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The programming archaeologist

Jack Loo | June 27, 2013
A Japanese professor is writing his own code to assist in his survey operations.

An archaeologist from Japan's Okayama University is writing his own geographic information system (GIS) programs to survey ancient Japanese burial mounds or Kofun.

Professor Izumi Niiro claims that there are very few archaeologists in Japan, if any, who produce their own software programs to analyse geographic information.

"I first became aware of geographic information systems during a sabbatical at Southampton University in 1991," explained Professor Niiro. "I decided to experiment with this technology for archaeological surveying when I returned to Japan. It enables me to visualise and analyse many types of geographical information such as topographic details of maps."

Initially, Professor Niiro started by using IDRISI, a GIS tool developed by Clark University. "These days I use GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) open source system software," said Professor Niiro. "The data analysis was initially done using the Perl programming language, but these days I use Python."

Kofun are burial mounds built between the third to seventh centuries in Japan. One example of Professor Niiro's findings is a visualisation of a bronze mirror from the early Kofun Period in the third century.

"I wrote my own software to visualise the surface of the mirror based on 3D scan information," explained Professor Niiro. "Our results clearly show a triangular-rimmed mirror that is decorated with deities and beasts."

Recently, Professor Niiro extended his research into the effects of disasters on culture and civilisation. "The recent massive earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku has led to the rise in 'disaster archaeology'. The Kofun Period ended in 600 AD probably due to climate change. This led to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan. Archeologists still have a lot to do."


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