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2.3 Rationale

WebGIS projects employed in British archaeology, like those discussed, are predominantly limited to display of information rather than facilitating knowledge exchange and production. The majority of projects are essentially concerned with the presentation of data (akin to traditional cartography) rather than facilitating exploration of unknown datasets (at least to the intended user) and, as such, further exploit the potential of the internet, stimulating visual thinking in a collaborative context (Kraak 2001, 12-14). This situation is regrettable, as research examining the effects of virtual modes of collaboration found that computer-mediated communication may actually be superior to face-to-face communication in collaborative situations, because social inhibition is reduced and equality of participation can be increased (Potter and Balthazard 2002, 437-40). In academic contexts, this has led to the rise in Virtual Research Environments (VRE) and in the public domain, crowdsourced/citizen science modes of problem solving (Fraser 2005).

Unfortunately, several barriers to an enhanced relationship regarding spatial technologies between community and archaeological groups do exist. The primary factors that prohibit the use of GIS in archaeology and humanities research more broadly are the cost of software and the knowledge and skills necessary to utilise the available tools effectively (Jessop 2008, 43). Unfortunately, this situation is particularly prevalent among grassroots groups (Elwood 2008, 3). The expense of data capture and acquisition is also a barrier when considering utilising remote-sensed datasets (Anand et al. 2010, 5). For example, the cost of acquiring LIDAR data to examine a landscape is approximately seven times more than vertical aerial photographic data of the same area (Challis et al. 2008, 1062). These factors contribute to the creation of a 'geospatial divide' between those with necessary expertise and resources and those engaged in relevant activities but lacking the necessary expertise to use geospatial data (Owen et al. 2009, 24). Significantly, recent research examining the use of geospatial data suggested that bridging the 'geospatial divide' could in part be achieved through increased levels of expert interaction with non-expert users to provide the training and resources to overcome barriers to participation (Owen et al. 2009, 24).

The 'geospatial divide' also has implications for remote-sensed data analysis as, despite technological advances, computers at present do not possess the ability to discern subtle archaeological features in remote-sensed images. It requires a human eye to attribute meaning to the computer-displayed images (Parcak 2009, 110). The ability of the human eye to perform this task is dependent on the experience and skillset of the individual, which may vary in both professional and amateur contexts. Nevertheless, irrespective of the interpreter's knowledge, without the appropriate apparatus to access and interpret data any potential contribution, however informed, is lost. Lack of widespread interaction with spatial technologies, particularly incorporating raster-based visualisation, is detrimental as raster imagery emphasises a spatial continuous conceptual model of archaeological value (Wheatley 2000). This shift of focus is particularly pertinent to governing bodies in the UK as the transition from a Sites and Monument Record (SMR) to Historic Environment Record (HER) gathers momentum (English Heritage 2010, 41). New effective modes of communication that convey this sea change, emphasising landscape-based enquiry to the public have added validity and may aid HER departments to engage with the local community.

At a local level, the use of LIDAR, as a prospection and interpretative tool, furthers relevant regional research agendas, stated by 'Research Aim 1a', proposed by the Regional Research Framework for the Historic Environment in the South West of England (Webster 2008, 274). In addition, the focus on generating public interest and engagement with archaeology, through development of online tools, also facilitates fulfilment of 'Research Aim 4' (Webster 2008, 277).


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