1.3 Archaeological GIS - the way forward?

1.3.1 Current Directions

In briefly reviewing the current theoretical status and identifying three broad conceptual issues that can currently be seen as restricting the free development of a more reflexive and informed archaeological GIS, little attempt has been made to look at how practitioners are currently seeking to address these limitations. Researchers are already investigating the use of more exploratory modes of statistical enquiry (Farley et al. 1990, ) and a great deal of work has already been undertaken in attempting to utilise the GIS to move beyond simple Cartesian notions of space and begin to look at alternative mappings, from the simple cost-surface modelling undertaken in the seminal Hvar survey (Gaffney and Stancic 1991) through to the more perception-aware studies discussed by Stead (Stead 1995). What these studies appear to share, however, is a rather functionalist adherence to ideas of cost, effort and calorific expenditure, and the notion implicit within such discussions of past peoples as largely rational, decision-making entities (Mithen 1991, Thomas 1991). Zubrow's work in utilising GIS-based techniques to investigate knowledge representation comprises an interesting point of conceptual departure, but still finds itself heavily reliant upon ideas relating to pan-cultural rules derived from sets of cognitive universals. It is clear that the challenge in incorporating more fully experiential, phenomenological and sensual encounters and mappings into archaeological-GIS based studies has yet to be fully addressed and explored.

1.3.2 Viewshed-based Techniques

In the move towards the realisation of a more theoretically informed GIS, increasingly more common in recent years than cost-surface modelling have been applications which, in stressing the importance of a more culturally relevant or "humanised" GIS, have concentrated upon a single, routine group of tools from the GIS toolbox, namely viewshed and visibility analysis (for a detailed discussion of the methodologies employed and a case study see: Wheatley 1995).

It will be argued here, however, that in adopting viewshed-based techniques alone these studies run the risk of conforming to the same reductionist and essentially 'technique-led' agenda that has so effectively characterised the first generation of archaeological GIS applications. In emphasising the concept of the viewshed it will be argued that these applications critically confuse the concept of 'vision' with that of 'perception', and in so doing simplify once again the full complexity of people-place relations and dynamics for the sake of technical convenience.


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Last updated: Tue Sep 5 1996