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6.0 An example of archaeological reasoning: cognitive and post-structural approaches to visibility

6.1 An Italian example

In order to show how theory and practice are linked and how theoretical and philosophical reasoning is used in the creation of archaeological interpretations, a contextualised case study is presented here. The case study discussed is a basic visibility analysis used to explore the relationships the settlement of Gabii (Fig. 2) had with its surroundings through time. This relationship changed since the location of what can be called the 'main settlement' changed from period to period. This example also shows how traditional archaeological knowledge is essential in reasoning.

Figure 2: Location of Gabii in central Italy
Location map

The ancient Latin town of Gabii was located on the volcanic crater by Castiglione Lake east of Rome. The earliest known permanent occupation is from the Neolithic when the settlement was south of the lake (Carboni 1993). During the Middle and Recent Bronze Age the settlement had relocated to the east of the lake and it was in the crater itself (cf. Guaitoli 1981; De Santis 2001). By the Final Bronze Age, the settlement is assumed to have moved to the highest hilltop, but the destruction of the site by quarrying makes verification of this assumption difficult (Guaitoli 1981). By the Early Iron Age the south-eastern rim of the crater was settled and later, during the Orientalising and Archaic periods, the eastern and southern parts of the crater rim were inhabited.

Visibility analysis was carried out in order to consider the qualities of the different locales of occupation. The highest point of each settlement site was used as the observer location (Fig. 3). All approaches to visibility acknowledge that the physical characteristics of a place and its surroundings define the possibilities of perception. Visibility analysis quantifies these possibilities and in a sense measures visual affordances; when the highest points of places are used for the analyses the maximum affordances are observed. The way different possibilities are interpreted depends on how the argument is formulated and how theory and archaeological evidence is used in argumentation during the research process. A realistic approach sees the analysis of perception and the interpretation of its meaning as two separate, complementary acts. Therefore, cognitive and post-structural theories that have different philosophical backgrounds can serve as the basis of reasoning at different stages of interpretation.

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Last updated: Thur Nov 11 2004