Isaac I. Ullah, PhD bio photo

Isaac I. Ullah, PhD

Computational Archaeology, Complex Adaptive Systems, Social-Ecological Systems, Geoarchaeology

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Open-source GIS Skills for Archaeologists, Anthropologists, and other Social Scientists


Spatial data analysis is an increasingly important skill in social science. The ability to characterize, analyze, and intuit spatial social and socio-natural phenomena drives many intriguing research questions of current social relevance, including issues of sustainability, policy, resource management, institutional racism, inequality, and more. I therefore believe that it is imperative that GIS skills are taught to all social scientists. That is the main purpose of this page. Here, I make available several screencasted video tutorials and “short-courses” from classess and workshops that I have taught at a variety of institutions.

I am equally dedicated to FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software). I find open source software to be much more amenable to the goals of academic inquiry than commercial software1. Because of this, I use, and advocate the use of the powerful FOSS GIS suite, GRASS GIS, and all of my course materials are formulated to teach you how to use this software in your research.

GRASS 7.2 and QGIS 2.15 screencasts.

I am currently (Spring 2017) recording a series of screencasts for QGIS 2.15 and GRASS 7.2. These are for my ongoing class, ANTH 583, “GIS and Imagery Analysis,” and as such may not cover all aspects of each software, and may use specific data, case studies, or procedures. Nevertheless, they might be helpful to you, and I will add each new video to the playlist embedded below as I finish them. Click the “three bars” in the upper left corner of the embedded video player below to see the list of videos, or press play to play them all in order. Keep checking back for additional videos!

Short Courses in GIS for Archaeologists and Geoarchaeologists

The following workshops and “short-courses” were developed primarily for Archaeologists and Geoarchaeologists, but also teach skills that would be interesting to a more general social scientist as well. I am releasing them here under the GPL license. What this means is that you should feel free to download, use, modify, and distribute these materials, but I do ask that you credit me as their source.

Course 1: Paleolandscape Reconstruction and Ancient Human Landuse

Paleolandscape reconstruction is an essential first step for archaeologists interested in how ancient humans interacted with their environment. This is often achieved only schematically through the use of narrative models based on paleoenvironmental proxy data. A new alternative approach utilizes geomorphologic data to digitally model ancient landscapes within a GIS framework, resulting in digital terrain models (DTM’s) of ancient landscapes. These paleolandscape DTM’s can be used as input into spatially explicit models of ancient human landuse and human-environment interaction. This workshop will cover the basic theory and methodology behind GIS-based paleolandscape reconstruction, and will introduce techniques for ancient human landuse simulation. Specific techniques that will be covered include digitization of landscape features, terrain interpolation techniques, site catchment modeling, erosion and deposition modeling, and GIS-based human landuse simulation. The workshop will also teach participants the basics of GRASS GIS, a robust free and open source GIS software suite. Using GRASS offers several methodological and academic advantages because it is actively and collaboratively developed by scientists, allows users to easily create custom scripts, and all modules within GRASS are based upon referable scholarly work. (This course was first created in October, 2009, and was originally taught as part of the University of Toronto Archaeology Center’s invited workshop series)

Course Material (PDF):

Course 2: GRASS GIS for Anthropoligists

This course was created in Fall, 2006, and was originally given in the SHESC graduate tutorial seminars series. It is a basic introduction to GRASS GIS and what anthropologists can do with it. Some of the information is now outdated, but it may still be a useful resource for applications of GRASS GIS in social science research.

Course Material (PDF):

  1. For a particularly eloquent argument in favor of FOSS in archaeology, please see the article by my friend Benjamin Ducke, “Natives of a connected world: free and open source software in archaeology”