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Criticism of GIS in Archaeology

Criticism of GIS in Archaeology


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Where in the early stage of GIS archaeology criticism already existed, mainly focusing on the simplistic equation of spatial correlation to meaningful association, fundamental concerns were raised within the framework of post-processual (influenced by a humanistic take on social sciences) archaeology of the early 80’s. The concepts and applications of GIS were criticized mainly because they failed to account for symbolic, individual and cognitive factors in the explanation of spatial patterns. One of the post-processual criticisms is that the ecological approach placed too much emphasis on the economic aspects of the landscape, eventually resulting in environmental determinism: the environment determines human behaviour. Individual perception or religious motivations which might lie behind the choice of a specific place or area were not adequately taken into account. It was realized that, in fact, the human mind in the past might even have had very different perceptions of place, space and its relationship to both, and couldn’t be modelled within the limitations of a GIS. Studies in this period, applying a humanistic approach to space argued, and to a certain degree demonstrated, that the spatial patterning in archaeological materials were not easy to explain on the basis of environmental factors. There was a growing consensus that human behaviour could not be explained objectively just by looking at the physical aspects of the environment and therefore not easily predicted. Grave doubt was cast on the ‘universal’ aspect of human behaviour, eventually resulting in skepticism about any rule-based approach. The realization steadily grew that human conduct was the result of many complex factors which were not simply translated into spatial models, and that this was highly dependent on contextual factors. Mainly in the use of predictive modelling, these criticisms weighed heavy. Consequently, analytical approaches using GIS have developed into increasingly sophisticated applications, where these criticisms are taken into account in various degrees of success.

Research topics: Software & Technology