Space archaeology: combining past and future

Space Archaeology: Combining Past and Future

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National Geographic Explorer and TED Prize-winner Dr. Sarah Parcak welcomes you to the exciting new world of space archaeology, a growing field that is sparking extraordinary discoveries from ancient civilizations across the globe.

In Archaeology from Space, Sarah Parcak shows the evolution, major discoveries, and future potential of the young field of satellite archaeology.

From surprise advancements after the declassification of spy photography, to a new map of the mythical Egyptian city of Tanis, she shares her field's biggest discoveries, revealing why space archaeology is not only exciting, but urgently essential to the preservation of the world's ancient treasures.

Parcak has worked in twelve countries and four continents, using multispectral and high-resolution satellite imagery to identify thousands of previously unknown settlements, roads, fortresses, palaces, tombs, and even potential pyramids. From there, her stories take us back in time and across borders, into the day-to-day lives of ancient humans whose traits and genes we share. And she shows us that if we heed the lessons of the past, we can shape a vibrant future.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Inspiring and remarkably engaging By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 5 Aug 2019 Written for Hardback What is better than archaeology? How about space archaeology. More properly known as remote sensing by satellite, the use of satellite imagery has set the field or archaeology alight. And professor of anthropology Sarah Parcak is one of its most enthusiastic torch-bearers. In a book that overflows with wonder, honesty, and hope, she takes the reader on a grand tour of remote sensing, showing how it is transforming this discipline.

    I first touched on this topic in my review of Tropical Forests in Prehistory, History, and Modernity, which mentioned the use of LiDAR to reveal the scope of jungle ruins. You will have been hard-pressed to miss these findings making news headlines. The rationale behind remote sensing is simple, says Parcak: Where do you begin? Given that, at the surface, many archaeological sites are covered under either sand, jungle, or modern infrastructure, how do you know what lurks beneath? And how do you even begin to decide where to dig? You would be surprised what you can see from the air. Ever since we had cameras, hot air balloons, and the first aeroplanes, aerial photography became a thing. More concerted efforts came in the 1950s with the development of infrared technology and the spy satellite programmes of the Cold War, and in the ’60s with NASA launching satellites. But space archaeology had to wait until technological developments allowed for high-resolution images. That moment arrived in the 2000s and everything has gone a bit crazy since then.

    The central part of Archaeology from Space is a mind-blowing tour of archaeological digs where remote sensing was involved. Parcak is an Egyptologist by training but has also worked on sites in Iceland, The Shetland Islands, Italy, and Newfoundland. And she provides an overview of some of the most spectacular finds others have made.

    It is hard to overstate the significance of this technology. Take Tanis, a well-known site in Egypt. Where two centuries of work on the ground have focused on temples, tombs, and pyramids, Parcak inspected satellite images that revealed the whole city! Work on Easter Island, meanwhile, is overturning the long-held assumption that the Polynesians caused their own demise by cutting down their forests. Instead, introduced diseases by European explorers are to blame (see also The Statues that Walked). And the use of LiDAR in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Central America has to date mapped more than 60,000 buildings (a finding Parcak calls insane). Particularly memorable is the story of archaeologist Arlen Chase, who found more ancient Maya sites in one night of feverishly inspecting satellite imagery than he had in 30 years working in the jungle. Probably the most important topic she tackles is wide-scale looting. In an era where online platforms such as eBay feed through to many potential buyers, there is scope for a massive black market. But here, too, satellite imagery has a role to play. Despite the potential of this technology, Parcak is quick to recognise its limitations. Every potentially interesting site you identify needs to be ground-truthed with fieldwork. Even for a trained eye, it is easy to make mistakes, dismissing sites that are worthwhile or chasing phantoms that turn out to be false positives. With disarming honesty, Parcak tells of some of her biggest howlers. In the process, she reveals just what is involved in overseeing an excavation. Midway the book she takes an unexpected step back from remote sensing. She combines the fictionalised life story of a woman in ancient Egypt with what we know about the transition of its Old Kingdom to its Middle Kingdom about 2200-2000 BC. This is Parcak’s home turf and her knowledgeable account is interesting, but I could not help but feel it broke the flow of the book a bit. Her next piece of fiction – picturing how an archaeologist in 2119 might go about things, complete with swarms of nano-drones and other futuristic archaeotech – is a relevant exercise in imagination, however. See, archaeology now faces the same problem as e.g. genomics and astronomy that routinely reel in data by the tera- and petabytes: big data. It has never been easier to acquire more information than you could hope to process in several lifetimes. For the first time, we actually have tools to get to grips with the scale of what remains to be discovered. The estimated guesses Parcak gives are mind-boggling, but she revels in impossible odds. She is a dreamer, and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word. Technology is developing at a break-neck pace, allowing things we could not have imagined a few decades ago. Does anyone else remember that article where X-ray imaging was used to read charred papyrus sheets that were too fragile to unroll? Exactly. Suddenly her speculations on hyperspectral imaging and machine learning do not sound that implausible anymore. And there is one other avenue Parcak has already bravely explored: crowdsourcing. She tells how, having won the million-dollar TED prize in 2016, she founded GlobalXplorer. This online, citizen-science platform allows anyone with an internet connection to help out locating sites of archaeological interest on satellite imagery. The response to the opening campaign was overwhelming and revealed many new and genuinely interesting sites. But Parcak dreams big. This is the woman who would have us map the entire world in the next ten years using this approach. What a hero.

    One reviewer faulted the book for not talking enough about the technical details. Given that Parcak has authored the textbook Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology that gives you all the technical details you could want, this book is not the place for that. Even so, she explains why and how underground structures show up in satellite imagery (plant growth can be affected by what is buried underground, leading to visible crop marks), goes into some detail about hyperspectral imaging, and explains how seasonality and weather can influence your results.

Book review – Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past

What is better than archaeology? How about space archaeology. More properly known as remote sensing by satellite, the use of satellite imagery has set the field or archaeology alight.

And professor of anthropology Sarah Parcak is one of its most enthusiastic torch-bearers.

In a book that overflows with wonder, honesty, and hope, she takes the reader on a grand tour of remote sensing, showing how it is transforming this discipline.

Space Archaeology: Combining Past and Future

“Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past“, written by Sarah Parcak, published by Henry Holt in July 2019 (hardback, 286 pages)

I first touched on this topic in my review of Tropical Forests in Prehistory, History, and Modernity, which mentioned the use of LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) to reveal the scope of jungle ruins. You will have been hard-pressed to miss these findings making news headlines.

The rationale behind remote sensing is simple, says Parcak: Where do you begin? Given that, at the surface, many archaeological sites are covered under either sand, jungle, or modern infrastructure, how do you know what lurks beneath? And how do you even begin to decide where to dig? You would be surprised what you can see from the air.

Ever since we had cameras, hot air balloons, and the first aeroplanes, aerial photography became a thing.

More concerted efforts came in the 1950s with the development of infrared technology and the spy satellite programmes of the Cold War, and in the ’60s with NASA launching satellites.

But space archaeology had to wait until technological developments allowed for high-resolution images. That moment arrived in the 2000s and everything has gone a bit crazy since then.

The central part of Archaeology from Space is a mind-blowing tour of archaeological digs where remote sensing was involved. Parcak is an Egyptologist by training but has also worked on sites in, amongst others, Iceland, The Shetland Islands, Italy, and Newfoundland. And she provides an overview of some of the most spectacular finds others have made.

“The rationale behind remote sensing is simple, says Parcak: […] how do you even begin to decide where to dig? You would be surprised what you can see from the air.”

It is hard to overstate the significance of this technology. Take Tanis, a well-known site in Egypt.

Where two centuries of work on the ground have focused on temples, tombs, and pyramids, Parcak inspected satellite images that revealed the whole city! Work on Easter Island, meanwhile, is overturning the long-held assumption that the Polynesians caused their own demise by cutting down their forests.

Instead, introduced diseases by European explorers are to blame (see also The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island). And the use of LiDAR in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Central America has to date mapped more than 60,000 buildings (a finding Parcak calls insane).

Particularly memorable is the story of archaeologist Arlen Chase, who found more ancient Maya sites in one night of feverishly inspecting satellite imagery than he had in 30 years working in the jungle. Probably the most important topic she tackles is wide-scale looting. In an era where online platforms such as eBay feed through to many potential buyers, there is scope for a massive black market. But here, too, satellite imagery has a role to play.

Despite the potential of this technology, Parcak is quick to recognise its limitations. Every potentially interesting site you identify needs to be ground-truthed with fieldwork.

Even for a trained eye, it is easy to make mistakes, dismissing sites that are worthwhile or chasing phantoms that turn out to be false positives. With disarming honesty, Parcak tells of some of her biggest howlers.

In the process, she reveals just what is involved in overseeing an excavation.

Midway the book she takes an unexpected step back from remote sensing. She combines the fictionalised life story of a woman in ancient Egypt with what we know about the transition of its Old Kingdom to its Middle Kingdom about 2200-2000 BC.

This is Parcak’s home turf and her knowledgeable account is interesting, but I could not help but feel it broke the flow of the book a bit.

Her next piece of fiction – picturing how an archaeologist in 2119 might go about things, complete with swarms of nano-drones and other futuristic archaeotech – is a relevant exercise in imagination, however.

“archaeology now faces the same problem as genomics and astronomy: big data. It has never been easier to acquire more information than you could hope to process in several lifetimes.”

See, archaeology now faces the same problem as e.g. genomics and astronomy that routinely reel in data by the tera- and petabytes: big data. It has never been easier to acquire more information than you could hope to process in several lifetimes.

For the first time, we actually have tools to get to grips with the scale of what remains to be discovered. The estimated guesses Parcak gives are mind-boggling, but she revels in impossible odds. She is a dreamer, and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word.

Technology is developing at a break-neck pace, allowing things we could not have imagined a few decades ago. Does anyone else remember that article where X-ray imaging was used to read charred papyrus sheets that were too fragile to unroll? Exactly.

Suddenly her speculations on hyperspectral imaging and machine learning do not sound that implausible anymore.

And there is one other avenue Parcak has already bravely explored: crowdsourcing. She tells how, having won the million-dollar TED prize in 2016, she founded GlobalXplorer.

This online, citizen-science platform allows anyone with an internet connection to help out locating sites of archaeological interest on satellite imagery. The response to the opening campaign was overwhelming and revealed many new and genuinely interesting sites. But Parcak dreams big.

This is the woman who would have us map the entire world in the next ten years using this approach. What a hero.

One reviewer faulted the book for not talking enough about the technical details. Given that Parcak has authored the textbook Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology that gives you all the technical details you could want, this book is not the place for that.

Even so, she explains why and how underground structures show up in satellite imagery (plant growth can be affected by what is buried underground, leading to visible crop marks), goes into some detail about hyperspectral imaging, and explains how seasonality and weather can influence your results.

“Harrison Ford might be too old to inspire a new generation of archaeologists as Indiana Jones, but he can safely pass his fedora on to Sarah Parcak.”

Dr Space Junk vs The Universe

Space Archaeology: Combining Past and Future Paperback | Apr 2019 | NewSouth | 9781742236247 | 304pp | 210x135mm | GEN | AUD$29.99, NZD$34.99

  • Shortlisted for the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction
  • Winner of the 2019 John Mulvaney Book Prize by the Australian Archaeological Association. 
  • Mark & Evette Moran Nib People's Choice Prize 2019
  • Shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature 2020
  • Shortlisted for the Mark and Evette Moran NIB Literary Award 2019
  • Shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards 2019: Nonfiction
  • Australian Book Review's Books of the Year 2019(read more here)

Going boldly forth as a pioneer in the fledgling field of space archaeology, Dr Alice Gorman (aka Dr Space Junk) turns the common perception of archaeology as an exploration of the ancient on its head. Her captivating inquiry into the most modern and daring of technologies spanning some 60 years — a mere speck in cosmic terms — takes the reader on a journey which captures the relics of space forays and uncovers the cultural value of detritus all too readily dismissed as junk.

In this book, she takes a physical journey through the solar system and beyond, and a conceptual journey into human interactions with space. Her tools are artefacts, historical explorations, the occasional cocktail recipe, and the archaeologist’s eye applied not only to the past, but the present and future as well.

Erudite and playful, Dr Space Junk reveals that space is not as empty as we might think. And that by looking up and studying space artefacts, we learn an awful lot about our own culture on earth.

She makes us realise that objects from the past — the material culture produced by the Space Age and beyond — are so significant to us now because they remind us of what we might want to hold onto into the future.

‘As charming as it is expert, as gripping as it is surprising, Dr Space Junk vs The Universe deftly threads together the cosmic and the personal, the stupendousness of space with the lived experience of human beings down here.’ — Adam Roberts, author of Gradisil

Archaeology from Space

An Amazon Best Science Book of 2019A Science Friday Best Science Book of 2019A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2019Nature's top ten books of 2019 The Maine Edge's 2019 Recommended Reads

“A crash course in the amazing new science of space archaeology that only Sarah Parcak can give. This book will awaken the explorer in all of us.” ―Chris Anderson, Head of TED

“A renowned space archaeologist gives readers an insider's look at her field, which is basically Indiana Jones meets cutting-edge satellite technology.

It's every bit as exciting as it sounds… In this fascinating adventure memoir… Parcak has a lot of great stories to tell, and she tells them with clarity, enthusiasm, and humor… Exciting and futuristic, this book elicits that anything-is-possible feeling―a must-read.

” ―Kirkus Reviews, *starred review*“Her writing is full of evocative anecdotes and personal insights gleaned from years of experience in dusty trenches as well as behind the computer screen, poring over satellite images…

Throughout the book, Parcak’s love for her work and the people she studies is evident, and her enthusiasm is contagious. From Vikings in Iceland and Canada to amphitheaters in Italy and back to her first love, pharaonic Egypt, she brings both the present and the past to life.” ―Science Magazine

“Parcak’s book provides a revelatory look at an exciting new field.” ―Publishers Weekly

“This book is so much more than the memoir of a dedicated archaeologist―it’s an open invitation for all of us to become explorers. She has pioneered crowd source archaeology, and shows how we can join her on the adventures of discovery that we've always dreamed about.

―Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning director“This is a fascinating glimpse into a young field just as its technological possibilities are exploding…By panning out, we perceive what’s invisible on the ground: features that relate not just to the physical landscape, but to the history of humanity, and our relationship with Earth.” ―Nature

“Parcak's love for her field and her deep wonder and excitement come through on every page…

Clear, accessible and fascinating, peppered with witty asides and informative photos, Archaeology From Space is an excellent introduction to an exciting subfield that's still flying under the (satellite) radar.” ―Shelf Awareness, *starred review*“Archaeology from Space

Rethinking Archaeology: The Role of Archaeologists in Heritage Management, Spatial Planning and Design

by Linda Bjerketvedt

This essay was originally written as the finalisation of the course Transformations: Meeting Designers of the Master programme Heritage Studies. The author participated as an elective student in this course. 

1.      Introduction

Archaeological remains – the material traces of the past – are considered finite and non-renewable resources that are constantly under threat (Elia 1997: 85). The discipline itself is a form of destruction and intervention because excavation is an irreversible process after which the context is lost.

Most of the work conducted by archaeologists aims to preserve the past not only for the present, but also for future generations (Holtorf 2014). Archaeological heritage management in Europe is predominately concerned with preservation and conservation (Högberg et al.

2017: 639) to such an extent that archaeology is usually isolated from the dynamics of development (Janssen et al. 2014: 2).

In this personal essay, I wish to reflect on my future role as an archaeologist in heritage management. Through the ‘Transformations’ course, I have seen many ways in which recent heritage can be combined with developments. Building on those observations, I wish to critically discuss how archaeology can strengthen its own position within heritage management and spatial planning.

I want to focus on how archaeological sites and material are and can be used after an excavation in order to become relevant and useful. My profession is largely guided (and restricted) by legislation, which will be discussed alongside the concept of authenticity.

If archaeologists rethink their position, archaeology as a discipline can become far more nuanced and connected with wider societal developments.

2.     Theoretical background

2.1.  Legislation and policies

The first international conventions dealing with the protection of archaeological heritage were conceived in the post-war years.  During this time, rapid economic development caused destruction of archaeological sites and required the international scientific community to react (Demoule 2012: 612).

The Venice Charter of 1964 provided global guidelines for heritage conservation and management and resulted in the creation of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS 1965). Except for a short article dealing with archaeological excavations, archaeology was largely absent from this charter.

The 1990 Lausanne Charter, developed by the International Scientific Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management (ICAHM), became the first international document dealing exclusively with archaeology (Comer & Willems 2014: 3942). ICHAM remains the only global organization dedicated entirely to archaeological heritage management (Willems 2014a: 110).

For European archaeology, the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of 1992 (Malta Convention) has had the greatest impact. This convention is a legally binding treaty which provides a standard for the management of archaeological resources on a national level (Willems 2014b: 151).

The core of the 1992 Malta Convention is that archaeology should be integrated in planning processes, financed by the developers and communicated to the public (ibid).

According to Article 4 of the Malta Convention (Council of Europe 1992), preservation in situ – the conservation of archaeological remains in their original location – should be the first option. This is also appealing to developers, as it may appear to limit the costs of excavation and allows the development to take place (Huisman 2012: 60).

Developers are therefore eager to find ways of building on archaeological sites (Davis et al. 2004).

Although this type of conservation would require both a thorough understanding of the below-ground environment and monitoring, the Council of Europe members are recommended to develop “their own legislation and administration systems in the preservation field” (Musteață 2015: 16).

The impacts of construction on archaeological sites are poorly understood and researched, causing a lack of knowledge in planning processes (Huisman 2012: 61). Some scholars have already criticised whether preservation in situ is a useful method for dealing with archaeological remains, calling it the “central dogma of Western archaeological heritage management” (Williams 2015: 38).

Overall, the different policies and legislations have caused archaeological research and practice to become substantially better integrated with spatial planning and related fields.

The incorporation of archaeological resource management with land-use planning is for example visible in the Belvedere strategy from the Netherlands (Janssen et al. 2014). The common approach now is for archaeologists to be involved in the planning process from the start.

Most of the treaties make some sort of reference to the future in their overarching aims. This corresponds with the strong ‘conservation ethos’ of archaeology, which seeks to preserve the past for “the benefit of future generations” (Högberg et al. 2017: 639).

It is assumed that future generations will value the same tangible and intangible entities as us and that these entities are under threat in the present (Agnew 2006: 1). ‘The future’ remains somewhat vague in archaeological heritage management and has become a popular ‘catch phrase’ (Högberg et al. 2017: 640).

Heritage professionals and archaeologists need to consider the risks and opportunities the future may hold and ask two important question: What kind of collective future(s) do we want to shape and create?  And how can our policies and practices in the present change if we consider the future?

2.2. Authenticity in heritage and archaeology

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, authenticity is defined as “the quality of being real or true” (“Authenticity” 2019). The concept of authenticity has been discussed since antiquity – infamously exemplified through the ‘Ship of Theseus’ riddle – and continues to be a debated topic (Myrberg 2004: 152).

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the restoration and conservation movements related to historic buildings and monuments first emerged, authenticity related to the materiality of something being original and unique (Odegaard & Cassman 2014: 702).

Pioneers such as Eugène
Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc called for a systematic approach which required critical analysis, solid documentation and an understanding of the grammar of architecture (Viollet-le-Duc 1875: 64).

For Viollet-le-Duc, originality came from re-establishing a structure to “a finished state, which may in fact never have actually existed at any given moment” (Viollet-le-Duc 1875 [1990]: 195). John Ruskin, a contemporary to and critic of Viollet-le-Duc, saw time as the most important agent in the preservation. The greatest glory and beauty of a building is in its age and the marks left by time (Ruskin 1904).

Despite their opposing views, both Viollet-le-Duc and Ruskin were concerned with the innate value of materials. This continues to frame the archaeological heritage discourse today, perhaps because authenticity is also closely linked with authority and power (Willems 2014a: 107).

We may even speak of different ‘regimes of value’ which acquire universality through the authority of credible institutions (Jones 2009: 135). In general, the authenticity of archaeological remains is rooted in their material qualities.

The guiding principle has been to conserve and preserve rather than to restore and reconstruct (Holtorf & Schadla-Hall 1999: 232). If modern modifications are needed, these need to be clearly distinguishable from the old (ibid).

This is further reinforced in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO 2017, article 86):

In relation to authenticity, the reconstruction of archaeological remains or historic buildings or districts is justifiable only in exceptional circumstances. Reconstruction is acceptable only on the basis of complete and detailed documentation and to no extent on conjecture.

More and more, scholars are seeing authenticity as something that is created and negotiated rather than an attribute or absolute property (Odegaard & Cassman 2014: 703). The intangible aspects of archaeological remains are being recognised as equally, if not more important, for a community’s association with a site than the tangible aspects (Poulios 2010: 180).

Because archaeology is a context-dependent discipline, sites and objects will have different meanings “at different times, in different places and to different people” (Odegaard & Cassman 2014: 702). In most cases, however, protected archaeological sites become solitary places frozen in time (Myrberg 2004: 158).

The attempt to preserve authenticity breaks the continuity of function and neglects existing living traditions (Poulios 2010: 178). This division is further fuelled by the public and archaeologists often having different perceptions of authenticity (Myrberg 2004: 229).

Authenticity is staged in many ways at museums and archaeological sites across the world without the perception of ‘pastness’ being lost (Holtorf 2013: 431). People’s experience with the historic environment (including archaeological remains) is therefore a meaningful engagement with something “possessing the quality of being of the past” (Holtorf 2010: 26-27).

Archaeologists need to identify how both the ‘authentic’ and the ‘simulated’ past is experienced and given meaning in contemporary society (Holtorf 2014: 712).

3.     Repurposing archaeological sites

Spatial Analysis in Archaeology: Moving into New Territories

GIS has become an indispensable tool for archaeologists to organize, explore and analyse spatial data. In this introductory chapter, an historical overview of the development of GIS use in archaeology is given.

It focuses on three major fields of application: site location analysis, modelling movement and transport and visibility analysis. This state of the art is illustrated by discussing three different case studies.

Finally, some thoughts on the future of GIS in archaeology are presented.

GIS Archaeological theory Site location analysis Least-cost paths Viewsheds 

It is now over 30 years ago that the term GIS was introduced in archaeology (Hasenstab 1983), and it is hard to imagine how archaeologists have ever done research without it.

GIS and spatial analysis are now seen by most archaeologists as essential tools to explore, analyse and interpret spatial data and have become standard ingredients in many archaeological research projects. GIS and spatial analysis are extremely convenient techniques for more efficiently carrying out ‘traditional’ archaeological research .

However, there are also those who maintain that the ‘spatial turn’, boosted by GIS technology, points the way to applying fundamentally different theoretical perspectives in archaeology.

In this chapter, I will give a condensed overview of the current state of GIS use in archaeology and attempt to sketch the current role of GIS and spatial analysis for archaeological interpretation and show its potential for changing theoretical perspectives and research traditions, drawing on examples from recent research. And lastly, I will try to look into the crystal ball and set a tentative agenda for future research.

If we would have to describe the history of the use of GIS in archaeology in a nutshell, it could be summarized as a cycle of initial enthusiasm and proliferation in the 1980s and early 1990s, followed by severe criticism and (partial) disillusionment in the late 1990s, only to be reappraised again and rapidly gaining momentum in the late 2000s, leading to its current status as an almost indispensable research tool—or rather methodology—for dealing with spatial archaeological data. The main trends in this development have been described by, e.g. Kvamme (1999), Verhagen (2007: 13–25), McCoy and Ladefoged (2009), Wagtendonk et al. (2009) and Verhagen (2012) and need not be repeated here. However, when reading the academic literature on the subject (which has the tendency of being a rather slow detector of longer-term trends), we could be under the impression that archaeologists are still reluctant and hesitant in their appreciation and adoption of GIS-based spatial analysis. This is because of its association with the theoretical school of processual archaeology, with its underlying, naive support of scientism, and with its emphasis on environmental determinism (see Hacıgüzeller 2012). Theoretically oriented archaeologists were seriously concerned about these issues in the 1990s and early 2000s when thinking about how to deal with digital technologies in general. However, archaeological practice has certainly moved on since then, and currently archaeologists have generally embraced geographical database management, digital cartography and spatial analysis, if only for reasons of efficiency. To a lesser extent, they have also gradually adopted computer-based modelling as a research tool, although acceptance here has been a lot slower, due to the fact that it has stood in the middle of the processual versus post-processual controversy (see also Verhagen and Whitley 2012). This is part of a larger debate about computing applications in archaeology that has been described as an ‘anxiety discourse’ by Huggett (2013) and which is a general characteristic of emerging fields trying to establish their scientific identity.

One of the reasons why the debate on GIS has been quite tense is highlighted by Hacıgüzeller (2012). She distinguishes between two views of understanding the past, the representational and non-representational. In the representational view, the past is supposed to have an objective reality.

This is a reality, however, that we cannot touch. For this reason we can only use representations to understand the past. This leads to a dualistic approach to research, separating, e.g. past and present and material and meaning.

It also implies that there is a constant search for the right medium to construct representations that are as faithful to ‘reality’ as possible—and this is exactly where GIS filled a huge gap when it came to the scene in the 1980s.

Digital cartography suddenly allowed researchers (not just in archaeology) to take mapping to a much higher level and to collect and manipulate geographical data in a much more sophisticated way.

The critique of this representational viewpoint is very prominent in the post-processual rejection of ‘processualist’ methods such as GIS (Thomas 1993, 2001, 2004; Tilley 2004, 2008).

The preoccupation of post-processual researchers with bodily understanding as the preferred way to study the past, and in this way to come closer to the mindset of human beings long dead, shows that they were looking for new ways of representation, albeit in a different form than what cartography and other techniques of data complexity reduction could achieve (see, e.g. Tilley 2004). It has however been noted before (Fleming 2006; Verhagen and Whitley 2012) that the rejection of the ‘scientific method’ by post-processualism contradicts one of its own tenets, i.e. the exploration of multiple and equivalent views of the past. As such, ‘scientific’ approaches can and should have their place in archaeological research practice, and the predominance given to narrative by post-processualists is not necessarily the best way to represent the past either.

What the early practitioners of GIS and their critics did not perceive is that GIS and other computer-based methods enable pluralism, rather than enforce reductionism.

Using these tools, a multitude of representations can be created with little effort, in which there is no longer an easy way to distinguish between right and wrong and between more and less plausible.

Because of this, cartography has been effectively democratized, and mapping these days is, more than ever, an exercise in (scientific) rhetoric.

Following Hacıgüzeller’s (2012) view, we can gain much more by adopting a non-representational approach to the study of the past, and thus to GIS.

In this view, the past is not something that can be understood in a static and definitive way, but rather something that continually changes and is repeatedly reconstructed in the present.

It is therefore a plea for eclecticism in using GIS and to consider it more as a constantly changing research practice than as a technology-driven instant solution that can be applied to all forms of spatial data and all archaeological research questions.

It also follows that GIS-based spatial analysis and modelling can never be a stand-alone approach, but should be an integral part of what we might call ‘hybrid’ archaeological research—which of course echoes the strong call for interdisciplinarity in modern science.

We might even go one step further and ask ourselves whether spatial analysis and modelling could not be just one of many approaches, but perhaps constitute a leitmotiv for doing archaeological research in the twenty-first century.

An important characteristic of computer-based techniques that sets them apart from all other approaches is their ability to deal with data sets that are too big and complex to handle by human minds. Therefore, they can be applied to all situations where we have ‘big data’.

GIS can deal with big data that also have a spatial dimension and in this way help to discern patterns and to simulate theories of human behaviour over large areas.

It is therefore, in all probability, the next frontier for spatial technology in archaeology: to move beyond the boundaries of individual, site-based or micro-regional projects and to have a look at the ‘big picture’.

In the following sections, I will introduce examples of the use of GIS-based spatial analysis that I believe illustrate current research trends, as well as its utility and limitations in practice.

The main applications of GIS in archaeology can be classified into site location analysis, modelling movement and transport and visibility analysis, and I will provide examples of applications of all of them.

In many cases these approaches are also used in conjunction—although we can suspect that this is partly because they are all available in the same toolbox and are therefore relatively easy to combine.

Over the last few years, however, we can see that researchers are becoming more and more interested in coupling GIS to other techniques, such as social network analysis, advanced statistical methods and agent-based modelling.

Without site location analysis, GIS might not have caught on as quickly as it did in archaeology. The earliest examples of GIS-based site location analysis can already be found in the early 1980s in the USA, and it is has never left the scene since then.

At the time, it met a strongly felt need for more efficiently analysing site location preferences, a field of study which had received an enormous boost in the mid-1970s through site catchment analysis (Higgs and Vita-Finzi 1972; Findlow and Ericson 1980).

The closely related practice of predictive modelling followed in its wake, responding to a demand from Cultural Resources Management to predict the distribution of archaeological remains in areas under threat of destruction (Kvamme 1983, 1984; Judge and Sebastian 1988).

However, both methods quickly came under severe attack when post-processual theory made its way into archaeology in the late 1980s and early 1990s. To the post-processualists, site location analysis and predictive modelling were prime examples of how the processualists had chosen to ignore the human dimension in the study of the past.

The first and foremost of these criticisms was the accusation of environmental determinism. The comparison of site locations to various environmental characteristics (such as soil type, slope or distance to natural resources) will inevitably favour environmental-deterministic explanations of site location patterns (Wheatley 1993, 1996, 2004; Gaffney and van Leusen 1995).

In fact, it was argued that the use of GIS even forced the interpretation of site location patterns towards this point of view, since it could not handle ‘soft’ social and cognitive parameters and non-environmental data sets were scarce or unavailable.

And even when the method can hardly be blamed for lack of data or for flawed archaeological-theoretical perspectives on site location, in practice it has proved to be very difficult to deal with non-environmental variables in site location analysis, although some real progress has been made in this respect over the last decade (Whitley et al. 2010; Verhagen et al.

2013a, 2016), also using, e.g. point pattern analysis (Bevan and Conolly 2006) and network analysis techniques (Bevan and Wilson 2013).

A second criticism of site location analysis is directed towards its quantitative nature: the results of site location analysis are typically presented as statistical tables and diagrams and offer the perspective of extrapolating the analysis results to other areas in the form of predictive maps—and they are therefore potentially misleading if the data and/or theories used are flawed (Wheatley 2004). In the early days, many GIS practitioners were well aware of the pitfalls of using and interpreting statistical analyses (see, e.g. Judge and Sebastian 1988). However, the backlash against quantitative methods in the early 1990s led to a general distrust in the use of statistics and a loss of proficiency amongst archaeologists that is still evident in university curricula these days. More importantly, dealing with field survey data for site location analysis has proved to be one of the trickier statistical issues in archaeology, since we usually have little control over the representativeness of sampling, and there are no established procedures for dealing with uneven representation (see, e.g. Orton 2000; Verhagen 2007: 115–168).

Thirdly, site location analysis and predictive modelling have been criticized for being static, and not taking into account the temporal dimension of human behaviour.

Again, this is much more a question of the availability of suitable data rather than of flawed methodology—temporal dynamics of site location patterns can only be studied fruitfully if we have sufficiently reliable dating of archaeological sites and if we have sufficiently detailed palaeogeographical reconstructions.

At a deeper level, this debate shows the everlasting struggle between the application and development of scientific theory.

We cannot expect a method or technique to operate in a theory-neutral environment; our choice of research questions, study regions, methods and data sets is governed by what we think we know about the past and by what we think we need to do to expand our knowledge.

So if we really did not think that the environment influences site location choice, then we would never choose to analyse it. And on the other hand, patterns that suggest themselves to us, for example, while performing site location analysis, will find their way back into existing theoretical frameworks and either reinforce or challenge established opinions.

Basically, we are still looking for answers to the question of what made people settle where at a particular point in time.

For this, site location analysis is not the only possible tool, but it remains a versatile, powerful and relatively straightforward way to explore site location preferences over large areas, to detect patterns and anomalies in settlement distribution, to compare these between areas and time periods and to place these in perspective together with other sources of information.

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