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Part One: The GIS Context

1.1 GIS and Archaeological Thought: an introduction

1.1.1 Narrowing the Scope: GIS as an Archaeological Research Tool

The purpose of this section is to review the current status of archaeological GIS applications with respect to the broader concerns of archaeological theory. Before embarking upon the discussion proper it is important to state that the principal concern here is with research-oriented applications of GIS rather than those concerned primarily with data management or metadata issues. If the internal emphasis appears to be biased towards what can best be termed landscape-based concerns, this is largely due to the dominance of landscape-based studies amongst the pioneering batch of GIS-based analyses. This phenomenon itself appears to reflect the strong sense of immediacy and attractiveness felt by researchers between the routine analytical capabilities of the GIS toolbox and the broad scale spatial problematics that characterise much landscape-based study. It should be stressed, however, that landscape is by no means the sole preserve of GIS-based approaches as more recent complex urban, intra-site and even cognitive-ideological studies are beginning to show. It is hoped that the issues and approaches that will be identified and elaborated upon during the course of this discussion are equally valid, whether work is focused upon the structuring of social space in and around a single artefact or the artefact as one component of a dynamic and vibrant cultural landscape.

1.1.2 Structure of the Paper

The basic aim is to highlight the principal points of recent debate concerning GIS and theory, and then to move beyond them to look critically at the notion of more reflexive and informed GIS studies as embodied within recent developments in viewshed and inter-visibility based studies. Following a critique of such approaches, highlighting the conceptual limitations inherent in any reliance upon such unqualified visualism, the challenge and importance to GIS-based research of developing the mechanisms to facilitate the exploration and articulation of more experiential and fully sensual modes of human-landscape interaction will be discussed.

That archaeological GIS can meet the challenge and transcend the scientistic security to be found in an endless display of statistically amenable yet highly reductionist scatter-plots, is certain. It is hoped that the synergy created between GIS and VRML is the first step towards achieving this aim and more fully realising the inherent archaeological potential of GIS-based approaches.


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