Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

ARCH3014 Seeing beneath the soil: geophysical survey for archaeology

Module Overview

The development of geophysical survey methods has provided archaeologists with a wholly new approach to buried archaeological remains allowing - in some circumstances - plans of entire archaeological sites to be obtained prior to any excavation. The use of geophysical instruments for survey, and the interpretation of results that are obtained both require a detailed knowledge of how these instruments work and the scientific principles that they rely on. This module teaches the theory and method behind archaeological geophysical prospection, and also develops practical skills in the use of magnetometry, resistivity, ground penetrating radar and magnetic susceptibiity surveying for archaeological applications. The module includes a compulsory one-week field school, held during the Easter vacation.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • current best practice in archaeological fieldwork.
  • Ability to recognise sites and monuments, their relationship to one another and their landscape context.
  • the basic theoretical concepts of geophysical survey techniques, and how these theories are applied practically in the field.
  • Ability to use specific types of geophysical survey equipment, and understand their application and limitations in the field.
  • Ability to produce final survey plots and written interpretation to publication standard.
  • Ability to use relevant computer software to process and publish survey results to publication standard.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand the basic theoretical and practical elements of geophysical survey in archaeology
  • Assess the nature and extent of particular sites or monuments within their landscape context, and calculate the most suitable survey method to discover more about the nature, dimensions and structure of a site
  • Produce a final report on a survey, together with recommendations for future assessment based on valued reasoning from the results of your work and your background knowledge of the techniques used and their implications
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Use tapes or a total station to grid out a survey area
  • Use key geophysical survey equipment in an archaeological context
  • Be capable of assessing the most appropriate method for survey of a site
  • Be able to interpret the archaeological significance of anomalies located in your survey results
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Undertake geophysical surveys using Resistivity, Magnetometry, Ground Penetrating Radar and magnetic susceptibility methods
  • Process and produce images of geophysical survey results
  • Place your results within the context of map data using computer applications
  • Produce archaeological interpretations of data, and write full reports on the findings of geophysical surveys


The module is designed as an introduction to methods and practice of archaeological prospection, and aspects of field survey data processing and publication. You will learn the fundamental theory and methods of archaeological geophysics and be involved at a practical level with techniques of magnetometry, resistivity, Ground Penetrating Radar and magnetic susceptibility surveying. In addition you will be trained in use of a total station. The module will also include practical aspects of data downloading, processing and publication.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures • Field survey practicals • Computer practicals • Tutorials where necessary Learning activities include • Practical sessions during lectures • A one week intensive field survey during the Easter break • Computer practicals and tutorials using specialist geophysics software Innovative or special features of this module  Dedicated geophysics software for the module on workstations

Wider reading or practice20
Completion of assessment task40
Preparation for scheduled sessions20
Supervised time in studio/workshop10
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Clark, A. J. (1986). Archaeological Geophysics in Britain. Geophysics. ,51 , pp. 1404-1413.

Clark, A. (1990). Seeing Beneath the Soil. 

Gaffney, C., Gater, J., Ovenden, S. (1991). The Use of Geophysical Survey Techniques in Archaeological Evaluations. 

Telford, W. M. (1990). Applied Geophysics. 

David, A (1995). Geophysical Survey in Archaeological Field Evaluation. 

Gaffney, C. and Gater, J. (1993). Development of Remote Sensing Part II: Practice and method in the application of geophysical techniques in archaeology. Archaeological Resource Management in the U.K.. .

Spoerry, P. (1992). The Archaeologist and Geoprospection. Archaeological Landscape. ,18 , pp. 115-119.

Bowden, M. (Ed.) (1999). Unravelling the Landscape.. 

Scollar, Tabbagh, Hesse, and Herzog (1990). Archaeological Prospecting and Remote Sensing. 

Schurr, M. R. (1997). Using the Concept of the Learning Curve to Increase the Productivity of Geophysical Surveys. Archaeological Prospection. ,4 , pp. 69-83.

Gaffney, C. and Gater, J. (2003). Revealing the Buried Past: Geophysics for Archaeologists. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback  Monitoring and feedback on work produced during lectures and practicals  Tuition, assessment and feedback on elements of practical survey during field week




MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Field project  (3000 words) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings