Archaeology and GIS—The Linux Way

A description of an archaeology project making use of the freely available geographic information system GRASS.
GRASS 5.0—The Next Generation

On Feb. 1, 1999, Baylor and Hannover simultaneously released the GRASS 5.0 beta. This was the first major upgrade to GRASS in a number of years. The demand was so high that downloads at Baylor accounted for 20% of the entire university Internet traffic. To date, several thousand unique downloads of Linux GRASS have been made from the Hannover site, which is currently transferring 5GB a week. This volume is steadily increasing. A stable release of GRASS 5.0 is planned for early summer—by the time you read this. Currently, bug reports are being collected and fixes applied to the code. The code is also being modified to make GRASS 64-bit compliant.

Figure 4. NVIZ, a 3-D Visualization Tool

The most significant new features of GRASS 5.0 are floating-point support in raster format and an improved sites format. Because all raster modules have to be rewritten, this is a major step in GRASS development. For the stable 5.0 version, several other projects are on the list. The NVIZ tool, a robust three-dimensional visualization tool, is currently being ported to Linux and other UNIX systems from SGI to aid in viewing 3-D GRASS data with raster/vector/sites overlaying features (Figure 4). This tool allows users to display 3-D raster data as stacked layers, with raster, vector and sites draped as overlays. It will be a very useful (and much sought-after) tool for data visualization.

To encourage user development of GRASS routines, the GRASS 5.0 programmer's tutorial will be available very soon. In the near future, the growth of GRASS will include introducing a new vector format. This is part of the long-term plan to continue the evolution of GRASS to a true 3-D/4-D GIS system. It will incorporate an improved 3-D raster format and new 3-D vector formats.

Linux GRASS is Spreading

A friend recently summed up the future of GRASS and Linux quite well. He was leaving a research position to go work for a state agency using their expensive off-the-shelf GIS and remote-sensing packages; however, he had also worked with GRASS on a Sun box. Before he left, he sat down with me to get some information on setting up a Linux box on his office Wintel machine. As he said, “I need to be able to get the real spatial work done on a stable platform that is not going to crash; those commercial packages on Wintels are just too buggy.” When I sent him a copy of this last paragraph now that he has been in the office for some months, he responded, “You can say that again and again and again....” One more sign that the Linux juggernaut continues on its way into the workplace.

R. Joe Brandon ( is completing his M.A. in archaeology at the University of Arkansas, where he works at the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST). He first began working with GRASS in early 1993. He runs MkLinux at home. He enjoys spending time relaxing and traveling with his fiancée Kristy, playing with his cats, B&W photography and web development.

Trevor Kludt ( is working on his dissertation in archaeology at the University of New Mexico. His interests include GIS and spatial modeling applications in archaeology and development of new methodologies which take advantage of the power of GIS. Trevor has been using Linux and GRASS since 1995. When not doing archaeology, he likes to travel or tend his medicinal herb garden.

Markus Neteler ( recently received his M.Sc. in Physical Geography at the University of Hannover, Germany. The focus of his work is on GIS/Remote Sensing using GRASS. Markus is also a member of the GRASS Research Group at Baylor University. GRASS on a Linux box is his recommendation for researchers today and into the future. Playing oboe in a classical symphony orchestra compensates for his computer work.



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You should give a look to

Anonymous's picture

You should give a look to this site:

GRASS continues to grow in archaeology

Anonymous's picture

It is fascinating to see how GRASS is holding its own against the major player ESRI. With the price point of ArcMap out of this world GRASS is continuing to be a great tool for archaeologists and other earth scientists.

GRASS 6.0 now out (Linux, Mac, Windows)

R. Joe's picture

Very nice and easy install of a great free GIS with image processing functions.

You can read about the current version at:

There will also be discussion on its applications for image processing and GIS at

Re: Archaeology and GIS--The Linux Way

Anonymous's picture

Really interesting. I'm an archaeologist working in Spain and up to now, because of the price of Arcview hadn't tried any GIS system, but certainly this is a step forward and should be implemented and supported.

Re: Archaeology and GIS--The Linux Way

Anonymous's picture

This is excellent! I wish there were more stories and examples on the web for using GRASS, especially now in 2003 with ArcView taking over the market!