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1.2 Epistemology and ontology

'In recent years...an emphasis on epistemology, has undoubtedly achieved a dominant theoretical position in archaeology and in many other related studies.'
Exon et al. 2000, 10

Epistemology and ontology as concepts are crucial in analysing different theoretical frames of reference. 'Epistemology' is defined here as the theory of knowledge and justification, 'ontology' as the theory on what exists in the world and what can be studied (Audi 1998). These concepts can be used to evaluate the choices made by archaeologists as they approach the past and define the scopes of their research. Thus, epistemology and ontology are crucial in evaluating what kind of choices, if any, different archaeologists have made in GIS studies. This discussion concentrates on three key questions:

  1. What archaeological entities can be studied with GIS, i.e. what is the nature of GIS data?
  2. What kind of knowledge do archaeologists think they create with GIS?
  3. How is this knowledge acquired?

These questions are intellectually interrelated and an integral part of any research process. Analytically, they are linked to such a degree that the same themes will be rediscussed from a different aspect throughout the article. To clarify the core arguments, an example is presented in section 6. The example goes through a reasoning process starting with an application of visibility analysis and leading to its interpretation in an archaeological context.

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Last updated: Thur Nov 11 2004