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3.1 Direct causal references

Some cognitive behaviour is directly linked to specific measurable environmental variables, and although they may not represent all, they actively play a part in causal explanations for that behaviour (Figure 3a). These sorts of variables are the ones which we, and people in the past, may have measured directly with our own senses – sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. Although we might have a difficult time determining exactly what long-dead individuals saw, touched, heard, smelled or tasted, we do have the ability to construct our interpretations of what they may have directly experienced, given what we know about conditions today and in the past.

Diagram showing proxy types
Figure 3a, b and c: Types of spatial proxies

Viewshed and visibility analysis is obviously the first example that leaps to mind. We use viewsheds as a means to apply a numerical value to every point on the landscape with respect to whether or not it was visible from the chosen location. Alternately, a dualistic visible/invisible evaluation could be supplemented by an assessment of degree of visibility based on distance, presumed vegetation, or temporal and seasonal conditions. As an archaeological example, visual signalling stations need to be located within direct sight of one another, for obvious reasons. From a causal explanatory perspective, we understand that the decision to place a signalling station at any given point on the landscape is strongly directly dependent (though not entirely) on a degree or level of visibility. Thus, we would say that such a cognitive decision (or behaviour) is directly causally linked to the archaeological or environmental observations produced by the viewshed/visibility analysis. In this case our measured perceptions (the analysis) act as a proxy for the measured perceptions of people in the past in a direct way; we are measuring visibility potential and they were measuring visibility potential.

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