TachyGIS – An Idea to Survey Archaeological Excavations with Total
Station and GIS
Reiner GOELDNER, Archaeological Heritage Office Saxony, Germany
Excavation — Survey — Total station — GIS
CHNT Reference:
Goeldner, Reiner. TachyGIS – An Idea to survey Archaeological Excavations
with Total Station and GIS. Börner, Wolfgang; Kral-Börner, Christina; Rohland, Hendrik. Proceedings
of the 24th International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, held in Vienna,
Austria, November 2019. DOI:
TachyGIS is an idea to survey archaeological excavations with total station and GIS. Former CAD
based approach (with field book and 3D visualization) are transferred to GIS. The idea meets current
challenges of total station survey like increased license costs, deficient attribute integration and in-
sufficient sustainability (suitability to be archived).
Fig. 1. TachyGIS Teaser.
The presented project idea “TachyGIS” is to transfer features of existing CAD based approach (es-
pecially coordinate transfer from total station and 3D visualization) into GIS to meet the above-men-
tioned challenges. Therefore, cost reduction is possible with cooperative FOSS (Free and Open
Source Software) development, attribution is realized by GIS respectively geodata and sustainability
can be achieved by using geodatabases with standard data formats. Valuable assistance comes
from the “survey2gis” project (Survey-Tools 2019).
FOSS has high potential to limit costs, not only by (cost) free use of existing software, but also by
free development of user specific software components. There are only costs for new, additional
software components. This positive effect can be multiplied by controlled cooperation! Using modu-
larity and standardization lead to successful IT processes because they ensure flexibility and sus-
tainability. Interacting with suitable cooperation they build a “Triangle of Success in FOSS” (Fig. 2),

International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies | Vienna |
R. Goeldner
which is able to permanently reduce costs. Some more information on FOSS in German state ar-
chaeology can be find at VLA2 (2018).
Fig. 2. Triangle of Success in FOSS.
The presented basic concept contains a system overview, a functional model and a data model
(Göldner 2018). A TachyGIS system contains of total station and field book / notebook with data
connection. TachyGIS software modules import 3D surveying coordinates via total station interface
and interact with appropriate GIS components to record and visualize them. Surveying data is rec-
orded in a geodatabase in standardized and sustainable geodata format, so it is easily accessible
from GIS and can be analyzed using GIS methods.
TachyGIS consists of three necessary functional components: total station interface, recording/at-
tribution and visualization. Total station interface directly imports measurement data from total sta-
tion to TachyGIS modules. Recording/attribution performs editing of geo objects (points, lines, poly-
gons) from measured coordinates and assigns attributes like object ID or object type from controlled
vocabulary. 3D visualization supports survey and recording. Besides that, many more functions to
support daily excavation life are desired and an appropriate user interface is needed. But there are
already many useful functions available in GIS that can be instantly used.
Fig. 3. Basic TachyGIS structure.
The Geodata model considers 3D recording of points, lines and polygons (areas). OGC standard
“Simple Features Access” with WKT characteristic is recommended. Important attributes are: activity
(excavation) code, basic object type, object ID (e.g. find no.), kind of object, annotation and remark.
Further attributes and relationships are usually recorded in a specific excavation database and they
may be linked by the object ID.
Sustainability of excavation geodata depends on realistic preservation strategies (that differentiate
“archiving” from only “storing” the data). As showed in VLA (2017) and discussed in Göldner and
Bibby (2018), excavation geodata doesn’t match the usual but simple format-based preservation

International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies | Vienna |
TachyGIS – An Idea to Survey Archaeological Excavations with Total Station and GIS
approach, because they contain functionality. But it contains highly systematic information that can
be handled with a customized database preservation strategy as mentioned in VLA1 (2018). If all
geodata structures (of the database) are clearly standardized and documented and if there are al-
ternative visual representations of maps and tables in PDF/A or TIFF format, an optimistic prognosis
about a permanent preservation is possible.
Realization of TachyGIS is on the way. There is a prototype available that shows basic function of
TachyGIS. The Hamburg Archaeological Museum maintained the development of all basic compo-
nents of the so called Tachy2GIS software (Tachy2GIS 2019). The first prototype worked fine, so it
was interesting to test it over several months on excavations at the opencast mines near Weißwasser
(Saxony). During these tests, the team improved the excavation specific geodata structure and de-
veloped a specific user interface for an optimized support of excavation workflows. The focus was
on easy data acquisition in the field without extensive knowledge of QGIS-functions.
There are also further development activities, provided and coordinated by at least two institutions
and foremost targeting appropriate 3D visualization followed by an excavation specific user interface
and a more sophisticated interaction with the total station (e.g. to read and set prism height and to
generate a more detailed measurement log file which then should contain stationing parameters as
well as rϑϕ polar coordinates and prism height for every single measured point to enable effective
debugging). And there is an expanding group of interested people in discussion about more detailed
Göldner, R. (2018). TachyGIS – Eine Idee zur archäologischen Grabungsvermessung mit Tachymeter und GIS. Availa-
ble at:
(Accessed: 07 December 2020)
Göldner, R., Bibby, D. (2018). Digital Excavation Documentation – Objective and Sustainable (A Workshop Summary).
Available at:
(Accessed: 07 December 2020)
Survey-Tools (2019). Open-Source GIS-Tools für GIS, Vermessung und Datenakquise. Available at:
(Accessed: 07 December 2020)
‘Tachy2GIS’ (2019). GitHub, Archaeological-Museum-Hamburg. Available at:
(Accessed: 07 December 2020)
VLA (2017). ‚Themenblätter zur Archivierung digitaler Daten – Erhaltungsstrategien 1 – Grundlagen‘, in Website Verband
der Landesarchäologen.
(Accessed: 07 December 2020)
VLA1 (2018). ‚Themenblätter zur Archivierung digitaler Daten – Erhaltungsstrategien 4 – Geodaten und CAD‘, in Website
Verband der Landesarchäologen.
(Accessed: 07 December
VLA2 (2018). ‘Kommission Archäologie und Informationssysteme - AG FOSS‘, in Website Verband der Landesarchäolo-
gen. Available at:
(Accessed: 07 December 2020)