Flat maps and steep slopes: How simple measurements can misrepresent site densities

22nd May 2014

Tessa Corkill

Introduction*

Under the heading Sloping Ground, A.L. Higgins (1970:9) writes:

Already, doubtless, you have been wondering how hills, valleys and undulations will affect your measurements. Over two thousand years ago government officials were worried about the matter, and quite possibly at this moment some contractor has a headache about it.

When I came across this statement (having been directed to the book by my encyclopaedic friend John) I had almost worked my way through just such a headache. The problem I had been pondering on was thus: archaeologists frequently compare numbers and types of sites in different areas, often by working out the number of sites per square kilometre, or some such unit. Measurements seem usually to be calculated from maps (i.e. horizontal plane, two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional topography). I wondered how local topography would affect or bias these calculations. It seemed logical that the actual ground surface area of sloping land would be greater than the apparent area calculated from measurements on a flat map. But how significant a difference was this likely to be?

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Corkill, T.
Flat maps and steep slopes: How simple measurements can misrepresent site densities
December 1992
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Short Report
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