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Archaeological Prospection, Vol.

4, 165177 (1997)

Quantitative Interpretation of Magnetic

Data over Settlement Structures by
Inverse Modelling
Universitat Leipzig, Institut fur Geophysiki, Talstrasse 35, 04103 Leipzig, Germany


A robust and stable inversion algorithm for the joint reconstruction of different archaeological
features, such as pit houses, ditch systems or single pits, from surface magnetic data was
developed. In a first step a simplified model is assumed to estimate the mean magnetization
direction. During the second step the shape of the features is estimated automatically. The
algorithm is based upon an evolutionary strategy and the Marquardt Levenberg method. It was
tested on real and synthetic data. The influence of inhomogeneous pit fillings on depth estimates
c 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
was studied. *
Archaeol. Prospect. 4: 165177, 1997.

Key words: archaeometric prospecting; magnetic survey; inverse modelling; evolutionary


Correct information about the shape of archaeological features can be obtained by excavations
only. However, once an archaeological feature
is excavated, it is destroyed. Therefore, nondestructive investigation methods that allow an
estimation of the approximate shape of archaeological features become more and more important. Magnetic surveying has proved to be an
effective tool to locate archaeological features
(Scollar et al, 1990; Becker, 1993), and to estimate
shape and physical parameters of particular
features on site (Boucher, 1996; Eder-Hinterleitner et al, 1996).
Once a settlement, consisting for instance of pit
houses, wells, clay-producing pits and a defense
ditch system around it, was abandoned, differences in the surface topography become levelled
out due to wind and water induced erosion. Thus
most of the clinal structures become filled, mainly
{Correspondence to: G. Dittrich, Universitat Leipzig, Talstrasse 35, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.

CCC 10752196/97/04016513$17.50
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

with topsoil material. Usually this material has

a higher susceptibility than the soil-forming
geological minerals placed in the environment
(LeBorgne, 1955; Thompson and Oldfield, 1986,
p. 72). Due to different processes, such as heating
or the influence of magnetic bacteria, the filling
material may carry remanent magnetization
(Fabinder et al, 1990) of the same order of
magnitude as the induced part.
Disregarding particular features with a strong
remanent magnetization, e.g. ovens, iron objects
or slag bodies, one expects the overall appearance
of a settlement to behave like a layer with
positive magnetization contrast with respect to
the underlying half space. Therefore a layer with
an undulating base and an unknown but constant magnetization was chosen as the physicoarchaeological model (PhAM) of the site in
question. As different features are not necessarily
connected the layer may vanish in the space
between them, or alternatively, a zero thickness
may be assigned.
The inverse problem for this class of models
is non-linear, because it falls into the class of
Received 30 September 1997
Accepted 26 January 1998

shape-determining problems (Blakely, 1995,
p. 228). It is unique in the case of a depth function with limited spectrum width, i.e. a sufficiently smooth undulation, but is unstable
because of noise corrupted data.
A forward modelling algorithm for a magnetized undulating layer was developed by Parker
(1972). Based on Parker's approach many different inversion schemes for estimating the depth of
an undulating interface as a function of position
were developed (Oldenburg, 1974; Xia and
Sprowl, 1992), and therefore, the problem is
well understood today. All of these procedures
suffer from the drawback of utilizing analytical
spectral expressions for the depth function while
performing discrete numerical modelling. For a
discussion see Koppelt and Rojas (1994).
A different model, which consists of a twodimensional regular grid of columns equidistantly filled with dipoles from the earth
surface down to the depth of the layer, was
used by Eder-Hinterleitner et al (1996). The
forward problem was solved by calculating the
effect of each dipole and summing up the
individual effects, while the inversion was controlled by a simulated anealing algorithm. A
weighted least-squares criterion with regularization was applied to overcome the instability
introduced by measurement errors and high
frequency content of the depth function spectrum
due to steeply striking side walls of the ditches.
The main drawback of this particular numerical approach is the modelling of continuously
distributed material by dipole sources situated in
each column. This is equivalent to numerical
integration of the formula for the magnetic
anomaly due to a vertical prism using an open
one-point NewtonCotes formula for both
horizontal integrations, and an extended trapezoidal rule for the integration along the vertical
axis (Bezvoda et al, 1992). In this case, different
weights should be assigned to the dipoles at
both ends of every column, as follows from the
extended trapezoidal rule (see Press et al, 1990,
p. 116). Therefore, the forward modelling is
not correct. Moreover, because the distance
between dipoles is comparable to the distance
between observation points and dipoles,
discretization effects may affect computed data
(see Ku, 1977).
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

G. Dittrich and U. Koppelt

These problems were overcome by the
approach of Herwanger et al (1997). These
authors used a two-dimensional regular grid of
vertical prisms with varying bottom depth to
model the layer. The depth estimations were
computed by means of linearized least-squares
techniques applying positivity constraints on
prism depth and Laplacian smoothing to regularize the inversion. Although the mathematical
concept is reasonable, the assumption of homogeneously and purely induced magnetized
prisms must be regarded as being rather poor.
Susceptibility measurements on ditch filling
material showed a decrease of susceptibility with
depth (Eder-Hinterleitner and Neubauer, 1997).
As will be discussed below, the same effect was
discovered on pit-fill material from the archaeological site of Zwenkau, Saxony. Therefore, our
aim was to develop an inversion algorithm that
takes into account possible changes of magnetization with depth and that does not suffer from
the assumption of purely induced magnetization.
Our model is close to the model chosen by
Herwanger et al (1997), except for a free magnetization vector instead of purely induced magnetization. Both topography and magnetization will
be estimated during the inversion process.
However, as has been shown by different authors
(see e.g. Blakely, 1995, p. 292), it is impossible to
estimate magnetization and the bottom topography of the layer simultaneously. Therefore, a twostep inversion procedure was developed. At the
first stage the mean magnetization is estimated
for a simplified model, then the topography of
the undulating interface between the layer and
the underlying half-space is calculated. Although
the inversion procedure developed determines
source parameters directly, it is not fully automatic. The experiences of the operator are of great
importance when preparing the data, e.g. trend
estimation or stripping of unwanted features in
the data.

Archaeometric prospecting
The target of the magnetic prospecting was a
Bronze Age settlement structure in Altranstaedt
near Leipzig. The survey was carried out using a
GSM-19 Overhauser Gradiometer. In gradient
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)

Magnetic Data over Settlement Structures

mode, the instrument measures the total magnetic flux density at two sensors simultaneously.
The result is a high quality difference measurement, compared with difference data derived
from two consecutive total field measurements.
The data are independent of diurnal variations of
the Earth's magnetic field. We refer to these
differences as vertical differences, V, because the
sensors are alligned vertically. The term vertical
gradient appears not to be correct in this set up
(Koppelt et al, 1996).
From the aerial photograph we expected
features such as pit alignments and ditch systems
of linear dimensions ranging from 1 m to 3 m. A
grid spacing D 0.5 m was chosen to achieve a
mean coverage of 5 to 10 points per anomaly.
The height of the lower sensor, h, and the
sensor separation, s, determines the frequency
content of the measured signal. Both must be set
according to local noise characteristics of the
magnetic field (Koppelt et al, 1996). To achieve a
maximum resolution, but to avoid aliasing of the
signal due to finite grid spacing, we made test
measurements using different sensor configurations. A sensor separation s 1.5 m and a height
h 0.36 m of the lower sensor were found to
provide an acceptable signal-to-noise ratio.

Susceptibility measurements
To obtain information about the vertical susceptibility distribution within different kinds of pits,
samples of pit fills from a nearby archaeological
site, situated in a comparable environment, were
taken. We sampled vertical profiles starting from
the topsoil layer to the bottom of the pit, with
10 cm point spacing. Bulk susceptibility was
measured with a Bartington MS2 susceptibility
meter. In addition, for some probes the Koenigsberger Q-ratio, as the ratio of remanent and
induced magnetization, was measured.

Forward and inverse modelling

As a basic physico-archaeological model (PhAM)
representing single pits as well as ditch systems
and pit houses situated at a particular site, a
rectangular grid of vertical prisms with varying
depth was chosen. We assumed the magnetization contrast of all prisms to be constant with
respect to the environment, but its direction and
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

magnitude were included as free parameters into
the first step of the inversion procedure. For this
purpose a distinct anomaly was chosen and
modelled with a single prismatic body by estimating its geometry and magnetization numerically. The anomaly was chosen with respect to
three criteria:
(i) the shape of the anomaly should resemble
an anomaly due to a homogeneously
magnetized prism;
(ii) the maximum amplitude of the anomaly
should be within the range defined by other
anomalies resulting from similar archaeological features at that particular site;
(iii) the anomaly must not interfere with other
The goal of the second inverse modelling step
was the estimation of the bottom depth for all
prisms, where the previously estimated magnetization and depth to the top remained unchanged.
For the overlaying algorithm controlling parameter estimates, an evolutionary strategy (ES)
was chosen. Evolutionary strategies are probabilistic methods that are based upon principles of
natural selection and adaptation. Their main
scheme will be outlined briefly, but for a detailed
description we refer to Back and Schwefel (1993)
and for applications in archaeometry to Dittrich
A number, m, of starting models of n-dimensional parameter vectors are regarded as parent
elements. From every parent an offspring of l
models is generated by adding different Gaussian
random vectors with zero mean and standard
deviation, s. In parameter space, the offspring
forms a cloud with mean radius s around the
parent; thus exploring the space in a neighbourhood whose linear dimensions are controlled by
s. The quality of every model is quantified by its
weighted Euclidian distance from the observations measured in data space

i T 1
d~o d~c C d~o d~c ;

i 1; . . . ; m1 l

where d~o , d~c , C denotes the observed and

computed data and the covariance matrix of
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)

the observed data, respectively. The index i,
running from 1 up to m(1 l) means that all
parent and child elements take part in the
competition. According to this quality a number
of m0 new parent elements is selected. Usually is
m0 m. For this selection there are two main
strategies. For the first, all elements (parent
and child) of the generation take part in the
selection. This strategy (so-called plus strategy)
has the advantage that no deterioration of the
quality of the parent-pool is possible. In case of
multimodal error-functionals the m l-strategy
may have problems finding an acceptable
A modification of the selection process may be
performed in such a way that only the (m  l)
child elements take part in the competition (socalled colon strategy). Because such a selection
allows a deterioration of the goodness of one
generation, the convergence speed of the procedure will decrease. There is, however, the great
advantage that it is possible to overcome local
optima for problems with many local solutions,
or to make this event easier.
The process of reproduction and selection is
repeated until a fit of the observations within
their error bounds is achieved.
Particular implementations of an ES may
differ, e.g. in the way the selection is performed
or the choice of the scattering parameter s. These
differences may be important with regard to the
speed of convergence. Evolutionary strategies do
not require derivative determination or any kind
of linearization of the inverse problem, but the
forward problem must be solved repeatedly. This
makes them well suited for non-linear inverse
problems, although they are much more time
consuming than standard gradient algorithms.
Fast forward modelling algorithms for a
homogeneously magnetized rectangular prism
were published by Bhattacharyya (1964),
Kunaratnam (1981) and Ivan (1996). Because the
magnitude of remanent magnetization cannot
be neglected, we followed the concept of total
magnetization as a sum of remanent and induced
magnetization, rather than considering induced
magnetization only. The forward modelling
algorithm we applied to compute the total
magnetic field anomaly due to a single prism
differs only slightly from Kunaratnam (1981).
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

G. Dittrich and U. Koppelt

Vertical changes of susceptibility
The results of five vertical susceptibility profiles
taken from different pits are shown in Figure 1(a
and b). Figure 1a clearly shows the decrease of
susceptibility with depth for three particular pits.
A different pattern is shown in Figure 1b. The
susceptibility of these pits is almost constant,
except for a strong positive contrast at the bottom
of the pit.
Estimation of the Koenigsberger Q-ratio for
two different samples showed a value between
1.4 and 1.5, indicating that remanent magnetization must be considered as significant. Because
samples were not oriented, no conclusions about
the direction of the remanent magnetization can
be drawn. The direction of remanent magnetization is not constant within the filling and does
not carry any archaeomagnetic record (H. Becker,
pers. comm.). Thus it appears to be desirable to
incorporate as little supposition as possible about
the direction of total magnetization into the
inversion procedure.

Inversion of synthetic data

Based on the results of susceptibility measurements on excavated pits, data sets for five
different pit models were calculated. The pits
were assumed to be prismatic bodies that were
split into a number of horizontal layers. Susceptibility values from the measured vertical profiles
were assigned to corresponding layers. The total
magnetic field anomalies of all layers were
computed separately and summed.
Because the algorithm utilizes a homogeneously magnetized single layer model, the
effects of heterogeneous pit filling and magnetic
remanence are projected on to a single magnetization vector. To test the ability of the algorithm
to handle the effect of different types of magnetization, estimates of the body's lateral extensions
and its depth were computed under two different
assumptions. At first geometry and a scalar
susceptibility had to be estimated, thus assuming
induced magnetization only. In the second run,
geometry and total magnetization vector were
chosen as free parameters, and therefore, a
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)

Magnetic Data over Settlement Structures


Figure 1. Vertical susceptibility distribution for five different pits situated at the archaeological site of Zwenkau, Saxony.
(a) The predominant behaviour is a decrease of susceptibility with depth. (b) Some pits show almost constant susceptibility
except for a sharp increase at the bottom of the pit.

# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)


G. Dittrich and U. Koppelt

Table 1. Relative errors for depth-to-top and depth-to-bottom estimates computed for the free magnetization and induced
magnetization model.
Code of feature

Relative error (%)

Depth to top


Depth to bottom

Free magnetization

Induced magnetization

Free magnetization

Induced magnetization





greater degree of freedom was given to the algorithm to handle different types of magnetization.
A comparison of given and estimated model
parameters is represented in Table 1, showing
significantly better results in the case of free total
magnetization. It can be seen that percentage
errors of estimates for the depth to the top are on
average less for the free magnetization model

than for the model of a homogeneously magnetized body with purely induced magnetization.
These results were independent of the actual
susceptibility distribution within the pit.
For a second test of the algorithm a homogeneously magnetized pit model with an
undulating bottom was assumed (see Figure 2a).
As stated above, the inverse problem is non-

Figure 2. Test of the inversion algorithm. (a) Depth function of the model pit.

# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)

Magnetic Data over Settlement Structures


Figure 2(b). Calculated total field anomaly.

unique in the case of a parameterization including magnetization and interface undulation

simultaneously. Moreover, from the principle of
superposition it follows that it becomes ambiguous in the case of a multilayered Earth model as
well. As, for a homogenously magnetized prism,
magnetization and geometrical parameters can
be calculated simultaneously (Rao and Babu,
1991), such a model was used to estimate
thickness of the top soil and magnetization.
Herein the depth to top of the prism served as
the estimate of the topsoil thickness. These results
were used as fixed parameters for the shape
reconstruction (Figure 2). Estimated maximum
depth and three-dimensional shape of the body
agreed well with the original model. Misfit in
depth estimation of the interface was between
5 per cent and 10 per cent. The maximum depth
had an error of less than 3 per cent.
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

The investigation of Bronze Age

settlement structures
The archaeological site Altranstadt was known
from aerial photographs, but no further information about extent, structures or its age were
available. The task of the magnetic survey was to
provide high precision mapping as well as a
model reconstruction of main features.
The results of the geomagnetic survey together
with the interpretation are given in Figure 3. The
rectangular structure (A) could be interpreted as
a ditch system surrounding an inner circular ditch
(B) and a central anomaly that was interpreted as
a grave (C). A second characteristic feature is a
linear axis of magnetic anomalies that appears to
be a pit alignment known to be Bronze Age.
Another group of anomalies occupying a larger
area (H, I, J) was interpreted in terms of filled
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)


G. Dittrich and U. Koppelt

Figure 2(c). Estimated depth function.

pits, whereas anomalies with large amplitudes

appear to be due to strongly magnetized sources
such as modern iron objects or magnetic rocks.
All of these anomalies correspond to darkened
areas in the aerial photograph. The interpretation
of less distinct anomalies has proved to be more
complicated. They could be related to geological
features, e.g. boulders with slightly higher
magnetization than the top soil. Some of them
could be related to archaeological features as
well. If the main grave surrounded by two ditch
systems proves to be a main barrow, graves
situated around this structure can be expected.
One of the pits from the pit alignment (Figure 3,
anomaly marked as X) was used for estimation of
magnetization and topsoil thickness (40 cm) by
using a single prism model. Prior to shape
reconstruction, two anomalies that are most
probably related to geological features, e.g.
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

strongly magnetized boulders, or modern iron

objects had to be stripped from the data. The
selection criterion was an amplitude much higher
than the mean amplitude of pit-related anomalies
or an anomaly orientation that significantly
deflects from today's NS direction.
The stripping was done by data windowing
and inversion using a dipole model. Once the
dipole related to a particular anomaly was
calculated, its total magnetic field was computed
and subtracted from the measured data. After
that, a three-dimensional inversion was computed (Figure 4). The maximum depth for the
pit alignment was estimated to be about 1.6 m,
the two ditch systems appear to have a mean
bottom depth of only a few centimetres (inner
ring ditch) and 1.2 m (rectangular ditch system).
As a cut-off depth of 10 cm was applied, i.e. all
prisms with a depth less than the cut-off value
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)

Magnetic Data over Settlement Structures


Figure 2(d) Data misfit.

were set to zero, the inner ring ditch becomes


The computational results showed that it may
be advantageous to use an inversion method
utilizing a free magnetization vector rather than
the concept of purely induced magnetization.
The benefit increases with the degree of heterogeneity of the deposed material and with the
deflection of the total magnetization vector from
today's main field direction, e.g. due to remanent
As the evolutionary strategies are probabilistic
methods, it may happen that a single inversion
calculation using the free magnetization vector
yields worse results than the calculation with a
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

fixed magnetization direction. This is a common

problem of probabilistic methods. The solution of
a single run may not be representive for its
overall performance. Therefore, many different
runs should be performed and a statistical
analysis of the results should be carried out. In
this sense the method relying on the concept of
free magnetization vector leads to better
parameter estimates.
Some parameters, such as topsoil depth and
magnetization, have to be fixed for the
reconstruction of the three-dimensional shape.
Otherwise the inverse problem becomes ambiguous. As they are usually unknown, they were
determined in the first inversion step. This step
should be carried out for one or more distinct and
well developed anomalies according to the rules
stated above. The appropriate choice of the
anomaly is a crucial point of the algorithm,
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)


G. Dittrich and U. Koppelt

Figure 3. Measured vertical different data over part of the archaeological site of Altranstaedt, Saxony.

because parameter estimates derived throughout

this step will remain fixed in any following
calculation. Therefore, the initial choice should be
done by the operator according to their experience. We doubt that any kind of automatization
could be useful here.
The main drawback of any automated inversion procedure is its incapacity to discriminate
problem-related anomalies from unwanted
features still inherent in the data. Therefore,
anomalies unrelated to pits and ditches, such as
anomalies due to kilns, iron-slag bodies as well
as anomalies of modern iron objects or of geology
should be identified and removed prior to the
inverse modelling. A kind of stripping algorithm
was applied to clear out these anomalies. After
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

identifying them as being related to unwanted

features, the anomalies can be separated by data
windowing. A simple idealized body, e.g. a
dipole, could be used to model the anomaly.
Once the parameters of the idealized body are
estimated, its effect could be subtracted from the
The choice of which anomaly to delete must be
made by the operator. Therefore, it depends on
his or her a priori knowledge about the anomaly
patterns of unwanted features at this particular
site. Modern iron objects for example are commonly represented by small-scale bipolar
anomalies, with amplitudes much higher than
those produced by archaeological features. The
positive and negative part of such an anomaly
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)

Magnetic Data over Settlement Structures


Figure 4. Inversion results. Estimated depth function for the part of the site investigated (contour interval: 0.3 m).

may have approximately the same amplitude,

and the axis connecting the two parts may deflect
seriously from the NS direction.
Anomalies due to large-scale geological features may be recognized by their frequency
content. The long wavelength part of the spectrum is determined by these anomalies. One
method to remove these features from the data is
high-pass filtering in the frequency domain.
Although simple, the method has a serious
drawback. If the filter is not constructed properly,
i.e. sufficiently smooth, it may corrupt local
anomalies as well (Clement, 1973). Therefore,
we prefer polynomial trend estimation and
subtraction instead (Skeels, 1967).
The inversion method for the first step may be
an evolution strategy. For data sets of some
hundred points (which may be enough for single
features) these calculations can be carried out
# 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

with good computation times. This result, or the

mean of the calculated parameters of some
different calculations, can then serve as a fixed
value for the three-dimensional reconstruction of
large data sets. This reconstruction is carried out
under the assumption of the model approximation by means of a number of vertical prisms.
The inversion method for the problem of the
body depth calculation for each of these prisms
should be as fast an inversion algorithm as the
Marquard Levenberg method, with regard to the
computation times.
Both the reconstructions for the analytically
calculated models and the measured data sets
yielded a good correspondence with the expected
values. The calculated maximum depth for the
analytical model had an error of less than 5 per
cent. The reconstruction result for the measured
data set from Altranstaedt was compared with
Archaeological Prospection, Vol. 4, 165177 (1997)

neighbouring excavation, which yielded a
maximum depth for a rectangular ditch system
of about 1 m. This is a good correlation to the
reconstruction results because the calculated
depth is within the range for a neighbouring
equivalent structure.

A robust inversion algorithm for shape reconstruction of settlement structures was developed.
It works in two steps under the assumption of a
free magnetization vector with a minimum of
a priori information. As suggested by real and
synthetic data examples, our algorithm is a good
tool for inverting magnetic field data over archaeological sites. Different tests have proved the
stability and the robustness of the algorithm. The
impact of heterogeneous pit filling on depth
estimates was studied. It was shown that better
results were obtained for a free magnetization
vector. The algorithm was applied to magnetic
data from the archaeological site Altranstaedt. The
computed depth estimates are within the range
expected from an archaeological point of view.

We thank C. Reimann for helping us with the
field survey and R. Zergenyi from ETH Zurich for
making some of the petromagnetic measurements.

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