Assessing the state of archaeological GIS research: Unbinding analyses of past landscapes

Publication date: Available online 16 May 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science
Author(s): Meghan C.L. Howey, Marieka Brouwer Burg
The early pioneers of archaeological Geographic Information Systems (GIS) advocated for a future where this technology was more than a data-management tool. To this end, they emphasized harnessing the analytic power of GIS to advance innovative understandings of past social landscapes. This paper introduces the special issue, explaining its aims to offer a current assessment of how this vision has been realized. Three themes related to both persistent questions and emergent horizons in archaeological GIS are explored in the context of the contributions. We present our own set of ideas for how to unbind our analyses from some of the methodological and conceptual constraints inherent in the analytic GIS approaches on which we have long relied to explore past landscapes. We argue it is important to keep moving beyond analytic approaches tethered to discrete points, to push forward geospatial modeling of cultural processes across entire landscapes, and to incorporate uncertainty and iteration directly into our work. Through such efforts, we can develop robust insights into the ways past communities considered, reconfigured, and renewed patterns of social, economic, and ideological interaction, flow, and circulation through the variegated landscapes they inhabited. In doing this, we will get closer to realizing the ambitious vision early pioneers had for archaeological GIS – a technology they believed could let us ask entirely new questions about the past.