2.6 Summary

This article does not propose a specific suite of GIS applications for legacy data or any high-level theoretical framework. Rather it argues that current analyses are supplemented in several ways: firstly, more emphasis should be placed on source criticism (i.e. the creation of contextual metadata through a process of data characterisation) as a means of understanding data, including particular attention to the interaction of past and present action (i.e. the behaviour of people in the past and of the archaeologists studying them).

Secondly, more value should be placed on the description and visualisation of data within GIS as a means to identify contextual metadata. The charge of 'pretty maps' is powerful in an age of interpretive archaeology (see Fisher 1999, 8). However, the importance of exploring data structures and defining characteristics should not be underestimated when dealing with legacy data. It is easy to imagine that survey data are objective 'facts', especially when available digitally 'off the shelf'; GIS should help to stress the diversity of data structures, not gloss over incompatibilities.

Thirdly, the process of data collation, preparation and entry should be rethought as an integral part of data characterisation. Digitisation is a valuable part of analysis and not just the frustrating process of 'getting the data in' or an inconvenient formality before the real analytical work starts. It is also an iterative and incremental process. It is worth stressing this point for two reasons: firstly, the importance of this phase is rarely discussed (e.g. Chapman's (2006) Landscape Archaeology and GIS addresses data sources, but provides no explicit discussion of data entry as an integral part of the analytical process). Second, the growing (and welcome) availability of legacy data in digital formats means that this process is increasingly completed by other people; it is therefore ever easier to underestimate the range and significance of decisions and assumptions involved not only during the original fieldwork, but also during the process of digitisation.

In summary, general approaches to GIS have begun to engage with theories of social action in the past. Meanwhile, the growing reflexivity of archaeology as a whole is encouraging greater attention towards the role of the archaeologist in shaping archaeological datasets. Legacy data require particular attention because the theories and methods of survey archaeology have rapidly evolved. GIS offers an environment in which the spatial structure of the archaeological record can be assessed - in terms of the social actions of people in the past and the archaeologists who study them. The application of GIS to these issues does not require a revolution in current approaches, but it does require a change in the way digitisation, comparison and visualisation of data are conceived.


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Last updated: Mon Jun 30 2008