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7.0 Conclusions

7.1 Threats and potentials

During the 1990s GIS discussions were polarised into debates on threats and potentials. Gaffney et al. (1995b) discouraged repetitive confirmations of the obvious but encouraged the use of available technologies. Gillings and Goodrick (1996) warned of timelessness, reduction of complex phenomena to pointillism and natural determinism but encouraged VRML, multisensual approaches, phenomenology and improved data collection. In a conflicting situation, they advocated reflexive and informed GIS studies. Nevertheless, the huge potential of this tool is generally acknowledged. For example, Exon et al. (2000) underlined the possibilities that digitally reproduced landscapes offer in a theoretically reflexive environment. The value of digital methods becomes evident when one considers how difficult, if not impossible, it was to analyse and quantify distributions and visibilities before computers. Although many single analyses are based on 'old-fashioned' processual theoretical premises, the application of these can be justified by pragmatic thinking. Understanding the limitations of any research tool is essential but source criticism should not hinder their use.

The use of realistic and pragmatic approaches is a means of fulfilling the potential of GIS as part of a fully integrated archaeological approach. These philosophical stands allow a critical use of GIS tools and helps to understand the process of interpretation. According to realistic thinking, archaeological entities are real when approached from archaeological premises and can be presented using different data models. Different archaeological entities can be studied using computerised methods and new knowledge is acquired using GIS and other digital methodologies. On the other hand, pragmatism justifies the critical use of different methods of study to analyse archaeological phenomena in order to explain their meaning. Thus, realism and pragmatism give a sound theoretical basis for the ontology and epistemology of archaeological GIS studies.

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