News | December 11, 2023

Reading time: 4 minutes

Amidst the enchanting backdrop of Florence, Italy, the Center for Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies (CAMNES) hosted a momentous seminar on October 30, 2023. This event, titled Matrix 1973-2023, commemorated the 50th anniversary of a groundbreaking advancement in archaeological methodology – the Harris Matrix. Brainchild of Bermudian archaeologist and Founding Executive Director Emeritus of the National Museum of Bermuda (NMB), Dr. Edward Cecil Harris, the Harris Matrix sent ripples through the archaeological world when it was first developed in 1973. Today, it continues to evolve alongside digital technology.

The revolutionary approach of the Harris Matrix transformed the field and set a new industry standard for archaeological recording. The Matrix provided archaeologists with a visual key: a way to unravel the stratigraphic sequences of archaeological sites through a comprehensible diagram. Dr. Harris wasn’t content with merely changing the game; he penned The Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy in 1979, a seminal text that fundamentally altered the nature of archaeological studies. Since translated into twelve languages, this publication became the foundational text of archaeological enthusiasts worldwide, and is available for free download at

To understand its importance, you must first look at every archaeological site as a unique time capsule, preserving the past in layers. The Harris Matrix emerged as the only universal language capable of displaying the temporal succession of a site in relative time order. It transformed the archaeological stratigraphic paradigm from a one-dimensional narrative to a four-dimensional design, encompassing the depth of deposits, the length and width of surface areas, and the relative time sequence. Dr. Harris’s streamlined approach introduced a new method where all stratigraphic data coalesce in a harmonious visual display of relationships among all stratigraphic units over time.

Harris Matrix in diagram, courtesy of

When asked about the development of the Matrix, Dr. Harris explained: “Originally, the matrix had the old computer adage of garbage in, garbage out. Fortunately, we were able to overcome those hurdles and it lasted us for 50 years.”

Fifty years on from its initial development, the Harris Matrix continues to empower archaeologists to investigate intricate sites with unprecedented clarity. Moreover, the Harris Matrix has been seamlessly integrated into various computerised recording systems, expanding its utility in the analysis of structures, rock art, and a myriad of archaeological scenarios where stratigraphic principles play a pivotal role. This versatile tool continues to evolve, leaving an indelible mark on archaeological practices and enhancing our understanding of the diverse layers that encapsulate our history.

‘The Harris Matrix’, 2014. Portrait of NMB Founding Executive Director Emeritus Dr. Edward Harris in Casemate Barracks. By Antoine Hunt and Jüliz Ritchie. A Matrix diagram is digitally superimposed on the floor.

Fast forward to the Matrix 1973-2023 seminar, where six prominent archaeologists hailing from Italy and Austria, alongside CAMNES students, immersed themselves in a fervent discussion about the lasting influence of the Matrix.

Speakers and students who participated in the seminar “Matrix 1973-2023” in Florence, Italy, on 30 October 2023.

Dr. Federico Cantini, Director of the Specialization School in Archaeology of the University of Pisa, emphasised the transformative shift brought about by the Harris Matrix, turning archaeology from antiquarian research into a dynamic exploration of history.

“The introduction, in 1973, and dissemination of The Harris Matrix were a revolution especially in archaeological practice and in archaeological thinking. The protagonists of the research were no longer art objects and monuments, but the stratigraphic sequence, with its physical relationships and temporal succession. In this way archaeology definitely moved away from antiquarian research and became history. Adopting the Harris Matrix represented a Darwinian “advantageous mutation,” that allowed to investigate complex sites, having a perfect tool not only for the management of large masses of data, but also for their interpretation. The archaeological excavations of the University of Pisa are, today, an opportunity to use Harris’ teaching and pass it on to the archaeologists of the future.”

The conference also featured Dr. Wolfgang Neubauer, Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro) in Austria, a stalwart in the realm of archaeological stratigraphy. Dr. Neubauer highlighted recent technological advancements, unveiling the ‘Harris Matrix Composer’ software. This groundbreaking tool combines a stratigraphic sequence with an interval-based temporal model, marking a new chapter in archaeological theory.

From left to right, Edward Harris with Stefano Valentini (CAMNES), Guido Guarducci (CAMNES), Wolfgang Neubauer (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology), Paolo Liverani (Università di Firenze), Federico Cantini (Università di Pisa), Elisabetta Giorgi (Università di Siena), and Daniele Manacorda (Università degli Studi Roma III)

Elena Strong, current Executive Director of NMB, expressed her pride in Dr. Harris’s achievement, stating:

“After 50 years, the Harris Matrix shows no sign of diminishing in its value, and we are certain that it will continue to have an enduring impact on the field of archaeology. We should all be proud of our fellow Bermudian whose scientific work has significantly impacted archaeological practices worldwide.”

As the echoes of Matrix 1973-2023 resonate across archaeological circles, one thing is clear:  Dr. Harris’s legacy transcends time, unveiling the mysteries of the past and paving the way for future archaeological explorations. The Matrix isn’t just a diagram; it’s a time-traveling key to help archaeologists unlock the secrets of the past.


To download The Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy visit: 

To learn more about the Museum’s archaeology projects visit:

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