PhD Courses in Denmark

Archaeocartography. The challenges and possibilities of archaeological distribution mapping

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University

Distribution maps have been part of the archaeological toolbox since the dawn of the discipline. They serve as heuristic and analytical tools in research and as a visual form of data presentation in publication, shedding light on settlement structures, cultural territories and patterns of economic exchange and social interaction in the past. Today, mapping has become easier than ever, thanks to accessible GIS applications, widely available digitized spatial data, and decreasing technical limitations for publication. However, while there is ample scholarly attention for more sophisticated techniques of spatial analysis, there is surprisingly little recent debate about the creation, use and reception of the most common form of archaeological distribution maps - a relatively simple map representation of structured, spatial data concerning a limited set of archaeological phenomena. 

This PhD course is organized around three basic but underexplored challenges in the creation of such humble, but ubiquitous distribution maps: classification, normalisation and visualisation. 
Classification is a necessary first step in the conception of every archaeological map. Questions may arise whether established typologies and taxonomies should be adopted as they are, or critically revised to take into account new finds and expanded areas of study? How to deal with competing classifications – a problem that is increasingly hampering archaeological synthesis at larger geographic scales? Can we, to an extent, break through the rigidity of archaeological classification to integrate current understandings of artefacts and types as relational and emergent? And – reverting the question – what roles can mapping play in the classification process? 

Normalisation is perhaps the most important challenge of the three. All archaeological data is inherently a sample, subject to diverse forms of bias. Consequently, an understanding of these biases is a crucial precondition to interpreting the spatial patterns and for further, more sophisticated steps in the analysis. The process of normalisation boils down to the selection of appropriate baselines: either universal (e.g. (proxies for) population density, research intensity, transport cost), or particular. The latter concern limited datasets that have a close relationship to the phenomenon studied, under the assumption that both have been subjected to the same bias(es) – for instance comparing the distribution of one type of pottery to another to assess differences in economic or social practices.

Finally, the communicative aspect of a map needs to be considered. This includes very practical elements of map design, but the issue is more fundamental than this. Maps, as media of visual communication, attract the eye, convey a lot of information at a glance, and may come to lead a life on their own. How can one make sure that they can be interpreted correctly by the audience, be they scholars or the wider public? This challenge extends to the integration of maps in broader argumentation. What makes the visualisation of a particular spatial dataset pertinent to a research question? In which ways can spatial datasets be combined to provide arguments in an archaeological line of reasoning? Taking into account the need for normalization, how should spatial patterns be examined? How can approaches that have more recently come to the fore in archaeology, notably networks, add to the interpretation and visualisation of spatial patterns?


Participants will gain a thorough insight the processes underlying the creation of archaeological distribution maps. They will develop an understanding of how these maps can be used in archaeological arguments, and will gain practical feedback on their own map-making.


Literature and software to be discussed/used during the course will be communicated to registered participants.

Target group:

PhD students in archaeology (early or late stage, as well as prospective PhD students), who are working with spatial data in their research, want to gain a better understanding of the challenges that this can pose, through lectures, discussions and workshops with experts and peers.

The course will consist of lectures as well as a seminar and a practical workshop session, requiring active participation. We wish to particularly stimulate participants to think about the three challenges inherent in archaeological map-making in relation to their own work, and we hope to foster a lively discussion with the lecturers.




Lectures, seminar, group work




Søren Sindbæk

Pieterjan Deckers


Pieterjan Deckers (

Chris Green

Eljas Oksanen 

Tom Brughmans

Peter Jensen,

Adéla Sobotkova,  

Dates and time:

6-7 May, 9-17


UrbNet Meeting Room 4230.232, Moesgård Campus, Aarhus University

Practical information:

Participation is free of charge for all PhD students, but participants must pay for own travel and stay.

Refreshments available during course hours:

Coffee, tea, water and lunch is provided and paid for by the university on courses that run from the morning until mid or late afternoon. Lunch consists of sandwiches and bottled water at midday, and tea and coffee is served in the morning and mid-afternoon. Fruit or cake is served once a day during one of the coffee breaks. There are also cafes/canteens on campus with hot food, sandwiches, snacks and drinks on sale.

Course certificates:

Course certificates are issued after each course has ended and any written assignments have been submitted. The certificates are sent to the candidates by email.

Course evaluations:

Course evaluations are conducted at the end of each course. Occasionally, the course teacher will conduct a paper-based evaluation immediately at the end of the course, and gather the information from you themselves. However, evaluations are usually sent electronically to candidates after the course has finished, and are completed and submitted online.

Campus map/locations:

Course information often provides the building number and classroom or auditorium number but not a road name. The link below will take you to a map of the Aarhus University campus. Just enter the building number, with or without the classroom/auditorium number, and the location will be shown on a Google map, which provides road names. This map is also useful when planning bus and tram journeys.

Travel to and in Aarhus


The link below will take you to information about buses from Billund and Aarhus airports.

If you are arriving at Billund Airport:

The 912X bus will take you directly to Aarhus city centre or bus station (which is only two minutes’ walk from the centre). To find which stand the bus will leave from at the airport, please check the bus information board just outside the airport terminal building at the arrivals exit.

If you are arriving at Aarhus Airport:

The 952X bus will take you directly to various points in Aarhus (Nobelparken and the central train station are the most popular choices). The buses wait just outside the airport terminal at the arrivals exit and run in concordance with incoming flights.

Light-rail (letbanen)

The link below will take you to information about the light-rail which runs from the north side of Aarhus to the harbour in the south of the city. Trams leave every few minutes. Tickets must be bought in advance and are available for purchase online or via the midttrafik app.

Buses in Aarhus

This link takes you directly to midttrafik’s website with information about bus travel in Aarhus, prices and journeys, and information about student rates. 


Aarhus taxa

Telephone number: 89 48 48 48


Telephone number: 48 48 48 48 / 70 25 25 25


Wakeup Aarhus:

M. P. Bruuns Gade 27, 8000 Aarhus

44 80 00 00   

An email link can be found on the hotel website (protected and therefore cannot be distributed).

Scandic the Mayor

Banegårdspladsen 14, 8000 Aarhus

87 32 01 00  

An email link can be found on the hotel website (protected and therefore cannot be distributed).

Cabinn Hotel Aarhus

Kannikegade 14, 8000 Aarhus

86 75 70 00  E-mail:

Application deadline:

Please apply for a spot via no later than Monday 6 April 2020