Interpreting the Archaeological Record: GIS And Spatial Analysis

Posted on October 8, 2015


Some more videos from EAA Glasgow (I post some yesterday), these on GIS and spatial analysis. As someone who has done a PhD on both I found this session fascinating. If you are interested in more conference videos than see Recording Archaeology and subscribe there to receive updates when more videos become available.


How Space Talks

Markus Spring

When we occasionally would look up from our smart phones, we may get hold of stimuli in our built environment. The towering colons of a cathedral can bring us at awe or the glossy prospectus of a new housing development may tease us as potential buyers. But also prehistoric built environments are likely to have conveyed a message about inhabitants and their social structure to a visitor from outside.

The proposed paper is an experiment into combining prehistoric archaeology with aspects of environmental psychology. It draws its inspiration from critics Daniel Montello, an American Geographer and Psychologist, expressed on the role Space Syntax Analysis played in environmental psychology and how this could be improved. He outlined, how people experience a built environment and how they may react to it. The proposed paper turns the wheel of time back into Early Bronze Age Europe. It cannot reconstruct people’s reactions. However, it explores how a contemporary first-time visitor walking through a selection of fortified lakeside settlements would have experienced this for him new environment.

Although this approach is still rather crude and sample numbers limited, the paper reveals that built space during Early Bronze Age also left impressions on a contemporary visitor. He may e.g. have realised how close people lived together and drew his own conclusions about their social organisation. And through the eyes of a contemporary person, rather than from our own perspective as researchers, we may be able to better understand built space in the past.

The Late Neolithic in Southern Bavaria – a GIS based approach

Coming soon

Stephanie E. Metz
The so called Münchshöfener Culture (dating from ca. 4600–3800 BC) is mainly distributed across the Upper Danube and its southern contributing streams. Little is known about settlement structures, function of causewayed enclosures and burial practices. This is not only a matter of state of research, but mainly due to the lack of published data. Thus in this study all registered sites are systematically assembled via the digital archives (Fachinformationssystem/FIS) provided by the Bavarian State Conservation Office (BLfD). Further published sites located outside of Bavaria are also incorporated. This data set is analysed with GIS methodologies in order to gain an idea about the cultural interactions between the Münchshöfener Culture’s population and its environment. The distribution of different types of archaeological sites lead to tendencies that show zones of potential socio-economic activity. Visibility maps should help to evaluate the relation between burials and settlement features. Accessibility maps regarding least-cost path analyses including natural resources such as flint stones and copper should deliver information about economic processes. Stratified pollen data can also be taken into account for estimating the past vegetation composition respectively the past cultural landscape. This paper aims to shed light on the Münchshöfener Culture’s settlement structures using GIS based techniques but also focuses on the understanding of the potential and limitations of spatial analysis.

Interpreting the Archaeological Record by the aid of GIS – The Insula 30 of Augusta Raurica (CH)

Sven Straumann

In a PhD-project at the University of Basel (CH) the completely excavated Insula 30 of the roman city Augusta Raurica
(Augst/Kaiseraugst, CH) is in the focus of an archaeological interpretation. For the first time in Augusta Raurica this work is achieved by the aid of a geographical information system (GIS). GIS is already established in different application fields of archaeology. In Augusta Raurica it is used since 2005. The introduced pilot project shows the method and procedure how archaeological records can be efficiently extrapolated as a source with the aid of GIS. Within the many advantages and possibilities of this interpretation method the sustainability has to be emphasized. The digitally extrapolated sources and the Data in the GIS are comprehensively available to the scientific community for their own research.

The influence of conventions and mental stereo-types on the reproduction of landscape-images

Thomas van den Brink

There are innumerable landscape-images in circulation. Pictures which historical geographers, landscape researchers and archaeologists eagerly use for their research. Normally they analyse them by using the methods of realism or symbolism. Both are based on the assumption that pictures represent or refer to a world outside the picture, respectively physical or mental. Otherwise, they are merely illustrations. On the other hand, pictures can be seen in relation to other pictures, which possess the question: can pictures be seen as reproductions of mental-stereotypes of certain concepts? Because this inquiry switches the attention from the “real-world phenomena” to the corpus of pictures, this method is not used much in archaeological and landscape research fields. Nevertheless, this research aims to do a first inquiry into the matter by analysing hunebed-pictures. It is revealed that in the corpus of hunebed-pictures a pattern exists: most of them have important similarities, while others are not recognized as a ‘good’ picture of a hunebed. This implies that these pictures are not made randomly, but that their makers shared a mentalstereotype. This stereo-type can be seen as a subconscious, cultural-determined convention. Although this might sound simple, it is rather not. One can only unravel this when a lot of pictures are compared. Furthermore the issue becomes more complex when the different image-production-techniques are taken into account. Thus, this session proposes an alternative way of analysing landscape picture’s without the need to refer to an external
“reality”. It does so by applying a theory of the famous art historian Gombrich.

Properties of archaeological spatial data and its impact on interpretation of archaeological record

Tsoni Tsonev
So far archaeological interpretation is exclusively based on the presence of particular artefact categories in archaeological contexts. However, when working with spatial distributions of archaeological data there are vast regions where these data occur rarely or are absent. The question is whether the combined use of all these data (present, rarely occurred and absent) can help improving the explanatory power of archaeological interpretations. A reasonable approach to these kinds of data is to study the properties of their spatial distribution. An example will be provided of the stability and invariance of subsistence practices of a sample of Neolithic sites in Bulgaria. Another example will show the ability of early farming populations to change their settlement pattern. For this purpose a sample of the earliest Neolithic sites will be examined in terms of how well they form a group where each constituent site has similar characteristics (high degree of self-similarity) of a central place. On this background it will be shown that within this network some sites lose their centrality over time. Further I will argue that the cause that stays behind this change lies in the change of the symbolic system that characterizes the centrality of these early Neolithic sites. This picture shows a complex way of evolution which puts it in contrast to traditional archaeological interpretations that take the form of positive evolutionary models.

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