Italy – Verbano Cusio Ossola

Gis of Verbano Cusio Ossola
Piedmont – Verbano Cusio Ossola
Project manager:
Elisa Panero

One of the areas surveyed by Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino using geographic information system in Italy is the Piedmont area that includes Verbano, Cusio and Ossola. For a series of reasons (geomorphologic, historical context, etc...) the Verbano-Cusio-Ossola area is well suited to a historical reconstruction survey which integrates all the physical and mathematical scientific elements as well as the historical elements. The project involves the creation of a GIS and thus operates in two directions: the acquisition of a suitable topographical base and of a series of databases related thereto (that is, where the material data is correctly placed, geo-referenced, in the landscape).

The area

The Verbano-Cusio-Ossola area is rather homogeneous from a geomorphologic point of view as well as from the cultural/settlement aspect. In fact it represents the northernmost edge of Piedmont, and extends for more than 1,500 square kilometers, bordered on the east by the Ticino-Lago Maggiore hydrographic complex, on the west by the Sesia-Lago d’Orta complex, on the north by the Alpine chain and to the south (the only border that is not clearly marked) by the last mountainous-hilly offshoots that meander towards the Po Valley.
Over the centuries the area has been known for its close link between man and his environment, visibly propitious for contacts and commerce between the two sides of the Alps and between the mountainous areas and the lowlands, with settlements that tend to be small and tiny inhabited areas, closely linked to the abundant water resources in the landscape (in addition to the rivers and lakes mentioned above, the waterways of the Toce with all its affluents, and those of the Agogna) as well as to the function of “border land” between the Cisalpine and Po environments and also the trans-alpine areas.
This particular connotation of “border land” has however received a marginal consideration in the studies of the region from an archaeological point of view and only in recent years has there been a determined and local increased development.


The creation of a geografical information system applicable to the Verbano-Cusio-Ossola area is aimed at developing a historical reconstruction of the settlement dynamics in the area from prehistoric times (primarily Neolithic, a time in which there is striking proof of human habitation) up to late imperial Roman periods. It should nonetheless be emphasized that this is just one of the possible applications of the GIS, inasmuch as it could provide basic support for monitoring and safeguarding the landscape. The choice of software fell to “Intergraph Geomedia”, driven by the need, which is intrinsic to a GIS project, to be able to insert and utilize data originating from various databases and therefore acquired in different formats. The research model consequently availed itself of a system that is not closed, inasmuch as it allows a total exchange of information with other GIS environments, providing the possibility to utilize the same native formats inserted in the originating databases, avoiding a dispersion of information as it often occurs with other software. Added to this is the fact that it is easy to use and manage, based on the possibility to manage the geo-topographical entities separately from the alphanumerical entities, while still maintaining the link. More specifically, with respect to the analysis of the topographical support, this is constituted by vector and raster files taken from the Piedmont Regional Technical Map to scale 1:10000, to which remote sensing images are applied (low altitude aerial photographs, satellite images, etc.) or cartography deduced from Land Register maps or from maps to more detailed scales (1:5000, 1:2000 and more) in order to arrive, from their interpolation with the alpha-numerical data in the archaeological databases, at the creation of thematic maps useful for the historical reconstruction (and research) of the landscape and for monitoring and safeguarding the area.


The archaeological Database, built with Microsoft Access (easily usable in the Geomedia environment), was created by using a series of archaeological levels (authentic databases that relate to each other): 1. Settlements (civilian, military, religious) 2. Architectural assets (including civilian, cemetery, religious, infrastructures, etc.) 3. Movable items (divided according to the type of each single item) 4. Biological remains (human, fauna, botanical) Following an attentive preliminary analysis that took into due consideration the fundamental importance of the proper topographical and chronological definition of each individual piece of data, a file was created for each of these categories that also took into consideration the type of archaeological evidence and its relevant attributes. Moreover, the vocabulary utilized was conformed, so that each field was well defined and provided univocal answers, but at the same time was susceptible to developments, in accordance with the multiple purposes of the archaeological study. This is the reason why each file contains a series of fields with different functions: from pure identification within the database (progressive number) to archaeological/interpretative (group, subsequent specification or subject, type, specific or modern name). Of fundamental importance are also a series of aspects regarding the topographical location of the archaeological documentation at various levels, whether regional/administrative (region, municipality, township, various locations) or geographic/cartographic (with the indication of the cartography utilized on which the archaeological evidence can be identified: IGM, CTR, Land Register) or primarily at the correct spatial positioning by means of a coordinate system. Several fields then follow which, together with the above-mentioned “coordinates” attribute, are aimed at interpreting and correctly identifying the archaeological attestation in the territory and in relation to specific cultural characteristics: this is the orientation (primarily valid for the “settlement” and “architectural heritage ” categories, inasmuch as the single item cannot always be definitively positioned with certainty on the terrain), of the level of positioning in the landscape of said attestation, of the dating and level of approximation in attributing said dating. Certain headings of a descriptive/informative nature are also indicated (these are not strictly aimed at being used within a GIS but are required for the proper placement and study of the archaeological evidence): description, notes, state of conservation, bibliography, references to other tables in the database. Then there is a series of links to the maps, images or formulations pertaining to the archaeological document.


1987, Le nuove frontiere della fruizione come antidoto all’incoltura di massa, in PEREGO F. (a c. di), Memorabilia: il futuro della memoria. Beni ambientali, architettonici, archeologici, artistici e storici in Italia. I. Tutela e valorizzazione oggi, Roma-Bari, pp. 278-283.
Methodological Trends and Future Perspectives in the Application of GIS in Archaeology, Atti del Convegno (Roma, 1997), “Archeologia e Calcolatori”, 9.

2003, Insediamenti celtici e romani in una terra di confine. Materiali per un Sistema Informativo Territoriale nel Verbano-Cusio-Ossola tra culture padano-italiche e apporti transalpini, (Mnème, 4), Alessandria.

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