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Cambridge Heritage Research Centre



I am the remote sensing digital data co-ordinator and project manager of the Mapping Africa’s Endangered Archaeological Sites and Monuments (MAEASaM) project.

I studied Classics and Archaeology at the University of Padova (Italy) and hold an MSc in GIS and Remote Sensing (2001) and PhD in Archaeology (2011) from the University of Cambridge. I was a fixed term lecturer in GIS at the University of Leicester in 2006, and a lecturer in computing archaeology at the University of Botswana from 2007 to 2012. Before joining the McDonald Institute in September 2020, I was a Senior lecturer in GIS in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand (2013-2020). I have directed archaeological research projects in Libya, Sudan, Botswana and South Africa. I am a registered Professional GIS practitioner with the South African Geomatics Council.



I am an Africanist and archaeologist with a specialisation in GIS and remote sensing. My research examines short- and long-term transformations of cultural landscapes across different environments, cultures and time periods through multidimensional integrative approaches. Recent and current field research includes projects on settlement and landscape dynamics of the past 500 years in Northern and Southern Africa, where I have developed various digital expert and participatory approaches for mapping, analysing, managing and disseminating cultural heritage.

In my research I engage with legal and ethical issues around the use and dissemination of spatial information, in particular the need for inclusive, open and low resource environments in the creation of sustainable spatial data infrastructures.

I am currently the Africa coordinator of the LandCover6K PAGES project ( and a principal investigator in the collaborative project metsemegologolo - a multimodal digital platform for the exploration of African urbanisms - ( based at the University of the Witwatersrand and funded by an African Digital Humanities Mellon grant. 


Key publications: 


Journal articles

  • Ochungo, P., Khalaf, N., Merlo, S., Beldados, A., M’Mbogori, F.N., Tiki, W., Lane, P.J. 2022. Remote sensing for biocultural heritage preservation in an African semi-arid region: a case study of indigenous wells in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. Remote Sensing14, 314.
  • Biagetti S., Alcaina-Mateos J., Ruiz-Giralt A., Lancelotti C., Groenewald P., Ibañez-Insa J.,  Gur Arie, S., Morton, F. and Merlo, S. 2021 Identifying anthropogenic features at Seoke (Botswana) using pXRF: Expanding the record of southern African Stone Walled Sites. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250776. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0250776
  • Morrison K.D., Hammer E., Boles O., Madella M., Whitehouse N., Gaillard M.-J., Bates J., Vander Linden M, Merlo, S. et al. 2021. Mapping past human land use using archaeological data: A new classification for global land use synthesis and data harmonization. PLoS ONE 16(4): e0246662.
  • Thabeng O.L., Merlo S., Adam E. 2020. From the bottom up: assessing the spectral ability of common multispectral sensors to detect surface archaeological deposits using field spectrometry and advanced classifiers in the Shashi-Limpopo confluence area. African Archaeological Review 37: 25–49.
  • Thabeng O. L., Adam E., Merlo S. 2019. Spectral discrimination of archaeological sites previously occupied by farming communities using in situ hyperspectral data. Journal of Spectroscopy 2019. Article ID: 5158465.  DOI: 10.1155/2019/5158465
  • Thabeng O. L., Merlo S., Adam E. 2019. High resolution remote sensing for the prospection of archaeological sites’ markers: the case of dung deposits in the Shashi-Limpopo Confluence area (Southern Africa). Journal of Archaeological Science 102: 48–60.
  • Biagetti S., Merlo S., Adam E.; Lobo A.; Conesa F.C., Knight J., Bekrani H., Crema E.R., Alcaina-Mateos J.; Madella M. 2017. High and medium resolution satellite imagery to evaluate late Holocene human–environment interactions in arid lands: a case study from the Central Sahara. Remote Sensing 9 /4/351. DOI: 10.3390/rs9040351 
  • Stratford D. J., Merlo S., Brown S. 2016. The development of a new geospatial framework for the palaeoanthropological site of the Sterkfontein Caves, Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng, South Africa. Journal of Field Archaeology 41/2: 211–221.
  • Kleinitz C. & Merlo S. 2014. Towards a collaborative exploration of community heritage in archaeological salvage context: participatory mapping on Mograt island, Sudan. Der Antike Sudan. Mitteilungen der Sudanarchäologischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin 25: 161–175
  • Mothulatshipi S. & Merlo S. 2013. Can we learn anything from the past? Long term histories of land use and rapid urbanization of rural areas: the case study of Gaborone and its hinterland. Botswana Journal of Technology 22/2: 40–48.
  • Merlo, S., Hakenbeck, S. and Balbo, A. 2013.   Desert Migrations Project XVIII: The archaeology of the northern Fazzan, a preliminary report. Libyan Studies 44: 141-162.
  • Merlo, S., Hakenbeck, S. and Balbo, A. 2008. DMP IV:2008 fieldwork on historic settlement in the Wadi ash-Shati and the Dawada lake villages. Libyan Studies 39: 295-298.
  • Mattingly, D. Lahr, M., Armitage, S., Barton, H., Dore, J., Drake, N. Foley, R., Stock, J., White, K., Merlo, S. 2007. Desert migrations: people, environment and culture in the Libyan Sahara. Libyan Studies 38: 115-156.

Articles in peer reviewed conference proceedings

  • Els, A., Merlo, S., and Knight, J. 2015. Comparison of two satellite imaging platforms for evaluating sand dune migration in the Ubari Sand Sea (Libyan Fazzan), International Archives of Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Science, XL-7/W3, 1375-1380, doi:10.5194/isprsarchives-XL-7-W3-1375-2015.
  • Merlo, S. and Shell, C. 2005. Developing a multidimensional GIS framework for archaeological excavations. CIPA 2005 XX International Symposium Proceedings. Turin, 26th September-1st October 2005, online publication. 
  • Merlo, S. 2004. The “contemporary mind”. 3D GIS as a challenge in excavation practice. In Ausserer, K.F., Borner, W. Goriany, M. and Karlhuber-Vuckly, L. (eds.) Enter the Past. The E-way into the four Dimensions of Cultural Heritage. CAA2003, Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology. BAR International Series 1227, Archeaeopress, Oxford, pp. 276-279. 


  • Merlo S. 2016. Making visible. Three-dimensional GIS in archaeological excavation. S2018. BAR International Series, Oxford. 

Book chapters

  • Rubin, M., Samson, M., Butcher, S., Joffe, A., Merlo, S., Smith, L., Wafer, A. 2020. Investigating infrastructures of urban inequality. In Francis, D., Valodia, I. and Webster, E. (eds.) Inequality Studies from the Global South. Taylor and Francis, London, pp.163-183
  • Mattingly, D., Merlo, S., Mori, L. and Sterry, M. 2020. Garamantian oasis settlements in the Sahara. In Mattingly, D. and Sterry, M. (eds) Urbanisation and State Formation in the ancient Sahara and beyond. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 57-111
  • Merlo, S. 2019. Environmental mapping: past and present. In Knight, J. and Rogerson, C. (eds.) The geography of South Africa: contemporary changes and new directions. Springer Publishers, pp. 15-26
Senior Research Associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
A profile photo of CHRC Member, Dr Stefania Merlo
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