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(GIS) are a critical aspect of modern day archaeological and paleoanthropological research. GIS systems expedite analyzing and managing large amounts of spatial data, and can really improve mapping locations where artifacts or fossils are found. Unfortunately, the price point and learning curve involved in using GIS applications, like ArchGIS make it an unapproachable technology.

An article in advance in the Journal of Human Evolution introduces how the most basic version of Google Earth can be easily used in lieu of other GIS software to display and share paleontological data. This is definitely not the first time we’ve seen news on how Google Earth has aided anthropological research, but it is one of the first times I’ve seen it be embraced in an academic, peer reviewed journal. So if you’re interested in how Google Earth can help you with managing your data, without having to invest a lot of time, effort, and money in complex GIS software, check this paper out: “Google Earth, GIS, and the Great Divide: A new and simple method for sharing paleontological data.”

The authors of the paper walk people thru how Google Earth can be used to map localities. They also ramp up the intensity, and introduce how Google Earth maps can have other maps overlaid, and how the KML files can be shared amongst people. Ultimately, they make the claim that Google Earth is the tool to disseminate paleontological information but they miss talking about some critical points.

First, Google Earth works best when connected to the internet. Unless you’ve downloaded all their maps to your computer and stored it in cache, you’re out of luck in using it in the field with no internet connection. That kills its utility for many field researchers. Also, the free version of Google Earth comes with lower resolution imagery that may not be good enough for many researchers. That’s why it hasn’t been fully adopted by the anthropological community… The gold standard seems to buy high resolution satellite or aerial imagery and map it using a higher end GIS software package.

Lastly comes concerns on how Google deals with your data. Google is known for being wanting to be the hub of entire internet, some people are cool with that. Some people aren’t. Paleontological and archaeological data is often sensitive data for a multitude of reasons and using Google’s product may not match well with how public you want your data.