Review of ‘Interpreting Ground-Penetrating Radar for Archaeology’ by Lawrence B. Conyers

06th November 2013


GPR-for-Archaeology-cover-LRInterpreting Ground-Penetrating Radar for Archaeology 
by Lawrence B. Conyers, 2011, Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, 220 pp. ISBN 978-1-61132-216-3 (hbk).

Review by Ian Moffat

Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5001, Australia

This guide to ground-penetrating radar (GPR) interpretation for archaeology by the foremost practitioner in this field, Professor Larry Conyers from the University of Denver, is a lavishly illustrated, engaging written essential addition to any budding or practising archaeological geophysicist’s bookshelf. Conyers writes in a lively and easy-to-read style that eschews jargon and will facilitate any reader learning more about how GPR surveys are (or should be) interpreted, regardless of their level of geophysical experience.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that my decision to give this book a positive review was made while reading the preface, where Conyers (2012:15) states:

Some of the new recruits to GPR research are under the erroneous impression that once they have access to the acquisition equipment, they can go out and collect some data, process it, using software that leads them through a number of processing steps, and–presto!–useful images can be magically produced.

In this statement Conyers punctures the greatest popular misconception about the use of GPR, before going on, throughout the course of this book, to provide readers with a detailed critical insight into the methodology behind, and the results from, a large number of his own GPR surveys. As a result, this is an intensely personal book, almost a GPR autobiography, in which Conyers discusses these surveys in terms of the development of his own intellectual approach to geophysics, particularly (and honestly) highlighted by his mistakes along the way. As Conyers was one of the first operators to apply GPR to archaeological questions, this book also serves as a history of the development of this approach, driven often by the availability of new acquisition and processing methodologies or technology.

The greatest strength of this book is the superbly presented images, which showcase a wide range of GPR data, as well as many images of the sites from which it was collected. This provides a practical introduction to the GPR response in profile and amplitude maps from a variety of archaeological and geological features which will be an invaluable guide to any interpreter of geophysical data. This is particularly highlighted in the chapter titled ‘Graves and Cemeteries’ (pp.129–152), which includes a wide range of GPR profiles showing possible burials including coffins, an arched casket, a crypt, a concrete-lined crypt, a metal casket, a decomposed burial, soil slumping in a grave, homogenised grave-fill, bones, a mass grave and a direct comparison between caskets with and without a void space. Such a treasure trove of comparative data demonstrates the diversity of GPR responses from graves, hopefully broadening the mind of an interpreter beyond a simple ‘anomaly picking’ methodology.

It is difficult to find fault with this excellent volume, but it is important to recognise this as a personal introduction to GPR interpretation, rather than a comprehensive overview of the technique and its archaeological application. It draws very extensively on Conyers’ own publications, rather than summarising the relevant literature overall. In my opinion, this enhances rather than detracts from the book; readers seeking a more general overview to the topic can find it elsewhere, including in Conyers’ own earlier book (Conyers 2004).

This book will be an essential reference for anyone actively applying GPR techniques in archaeology but reaches beyond this (very limited) demographic to become an essential resource for anyone collaborating with geophysicists or, most importantly, trying to gain an understanding of what GPR might contribute to their archaeological investigation.

References

Conyers, L.B. 2004 Ground-Penetrating Radar for Archaeology. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press

Ian Moffat
Review of 'Interpreting Ground-penetrating Radar for Archaeology' by Lawrence B. Conyers
Dec 2013
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