Australasian Archaeological Geomatics
Working Group

Spatial Modelling

Spatial modelling (also referred to as predictive models, similarity models and site location analysis) covers a range of topics related to developing an understanding of how past societies used and moved about the landscapes they inhabited.

Predictive Modelling

Predictive modelling in archaeology is a technique used to identify the location of archaeological sites or materials in a region via the observed pattern in an archaeological sample (correlative models) or by using theoretical understandings of human behaviour (explanatory models). Willey’s seminal work in the 1950s recognised that environmental variables are a critical factor in human settlement location. As satellite data and improved efficiencies in computing power advanced through the 1970s and 1980s, spatial modelling techniques were developed to understand the relationship between environment and human settlement patterns.

Correlative predictive models seek to identify relationships between archaeological site locations and environmental variables such as elevation, slope and distance to water. Led by mainly North American researchers, these models were primarily developed to assist land/heritage managers to identify archaeologically sensitive areas in a quick and cost-effective manner. Correlative models identify where sites are likely to be located, but not why they are located there. Statements about cultural change and development cannot be derived from correlative models.

Explanatory models rely on archaeological theory to develop testable questions about where we would expect to find sites and what the environmental conditions of those locations would be. Then, areas of the landscape are identified that meet these predefined criteria using available environmental geospatial data. Led predominantly by research in Europe, explanatory predictive models use social variables, in concert with environmental variables, to test theoretical questions about human use of the landscape. By including theoretical perspectives, explanatory models can move beyond the limitations of correlative models, seeking to explain why site locations were chosen, not simply mapping where they are.

Introductory Readings

Jochim, M.A. 1976 Hunter-gatherer subsistence and settlement: A predictive model. New York: Academic Press.

Judge, W.J. and L. Sebastian (eds) 1988 Quantifying the Present and Predicting the Past: Theory, Method, and Application of Archaeological Predictive Modeling. Denver: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.

Kohler, T.A. and S.C. Parker 1986 Predictive models for archaeological resource location. In M. B. Schiffer (ed.), Advances in archaeological method and theory, vol. 9, pp.397–452. New York: Academic Press, Inc.

Maschner, H.D.G. (ed) 1996 New methods, old problems: Geographic information systems in modern archaeological research. Center for Archaeological Investigations: Southern Illinois University.

Parker, S. 1985 Predictive modelling of site settlement systems using multivariate logistics. In C. Carr (ed), For Concordance in Archaeological Analysis. Bridging Data Structure, Quantitative Technique, and Theory, pp.173–207. Kansas City:Westport Publishers.

Stancic, Z. and K. L. Kvamme 1999 Settlement Pattern Modelling through Boolean Overlays of Social and Environmental Variables. In J.A. Barceló, I. Briz and A. Vila (eds), New Techniques for Old Times - CAA98. Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology, BAR International Series 757, pp.231–237. Oxford:Archaeopress.

Van Leusen, P.M. 2002 Pattern to Process: Methodological investigations into the formation and interpretation of spatial patterns in archaeological landscapes, unpublished PhD thesis. University of Groningen,

Warren, R. E. 1990 Predictive Modelling in Archaeology: A Primer. In K.M.S. Allen, S.W. Green and E.B.W. Zubrow (eds), Interpreting Space: GIS and Archaeology, pp. 90–111. London: Taylor & Francis.

Westcott, K. and R.J. Brandon (eds), 2000 Practical Applications of GIS for Archaeologists. London: Taylor & Francis.

Wheatley, D. and M. Gillings 2002 Spatial Technology and Archaeology: The archaeological applications of GIS. London: Taylor and Francis.