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1.5 GIS and Theory: some conclusions:

One of the aims of this review of the theoretical status of archaeological GIS has been both to highlight current conceptual shortcomings, and to examine critically how archaeological GIS may best proceed. The results of this brief summary seem clear. If GIS is to realise its potential fully in an archaeological context, the theoretical conceptual underpinnings of any analysis must be made explicit. In addition, rather than archaeology working within the prescriptive confines of existing systems, new techniques must be developed to extend the capabilities of routine GIS to meet the unique demands of the archaeological problematic.

As stated in the introduction, the purpose of this paper is to explore one possible avenue of research for achieving this aim, and broadening the analytical and conceptual scope of archaeological-GIS based studies. This avenue comprises the enormous potential inherent in an intimate relationship between the Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) developments of the World Wide Web (WWW) and GIS. The theoretical concepts underlying the approaches to be advocated here concern the more reflexive application of GIS, through consideration of factors such as the importance of synergistic notions of culture and nature, and the role of more experiential, multi-sensual relations between people and place.

As will become clear, far from advocating a highly idealistic, and practically unfeasible, notion of Virtual Reality as some kind of heuristic panacea, we instead focus upon the potential of VR as framed by the capabilities of the VRML language itself. Here VR is seen more as facilitating a sensual and experiential mode of engagement with the material remains of the past than some fanciful immersion within them. What must be stressed is that the present discussion represents very much the beginning of a field of research and as such relies heavily upon work in progress, in progress it should be added in a field whose enormous potential for archaeology is matched only by its own latent fluidity. In the light of this, rather than attempting to define precisely the nature of any given relationship between VRML and GIS, we will instead rely upon three simple case studies to communicate more its essence.


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