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Applications of Archaeological GIS

David Ebert†

Abstract. The use of Geographic Infor- result, archaeologists tend to interpret

mation Systems (GIS) in archaeology seems human behaviour and material culture
like a perfect match of technology and
in a geographic context. However, the
application. GIS has found its way into many
areas of archaeological research, especially
ability to fully realize these interpreta-
in the area of Cultural Resource Manage- tions has been hampered by a lack of
ment (CRM). While GIS offers many tools analytical tools to facilitate them. For-
for the archaeologist, its full potential has tunately, tools now exist for the collec-
not been realized. This paper offers a con- tion, storage, retrieval, manipulation,
ceptual framework in which GIS procedures and display of spatial data from the real
can be detailed, as well as a description of world for this purpose. These tools are
those procedures. The state of archaeologi- combined in a type of software referred
cal GIS in Canada is reviewed, with emphasis
to as a Geographic Information System
on both the academic and CRM applications
of GIS. Finally, the paper examines the pos-
(GIS), which is also sometimes called
sibilities of archaeological GIS. a Geographical Information System
(Burrough 1986: 6).
Résumé. L´utilisation des systèmes A GIS is often defined by a minimum
d´information géographiques (SIG) en set of subsystems (to differentiate it
archéologie représente le mariage parfait from other software packages) includ-
de la technologie et de son application. ing those for data input and verification,
Les SIG sont présentement intégrés dans data storage and database management,
plusieurs domaines de recherche en archéo- data output and display, data conversion,
logie, surtout dans le domaine de la gestion
and user control (Burrough 1986: 8;
des ressources culturelles. Bien que les
Kvamme 1999: 157). At its simplest level,
Research Reports
SIG offrent plusieurs outils de recherche
pour les archéologues, leur potentiel n’a GIS can be thought of as a spatially ref-
pas encore été exploité. Cet article pro- erenced database (Maschner 1996a: 2).
pose un cadre conceptuel dans lequel les The spatial data employed describe
procédures SIG sont décrites. Une mise à objects in terms of: 1) a position in
jour de l´utilisation des SIG en archéologie some co-ordinate system; 2) non-spatial
au Canada est faite, en mettant l’accent attributes; and 3) the spatial relations
sur les applications académiques ainsi que between objects (Burrough 1986: 7).
dans la gestion des ressources culturelles.
GIS may be one of the most impor-
Finalement, le potentiel futur des SIG en
archéologie est exploré.
tant technological innovations in archae-
ology in the past twenty years. It has

A s a discipline, archaeology has

always had a focus on the spatial
dimension of human behaviour. As a

Department of Archaeology,
55 Campus Drive, University of Saskatchewan,
Saskatoon, SK S7N 5B1 [David_Ebert@usask.ca]

Canadian Journal of Archaeology/Journal Canadien d’Archéologie 28: 319–341 (2004)

320 • EBERT

made various types of spatial analysis, We can further delineate GIS by

especially over large regions, possible, recognizing a hierarchy of three levels
practical and potentially sophisticated. of application in archaeology: 1) visual-
GIS has had an impact in the way that ization; 2) management; and 3) analysis
archaeology is done, both in the aca- (described below). This ordering does
deme and in the Cultural Resource Man- not imply that one is more important
agement (CRM) industry. In fact, skill in than the other, but does indicate dif-
the use of GIS has become increasingly ferences in GIS analytical capabilities,
important in the consulting world. Per- offering a range of opportunities for the
haps the largest trend in GIS has been generation of hypotheses and theory.
the change from doing many of these Visualization is the use of GIS as a
sorts of analyses in specialized software, map-making center or, more informally,
separate from a GIS, to having the ability as a “pretty pictures” application. It is the
to do them within the GIS. lowest level of GIS use and requires little
Two aspects of archaeological GIS are in the way of analytical capability because
examined and discussed in this paper. it focuses on the graphical functions of
Starting with a hierarchical classification GIS. While this can be a vital application
of GIS strategies, I introduce and then of GIS, since effective illustration within
discuss specific GIS procedures within a archaeological reports is an important
variety of archaeological contexts. I then task, it does not take advantage of the
examine the types of GIS projects that full capabilities of GIS, nor does it offer
have occurred in Canadian archaeology, much in the way of hypothesis or theory
discuss the implications of the limited generation. Visualization is essentially
availability of GIS instruction in universi- the “read-only” mode of GIS.
ties, and comment on its potential future Management is a step above visual-
contributions. ization in terms of complexity, and is
widely utilized by those who regulate
APPLICATIONS OF GIS IN archaeological resources and those who
ARCHAEOLOGY are involved in the CRM industry. It is
GIS in archaeology is much more than essentially the “read-write” mode of GIS
just the creation of aesthetically pleasing since it allows data editing. This level of
maps. Instead, it has a strong analytical GIS usage is geared more towards the
role to offer. Care must be taken, how- management of locations, rather than
ever, that just because we can do some- any attempt to do analysis and under-
thing in GIS we do not start letting it stand human behaviour, such as looking
define what is done. As Hasenstab (2003) at settlement patterns. While more com-
argues, GIS cannot be allowed to be the plex than visualization, this approach
methodological tail that wags the dog. still does not employ the full analytical
A general review of the archaeologi- capabilities of the GIS nor does it offer
cal GIS literature reveals three main lines much possibility of theory generation. It
of inquiry: 1) site location models, devel- is in this level that most archaeological
oped mostly for the purpose of cultural GIS projects occur.
resource management; 2) GIS procedure- The highest level of GIS use is that of
related studies; and 3) studies relating to analysis, both in technical terms and as a
larger theoretical issues in landscape means of generating or testing theory. Of
archaeology (Savage 1990: 22). course, to what extent GIS is ever theory

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


driven is hotly debated. While this level trends in data sets or interpolate scat-
may be the highest level of application, tered points to a wider distribution
it seems to be less commonly employed pattern. There are two types of point
than the previous two levels. procedures: density mapping and inter-
polation. Density mapping is the creation
Spatial Data of maps showing the distribution of a
There are two main types of spatial data variable of interest across a surface, such
in archaeology: point data and areal as artifacts in a plowed field or sites in
data. Point data includes such things a region. From this sort of mapping, it
as spot locations for artifacts, features, is possible to analyze locational trends,
and archaeological excavation units. although these approaches are gener-
They are single locations identified by ally crude (Kvamme 1988: 339). Density
their three-point provenience. Areal mapping tends not to appear as an
data includes things such as a surface, individual procedure in the archaeologi-
landscape, site, or region. Each of these cal literature, although it is a mainstay
types of data has specific GIS analytical of most archaeological reports as part
procedures, and these, in turn, offer dif- of the overall presentation. Generally
ferent possibilities for management and speaking, density mapping would fall
analysis of archaeological data. into the visualization level of GIS use.
An example of a simple density map is
Point Procedures shown in Figure 1.
Point procedures focus on point loca- It is also possible to use point data to
tions, and are often used to analyze create continuous surface data through

Figure 1. Distributional map of sites (sites are represented by solid triangles).

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the use of interpolation, which consists of was created, which made it easier to see
a number of mathematical procedures patterns in certain areas.
to convert point distributions to a con- The archaeological literature is
tinuous surface (see Ebert 1998, 2002 somewhat scant in terms of GIS projects
for extended discussion). Many of these that employ interpolation types of point
interpolation techniques are based on procedures. An early study by Zubrow
theories other than probability theory and Harbaugh (1978) employed kriging
(Altschul 1988: 69), such as gravity or to determine archaeological site loca-
density models. An example of interpola- tions using non-GIS methods. While they
tion is kriging, which is based on the prem- obtained good results from a synthetic
ise that things nearby tend to be more site system, their use of kriging was
alike than those further away (Goodchild misguided. Kriging uses the relation-
1996: 243); when maps are interpolated, ship between a continuously distributed
data closer to the spot being interpolated variable to make predictions of values
have greater influence than data further where that variable is unknown, such as
away. An example of a map created by interpolating soil types, elevation values,
interpolation is shown in Figure 2. This or snowfall. However, Zubrow and Har-
map was created from fieldwalking data baugh argue that archaeological sites
gathered during the Als Archaeological can be considered as being continuously
Project (Ebert 1998). The purpose of this distributed. To achieve a continuous
map was to create a distribution map in distribution, they used a binary pres-
order to aid in interpretation of surface ence/absence system, meaning a value
finds. Patterns are often hard to discern of zero is assigned to those areas where
when the data are presented as single there are no sites. Other kriging meth-
points. However, by interpolating the ods, such as co-kriging, would have been
surface finds, a continuous distribution more appropriate (Ebert 1998).

Figure 2. Fieldwalking finds interpolated by Kriging (from Ebert 1998).

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


An interesting application of interpo- GIS-BASED APPLICATIONS OF

lation is the use of interpolation and GIS AREAL PROCEDURES
analysis to determine occupation levels In archaeological GIS, there are four
in a site (Anderson 2003; Spikins et al. common applications of areal proce-
2002). While the rigorousness of these dures: 1) predictive modeling; 2) catch-
types of applications is still unproven, it ment analysis; 3) viewshed analysis; and
shows promise of new possibilities within 4) simulation. These procedures repre-
GIS applications in archaeological sent only a fraction of the possibilities,
research. Nonetheless, there are several and many unexplored areas of GIS are
problems in using this simple type of open to investigation by archaeologists.
analysis. Data of this type are generally For present purposes, however, each of
cross-sectional, in that they represent the four is described here.
snapshots in time, often conflated into
a single layer of thematic information Predictive Models
(Goodchild 1996: 245). For example, Predictive models attempt to predict the
archaeological sites in a region may not location of sites or materials in a region,
be all contemporaneous. This type of based either on a sample of the sites
spatial analysis is an analysis of form, in the region or on theories of human
whereas understanding underlying pro- behaviour (Kohler and Parker 1986:
cess is what is really desired (Goodchild 400). They are tools for projecting pat-
1996: 245). terns or known relationships (i.e., areas
of known archaeological resources) into
Areal Procedures related areas of unknown patterns or
Areal procedures are much more relationships (i.e., areas of unknown
common in archaeological GIS. There archaeological resources) (Warren and
can be some overlap with point proce- Asch 2000: 6). All predictive models are
dures, such as map interpolation tech- composed of three elements: 1) avail-
niques, which treat the site location, or able knowledge or body of informa-
some aspect thereof, as the dependent tion from which a model is derived;
variable that is being predicted by any 2) the method(s) used to transform
number of independent variables (Alt- this information into predictions; and
schul 1988: 69). Here, even though the 3) the predictions themselves (Warren
input geometry may be on a point-basis, 1990a: 91–93). Predictive modeling has
the focus of the procedures is essentially been most commonly used in the CRM
on the landscape or region and on industry (Carmichael 1990: 216), but has
interpreting the sites in that context, received only limited academic scrutiny,
rather than on the point-locations especially in Canada.
themselves. In other words, the unit of
analysis is a given area or land parcel, Deductive and Inductive Models
commonly represented by a grid cell There are two general approaches to
in the GIS. The cell holds the value of predictive modeling: deductive and
the point. In the case of archaeological inductive (Kamermans and Wansleeben
sites, the entire cell would either have 1999; Kincaid 1988; Kohler 1999). In
a value of site present or absent, even practice, these modeling approaches
though the cell may be larger than the overlap (Kamermans and Wansleeben
extents of the site. 1999: 225; Kincaid 1988). The terms

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themselves are somewhat misleading as greatest problems is establishing a system

neither is purely inductive or deductive of ranking criteria that affect locational
in nature (despite this, these are the decisions. Because it is not possible to
dominant terms in the literature). access the full range of criteria used in
land-use decisions, proxies must used
Deductive Modeling in their place. However, the quality of
The basis of deductive modeling is a data utilized for proxy variables is gener-
priori archaeological or anthropological ally quite poor because as our ability to
knowledge, such as that derived from map these data lacks control over time
a theory of general human behaviour and changing conditions of those proxy
(Kamermans and Wansleeben 1999: 225; variables.
Kohler 1999: 37). While this is cited as a Despite such difficulties, deduc-
more powerful method of modeling than tive models have been developed for a
inductive modeling, it is less frequently number of projects. These tend to be
employed (Kamermans and Wansleeben based on locational criteria, not theory,
1999: 225). Deductive models must meet as illustrated by Krist and Brown’s
several requirements. They must: (1994) prediction of site locations as
they relate to the visibility of caribou
• Possess a decision-making mechanism
migration routes. Despite limitations,
for location, as well as an understand-
deductive models hold promise as the
ing of the ends of the decision making
increasing sophistication of software
and hardware make technical issues less
• specify variables that affect locational
decisions; and
• be capable of being operationalized
Inductive Models
(Kohler and Parker 1986: 432).
Inductive models are devices that make
Deductive models can either be use of existing knowledge to forecast
based on a theory, such as optimal forag- spatial patterns (Warren 1990a: 91)
ing theory, or on a set of hypothetical and have been the most popular form
criteria for site locations. Deductive of predictive modeling (Dalla Bona
models can be applicable to any situa- 1994a). Inductive models have been
tion characterized by a specified set of alternatively termed intuitive or asso-
cultural system and ecosystem variables ciational (Altschul 1988), empiric-cor-
(Sebastian and Judge 1988: 7). The relative (Kohler and Parker 1986), and
greatest challenge of deductive models correlative (Church et al. 2000; Marozas
is that they are extremely difficult to and Zack 1990; Sebastian and Judge
create and to validate (Sebastian and 1988: 4). Regardless of the terminology,
Judge 1988: 8). this approach can be considered analo-
Deductive models are considered gous to pattern recognition procedures
more powerful than inductive models employed in remote sensing image clas-
because they are explanatory. Nonethe- sification (Kvamme 1992: 20), and, in
less, they have received little attention fact, many of the same procedures and
in archaeology, something likely due to statistics are used.
the difficulty in operationalizing such Many of the variables used in induc-
models (Dalla Bona 1994a), a problem tive predictive models tend to recur
many of these models share. One of the from project to project, such as slope,

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


aspect, and distance to water (Kvamme regression, the most commonly used
1985: 218–219; 1992: 25–27; Kvamme statistical interpolator, on lithic density
and Jochim 1989: 5–6), becoming a data from Stonehenge, Wheatley (1996a:
“usual suspects” list of predictors. When 287) could account for only 25% of
choosing variables, the preference is for the variability within the data. This led
variables that are related to site loca- him to question whether this method is
tions, but not correlated to each other appropriate as an interpolator for pat-
(i.e., relatively independent) (Rose and terned human behaviour.
Altschul 1988: 185). The assumption
made in this type of modeling is that Inductive Modeling Methods
non-cultural aspects of environment The weighted map layer approach
will correlate and predict site location has been the most popular inductive
(Marozas and Zack 1990: 165). However, modeling method and makes use of
the tendency of archaeological sites to categorical or class-based map layers,
recur in favourable environmental set- with each category being assigned a
tings has been the basis of how many weight relative to conditions found at
archaeologists have found sites through archaeological sites (Brandt et al. 1992:
their “archaeological gut instinct” and 271; Dalla Bona 1994a). This allows
professional expertise for a long time specific variables to have more influence
(Kuna and Adelsbergerova 1995; Warren over predicted site locations than other
1990b: 201; Warren and Asch 2000). variables. One of the ways that weights
Inductive modeling takes an essen- may be determined is through the use of
tially cultural-ecological view of human multivariate statistical procedures, such
settlement systems (Kohler 1999: 32; as logistic regression (Parker 1985).
Wheatley 1993: 133). The unit of analysis Kvamme (1990) proposes a method of
is the land parcel, not the site (Warren determining the relationship between
1990a: 94). Because sites are compared the distribution of sites and the environ-
against the physical environment of the ment, using statistical methods to eluci-
study area as a whole, we must have the date this relationship. Using one-sample
ability to be able to analyze environmen- statistical tests, the background environ-
tal units, rather than points representing ment (i.e., all grid cells within a study
sites. The identification of correlations area) is treated as a control, and statis-
between known archaeological sites and tical deviations from the distribution
certain attributes, usually aspects of the of environmental features are sought
physical environment, is the primary (Kvamme 1990). For such continuous
goal (Kamermans and Wansleeben 1999: variables as slope, aspect, or distance
225; Kohler 1999: 37). to water, the Kolmogorov Goodness-of-
Inductive models have a number of Fit test is preferable (Kvamme 1990:
limitations (Ebert 2000: 129–137), the 370). One of the major weaknesses of
most significant of which is that (a) their this method is that by simply changing
success is unexplainable and (b) we do weights, exponentially different results
not know how they work (Sebastian and may occur (Brandt et al. 1992: 271). It is
Judge 1988: 5). Inductive modeling has only possible through the use of GIS to
also been criticized for the methods quantify the background environment
employed, especially the statistical test- for a large study area in order to com-
ing. For example, using linear multiple pute this test (Kvamme 1990: 370).

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Figure 3 illustrates a map created ing of the model is paramount. This can
for a project I am currently working on, be done solely through laboratory meth-
examining the role of time and predic- ods, such as red flag modeling (Altschul
tive modeling. The map shows the basic 1990), or through statistical evaluation,
divisions of high, medium, and low such as a gain statistic (Kvamme 1988). In
potential. Although not a particularly red flag modeling, sites with anomalous
good predictive model because there settings are examined for possible pre-
are too many cells classified as high and dictive variables that have been missed
medium potential, having too many cells (Altschul 1990). The gain statistic quan-
high and medium potential would also tifies the predictive power of the model,
make the predictive model a poor man- based on a scale of −1 (reverse predic-
agement tool. For example, if all of the tive power) to 1 (very strong predictive
cells were high and medium potential, power). However, laboratory testing is
a predictive model would correctly find generally considered to be less effective
sites 100% of the time. However, that than field testing predictive models.
would not save archaeologists any time or
effort, as it would not allow for any focus Extending Inductive Predictive Modeling
of a potential archaeological survey. An important question in the analysis of
sites concerns how many axes the data
Inductive Model Testing may be divided into in order to examine
Once a model is created, whether by temporal, functional, and spatial dif-
inductive or deductive techniques, test- ferences (Kincaid 1988: 557; Rose and

Figure 3. Example of a predictive model map (black = low potential, grey = medium potential,
white = high potential). Dark circles are known sites from which predictive model was created.

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


Altschul 1988), given that different types mappable proxies, with archaeologi-
of sites may be associated with different cal site location. However, the role of
sets of variables (Rose and Altschul 1988: social, ideological, and political factors
205). It is unclear if adding this level of has received little attention in the pre-
detail provides any significant advan- diction of site locations (Weimer 1995:
tages. This question has received little 91). While a large body of ethnographic
attention and is currently unresolved. data is available for use in prediction, it
This type of approach is illustrated by has received limited usage despite the
Robert Hasenstab’s (1996: 230) study of potential it has. For example, Dalla Bona
Iroquoian villages. His classification of and Larcombe (1996) incorporated an
sites was based on three types: 1) func- ethnographic data in reconstructing the
tional (villages versus campsites); 2) tem- seasonal round of boreal forest hunter-
poral (five occupation periods); and gatherers for a predictive land-use model
3) spatial (three physiographic/cultural for northern Ontario (see also Larcombe
zones). These were analyzed on the basis 1994). One reasons they chose to use to
of three classes of environmental data: do this was because the ethnographic
1) those related to hunting territories; sources provided information on the
2) those related to maize horticulture; social and spiritual significance of natu-
and 3) those influencing trade, espe- ral resources (Dalla Bona and Larcombe
cially canoe routes (Hasenstab 1996: 1996: 254).
230). The results of this study were that Stancic and Kvamme (1999) also
the data and methods return only tenta- incorporated what they termed social
tive answers, and that it was difficult to variables into their analysis of Bronze
evaluate the results because confound- Age hillforts on the island of Bra in
ing factors, such as autocorrelation and Croatia. These variables included: 1) dis-
covariance between the variables, may tance between hillforts; 2) intervisibility;
play a role (Hasenstab 1996: 238). 3) distance from the sea; and 4) location
of long barrows (Stancic and Kvamme
Criticisms of Inductive Modeling 1999: 234). While at first glance, distance
A variety of concerns have been raised to the ocean seems no different from an
regarding predictive modeling. These environmental predictive variable, in
include questions about the accuracy of this case it is the reverse because hillforts
site locational data(Dalla Bona 1994a: 29; were located a considerable distance
Duncan and Beckman 2000: 55; Ebert from the coast (Stancic and Kvamme
2000), the accuracy of the environmental 1999: 234).
data set (Duncan and Beckman 2000: 55; Predictive models based solely on
Ebert 2000), and how areas of archaeo- environmental considerations do seem
logical potential are defined—something to predict the settlement patterns of
seldom explicitly stated in modeling hunter-gatherers fairly well (Maschner
reports (Dalla Bona 1994a: 15). 1996b: 176). However when the focus
One of the greatest failings of tradi- is on more “complex” social or political
tional inductive modeling projects has forms, such as the complex hunter-gath-
been the lack of any non-environmental erer populations of the Northwest Coast,
predictor variables. The focus of predic- the predictions do not seem to work as
tive modeling has been the correlation well. This phenomenon is likely due to
of environmental variables, as readily the fact that in complex social systems,

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political decisions make more of an sen polygon is closer to the centre of

impact than does adaptation to the envi- that polygon than the centre of the
ronment (Maschner 1996b: 178). For adjacent polygon(s).
example, in later periods of Northwest Site catchment analysis was one of
coast prehistory, there is a shift in settle- the methods employed in the Dane-
ment patterning from one related to the bury study of Iron Age settlements in
distribution of key resources to one of England (Lock and Harris 1996). Here,
defensibility and the creation of larger the spatial relationships between farm-
corporate entities (Maschner 1996b: steads were examined through the use
187). Maschner sees this in evolutionary of 400- and 1000-m buffers around each
terms as a shift from economic maximi- of the settlements. The 400-m buffer
zation to political maximization. simulates an infield system under the
control of a single farmstead, whereas
Catchment Analysis the 1000-m buffer represents overlap-
A second application of areal procedures ping spheres of influence (Lock and
in archaeological GIS is site catchment Harris 1996: 235–236). This overlap may
analysis. Site catchment analysis as origi- be explained through the suggestion of
nally formulated (Vita-Finzi and Higgs sharing of communal grazing resources
1970) has two major limitations: a lack (Lock and Harris 1996: 236). The
of complexity and a lack of accuracy authors concluded that Iron Age settle-
(Hunt 1992). GIS offers the possibility ments reflect an inherent competition
to extend the catchment method beyond for resources, resulting in a regularly
its initial form to a more sophisticated spaced settlement pattern (Lock and
level of analysis. Harris 1996: 237).
The issue of accuracy relates to the One way of making improving site
identification of appropriate ecosystems catchment analysis is through the
and the arbitrariness of catchment introduction of cost surfaces. A cost sur-
analysis (i.e., whether it represents face acknowledges the fact that move-
the true pattern of cultural practice) ment through space does not entail
(Hunt 1992). GIS can overcome both equal costs energetically (Kvamme
of these problems (Hunt 1992) since 1999: 175). To create a cost surface, a
it can not only maintain multiple origi- cost map is produced that represents
nal categories of data, thus allowing impedances to movement imposed by
greater complexity in the analysis, but the natural environment (Madry and
facilitate the addition of more complex Rakos 1996: 113), such as slope, veg-
catchment areas instead of the geo- etative cover, natural barriers, or other
metric shapes (i.e., circles) currently factors (Kvamme 1999: 175–176). Most
employed in catchment analysis. Site studies using cost surfaces have relied
catchment can also be done through heavily on slope to determine the cost
the use of Thiessen polygons, whose of movement (van Leusen 1999: 217).
edges are half the distance to the next The simple use of slope as the determi-
nearest site (Kvamme 1999: 175). Since nant of cost requires that isotropy, or
the polygons partition the entire region variation based on direction, is consid-
into non-overlapping territories that are ered. For example, travel up a slope is
assigned to a specific locus (Kvamme much more difficult energetically than
1999: 175), every point inside a Thies- travel down a slope (van Leusen 1999:

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


217), so isotropic cost involved. If a Viewshed Analysis

cost surface is created that indicates The study of visibility can take one of a
slope cost as being all downhill, the number of forms. The simplest form of
resulting map will not be a realistic. analysis is a line of sight analysis, which
Because cost varies according to the considers whether one point is visible
direction of travel or other factors from another (Kvamme 1999: 177). A
(e.g., vegetation), cost surfaces must be more complex type of visibility analysis
made isotropic. is the calculation of a viewshed (a map of
Cost sur faces can be used in a locations that are visible/not visible from
number of different ways to enhance site a given location, derived from a digital
catchment analysis more or to determine elevation model). A viewshed is simply
optimum paths. An example of the latter the calculation of multiple lines of sight
is found in Madry and Rakos’ (1996) in a 360-degree circle from a single loca-
study of Celtic Iron Age pathways. The tion, specifying all the areas that are
paths were thought to be placed on the visible from a single location (Kvamme
ridge top simply as a preference (Madry 1999: 177). An example of a viewshed is
and Rakos 1996: 115). What they found provided in Figure 4, where visible areas
after examining the location of the from the white dot (the location of the
actual paths with the least-cost pathways viewer) are shown in black and non-vis-
was that the paths were ultimately placed ible areas are shown in grey. Viewsheds
based on a combination of cultural (vis- can be used to understand aspects of
ibility from the hillforts) and environ- location, such as whether a site location
mental (least-cost paths) factors (Madry was chosen to optimize what could be
and Rakos 1996: 117). seen from that point. Additional com-

Figure 4. A sample viewshed (white dot = observer location, grey = non-visible areas,
black = visible areas).

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plexity can be added by calculating a study area, which is visible from the hill-
multiple viewshed, which is calculated forts (Madry and Rakos 1996: 111), and
from the Boolean union of viewsheds indicates that roads were built specifically
from a number of individual locations to be in view of one of the hillforts, rather
(Kvamme 1999: 178). than randomly. Moreover, 59.85% of the
One way that a multiple views- roads were visible from the two main
hed could be applied would be the hillforts in the region, suggesting that
calculation of all of the areas visible roads were built to be observed from the
from a series of hilltops. Cumulative hillforts (Madry and Rakos 1996: 111).
viewsheds are the sum of those taken In addition to these applications,
from a number of individual locations viewsheds have been used with a predic-
(Kvamme 1999: 178; Wheatley 1995). tive capacity. For the Great Lakes area,
The result of a cumulative viewshed is for example, Krist and Brown (1994:
that each cell in the map holds a value of 1130) employed viewsheds to evaluate
locations from which the point is visible. the degree to which precontact hunters
Visibility analysis has been proposed as situated themselves to observe the pre-
a method of bridging the gap between dictable caribou migrations. A cost sur-
current data and social and cognitive face was thus created by them to simulate
landscapes (Lock 1995: 16). possible caribou migrations paths, with
Viewsheds have been employed to hunters situating themselves in sheltered
understand the social landscape, includ- areas or near look-out points to observe
ing such aspects of it as the relationship migration (Krist and Brown 1994: 1133).
between visual dominance and territo- Although this model provided important
riality (Lock and Harris 1996: 224). For information about Paleoindian and Early
example, one of the goals of Danebury Archaic sites in the region, the authors
project mentioned previously was to concluded that better data regarding
determine whether the hillforts were caribou migration were necessary to
located were they were to provide visual fully evaluate the predictive power of this
dominance that could be exerted over model (Krist and Brown 1994: 1135).
a territory, or for purely defensive pur-
poses. Lock and Harris (1996: 232–233) Methodological Problems with Viewsheds
found that the maximum defensive There are several methodological prob-
protection was waived in order to obtain lems with viewshed analysis. First, there
maximum visibility over the local popu- is the difference between the calculated
lace of lower-order farmsteads. Visibility viewshed and what can actually be seen
was also one of the factors evaluated by by the observer (van Leusen 1999: 218);
Madry and Rakos (1996) in their study what can be seen, according to the
of Celtic roads and hillforts in the Arroux viewshed, might not be perceived by the
River valley in Burgundy, France. One viewer. A related problem to this question
of the hypotheses examined was that is the “tree-problem” (Maschner 1996a:
forts had a view over the roads, perhaps 8; Wheatley 1996b: 97)—viewsheds tend
for sentries to observe the road network to be created as if the landscape was flat,
(Madry and Rakos 1996: 111). They and trees or other vegetation are not
found that 86.31% of all the Celtic roads factored in. This problem can be allevi-
were in view of one of the hillforts. This ated by raising or lowering the height
is greater than the 68.37% of the total of the observer to simulate the average

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


tree height in the region (Maschner calculated versus perceived viewsheds

1996a: 8; Wheatley 1996b: 97). Second, and the technical problem of curvature
there is an edge-effect problem, where of the earth.
viewsheds might extend further than
the edges of a study area (van Leusen Simulation
1999: 218). Third, there is the question A simulation model is a simplified rep-
of significance (van Leusen 1999: 219), resentation of reality (Chadwick 1979:
which considers whether there is any 237). It is not a snapshot of reality, but
appreciable difference between visibility a depiction that aids in identifying and
from archaeological sites and that from understanding the processes involved in
any other point (van Leusen 1999: 219). its evolution, either through description
In other words, while it is assumed that or explanation (Chadwick 1979: 237).
the degree of visibility from an archaeo- While much of the history of simulation
logical site is high, there may be other modeling relates to the development of
areas where the visibility is greater, and specialized software outside the realm
therefore more significant. Fourth, there of GIS, its inclusion within GIS has now
is the decrease of visual impact with dis- become more common.
tance (Wheatley 1996b: 98), especially of A simulation seeks to model a phe-
such monumental sites as long barrows nomenon by identifying key variables
or hillforts. Finally, viewshed also suffers and examining their interactions. This
from certain technical and data quality can be done with computer applications
errors (Wheatley 1995: 182). that allow the analyst to run multiple
Some of these issues noted here are iterations with the key variables being
evident in the viewshed depicted in modified to examine their impact on the
Figure 4. For example, one common outcome (Aldenderfer 1991: 196). The
technical problem in viewshed analysis idea of using simulations in archaeology
is that the curvature of the earth, which is not new. David Clarke introduced com-
affects how far one can see, is not taken puter simulation as a tool for archaeolog-
into account. In Figure 4, some of the ical research in his 1968 book, Analytical
areas that are shown as visible are some Archaeology (Aldenderfer 1991: 208).
14 km from the viewing location. Simulation has generally been
One solution to the failings of views- employed in three ways by archaeolo-
hed analysis has been the introduction a gists: 1) as a tool to force clear thinking
more complex form known as fuzzy view- in the formulation of a problem; 2) as
sheds (Maschner 1996a: 9). Traditional an experimental laboratory; and 3) as
viewshed analysis evaluates locations as a means to generate data (Aldenderfer
being visible or not visible from a given 1991: 211). The advantage of simulation
location. Fuzzy viewsheds add a distance is that the models emphasize dynamic
decay function, which models the degree processes, distributed processes, and
to which distant objects may be visible relationships among agents, none of
(Maschner 1996a: 9). Instead of being which are present in traditional analyses
a visible/not-visible dichotomy, fuzzy (Kohler 1999: 2). Although simulation
viewsheds introduce an uncertainty, cannot give researchers access to the
consisting of visible/not-visible/possibly vis- entire human experience, it does allow
ible distinctions. This addition addresses researchers access to portions (Kohler
both the problems of differences in 1999: 3).

Journal Canadien d’Archéologie 28 (2004)

332 • EBERT

A specialized form of simulation that insights into colonization from the

has received considerable attention of sea, foraging patterns, and settlement
late is agent-based simulation. This method patterns. The results were somewhat
allows the creation of landscapes that problematic, however, because artifact
can be wholly imaginary or representa- discard patterns and the settlement pat-
tive of real-world situations (or aspects terns did not mesh well with the known
thereof), and agents can be modified to archaeological record, perhaps indicat-
represent important features of individu- ing that foraging for hazelnuts was not
als or social units, such as households a major determinant of Mesolithic land
(Dean et al. 1999: 179). The way that use on Islay (Lake 1999: 137).
agents behave in relation to each other Simulation holds much promise in
or to the environment can then be gov- archaeological research, and perhaps
erned by anthropologically validated addresses the problems of operation-
rules (Dean et al. 1999: 180). alizing deductive predictive models.
Lake (1999) demonstrates the Agents could be programmed with
use of an agent-based module for the behaviour rules derived from theories,
GRASS GIS system, called MAGICAL as is done in MAGICAL, and site loca-
(Multi-Agent Geographically Informed tions could be simulated based on those
Computer Analysis). This system was behaviour rules. However, the creation
specifically designed for hunter-gath- of simulations usually requires a high
erer studies so it reflects an emphasis degree of computer skills, including
on mobility, subsistence, and rational knowledge of programming languages,
decision making. Each agent in MAGI- and may thus remain impractical for
CAL has its own set of variables, which most archaeologists.
is affected by its own life history (Lake
1999: 110). This means that this system ARCHAEOLOGICAL GIS IN CANADA
is basically an adaptive system in which Archaeological GIS has been widely
the agent can learn from its actions and adopted in European and American
change its strategy in response to previ- archaeology, but far less so in Canada.
ous successful actions (Gilbert 1999: Where is has been employed in Canada,
364). Using an evolutionary-ecological the majority of applications have been in
paradigm, agents have the ability to have CRM and government-based archaeol-
a user-specified genotype (Lake 1999: ogy rather than in academic archaeol-
111). The core of MAGICAL is an event ogy. Compounding this problem is that
scheduler, which receives requests from much of what has been written about
agents to perform certain actions and or derived from the limited number of
grants permission at appropriate times archaeological GIS projects conducted
(Lake 1999: 111). What distinguishes exists only in the grey literature of CRM-
MAGICAL from many other simula- based and academic archaeology.
tors is the spatial database that allows That most GIS projects have been
all actions to be spatially referenced conducted for or by the CRM industry,
(Lake 1999: 112). In Lake’s study, which (and to a certain extent its governmen-
employed optimal foraging theory, the tal counterparts) is likely driven likely
foragers were sent out foraging for hazel- by the desires of its clients. Many of the
nuts on the island of Islay in Scotland. sectors with whom CRM companies hold
The simulation gave the archaeologists contracts have already adopted GIS and

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


thus are comfortable with its use and Compounding this problem is that the
understand its capabilities. Forestry departments of the four individuals
companies are accustomed to the use of listed above have either terminal Mas-
GIS models to delin eate wildlife habitat, ters’ programs or no graduate program
for example. As a result, in working with at all.
forestry companies, I have found first- Given the paucity of academics with
hand that having forestry GIS specialists interest in this area, few classes in archae-
and archaeological GIS specialist speak- ological GIS are offered in archaeology
ing a common language enabled them programs across Canada. This apparent
to translate the concerns of the various lack of interest has important implications
stakeholders to their forestry and archae- for the archaeology departments who are
ology colleagues, respectively. training the students, many of whom go
It is unfortunate for Canadian on to careers in consulting archaeology,
archaeologists that so much of the where they may find themselves in a job
CRM-oriented GIS work remains poorly where it is helpful to have experience
known. Failure to publish the results of in GIS. It is certainly possible to obtain
such projects is one reason. In addition, training in GIS through other depart-
since much of it contains proprietary ments, primarily geography, but these
information, access to these reports is programs do not provide information
very limited. However, some consulting about archaeological applications. How
archaeologists have presented their work then do our students get the training in
at conferences (e.g., the CRIMP models something that is highly marketable in
of Western Heritage). the CRM industry? Clearly, more exper-
The situation in academic archae- tise is needed, but that will only come with
ology is also problematic. There, the time as more faculty with an interest in,
literature on archaeological GIS has and training in, archaeological GIS are
been limited to unpublished theses and hired by academic departments.
dissertations. Furthermore, there are
currently few professors at Canadian Archaeological GIS Projects in Canada
universities and colleges that list GIS as To date, there have been only two
a research interest. In my experience as major academic GIS projects in Canada,
a member of the graduate admissions both of which were concerned with
committee at the University of Manitoba predictive modeling and forestry. The
(1998–2002), increasing numbers of CARP project (Dalla Bona 1994a, b;
graduate students expressed interest in Hamilton et al. 1994; Hamilton and Lar-
doing a research project involving GIS. combe 1994; Larcombe 1994), based at
There are, however, few supervisors in Lakehead University, was a pioneering
Canada who are trained in GIS. A review examination of predictive modeling
I conducted of Canadian university web- projects. It remains a widely cited project
sites revealed that only four archaeology in the archaeological GIS literature,
professors in Canada list GIS as an inter- widely used in many other projects as
est: James Conolly (Trent University), a primer in predictive modeling, and
Scott Hamilton (Lakehead University), has influenced how inductive, weighted-
Quentin Mackie (University of Victoria), layer modeling is done.
and myself. A slightly larger number list A second, more recent predictive
“computer applications” as an interest. modeling project is the Manitoba Model

Journal Canadien d’Archéologie 28 (2004)

334 • EBERT

Forest Archaeological Predictive Model- archaeologists to recreate on their desk-

ing Project (MbMF APMP) (Ebert 2003; tops what may never be seen again–past
Petch et al. 2000a, b). This project has societies and civilizations. While these
examined the feasibility of doing this constructs are purely theoretical, they
type of predictive modeling in the boreal allow testing of empirically collected data
forests of Manitoba with a great deal of to see if patterns in the simulation match
success. Like the CARP project, this proj- patterns in the data. If so, the result would
ect also employed an inductive weighted- tend to support explanatory hypotheses.
layer approach to modeling. However, empirical data are sometimes
scanty and commonly biased towards
CONCLUSIONS ‘”conventional wisdom,” something
GIS provides archaeologists with a series archaeologists engaging in simulation
of methods that can be employed to must keep in mind.
pursue various lines of inquiry with Many European archaeologists
archaeological data in a single digital have raised concerns that GIS re-intro-
environment (Lock and Harris 1996: duces environmental determinism to
216). For example, since human settle- archaeology but most believe that this
ment pattern choices are based on a mul- problem can be overcome because GIS
tiplicity of factors, employing a number can be extended to include non-envi-
of different research techniques facili- ronmental data, and therefore move
tates the development of better model beyond simple culture-environmental
human settlement pattern choices. relationships to more complex under-
By sheer weight of use, predictive standings of culture (Gaffney et al.
modeling has received the majority of 1996; Gaffney and van Leusen 1995).
attention of all GIS applications. Predic- The cognitive information relating
tive modeling has shown that there are to how communities perceive and
important regularities that can be exam- interpret the environment around
ined with regards to settlement in relation them is patterned, and therefore
to the physical environment, but more should be measurable and mappable
work needs to be done to include cultural (Gaffney et al. 1996: 134), and there-
information, such as ethnographic land- fore available for use in a GIS.
use data, especially in the context of the Much remains to be done with GIS
Aboriginal peoples of North America. to improve our ability to model and ana-
However, archaeologists must remember lyze settlement patterns from precontact
that predictive modeling is only one times. For example, one of the greatest
of many applications that can help to concerns that archaeologists have about
understand human behaviour. Site catch- GIS is that it is currently atemporal,
ment analysis gives a glimpse into the with spatial phenomena being handled
relationship between the landscape and as a slice of time (Castleford 1992:
the site, and can extend the knowledge of 25). This approach uses snapshots of
why people settle in one location and not particular periods to show change over
another. Visibility and viewshed studies time. Castleford (1992: 103) proposes
may also give us an idea of preferential that the solution to this problem may
use of the landscape. Finally, simulation be as simple as tagging spatial data with
provides an area of exciting possibility both a temporal and spatial identifier.
in settlement pattern analysis in allowing Although this solution is somewhat sim-

Canadian Journal of Archaeology 28 (2004)


plistic and might create more problems are regionally-based applications of GIS.
that it solves, the addition of a temporal Recently there has been more attention
dimension will revolutionize the use of paid to other scales of analysis, such as the
GIS in archaeology and the many other site itself (e.g., Quesada et al. 1995) or
fields that are concerned with temporal even levels within the site (e.g., Abe et al.
aspects of spatial distributions. Finally, 2002; Marean et al. 2001). While such
with a temporally oriented GIS, archae- scale of sites, level, and artifact analyses
ologists will be able to look at cultural are not new, the addition of archaeologi-
change, culture process, and cultural cal GIS methods to address these holds
evolution, as time is one of the key vari- much promise.
ables of interests to archaeologist, often GIS clearly provides a powerful set
even more so than space. of tools for the analysis and exploration
Similarly, GIS must be made to be of settlement patterns of past peoples. It
truly three-dimensional. GIS currently is reaching greater levels of acceptance
supports primarily a two-dimensional in many fields, especially as hardware
map, to which a third dimension is becomes more powerful and afford-
appendedmaking it what some refer to able, as the software more sophisticated
as 2.5 dimensional. For archaeologists and user-friendly, and as more digital
who work with sites that are three dimen- datasets come online. The future of GIS
sional, this makes the representation in archaeology will be one of growth as
of things like stratigraphy and cultural more academics adopt it for their own
levels very difficult, if not impossible. research, more departments offer train-
Furthermore, the underlying theo- ing, and more CRM companies delve
retical basis of GIS applications in deeper into its applications GIS. While
archaeology needs to be examined. some aspects of archaeological GIS in
Some (e.g., Church et al. 2000) have Canada remain underdeveloped, there
argued that GIS is a method in search remains much reason for optimism for its
of a theory. While this argument may be future here. This is especially true if more
somewhat of a red herring, since other students seek training in GIS techniques,
methodologies (e.g., zooarchaeology) for their knowledge and skills will have
are not attacked for being atheoretical, substantial long-term benefits for the
itis clear that those involved in using GIS practice of archaeology in Canada.
in archaeology must take a step back and
consider both how we are using GIS and Acknowledgements. An early version of this
how we are applying it within a theoreti- paper was given in the Arch 990 Seminar
cal framework with a rigourous research Series for the Graduate Student in the
design. It is likely that as GIS applications Department of Archaeology, University of
mature and as more GIS-trained archae- Saskatchewan. Thanks are due to the review-
ologists work the methods will find their ers of this article for the CJA, whose com-
theoretical place within established gen- ments greatly strengthened the paper and to
eral theories in archaeology. Dr. Ariane Burke.
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