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Spatial analysis in archaeology

Spatial Analysis in Archaeology is the main methodological subject at the ASIAA lab. Generally speaking, Spatial Analysis may be conceived as a collection of quantitative methods applied to the study of distributions in space. Also, the spatial variations or change of such distributions are another aspect of this kind of studies.

Density analysis with S.A.U.Usually, the idea of distribution is associated with a scatter of points on a plane. But we may conceivably use this discipline to study every phenomenon that occurs in space: although it may, or may not be represented as a point model, like, a road systems or land-use.

Spatial Analysis is one of the main sectors of Geography (Haggett P. 1983). It is not only a set of quantitative procedures but a specific approach to knowledge where measurement plays a principal part. The most important aspect of quantitative methods is not that one can obtain precise and accurate measurement but the fact that diverse measures can be compared. For example, if you are able to measure a specific and common attribute of events (or phenomena) A, B and C, then you can establish if B is more similar to A or C. Even if this outcome won’t be a definitive answer to your scientific issues it will certainly led you to interesting assumptions in your research process.

As stated by Hodder and Orton, the use of Spatial Analysis in the archeological research was a response to the ambiguity, subjectivity and bias that characterized the study of archaeological distribution maps with simple visual interpretation. Spatial Analysis let the archaeologist the use of distribution maps as scientific information and not only as means of illustration or publication of his research activity.

Another significant aspect that we take into consideration is language and communication process. Measurements must be expressed in a mathematical language. Which means that thing should be communicated in a formal language that certainly improves the exchange of ideas. This is true not only inside the archaeological community but also between coworkers from other disciplines like history, geography or anthropology. A clear example of the limits of a traditional approach can be found almost in every essay or article where words acquire an imprecise and vague meaning: dense, agglomerated, and isolated. There is nothing wrong with these words. But the fact is that the authentic meaning of these expressions is sealed in the author’s head. That is, that the reader may get the sense in which the word is used only by chance.

Most of Spatial Analysis work is achieved today with the use of G.I.S. During the last two decades, these applications had played an important role on the development of the archaeological research methodologies. But G.I.S. software and techniques alone are not enough to accomplish Spatial Analyses in the right way. Why? Simply because G.I.S. software came with ready to use tools for Spatial Analysis that won’t necessarily fit your analytical requirements. That’s why an advanced application of Spatial Analysis requires some degree of programming capabilities either in native languages (like C/C++) or G.I.S. application languages.

The application of Spatial Analysis in the archeological research process can be related with three sub areas:

Frequently, archaeologist engaged on Spatial Analysis research processes are accused of some sort of extremist determinism. Fact is that an analytical approach towards the location in space represents a fundamental step for understanding on each research areas. Neglecting the spatial information of the archaeological record is an error for almost every archaeologist. On the other hand it is true indeed that in the past some archaeologists that have adopted spatial analysis as standard procedures in their research process have overemphasized the role of “hidden order” in the universe. Chaos is everywhere and might not necessarily be intelligible to humanity. The principal application of Spatial Analysis is as means of measurement and not to uncover some type of hidden order.

At the moment the ASIAA lab is actively engaged in the study of medieval settlement patterns. In particular the study of the incastellamento. In order to accomplish such task we are developing some important projects in the field of database development. We are also developing software solutions and artificial intelligence techniques like artificial neural network.

Our ultimate goal in the use of Spatial Analysis in the study of the incastellamento is the development of quantitative models that describe and synthesize the chronological and spatial attributes of this specific type of settlement.

Basic bibliography

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