Rethinking Experimental Archaeology: GIS and Simulation as a Hypothesis-Testing Mechanism.

Author(s): Thomas Whitley

Year: 2016


More than 25 years since Allen et al. (1990), GIS has become a tool used almost as ubiquitously in archaeology as the trowel and the total station. But is it a “paradigm-shifter?” One fundamental distinction between archaeology and other scientific pursuits is the lack of a formal experimental procedure for testing large-scale hypotheses. We can work with recreated material culture or anything else on a 1:1 scale. However, ideas about larger mechanisms, particularly those that encompass wide geographic areas, are rarely examined in a formal experimental way. Presented here are the methods and results of a GIS simulation project that functions specifically as a means to examine certain ideas we have about the Helvetian Iron Age subsistence economy during the time of the First Gallic War (58 BC). It is first, and foremost, an experiment conducted on a dataset that is not possible to replicate on a 1:1 scale. It also provides explanatory and mechanistic insight into human energetics rather than merely identifying physical correlations in the archaeological record. My contention is that if we embrace the notion that GIS is an experimental tool, then we might move beyond physical landscapes, and begin to examine social and cognitive ones.

Cite this Record

Rethinking Experimental Archaeology: GIS and Simulation as a Hypothesis-Testing Mechanism.. Thomas Whitley. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403456)


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min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;