3.4 The dynamics of spatial data

Looking back at traditional analogue field recording we may conclude that it generally fails to recognise or address the dynamics of spatial data. It is in fact a fragmented methodology, as traditional documentation principles were historically often based on field diaries, which used anecdotal approaches to document every minute detail concerning the progress of an excavation. In fact, we are dealing with a set of ideals for documentation, aimed at collecting the evidence to create a single, final interpretation - much in line with the ideals of single context planning. Consequently, the output of such strategies is characterised by rather static drawings based on an archaeologist's interpretation, not accommodating the subjective nature of a drawing and re-interpretation of such data. Instead they are considered a trustworthy representation of the observed.

Digital spatial data is distinctly different in many aspects. Firstly, it is more elaborate in its ability to balance the observation-proximate or photographic evidence against the archaeological interpretations. The differences are also closely related to the excavation methodology and workflow; how data is created in the first place and whether or not data is born digital or derived from other sources. In that respect, digital spatial data is extremely dynamic and derivative, and is often represented by fragmentary parts, which go into one or more adaptable composites to visualise a hypothesis. Much of the challenge lies in documenting this process, from data creation to post-processing, and handling how data, as well as hypotheses, develop over time. This of course, necessitates far more consistency, adherence to best practices and specialised skills.

Paradoxically, regardless of how fundamental it is to archaeological documentation, spatial recording was not always considered solely the task of an archaeologist. On the contrary, it was often considered sufficiently complex that it justified or even depended on the work of specialists. This usually included architects, professional land surveyors and map makers. The technological developments of field recording affected this pattern by making, for example, global navigation satellite systems and total stations more easily available and integrated with the digital tools used. Although things are rapidly changing, it is still often considered a specialist job to be able to handle surveying equipment or even GIS and CAD software, and perhaps even more so with the evolving technologies of digital photogrammetry and 3D recording. This has the potential to detach spatial data from the 'real' archaeologist, depending on how and where the interpretation phase is implemented. It also affects the post-processing, where fully exploiting the potential of the spatial record may boil down to the exchange of technical skills. As a consequence, two comparable methodological approaches have been put forward that address and support the formalisation of an ongoing flexible process of interpretation, and which act as a guide for the fieldwork as well as the generation of the spatial record: the Reflexive method by Ian Hodder (1997; 1999; 2000) and Martin Carver's evaluative archaeology (2003; 2009).


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