ARCHAEOLOGICAL MODELLING

Big bucks or a big mistake?

Archaeological predictive modelling started in the 1980s and has grown into a multimillion dollar industry, used almost entirely for cultural heritage management. Interest in predictive modelling was given a considerable boost in 1981 when the US Bureau of Land Management issued an instructional memo, encouraging its use. However, two years later there was a consensus by archaeologists and cultural heritage managers that a lack of scientific rigour and inter-project consistency required a systematic re-evaluation of predictive modelling. This emerged in the form of a landmark publication by Judge. W & Sebastian. L (ed.), ‘Quantifying the Present and Predicting the Past: Theory Method and Application of Archaeological Predictive Modelling’, 1988, US Government Printing Office, America.

 

Despite the above cautions, some countries and some states in America have continued to rely on archaeological predictive modelling as part of their cultural resource management. For example, one American state has an archaeological predictive model that cost $5 million to produce but estimates that it saves that state $3 million per year by reducing the number of staff required to govern the cultural resources and it has also cut down on administration time (see Madry. S, Cole, M, Gould, S, Resnick, B, Seibel, S, & Wilkerson, M, ‘A GIS based archaeological predictive model and decision support system for the North Carolina department of Transport’, in Mehrer. M & Westcott. K (ed.), GIS and archaeological site location modelling, 2006, Taylor & Francis, London).

 

In the 1990s, the Dutch government proceeded with a national archaeological predictive model, called the IKAW (Indicatieve Kaart Van Archeologische Waarden), probably because it was estimated that about a third of all archaeology in the Netherlands has been lost since 1950 due to development! The IKAW is now in its second generation and used extensively for cultural heritage management. The resultant map is divided up into high, medium and low areas of predicted archaeology and the policy regarding what action to take with a building development application within that area is defined (see Leusen. M & Kamermans H, ‘Predictive Modelling for Archaeological Heritage Management: A research agenda’, Nederlandse Archeolgische Rapporten 29, 2005, Amersfoort, Holland).

 

One of the biggest criticisms about archaeological predictive modelling used for cultural heritage management is that the models are self fulfilling. For example, for a building development within a high probability area, an archaeological excavation is likely to be demanded but within a low probability area, only a desk study is likely to be required. Thus, if you only look in a high category area, you will only find archaeology within that area and conversely if you do not look in a low category area, you will never find any archaeology within it!

 

One can understand the lure of archaeological predictive modelling to cultural heritage managers. It is the Holy Grail of their job! They develop an archaeological predictive map of the area they are responsible for, save a fortune by getting rid of all the regional archaeologists, simply plot any building development application on the predictive map and then issue the appropriate letter stating what archaeological action is required.

 

Do you agree with the above assessment or do you feel that I have over-simplified or misinterpreted the situation? I would appreciate your thoughts and comments on this sensitive subject.

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April 26, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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