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Simplifying Archaeological Survey with Reach RS+

An important aspect of archaeological fieldwork concerns gathering spatial data—after all, the locations of all the finds need to be mapped and documented. On the one hand, hiring a land surveyor for this purpose is not always an option, given the limited budgets of most archaeological projects. However, when archaeologists decide to measure spatial data themselves, they often face difficulties setting up complicated surveying equipment and getting precise results. 

Things are different when it comes to Reach receivers. You no longer need to carry bulky equipment on a site, undergo special training on its operation, or worry about the accuracy of positioning data. In this article, you’ll learn how Reach RS+ receivers can ease your work during an archaeological survey, facilitating fast, accurate, and user-friendly data recording. Our user, Sarah Murray, shared her experience of how Reach devices have helped her archaeological team, currently working on a survey around the bay of Porto Rafti in Greece. 

Porto Rafti area map
A map of the area surveyed by Sarah’s archaeological team

Precise and easy-to-use RTK receivers in archeology

Having been involved in archaeological projects since 2003, Sarah Murray has witnessed how much geospatial technology has evolved—from total stations to RTK receivers. At one time, to acquire spatial data, archaeologists had to deal with total stations. Working with heavy and difficult-to-use total stations was time-consuming. Moreover, they require triangulation from highly precise reference datums—while these are established for excavations, they are not usually available throughout a whole survey region.

Instead of total stations, throughout the early 2000s and 2010s, most survey archaeologists tended to rely on handheld GPS units for marking finds and features in the landscape. They were much more affordable, portable, and easy to use than total stations; however, they fall far short of scientific standards regarding data accuracy. Eventually, RTK technology took over handheld GPS. Read more about different options of gathering spatial data for archaeological surveys in Sarah’s detailed article.

The ease of use combined with the high data accuracy of RTK receivers has made this technology essential for archaeological surveys. Reach receivers function through a simple, user-friendly ReachView 3 app so that even team members without a GIS background can be quickly trained to set up Reach. The units are lightweight and easy to use. All it takes is a couple of receivers acting as a rover and a base station and the ReachView 3 mobile app to manage a surveying project. 

“The original ReachView app was a great improvement over the interfaces provided by traditional RTK units, but now with the new ReachView 3 app, the system is so intuitive that it essentially runs itself. Even team members who have never so much as touched advanced geospatial equipment were quick to get going with a survey using ReachView 3. The new app is also even more stable and reliable than the old app, so we can rely on never losing important data or time fiddling about with a platform during precious hours in the field.”

Sarah Murray, co-director of the Bays of East Attica Regional Survey 

Surveying in eastern Attica with Reach RS+

Sarah’s team started working with Reach RS+ back in 2019 during the project’s first season, called the Bays of East Attica Regional Survey. Their archaeological project aims to expand scholarly knowledge about the area’s history around the modern town and bay of Porto Rafti in eastern Attica. Although it looks like just another Greek resort town, Porto Rafti is incredibly rich in archaeological material, with several sites dating from the Final Neolithic to Late Roman periods.

The team used Reach RS+ units to accurately map features (walls and other manmade modifications to the landscape) and set out survey units, like 20×20 meter grid squares, to track where the collected artifacts originated in the field.

  • Archaeologists map extensive features
    Archaeologists map extensive features on the Koroni peninsula, Greece (photos by Sarah Murray; Maeve McHugh)

In 2019, the team used two Reach RS+ units—one as a base and another one as a rover, to plot survey units and take points on the locations of features. To start the day, the base was installed on a reference point—usually on the acropolis of Koroni, the main Hellenistic citadel in the survey area, or the peak of Raftis island, where the team was documenting a major Late Bronze Age site. After that, the compact Reach rover could be freely moved across the site by any team member assigned to layout survey units or map other aspects of the archaeological landscape. The researchers collected spatial data with the ReachView app and found the workflow quite simple.

“Instead of using a proprietary data processing computer, Reach RS+ runs from an app that’s free to download on a tablet or smartphone, so you need to bring even less equipment into the field. The app is super intuitive to use and pretty much always worked as it was supposed to.”

Sarah Murray, co-director of the Bays of East Attica Regional Survey
  • map of the survey on the Koroni peninsula
    A map of the survey on the Koroni peninsula, 2019

The new surveying season in eastern Attica began in 2021, focusing on a new site: the islet of Praso. Although moving to a new location, the team continues to use Reach RS+ units. This year, the team switched to a base-free system, applying the Greek HEPOS RTK corrections service to provide RTK corrections through a cell phone internet network. The archaeologists no longer need to set up a base, using just a rover and the corrections transmitted through the HEPOS system. They simply turn on the Reach RS+ rover unit, launch the ReachView 3 app on a phone or iPad, connect to the corrections service, and immediately have access to centimeter-accurate positioning. With high precision, archeologists set up the survey grid and record the location of the finds in the area. 

Among the finds, there are, of course, the usual piles of pottery and tile, but also things that are rarely found on the surface, like ceramic wasters, pieces of ore, glass, figurines, obsidian and chert lithics, and even fragments of ancient ceramic kilns.

“With all of these special and exciting finds, it is extra important that the spatial data the team captures is precise and accurate: so we’re really happy that Reach RS+ makes good survey data easy and fast to acquire!”

Sarah Murray, co-director of the Bays of East Attica Regional Survey
  • Archaeologists working on the islet of Praso
    Archaeologists working on the islet of Praso in Porto Rafti, Greece (photos by J. Frankl)

About the Project

The Bays of East Attica Regional Survey (or BEAR) is an ongoing international archaeological project started in 2019. The project is co-directed by Sarah Murray, a historian and archaeologist with a Ph.D. in Classics. She currently teaches at the University of Toronto, Canada, and focuses on early Greece.

Reach RS+ for Archaeology

A pair of Reach RS+ units became a complete and straightforward solution for archaeological fieldworks. Acting as a base and a rover, receivers provide centimeter accuracy for locating discovered artifacts and can be easily operated on a site. The receivers come with the ReachView 3 app that helps configure receivers, collect and stake out points with no extra effort. Learn more about using Reach RS+ in archaeology on our webpage. To order the receivers, go to our online store.