A modular Geo Information System for archaeology and building history

Many projects of the German Archaeological Institute work in close cooperation with a multitude of international scholars and institutions, which are contributing to the same project from various locations. Our web-based modular information system CISAR was developed in order to give all cooperation partners easy access to the digital project databases. CISAR has been developed since 2004 and was planned from the beginning as a web-based database and GIS for the projects "Domus Severiana" on the Palatin in Rom of the University of Cottbus and the Architecture Department of the DAI, as well as for the Baalbek project of the Orient Department of the DAI. CISAR is now used by two additional projects and is continuously developed, in the future in cooperation with iDAI.field.


Development of CISAR: features and system architecture © DAICISAR is a web-based Geo Information System for archaeology and building history applicable for different projects. Factual information on objects and materials are managed in a modular database, which distinguishes between basic modules and specific modules. The specific modules serve for the recording and analysis of finds and findings, building elements and buildings. To these objects photographs, plans, bibliographical references and other documents can be attached, which are administrated in the basic modules. In addition, as a Geo Information System the objects collected in CISAR can also be attached to 2D- or 3D geometrical data. While in the classical 2D and 2.5D domain the established Web-GIS methods are applied, for the visualization of complex building structures a 3D method on the basis of VRML has been developed. CISAR was developed by the Department of Geodesy of the University of Cottbus in cooperation with the project "Urban development in Baalbek” and the building historical project on the "Domus Severiana” on the Palatin in Rome. Meanwhile the system is also used for the "project on the settlement topography of Triphylia”, for the building and art historical "Project on the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela” and for the documentation of "Memorial landscape "Berlin Wall”.


Graphical User Interface of the WebGIS inside a browser window © DAIIn order to provide research groups working from different locations with access to a central uniformous database, CISAR was conceived and developed from the beginning as a web-based solution. The database systems are based on the classical client-server architecture and have several advantages over desktop systems:

  • The user can access from any computer connected to the web a uniformous, up-to-date database.
  • Only standardized web-techniques are used, thus the client doesn't need any special software except for the web browser, independent of any system software.
  • The saving and administration of the database on the server guarantees a high level of security and accessibility of the data, as the respective academic computing center use professional backup systems, automatic update features and redundant hardware.

Homepage of the CISAR-database showing different accessible modules © DAI Characteristic for CISAR is the modular system structure, which enables a flexible adaptation of project specific requirements. Through the cooperation of different scientific research projects for the modeling and development of the databases, specific modules for the recording and processing of archaeological and architectural finds and findings could be designed. In this respect a distinction has to be made between basic and specific modules, which are complemented by a query module and tools for the administration and organization.

  • Basic modules are independent databases for the administration of pictures, maps and plans, bibliographical references and other documents, which relay their information to the specific modules through a standardized interface.
  • Finds and findings are recorded in specific modules. For the archaeological research a find- and a survey-module was developed, while information on building history and architecture is recorded in a spatial unit and building module.
  • For data analysis in the specific modules a query module was developed, which allows the user to create dynamic data base queries through a web page, without needing any SQL commands.
  • Additional relevant documents for the project, such as text documents, presentations and software can be centrally stored in and downloaded from a Document Management System.

GIS-Visualisation inside Google-Maps © DAIIn close consultation with the different architectural and archaeological research projects the factual data model in CISAR was upgraded to a flexible geometric data model for the recording of 2D and 2.5D-geometries. Together with the tools developed for the analysis and visualization of geometric data CISAR was thus upgraded into a complex Geo Information System. The GIS architecture has the following features:

  • Geometrical and factual data are saved together in a consistent Geo-Database.
  • The geometrical data can be visualized and analyzed in a web-based browser. For this only standardized providers and formats as well as established WebGIS methods and tools are used.
  • For further processing, analysis and presentation of the geometrical data server based map providers (WMS, WFS) and geo databases can also be integrated directly into a Desktop-GIS.

For the analysis of complex, 3-dimensional building structures a web-based 3D-building information system was implemented on the bases of the spatial unit module in CISAR.
Standards for the modeling and visualization of 3D geometries on the internet are still lacking an adapted solution on the basis of the standardized VRML format was implemented. Thus objects in the spatial unit module can be attributed to 3D geometries. Query results can be visualized in 3D using a VRML-Viewer, and on the other hand in the 3D visualization factual data of different objects can be displayed.
The complete system architecture of CISAR, from the server as well as the client side was implemented using solely Open-Source Software. Thus CISAR is to a large extent independent from proprietary programs, and provides a maximum of flexibility and transparence.

Technology and implementation

3D-geometries of architecture inside Google-Earth © DAIThe core of CISAR is a modular data model in a PostgreSQL-Database, which was enhanced with the help of PostGIS to provide the functions for saving and analysis of 2D- and 3D-geometrical data. The user interface through PHP using a special interface library ippfp was implemented consistently for all modules. As map server for the provision of geo-data the UMN MapServer is used, which supports different OGC-conform vector- and raster formats as well as standardized map services (WMS, WFS, GML, WMC).
Mapbender provides functions for the creation, display, navigation and query of different map providers for the UMN MapServer and thus acts as central interface between the geo data on the server and the WebGIS surface in the browser visible to the user. In addition to this standardized WebGIS solution a client application for the visualization of 2D-geometries based on Google-Maps API was implemented, while selected 3D-building geometries also can be displayed in 3 dimensions in the browser using a Google-Earth plug-in. For more extensive GIS-functions, especially for the modification and processing of geometrical data, the database content can directly be integrated into the desktop system Quantum-GIS. All server components are installed on the database/web server at the academic computing center of the University of Cottbus. The system is thus integrated into the automatic back-up routine and is professionally maintained and up-dated. For every one of the participating projects CISAR is installed on this server, based on the standardized data model and the same source code basis. This system concept guarantees a high availability and security of the centrally stored research data. 

Cooperation / Cooperation partners

BTU Cottbus, Lehrstuhl für Vermessungskunde
BTU Cottbus, Lehrstuhl für Baugeschichte
HTW Dresden, Fachbereich Vermessungswesen/Kartographie, Labor Geoinformatik


Dipl.-Ing. Frank Henze
BTU Cottbus
Lehrstuhl für Vermessungskunde
Konrad-Wachsmann-Allee 2
03046 Cottbus
Tel: +49 (0)355 69-2439
Fax: +49 (0)355 69-3490 Foerderung:


The development of CISAR was funded to a large extent by the following institutions:

The Fritz Thyssen Foundation for the project of:

  • 'Ein Bauwerksinformationssystem für die 'Domus Severiana' auf dem Palatin in Rom'
  • 'Die Kathedrale von Santiago'

The German Archaeological Institue Berlin for the project of :

  • 'Stadtentwicklung Baalbek'
  • 'Siedlungstopografie Triphylien'
  • 'Die Kaiserpaläste auf dem Palatin in Rom'


HENZE, F., LEHMANN, H., LANGER, W., 2008: CISAR - A Modular Database System as a Basis for Analysis and Documentation of Spatial Information. In: Posluchny, A., Lambers, K., Herzog, I. (eds.): Layers of Perception, Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Computer Application and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Berlin, April 2-6, 2007. Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH Verlag (Bonn 2008), S. 228-233.

HENZE, F., 2008: A Distributed GIS Architecture for Research in Baalbek Based on CISAR. In: Posluchny, A., Lambers, K., Herzog, I. (eds.): Layers of Perception, Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Computer Application and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Berlin, April 2-6, 2007. Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH Verlag (Bonn 2008), S. 234-240.

BRASSE, CH., HEINE, K., ZHAO, D., WULF, U., 2008: A 3D Solution for a Web-based Building Information System. In: Posluchny, A., Lambers, K., Herzog, I. (eds.): Layers of Perception, Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Computer Application and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Berlin, April 2-6, 2007. Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH Verlag (Bonn 2008), S. 241, CD.


The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) is a »scientific corporation« of the Federal Institution under the auspices of the Foreign Office. The staff of the Institute carries out research in the area of archaeology and in related fields and maintains relations with international scholars.
Furthermore, it organizes congresses, colloquia and tours, and informs the public through the media about its work.  

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