Maintaining GIS Continuity on an Ever-Changing Campus

Written by: Katy Meyers Emery

Primary Source: MSU Campus Archaeology Program Blog, October 13, 2015

For the Midwest Archaeology Conference (November 5-7, 2015) this year, I’m going to be co-authoring an oral presentation on how we maintain continuity in the MSU Campus Archaeology Program when we have a consistently shifting group of graduate and undergraduates working for it. This is my sixth (that’s right, sixth) year working with CAP as a graduate student, so I have a unique perspective on how the program has maintained its goals, expanded its reach and developed over the last half decade. The presentation will discuss the roll that students, particularly the Campus Archaeologist, plays in running the program effectively, and the ways in which we promote continuity through selecting students with a strong commitment to CAP, ensuring overlap between campus archaeologists, and maintaining a strong record of prior work through field notes and digital media.We maintain continuous institutional memory, and promote a strong sense of collaboration and teamwork among both the current students and alumnus of the program.

When I arrived here back in 2010 as a first year graduate student, my first project was using a geographic information system (GIS) analysis to determine the most likely locations for prehistoric sites on campus. At this point, we had not found good evidence for prehistoric occupation of the campus, it wasn’t until summer 2011 that we found our first site and solid evidence. The model used a number of variables to determine where prehistoric sites may be found- settlements and human activity were most likely to occur within 300 meters of water, within a slope less than 5% steepness, near edible vegetation, and we were more likely to find material in areas that weren’t disturbed by prior construction. Overall, the project was not very successful, but it did get me started working on the CAP GIS database, and since then I’ve developed a more robust GIS database for the program, taught an undergrad to do GIS analysis and data input for CAP, and have helped to maintain the database as we add new layers and shapefiles when new excavations and surveys occur.

The CAP GIS database is one of the important tools in creating continuity and maintaining the program despite changes in students involved. Our CAP GIS database was first created by Chris Stawski, and since then Josh Schnell and myself have been active in maintaining it. Having an up to date and accurate spatial database is critical for archaeological work. It demonstrates where we have and have not excavated, what areas need further attention, areas that might be good for future field schools, and allows us to analyze the materials we uncover broadly in space. As each new Campus Archaeologist begins their work- the GIS database provides an important source of information for learning about the archaeological landscape of MSU. Further, this spatial information is important when communicating with broader MSU departments like Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities, and Landscaping. By showing them areas of high sensitivity, we ensure that they help to protect our heritage.

This year is my last year as a graduate student, which means it is my last year in the Campus Archaeology program. Part of my goal this year, is to make sure that my six years of work with the CAP GIS gets recorded accurately so that the next person in charge of the GIS database will know how it is organized, the coding for our files, where new files get placed in the database, how they all relate to one another, and so on. Part of ensuring that CAP has continuity means planning for when you are no longer part of the program and making sure that the next person will be able to access, use and expand your work without issue. This morning, I took time to audit our GIS database, make sure all the files were in their correct places, find bugs and issues, and I am now in the process of writing down everything that went into creating this. My goal is not to create a final product- my goal is to leave behind a spatial database that will be used and expanded in the future.

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Katy Meyers Emery
Katy is currently a graduate student studying mortuary archaeology at Michigan State University. Her academic interests are in mortuary and bioarchaeology, with a specific interest in connecting the physical remains to the mortuary context. Along with this, she is also interested in Digital Humanities, and the integration of technology into academia, as well as public archaeology and outreach.
Katy Meyers Emery

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