Internet Archaeol. 16. Whitley. Summary

Spatial Variables as Proxies for Modelling Cognition and Decision-Making in Archaeological Settings: A Theoretical Perspective

Thomas G. Whitley

Brockington and Associates, Inc., 6611 Bay Circle, Suite 220, Norcross, Georgia, USA.

Cite this as: T.G. Whitley 2004 'Spatial Variables as Proxies for Modelling Cognition and Decision-Making in Archaeological Settings: A Theoretical Perspective', Internet Archaeology 16.


In recent years there has been a flourish of archaeological studies focusing on prehistoric cognition or motivation on the basis of GIS-generated interpretations. These have taken two very different forms on either side of the Atlantic. In the empirically driven positivist community of North American researchers, Cultural Resource Management (CRM) projects have created a tendency toward using GIS-based archaeological data in the context of so-called 'predictive modelling', or within typically large-scale interpretations of environmental motivations for settlement. This perspective has its origins in the nature of the North American archaeological record, and the development and dominance of processualism. In contrast, the highly complex European archaeological record and the influence of both post-processualism and landscape forms of archaeology have led to a European focus on using GIS as a tool for reconstructing social and cognitive landscapes. Most frequently this has been in the form of visibility and viewshed analyses of henge-type monuments, hill fortifications and their surrounding landscapes. The disconnect between these two dichotomous traditions suggests on the one hand that North American approaches could benefit from methods that generate a more enriching discussion of agency and social theory, while European approaches could benefit from a less speculative form of epistemological argumentation. These ideas may come together through the use of an enhanced discussion of explanation and causality (in keeping with developments in the history and philosophy of science) and key tools such as the use of spatial variables as proxies for cognitive decision-making and social agency.

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