3.2 Why is this research necessary?

The importance of dress to social identity cannot be overstated. Our outward appearance is an immediate and explicit means by which observers can make an assessment of our gender, status, age and/or roles (see Roach and Eicher 1979, 11). In burial, the communicative function of clothing endures, but in a changed way. Expression of an individual's identity after death is effected by the living, and may not reflect how the deceased identified himself or herself in life. The social persona presented in death is an idealised amalgam of identities that are considered appropriate for expression by the architects of the mortuary ritual, and these will not perpetuate socially unacceptable identities. With the reconstruction of identity in the hands of others following the death of the individual and the individual's agency, it is reasonable to suppose that behaviours that characterised the living individual may not be acknowledged in death if they transcended social orthodoxy. If, for example, an individual was a transvestite in life, this will not be apparent in death - unless it was socially acceptable (Arnold 2002, 253). The study of dress in burial, therefore, cannot necessarily illuminate the comprehensive reality of lived experience, but it can shed light on the ideal tenets that underlie social structure (see Morris 1987, 39 for a discussion of the distinction between ideal social structure and actual social organisation).

Research on such questions can, and traditionally has been, undertaken without use of GIS technologies. However, GIS applications can present data in a way that facilitates identification of patterning: such visual presentation illustrates a level of complexity that would otherwise be attainable only through complex multivariate analysis. It permits a reader who does not possess sophisticated statistical knowledge to understand patterning immediately. The potential of the specific GIS programme (ArcGIS) used in the current project was only exploited at its most basic level. Although burials from the cemetery of Osteria dell'Osa are published with grid references that allow their easy identification on site plans, they lack true geo-referencing, so the available analytical tools in ArcGIS could not be utilised to full effect. However, a range of tools was available that allowed the presentation of data in a visual format. This allowed the simultaneous consideration of a range of queries, and illuminated patterning that might otherwise have escaped notice.

Such use does not reflect the common applications of GIS programmes in archaeology; typically, they are used for broader-scale analyses that interrogate primary, geo-referenced data. Instead, the current approach follows on from methods developed by Allison et al. (2004) that explore the spatial distribution of material culture in Roman forts using published data, which are described as legacy data.


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Last updated: Mon Jun 30 2008