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Changing scale: from site through landscape to taskscape within airborne remote

sensing perspective
Mikoaj Kostyrko*a, Wodzimierz Rczkowskia, Dominik Ruciskib

Institute of Prahistory, Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozna, ul. Umultowska 89d, 61-614
Pozna, Poland; bWasat Sp. z o.o., ul. urawia 22, 00-515 Warszawa, Poland

In consequence of a long tradition, archaeologists focus on individual sites and features and not landscape itself. We
propose to perceive the landscape as a taskscapes, a space where tasks are performed, by that its own identity is created.
Airborne remote sensing methods establish a possibility of studies on a larger scale of and to perceive places as context
for landscapes and vice versa. On the other hand we would like to draw attention to identification of paleoenvironment
features in the context of past landscapes. Although it is not always possible to determine the relationship between these
element and traces of past human activities, we must be aware that in the past they had and influence on human behavior.
In this paper will address the question: how much do airborne remote sensing data through the ability to change the scale
of our perspective upon archaeological sites and their local landscapes alter or enrich interpretation of the context of past
human activities.

Keywords: archaeology, airborne remote sensing, satellite imagery, aerial photography, earth observation techniques,
landscape, cultural heritage, taskscape

Landscape studies has long been an important topic of archaeological research1,2,3. They are governed by different
theoretical perspectives4,5,6,7,8. Since few decades airborne remote sensing (ARS) methods play very important role in
those studies9,10. Curiously a noticeable increase of interest shifting towards studies of landscape have not changed the
dominant research practice. In consequence of a long tradition archaeologists still focus on individual sites and features
and not landscape itself. This state is not influenced by the change of application of new research methods (including
ARS). Many examples can be found where the idea of landscape is confined to archeological site(s) 11,12,13. The use of
ARS fits in also with the traditional approach and no new conceptual approaches have emerged, which would open the
way to modify research practices. This problem has been noticed in archaeological literature, especially related to the
application of ARS14. Landscape if studied is pushed to seek relation between dispersion of archaeological sites. In this
case conclusions are drawn and interpretations are grounded on distribution of archaeological sites and the chronology,
which has been assigned to them. These sites, however often lack context and recall something in a shape of a point
cloud suspended in a vacuum, where researchers connect the dots using links created on the basis of their chosen criteria.
Those criteria usually are based on chronology defined by finds collected during field walking survey, less often by
historical sources or archaeological excavation reports. For obvious reasons the number of the later ones is significantly
smaller. These amount also varies depending on the region as well as on the chronology, as some periods tend to be
favored by archaeologist more than others.
It seems that archaeology has not yet coped with the problem of researching landscape landscape that is more than just
a background for one or more archaeological sites. On the other hand examples show that landscapes can be viewed as
an active context of archaeological sites. Site catchment analysis developed within processual paradigm in archaeology
was invented as a solution to this problem15. This method, however, due to its limitations soon was abandoned15 in favor

Fourth International Conference on Remote Sensing and Geoinformation of the Environment (RSCy2016),
edited by Kyriacos Themistocleous, Diofantos G. Hadjimitsis, Silas Michaelides, Giorgos Papadavid,
Proc. of SPIE Vol. 9688, 96880U 2016 SPIE CCC code: 0277-786X/16/$18 doi: 10.1117/12.2241830
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of analysis performed within Geographic Information System (GIS) environment. Use of this analytical tool led to
creation of new research hypotheses related to past use and perception of landscape, both at the macro, local and micro
scale16,17. GIS analysis in contraire to site catchment analysis, can be performed on three dimensional models, where
multiple variables can be taken in account. However, one can have an impression that if such analysis is performed
researchers tend to get delude by environmental arguments rather than focus on landscape. This situation calls for further
research of analytical tools to study past landscapes. To look further than a site perspective. One of the purposes of this
paper will be to focus on landscape seen as a taskcape7 and by that entity that has a meaning of its own, created by the
tasks that are performed in it and that define it.
To cope with the problem and to comprehend the gap between archaeological site and landscape also means paying
attention to scale. The question of scale in archaeology is not applicable just to precision of measurements. In fact it
affects a wider research problem. A problem of changing the scale form detail to a holistic point of view and back (but
not in the way of inductive and deductive reasoning). Changing the scale of epistemic perception, among the others, can
be related to drawing attention towards and individual or a social group, form something that is temporal to something
that is enduring, from something that is vast to something that is countable18.
When it comes to scale in context of landscapes it may seem obvious that it should be analyzed from the perspective of
human body, at last thats the scale that is imposed on us whether we want it or not. From our experience we can state
that it is easier to interpret the landscape as a set of places, which carry different meanings rather than a continuous entity
where this different meaning would be mashed together, by that also blurred away. This helps us to categorize landscape
by different chosen criteria. Meanwhile archaeologist tend to incorporate research tools that abolish the human scale
into their studies. New methods provide researchers with information which they would not be able to obtain on their
own19. This problem of scale is a problem which we as researchers need to be aware of while studying landscapes,
especially from the perspective of ARS.
What archaeologist expect to find in the landscape in perspective of ARS data? The practice seems to prompt that the
zones of intensive use of space by humans are represented by numerous archeological finds or by distinct changes in
geomorphology and those are possible to be documented with traditional (excavation, field walking) methods. In this
perspective the space between those places which was only occasionally visited may seem as empty spaces. Therefore,
despite our awareness that the landscapes have been alter by human activity in the past, due to selection of research
methods it is not possible to document those traces. However, examples that have undertaken the study of local
landscapes with non-invasive methods have shown that expression empty spaces are not applicable in reference to
landscape20, and that there are only places that require reaching for a wider spectrum of research methods. We must
constantly keep in mind that no ideal tool for a landscape research exist. Depending on the modern land use, nature of
the remains and formation processes different methods yield different kind of effect. To put it in other words study of
landscape and the information we obtain about their past depend on both research questions and applied methods. The
use of non-invasive methods so far has proven to be the most successful in acquiring new information about a landscape
wider than a micro scale. Within those methods we can distinguish ARS as those that gives possibility to investigate a
relatively big area within a short period of time.
For the purpose of this paper we have decided to look at the landscape from the perspective of ARS methods. Due to the
nature of the data acquired by airborne and space borne sensors they can provide a great possibility to researcher
landscapes on all scales. With their help we are able to study both individual places, local landscapes as well as wider
landscape, which in their perspective can be comprehended as a continuum21 and not just a sets of connected places.
Below we will reflect on this questions: how does the scale of analysis between the archaeological site and landscape
perspective opens up new epistemological capabilities? Can landscape seen as a taskscape be an entity that has a meaning
of its own?


Archaeological site is something that draws our attention. Regardless what method we use it is usually the starting point
of our study of the past. Broader perspective upon landscape was also built in relation to a certain place no matter which
theoretical approach was chosen. Methods of data collection in particular way influence our epistemological and
cognitive perspective. During field walking or aerial reconnaissance individual sites where documented. Methods such as
archaeological excavation or geophysical prospection perpetuated such a perspective. One can argue whether method

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determine the theoretical approach or opposite that it is a theory that determined selection of prospection methods22,23. At
this point it is not a problem we would like to discuss.
Introduction of large-scale prospecting methods such as ARS [airborne laser scanning (ALS), satellite imageries] opened
up a new research possibility. The need for building a wider perspective or a view upon landscape was no longer
dependent on patch up known pieces of information gathered on individual elements24,25. The nature of new data allowed
quickly to change the scale of prospection and to study landscape as a holistic entity. Does this change of scale have an
influence also on change of epistemological perspective?
Focusing our attention on a singular archaeological site we tend to notice only certain aspects of past human activity.
This process (to some extent inevitable) limits and reduces our knowledge. This way the object of our study is limited to
investigations concerning isolated environment. Changing the scale and the ability to look from a broader perspective
may shed new light on documented evidence of past human activities. Single place while viewed with a broader context
begins to emerge as a part of a wider structure. New perspective creates new conditions for interpretation. Knowledge
created in such a way also unable to re-investigate and re-interpret assumptions formulated on previous findings. This
situation opens up a space for linking the scale with the hermeneutic circle26.
This briefly outlined perspective of relation between the scale and perception of landscape and by that the construction of
our knowledge, is not enough to develop a new detail study procedure. For the purposes of this paper, we just want to
draw attention to some clues that arise as a consequence of this approach, particularly in the area of potential methods of


Viewing the landscape form the perspective of ARS data one can easily get the impression that the places, that on
archaeological maps are presented as blank spots, today are part of contemporary taskscapes7. Landscape which in this
context is not seen as a sum of static places, rather from the perspective of actions that are performed in it, which
influence significance of landscape upon an individual or a group of people [Fig. 1]. To assume that those places were
not visited in the past and where not in the area of his/her interests or actions would be naive, though such places
certainly exist archaeologist should not take them for granted. As experience shows, mankind through his history has
visited and altered almost every part of the planet. This alteration within time have increased i.e. due to intensive
agriculture and its heavy machinery changing the face of landscape forever20. Consequently, this leads to a situation in
which an attempt to conceptualize the past taskscape may not be possible. However, there are forms of terrain that seem
to be characterized by lower susceptibility to changes. In our observation is that such forms may include former roads27.

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Figure 1. Harvesting - contemporary taskscape near Kaczkowo, Poland. Cropmarks indicate former taskscape of a Neolithic
settlement. Photo. by W. Rczkowski.

Former roads tend to be easy to distinguish on most of the ARS data [Fig. 2]. Those linear structures are wide (up to 8
meters) and long enough to be spotted even on the data provided by a low resolution sensor. In most cases such a
features distinctly stand out of other landscape forms as the straight line that they are is interpreted as a trace of past
human activity. Although problems may occur when a trace is parallel to modern lands use. The other problem which is
common with this kind of features is dating. We can find aid when a non-existing road is indicated on a historical map,
but when such a feature is not marked and it does not connect other features of which chronology is known they tend to
get lost in the biographical narrativisation of past landscapes. There are multiple similar archaeological features
connected to activity of human in the landscape that by the problem of pin pointing their origins to a specific group of
people tend not to be intensively researched. Through application of ARS data we can document many new features,
among many others abandoned quarries, fish ponds, animal traps, charcoal burning platforms, field boundaries can be
mentioned. This situation creates a great challenge in incorporating them in to our perception of the past landscapes. On
the other hand, we must not forget about the agency of past ruins or to put in other words places that represented the
past in the past. Such a places would have been re-used, re-visited but would stay in the margin of every day dwelling,
even so they would play a vital role in creation of taskscape.

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Figure 2. Historical roads have been also spotted leading towards Chemo Mount, although both of them today lead through an area
that is tilled, their own landscape form is still possible to be captured. The difference in the landscape within these features is microtopographic (sometimes even only 20 cm) and it still causes a different vegetation environment bringing the possibility of
distinguishing such features as cropmark where vegetation has slightly better conditions. 1 Ikonos mission (24.04.2009, GEMI
index) 2 Pleiades mission (24.05.2014, GEMI index) 3 ALS derivative (ISOK project/Hill shade). CNES(2014), Distribution
AIRBUS DS. Includes material [2009] DigitalGlobe, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Looking at the traces left in the landscape form the perspective of taskscape and how they appear and disappear we
notice their huge diversity and their ephemerality or to put it differently temporality. This dimension of time/temporality
can be recognized in various ways. Dynamics of human activity in the countryside could lead to such changes, which
either leave observable changes, or on the contrary are noticeable only in a very short period of time. Consider as an
example the division of the fields in the area near Kaczkowo, Poland [Fig. 3]. Here archaeological interest lies in
investigation of the Neolithic settlements traces28. Traces of these settlements were first registered from the air in 2009.
At that moment the problem of interpretation was the division of fields and, consequently, different crops differently
revealing cropmarks. This state lasted until 2015, when all fields have been brought together (the effect of changes in
ownership relations). From the perspective of the needs of archeology this situation made it possible to observe
cropmarks on one type of crop. But in relation to the contemporary (but already past) taskscape there has been a change
in the landscape that is not already been registered in ARS data.

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Figure 3. Kaczkowo, arrows indicate land division and its traces. 1- GeoEye-1 (9.07.2014, panchromatic) [2014]
DigitalGlobe, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, 2- Pleiades (4.08.2015, RGB) CNES (2015), Distribution AIRBUS DS.

The process of erasing traces may have a different time scales/dimension. Usually the form of how the crops are grown
is quite elusive. The example from Przedbojewice (Kujawy Region) shows that such marks may be relatively stable,
although the modern management methods lead to the permanent destruction. It is difficult to assess to what extent these
elements were stable in the landscape during this form of use of the field in the past. However, there are examples that
show taskscape lasting for years, which today is already totally absent. Changes conducted to fragments of landscape are
a typical cultural phenomenon. An example may be orchards, which have been converted to farmlands. Socio-economic
changes in the country led to notching out existing for decades orchards and convert them into farmlands [Fig. 4]. This
is probably related to a new way of functioning of the village, new needs and tasks of the residents. Taskscape changed
significantly. Previous landscape is in part evident in the form of cropmarks. How long will we be able to properly
interpret such traces?
Changes in the landscape resulting from the change of taskcape do not have to be limited to a small scale. In the past
human kind colonized new landscapes, previously inaccessible for various of reasons. Depending on the technical
feasibility or economic and social relations they were either forests or wetlands etc. Many such traces are still readable in
the landscape. But these are often traces of human activities (i.e. irrigation systems, dams, ponds). But can one identify
traces of reclamation of forest?

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Figure 4. Traces of past taskscapes. 1- former land use 2,3 orchards 4 cropmarks indicating traces of a watercourse and
a household next to it. Photo. by W. Rczkowski.

Some of the mentioned features can cast a new view on the past image of lived environment. Finding charcoal platform
burning in the woods using ALS data is not surprising. On the other hand the same features documented by an aerial
photographs on the plough field inverts our understanding of a certain place. Similar situation occurs when in the process
of interpretation, we decide to record paleoenvironmental features. Traces of former environment might today create
problems with defining them to a certain period on a chronological scale. However in the past they could have been
features which were included in process of decisions undertaking by humans while dwelling the landscape [Fig. 4].
Impact of natural features upon the decisions made by people could have been guided by various economic reasons as
well as social and spiritual and most likely those three should not be considered as separate while creating an
interpretation of landscapes or taskscapes. This problem seems to be easier to comprehend from a theoretical perspective,
although when it comes to identifying relations of certain natural features to human activity in the past only problems
occur. It seems like archaeology has not yet developed tools of a convincing perspective which would allow us to create
a picture of landscape which is deprived of traces of human activity. On the other hand, while inspecting ARS data in the
search of such a signs we witness multiple different evidences of contemporary activities from which we learn that many
of them will characterize a short duration of existence [Fig. 1]. They will be impossible for us to document within a short
period of time [Fig. 3]. We do not know how many activities have been conducted in a landscape of which evidence
have been lost to us or are not possible to be documented. However, it does not mean we should not have them in mind
in the process of narrativization of past landscapes. In our opinion it is this omitted aspect within many archaeological
studies that narrows perspectives into the study of places and not landscapes, which should be seen as a continuum.
Without a doubt, the mentioned archaeological features share a common characteristic the problem of determining
their chronology. Therefore, although they are noticed by researchers, often in the final analysis they are omitted. In
counterpoint to this situation stand analysis performer in GIS environment (i.e. least cost path). It is interesting that
archaeologists prefer to base their reasoning on theoretical beings, made in an environment that simulates the world than
to pay closer attention to the study of the landscape and its present and past meaning.

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With introduction of ARS within the scope of archaeological methods, our perception upon the landscape should and is
changed. Landscape should no longer be seen as set of sites, rather as one spatially continuous timespan of temporality.
The space that is designated by us in to role of place has only arbitrarily established borders. Those limitations even
when constructed with a physical form (i.e. walls, embankment etc.) do not protect any space from external influence.
Places may seem as they are created by us alone, and we decide which entities are contained within them or not. On the
other hand, we must remember that life of a place is not only dependent of human actions and is also transformed by
landscape itself (i.e. by agency of natural hazards). On establishing a place also time scale and our knowledge of the past
has also an influence. It is through this information that we ascribe certain meanings to a place. On the other hand
localization or relation to other features or places in the landscape is also important in creation of its identification (i.e.
water source, mountain/s, temples, human settlements)8.
In the context of this thoughts we should answer the question of what should be seen and treated as a cultural heritage.
As it was noted above also natural entities/places29 constitute the context of human activity and create his/her taskscape.
By thus those elements also had an agency upon development of human culture and are a part of it. This perception of
cultural landscape creates a question which parts of past-scapes of human activity should be preserved. Should not all of
the agents that created lives of humans in the past be equally treaded?

Without a doubt, physical phenomena are part of human culture30. Both the tools create by human as well as those on
which formation he/she had not direct impact (i.e. mountains, valleys, oceans etc.), but which in later actions where
altered by him/her. We should also remember that natural phenomena connected to that constant change of landscape
also played a vital role in creation (indirectly) of who we are (i.e. floods, volcanic eruptions etc.). At present we tend to
ascribe specific origin to those phenomena. With no doubt people in the past where no different in this matter. By
focusing on a landscape as a context of human actions we create taskscapes of human actions. Landscape seen as a
taskscape is not dead but living entity characterizes as a temporal continuity, a space that leads to creation of narrative
storied of human past. ARS brings in a new scale of studies in to archeology. It may seem that the adoption of an aerial
perspective satisfies our desire to study landscape form with a god or male like gaze31. However, as practice shows,
it leads to quite different conclusions, causing rather a feeling humbleness before the infinite landscape and our finitude
of knowledge associated with it.
While reflecting on the issue of landscape in the context of taskscape and scale the question arises: whether and how can
we operate the scale of the landscape? Presented examples and problems where each time brought into a perspective of a
place and not landscape as a whole. It is through places that we build narratives of landscape. If ARS allows to operate
with different scales and of transition from archaeological features up to kilometers of landscape, why do we always talk
about places (fields, orchards, roads)? Doesnt our own cultural experience that hinders us to from operating in another
scale or form of narrative? In the process of perception, construction of knowledge and formation of statements, we can
observe the process of moving from details (only the perception of some stimulus) to the general/holistic (interpretation
of the world made by the brain) and then to detail (when we tell about the world/landscape). Will we ever be able to
change the form of narrativisation and move seamlessly into the narrative from the general to the detail and from the
detail to the general?
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