5J Spatial analysis in ethnoarchaeology and experimental archaeology

Francesco Carrer, Fabio Cavulli, Carla Lancelotti

Archaeology is concerned with the detection, study and interpretation of past human behaviour. One important aspect of human behaviour is how people used their landscape and defined their space through activity. However, there are still unresolved issues related to making inferences on past human behaviour, particularly those of equifinality (several activities can create the same pattern of evidence) and partiality of the archaeological record. In order to tackle these issues, common approaches to the study of past activities include the use of ethnographic and/or ethnoarchaeological comparison and a multidisciplinary approach.

Ethnoarchaeology investigates the relationships between human behaviour and material culture in ethnographic contexts; in experimental archaeology, instead, these relationships are experimentally reproduced under different conditions, and the outcomes are analysed and compared to archaeological data. These sub-fields of archaeology have proved very useful in enhancing the comprehension of spatial behaviour in the past. However, very few ethnoarchaeological and experimental archaeological projects make use of quantitative methods for spatial analysis (otherwise quite widespread in archaeology). The use of GIS, spatial statistics and geostatistics in ethnographic or experimental contexts could provide quantitative data to be compared with quantitative archaeological data. Analogical inference would no longer be a qualitative process (A looks similar/different to B), but it would be based on more explicit analytical process (dataset A is statistically comparable to dataset B).

The main purpose of this session is to open a debate about the role of spatial analysis in ethnoarchaeology and experimental archaeology, highlighting its progression and evaluating its perspectives. The interest of this session is not on a specific spatial or temporal scale: papers focused on landscape or intra-site patterns are equally welcomed. Papers focused on different geographic areas and dealing with different topics are also welcome. The ethnoarchaeological and experimental case-studies presented should be aimed at tackling archaeological issues and answering precise archaeological questions. From a methodological point of view, three topics will be particularly developed in this session:

  1. The study of modern settlement patterns to interpret ancient settlement patterns or to predict the location of archaeological sites in the landscape
  2. The study of modern or experimental intra-site patterns to infer intra-site spatial behaviours in the past and interpret archaeological deposits
  3. The study of modern intra-site or landscape mobility to model/understand past mobility

Although these are the main topics of the session, other approaches, points of view or methodological interests (if related to the general subject of the session) will be taken into account. The session will focus strongly on the application of innovative quantitative methods, novel approaches to consolidated quantitative methods, or critiques of the use of specific quantitative methods (or to the interpretation of the outcomes). Papers proposing an overview of the state of spatial analysis in ethnoarchaeological and experimental research will be accepted as well.

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