Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Dore, Christopher D. and LuAnn Wandsnider

2006 Modeling for Management in a Compliance World. In GIS and Archaeological Site Location Modeling, edited by M. Mehrer and K. Wescott, pp. 66-88, CRC Press, Boca Raton.


Copyright © 2006 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


In practice, compliance-driven cultural resource “management” and its requirements for resource location, evaluation, impact assessment, and mitigation manifests a fundamentally different use of geospatial predictive modeling than do research-oriented investigations. This difference primarily results from the lack of an iterative research design. In research-oriented modeling, iterations of model building and model testing gradually build a more robust model and lead to an increased understanding of the variables that condition human spatial behavior in the past. In a compliance environment, spatial models are rarely built and evaluated; rather, once built, they are applied in a single iteration. An assumption is made that the model being used will accurately predict behavior in space. Yet, in most settings, our knowledge of the factors that condition the spatial organization of activities—and under what conditions these factors are relevant—is just beginning to develop. Coupled with the methodological issues of sample size, changing environmental conditions, functional differences in resource types, the fact that most archaeological deposits represent depositional (as opposed to functional) sets that have accumulated over hundreds of years, spatial variability caused by nonenvironmental factors, etc., compliance modeling certainly does not represent best practice, even though it is legal under federal cultural resource law.

Rather than modeling the past, a more productive approach to modeling for cultural resource managers is to model the present. Instead of reacting to development and infrastructure projects that have taken the place of our stewardship responsibility, geospatial technologies can be used to design a proactive approach to resource management. With such an approach, present conditions, both natural and cultural, are modeled to predict site and feature visibility and to identify potential threats to surface sites and features. At a regional scale, the use of vegetation, slope, and sediment data can be used to develop erosion models for current and future conditions. Cultural resources can be compared with these models to categorize and prioritize the resources most at risk. At the scale of individual resources, aerial photography and new higher resolution satellite imagery can be used to establish the baseline condition of resources and, with follow-up visits, to establish and compare rates of change from erosion, all-terrain vehicles, and vandalism. At the intrasite scale, new processing techniques can be used with geophysical data to predict the nature of actual cultural features rather than identify data anomalies that then require excavation. These techniques will ultimately lead to absolute, rather than relative, signatures for properties of the archaeological record and provide a truly nondestructive archaeology. We illustrate this geospatial management framework with archaeological examples from western, southwestern, and midwestern North America.