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Current approaches in GIS-based research

Current approaches in GIS-based research


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In reaction to this criticism, there have been three major developments:

First, approaches dealing with predictive modelling techniques have been honed to incorporate cognitive and ritual factors into their models. On the basis of empirical observations, that is, the correlation between specific sites such as ritual depositions and the environment, predictions are refined. Although highly problematic for research purposes, these techniques feature mainly on the resource and heritage management level, where they form the foundation of maps which give an indication of the possible presence of archaeologically valuable areas in large territories. Still they are hotly debated, since they may function reasonably well in protecting areas with a high predicted probability of archaeological materials, they are rarely ever tested for their accuracy and effectiveness, with potentially severe consequences for areas with a low predicted probability of archaeological materials.

Second, there is a development toward the use of cognitive GIS archaeology, where the practitioners try to get a grip on ‘landscapes of perception’ or ‘symbolic landscapes’. These approaches range from understanding landscapes in more complex models of visual perception to using Virtual Reality (3D modeling) in combination with GIS based on expert insights to approximate the possible perception of place and space in antiquity. Far less rigorous than the systems-theory approach in universalistic explanations of human behaviour, it is still believed possible to infer relationships between people and their environment and by attempting to quantify subjective concepts like ‘appreciation’ try to answer questions about choice of places. At a less ambitious level, spatial analyses are used to verify or reject hypotheses which form part of explanations that take into account cognitive aspects.

Third, GIS is increasingly used to study the environmental processes which influence the preservation and patterning of archaeological remains. This involves a thorough study of landscape dynamics, such as hydrology, slope wash-effects, erosion and so forth. The main purpose is to reduce biases in the archaeological record caused by differentiated exposure of surface materials, relocation of archaeological finds, and obfuscation of find densities by vegetation and other causes. Because these studies are directed mainly toward(s) the assessment of physical and natural processes instead of anthropomorphic factors, many of the problems which apply mainly to social interpretation are avoided.

In conclusion, on the basis of the short summary presented above, it should be evident, that the application of GIS analyses in the study of human behaviour is problematic and highly sensitive to criticism. Any application of GIS technology on the level of analyses should therefore be accompanied by a clear explanation of the theoretical outline and a transparent presentation of used methods and results.

Research topics: Software & Technology