Middle Ground- Firming up my ideas III, my proposal

Posted on March 25, 2011

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In the last couple of post I have explained what I am doing here and here. Now it’s time to discuss what I propose as a tool to create the “Middle Ground”. I should start by saying the inspiration for this comes from the paper Beyond the Marsh: Settlement Choice, Perception, and Spatial Decision-Making on the Georgia Coastal Plain by Thomas G. Whitley, Inna Moore, Gitisha Goel and Damon Jackson. A copy of this paper can be download here. There work on agency and GIS is pure brilliance.

In their paper the authors created a perceptions map of a hypothetical male hunter would have of his surroundings. Figure below-

Figure 12: from Thomas G. Whitley, Inna Moore, Gitisha Goel and Damon Jackson 2009

They created this by making multiple GIS layers of food resources available in the surrounding landscape around the village in question. Then using calculations about how far and often a person would need to travel they created a map of the areas a person would visit to obtain resources. The lighter shaded areas are those areas that received limited visits. The result is a beautiful representation of the areas that a person would have the most intimate knowledge of and a great combination of agency and GIS. This paper covers a lot of ground so they did not have the opportunity to go more in-depth into this area.

My proposal is to take this further, amp it up, and add a more experiential view of the world. To do this I created a similar intimate knowledge area around a hypothetical site (Figure 1).  I then add a line-of-sight zone around this intimate knowledge zone. This is because while people may not physically inhabit or travel to areas outside of their hunting/gathering/farming zone they can still see what is next to them. So now, I have two views for how people know their surroundings, places they travel to often (figure 1) and places they have seen in those travels (figure 2).

Figure 1: View of travel zone

Figure 2: Travel Zone and Line of Sight

Now it is time to add a third and forth layer to this by adding other places they visit outside of their food foraging zone. In Figure 3 we have places they travel to. In this case I am assuming they already know the quickest way to get to that location. So there is a least cost of travel route that they, like their hunting/gathering/farming areas, they know fairly well but there is also all of the areas they can see from this route as well (Figure 3).

Figrue 3: Travel Route and Viewshed

For an even more complex view of the world lets assume that these other locations a person goes to includes interactions with other individuals. So, when they travel to other locations, they exchange knowledge and gain information about other aspects of the world they have never travelled to or seen . Of course, if people are not only exchanging their knowledge but the knowledge of other people, third party knowledge, the potential mental map of the world expands exponentially.

Figure 4: Exstended View Network

The world is not that simple and not everyone talks to everyone (family feud anyone). So, I added one last layer of complexity to this by creating links/bounds between select groups of people. For example, lets say you only communicate with groups  that you are directly related to e.g. your brother, sister, or first cousin is a part of. That changes the map dramatically, as you now have potentially huge grey spots of areas that you might see from a distance (mountain tops) but have no contact with or complete areas that are a blank to you (you’ll fall off the edge of the world Columbus).

Figure 5: View map based on kinship group

Some of you might be thinking, “that’s nice but how can you see that in the archaeological record”. There are a multitude of ways of making the connection, in northern California basket weaving traditions travel along the female lines, mothers teach daughters. Studies have already linked group connections with basket weaving (Jordon 2007). Artefacts could easy tell us about the connections between groups. Genetics is another way too look for links as well. While still in its infancy, some studies have shown different genetic groups located near each other. There was even conflict between these groups (Potter and Chuipka 2010) so one could assume that they were not on friendly terms or shared knowledge.

I think this is a much better representation of what people would or would not have been aware of in the landscape. Its no longer good enough to just assume that because people were there they would know all of their surroundings. This moves GIS into the realm of agency and closer to experiential landscape theory but I  still have more to do.

Next post- How this fits into experiential landscape theory.

2010 Potter, James M. and Chuipka, Jason P.  Perimortem mutilation of human remains in an early village in theAmerican Southwest: A case for ethnic violence. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29 (2010) 507–523

2007 Jordan, Petere. Continuity and Change in Different Domains of Culture: An Emerging Approach to Understanding Diversity in Technological Traditions in The model-based archaeology of socionatural systems by Timothy A. Kohler, Sander Ernst van der Leeuw, School for Advanced Research Press.

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