UCLA Researchers are Using Geospatial Technologies to Identify Potential Ancient Buddhist Sites

Elizabeth Borneman


Archaeologists and geographers are looking at certain rock formations and other geographical anomalies to predict where the Buddhist king of northern India, Ashoka, left some of his ancient teachings.

Ashoka was the Buddhist king of the Mauryan Dynasty who ruled from 304 BC to 232 BC. Ashoka left transcriptions and proclamations, which researchers of Indian history and religion are greatly interested in. Researchers have located certain sites that are likely locations for some of these edicts, called predicting sites.

Using Predictive Modeling and GIS to Identify Potential Sites of Interest

Archaeologist Monica Smith and geographer Thomas Gillespie identified 121 locations that they hope will reveal some of Ashoka’s edicts using GIS analysis. The locations of 29 of Ashoka’s edicts have already been found scattered across India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The researchers took defining features of these 29 findings and researched other sites in ancient India that may also fit the characteristics of the original edicts.

Using predictive modelling the researchers were able to find over a hundred sites that might match the sites where Ashoka left his edicts. Global GIS datasets covering geology, population, climate and topography were used to develop spatial predictors.  The sites are incredibly important for religious reasons, but also for those who study the influence of this early political and religious movement. The history of Ashoka and his edicts will bring greater insight into the growth and creation of modern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The sites have so far only been theorized in the research, but the predictive modelling may lead Indian and Pakistani scientists to more discoveries about this ancient king.

Map showing the predicted distribution model of Ashokan edicts on the basis of geology, population, climate and topography.
Map showing the predicted distribution model of Ashokan edicts on the basis of geology, population, climate and topography. Source: Gillespie, et al., 2016.

Predicting sites is only as good as the research that was conducted and the appropriate analyses that were conducted on the facts. Predictive modelling can be incredibly helpful in a wide variety of fields including meteorology, geography, volcanology, and now history and archaeology.


Gillespie, T.W., Smith, M.L., Barron, S., Kalra, K. and Rovzar, C. (2016).  Predictive modelling for archaeological sites: Ashokan edicts from the Indian subcontinent.  Current Science, 110(10), 1916-1920.

Smith, M. L., Gillespie, T. W., Barron, S., & Kalra, K. (2016). Finding history: the locational geography of Ashokan inscriptions in the Indian subcontinentAntiquity90(350), 376-392.


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.

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