7. Concluding Remarks

Analyses of ancient authors' comments and of structural remains alone, from archaeological excavations, often give proscriptive views of people's lives in the past - the views expounded by these authors and those hoped for by the builders of the structures. By incorporating analyses of artefact distribution into our investigations, we can start to question our long-held perceptions on Roman military communities and daily life inside military bases. The importance of a GIS-type environment to this project is that we can rapidly plot and test large amounts of data, and we can change any number of parameters and plots along the way, many times.

As Gaffney, Stančič and Watson stated 'GIS not an objective observer of pattern implications' (1995, 213). At the Roman Archaeology Conference in Birmingham in 2005, a participant asked me 'when will GIS get beyond being just dots on maps?'. However, it is the visualisation of these artefact distribution patterns, these 'dots on maps', which facilitates their analysis and interpretation. As stated by Stanton Green, 'GIS visual output [is] a substantial methodological aspect' (1990, 7). The remains of women's activities that can be identified in the archaeological record are extremely sparse and therefore often considered non-existent or even intrusive. With the type of visualisation, or 'dots on maps' provided by GIS, such faint patterns can be highlighted and the other 'noise' removed, if necessary, to examine both the inter- and intra-site patterning of the less well-understood members of past communities. As stated by Kwan,

'As geographical data ... at fine spatial scales can be assembled and incorporated into a GIS, it is possible to link the trajectories of women's everyday lives ... This would allow a mode of analysis that is more sensitive to scale and context than conventional methods' and 'This mode of analysis ... permits an understanding of women's situations "at a level that does not obfuscate their daily lives through maps and language drawn from instrumental, strategic logic" ([quoted from] Aitken 2002, 364)'. (Kwan (2002b, 651)

An added factor that obscures the patterns of less prominent evidence is a traditional practice in Roman archaeology whereby a scholar will specialise in one particular artefact type (e.g. fine ceramics) and the results of that scholar's study are not incorporated into the overall artefact analysis or indeed integrated into the overall interpretation of the site (see Allison 1997). This practice has evidently caused a problem in understanding the fort at Ellingen where the conclusions of Peter Schröter, who carried out analyses of the skeletal remains (Zanier 1992, 306), were not included in the initial overall interpretations of the fort.

In a concern about the usefulness of GIS analyses Stanton Green asked 'Can one partition human behaviour into spatial packages?'(1990, 4). Roman forts, with clearly defined structural and spatial limits, would appear to constitute such inbuilt 'spatial packages'. The use of 'legacy data', such as comprehensively published excavation reports from Roman military sites, can show archaeologists, who are still developing their digitised data, the kinds of questions that they will be able to ask of these data. For example, if I can find even the smallest traces of women and children in forts with relatively poorly recorded data, then other scholars can use their more carefully recorded sites to deepen our understanding of community life on the Roman frontier in the Early Empire and the roles of women and families in this military domain.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Mon Jun 30 2008