. This site is proof that a committee can, on occasion, design something splendid. It provides multiple entry points to its data and a nearly faultless search system. Let me give an example: I started by searching for 'Mycenaean' and then learned that that was a synonym for 'Philistine Monochrome'. I clicked on that name and got a page describing Philistine Monochrome ware and its dates. On that page was a list of sites where such ware was found. I then clicked 'View on Map' and was taken to a leaflet map plate on which the area where such ware is found was outlined. The map page also listed the find sites for this ware. When the 'vessels of this ware were found' check box was checked a list of a dozen or so places was displayed. Then I clicked on one of those (K.6.162a) a close-up map of the site was displayed with further buttons to look at individual items.  Here is what that page looks like:

In the center, and surrounding the site is a spiral of paddle images.  Each one is clickable and supplies more information about the items found there.  This web site is a perfect marriage of function and information with an atlas.

  • The Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land, or DAAHL, is the interface to a DB that records on the order of 100,000 find sites in the Levant and Egypt.  I do not see an institutional sponsor; I believe that it is solely the work of the consortium of scholars who are listed under 'Contributors'.  It is a very valuable repository of information about the Levant but it gives distinct signs of being unloved.  Broken links and links that go nowhere, software errors, confused usability issues - all these make the experience more frustrating than it needs to be.  I hope that this resource can find the curatorship that it deserves.  This site has the potential to be as good as the Levantine Ceramics Project but right now - it isn't.

There are also many partial gazetteers of the ancient world in articles and books. A good example of this is Goodison and Guarita which covers the Mesara in Crete.  Such sources can be found in the database bibliography and scattered throughout the site itself.  The M.A.P. coverage of some forty of the most prominent can be examined directly from the Control Page of the M.A.P. itself.

What is required to identify a site?

Computer people like to think in -tuples - the smallest set of things required to accomplish a task.  Doubles, triples, and so forth.  In this case the question is what is the smallest number of elements required to uniquely identify a site?  I maintain that this is a quadruple because site identification requires four things. 

  • The first is a unique identifier that must be more than just a simple number.  It  must be unambiguous, applied to only one site, and the same denomination rule must apply to all sites.  It cannot be sub-classed; its role is not to explain but to identify.  
  • The second item is a latitude/longitude pair.  It doesn't matter what system.   UTM/WGS84/GGRS87 and even What 3 Words are all interconvertible without loss of accuracy. 
  • The third item is a rating that expresses the degree of confidence in your location.  Many sites in this field are not precisely locatable and that raises the problem of reliability.  A subjective measure of accuracy goes some way to increasing confidence in placement. 
  • The fourth and last item is actually the most important.  That is a bibliography of the site by which one may demonstrate that everyone is talking about the same thing.  This reduces, although it does not eliminate, the problem of thinking that two distinct sites are one, or of promoting one site into two based only on significantly different descriptions.  Without a bibliography these are errors that are all too easy to commit.
Notice one thing here.  The concept of a name, a string of characters or digits, uniquely designating the site is missing.  The Greek name-space is sparse and the result is a great deal of repetition.  The concept of the 'name' of a site is not essential to identifying it.  The question here is 'what can we dispense with in uniquely identifying a site?'  The name-string is one of those things that we can dispense with.

Why is accuracy important?  There are two reasons.

The first is that accuracy makes it possible to ask and answer important questions. My very strong feeling is that, in the field, and no matter what you find, whether it’s a worn, barely recognizable sherd or a palace complex, Datum One is where the object was found, exactly.    Why is accuracy of location so important when generations of archaeologists have supposed it to be unimportant?  Accuracy of location is important because only that can relate your specific find to everything else.  For example,

  • how far is it on the average from a BA habitation to a water source?  
  • What’s the standard deviation of that distance?  
  • What’s the average elevation of a BA settlement, tholos, chamber tomb?  
  • Is the average habitation above or below the average BA cemetery?  
  • What’s the average distance from a habitation to its associated cemetery (when such an association can be determined)?  
  • How many BA habitations do we know that were within 100 m of the ocean?  500 m?  1000 m?  
  • Did the Mycenaeans live in the mountains?
  • In the LH IIIC settlements were often moved to higher elevations for safety. This is probably true. Can we prove it?
  • What proportion of BA habitations were obviously maritime in orientation or were not so oriented?  
  • How many habitations with a LH IIIB2 or LH IIIC burn layer are there and how are they distributed, exactly?   
How about some accurate and useful maps of all those variables?

Second, accuracy is crucial because on that rests the potential to perform an almost unending array of analyses using already available databases.  Without accuracy of place there is no accurate elevation data, no accurate slope or site aspect analysis, no usable 3D modelling, no intervisibility analysis, no accurate positioning in relationship to water sources or geological setting.  There are a number of databases about Greece which are online which could be fruitfully integrated to a Bronze Age database such as the M.A.P. but which rely on accurate locations in order to be useful.   Garbage-in, garbage-out is the inflexible rule

A good example of this (nearly mis-fired) promise is given in an article by Wong  [2020] which demonstrates the types of analysis possible - in this case for the island of Naxos.  Naxos was explored very early in the twentieth century by, among others, Stephanos.  He discovered a number of cemeteries whose locations were not always adequately recorded.  Despite the best efforts of later researchers, notably Doumas and Renfrew, there is still a great deal of imprecision concerning the exact locations of some of these sites.   Consequent to the surveys of the Stelida Naxos Archaeological Project (SNAP) Wong wrote a series of invaluable articles describing the various types of analysis that were available along with very suggestive results.  Unfortunately many of Wong's sites were incorrectly placed (this was not his fault) and so his analysis was somewhat weakened.  Nonetheless I strongly recommend these articles for their valuable array of analytical techniques.

The great advantage of the digital approach is that errors (inevitable) can be corrected rapidly and cheaply.  The cost gradient for digital work is so low and the work  time so rapid that it seems obvious that the day of the printed book or article (along with their infuriating pay-walls) is finished.  Already researchers have more rapid access to a far greater array of material online than they would have even in all of our research libraries with, perhaps, the exception of the very greatest.

As fine as the prospect of powerful analysis may be the plain fact is that BA and other historical studies are imperceptibly moving from the data-gathering phase into the data input phase.  This will last for another half century at least.   I emphasize that this is my personal opinion only.


In light of this the Mycenaean Atlas Project is dedicated to carrying out a Baby Step. 
  • The goal of the MAP is simply to specify, as accurately as possible, the location of as many Bronze Age sites as are discoverable.  The emphasis is on the culture of the Mycenaeans but the actual extent of the Atlas is further than that.
  • To provide additional material to illustrate why each of the sites was included.  To that end nearly all sites have additional information that tries to say what they were or how they were used as well as the period of time in which they were built or used. 
  • To provide analysis tools that allows further investigation of the sites in context.
  • To make all of this information available to whoever might wish to use it or refer to it.  To that end the MAP takes the form of a relational database of BA sites.  It has online presence because it was wrapped in PHP software.  From a usability point of view this makes it exactly the same as the vast majority of sites on the internet. 


The entire DB is now available to anyone who wants it either in .sql form or through the online interface.  Its URL is or

Given that this goal of inclusive and accurate placement can be achieved it is crucial to try to show what kinds of analysis can be carried out on such a database. 

First what is the granularity at which these sites can be examined?  Sites may be analyzed and examined singly or in groups.  Single sites are identified by their place key which takes the form Cnnn or Cnnnn.  Typing the  place key into the search box (on any page) will take you to the Place Key Report page for that site.


<More about single site analysis: Types of analysis available are intervisibility, site aspect, nearest neighbors, and three-dimensional models>

  • Intervisibility shows what sites are visible from your chosen single site within circle of 13 km in diameter. It returns a map with your central site in blue and intervisible sites in green.
  • Site Aspect allows the examination of the slope and aspect of the ground around any site. It computes the slope at 150 and 300 m. from the site in the four cardinal directions. Based on these eight measurements it identifies the aspect of the site (which way it faces).
  • Nearest Neighbors is a multi-way display of the distance and bearing from any site to its neighbors within a 1.5 km radius. This returns a map with the nearest neighbors in a circle of 3 km. radius. It provides graphs of distance and direction
  • Three-dimensional models are available for about three-quarters of the sites. I was assisted in this by Xavier Fischer of He created the models which are hosted on And although this is a different site the model experience is seamless to the user.

The Mycenaean Atlas Project controls page allows the user to define groups of sites in order to analyze them as a group.   The simplest means of defining a group  is by region; you may, for example,  be interested in all the sites on Aegina or in Messenia.  You may do that from the Control Page either by pull-down menus or by using the thumbnail maps at the bottom of the page.  When you click on the thumbnail it expands into a page-size map from which you can choose your region of interest.
You can also choose groups of sites by Ceramic Horizon (Period) or by type or by some combination of the three criteria (Region,  Period, Type).

Once selected you can choose to get a map of these sites or a series of detailed reports.

There are five different reports available for each group search:

  • Aspect and Slope -This page provides an analysis of all the slopes and aspects of the sites in your group
  • Gazetteer - Simple but useful.  An alphabetical list of the sites in your group complete with  links to the sites.
  • Elevation - This provides charts and analyses of the elevations of the sites in your chosen group.
  • Chronology - This is a chart which shows all the ceramic horizons attested for your site groups
  • Bibliography - This consists of a bibliography of all the works used in investigating the sites in your chosen group.

Lessons Learned

  • There are many databases online that cover important topics such as hydrography and geology.  These can be integrated into a product like the Mycenaean Atlas Project in the same way that the API for elevations was integrated (  It is good to plan for this from the beginning.
  • It might be time to redevelop this product to use  a robust GIS such as ArcGIS or QGIS.  The M.A.P. was developed using a rudimentary GIS which consisted of Google Earth  Professional along with database support in the form of MySQL.
The Greek toponymical name space is relatively sparse.  The ancient Greeks were the sort of  people who took along a whole 'culture package' when they migrated to new areas.  This resulted in their naming new features with old names that had been applied to similar things. 

Counter to this re-use of names each site has a long history of renaming, duplications, abandonments, and resettlements consequent to dialectical development, conquest, reconquest, population movement, and changes of language.  Much archaeology in this world was done a long time ago and as a result obsolete names are often embedded in the archaeological literature.  This constitutes a problem of its own.

And yet it is this that gives BA toponymy its subtlety and charm.

  • As more databases  with differing time  periods are integrated the problem of mutations of names becomes more acute.  It is not be enough any more to content ourselves with a simple name or ID mapping to a lat/lon pair.  We need a more dynamic toponymical model that is suitable for historians as well as geographers.  This should be a model that links 'places' diachronically and not just in space.  It might be better to think of replacing Greek toponymical names with an accompanying story of name change (if I could think of a way to represent this).  This in turn starts with a completely redesigned database required to support such a presentation style.

For the Future

  • The future will undoubtedly see the further integration of databases that are now separate.  In order to facilitate this task the international community should define a standard relational database format to which individual contributors can adhere.
  • Compendia of site and  place locations will be of little use unless each of the sites is curated.  Databases that match site name with a lat/lon  pair will never be of much use.
... and a warning:

Thanks go to:

The primary contributor to the Mycenaean Atlas Project besides myself is Dr. Sarah Murray of the University of Toronto in Canada.    Several years ago I read her article (Murray [2014]) and learned that she had gathered a database of some 4000 LB and early IA sites.  She generously agreed to share this data with me.  From that data I culled about 2900 sites and from these was able to enrich those I already had as well as add about 1600 more that I did not yet have.

I have very generous friends and collaborators in Greece who have been kind enough to send me pictures and current observations  of several sites.  Among these I must mention 'Pete'  for working with me enthusiastically and selflessly for the last five years.  He has been instrumental in correcting errors and enhancing my understanding of a number of places in Messenia.  This product would be much poorer without his involvement.  Also Dr. Hajo Becker from Germany who has contributed photographs and whose numerous trips to Greece as well as thoughtful observations have helped me to precisely place several sites.

Dr. Michael Boyd (Oxford) kindly shared photographs and information about Kopanaki in Messenia.

Dr. Alex Knodell (Carleton College) worked with me on finding specific locations for many sites in Sterea Ellada.  I thank him warmly for affording me this opportunity.

Dr. Raphael Orgeolet (Aix-Marseille University) generously contributed location corrections for Kouophovouno (C988).

Dr. Dimitri Nakassis (University of Colorado at Boulder) contributed corrections for C6679, Chosti on Naxos.

Mr. Brady Kiessling of who encouraged me and who has provided invaluable information.

Many scholars have been kind enough to provide copies of their papers.  Among these is Dr. Rainer Felsch who  kindly provided his paper, ‘'Das Kastro Souvalas bei Kalapodi'’, which allowed me to correct the position of C6887 (when I had no other means of doing so).

I would be very remiss in not thanking Dr. Daniel Libatique and the professionals of the Ancient MakerSpaces organization who afforded me the opportunity to describe this project.

And, of course, special thanks to Michael P. Speidel, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii at Manoa who, all those years ago, set my feet on 'the right path.'

Any  errors that remain in these pages are mine. Any opinions that I state here or in the M.A.P. are also mine and mine alone and cannot be attributed to any of the people that I have named.


[1] The SCS website is here. The AIA website is here. The Ancient MakerSpaces page for the 2022 session in San Francisco is here.


Felsch, Rainer [2018]:  Felsch, Rainer , 'Das Kastro Souvalas bei Kalapodi' in Papakonstantinou et al. [2018] 73-82.  Online here.

Goodison and Guarita [2005]:  Goodison, Lucy and Carlos Guarita. ‘A New Catalogue of the Mesara-Type Tombs’,  Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici [47], pp. 171-212, 2005.  Online here.

Murray [2014]:  Murray, Sarah, "Qualitative Data, Hypothesis Testing and Archaeological Narratives: Was there ever a Greek Dark Age?" in C. Papadopoulos, E. Paliou, A. Chrysanthi, E. Kotoula, and A. Sarris (eds.) Archaeological Research in the Digital Age: Proceedings of the 1st Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology. Greek Chapter (CAA-GR), Rethymno, Crete, 6-8 March 2014. (IMS-FORTH): 64–69. Online here.

Papakonstantinou et al. [2018]:  Papakonstantinou, Maria-Foteni and Charalampos Kritzas, Ioannes P. Touratsoglou (editors). Πύρρα Melétes gia tin archaiología stin Kentrikí Elláda pros timín tis Fanourías Dakorónia. Athens, SEMA Ekdotike.

Wong [2020]:    Wong, Todd.  'GIS Summary of SNAP 2019 (Part 3): Analyzing Extracted Results', esri Canada, Centres of Excellence.  Published in 2020 in the  'McMaster Blog'.  This article (part 3) is online here. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 4 is here.