Human Energetics and the Modelling of Cultural Landscapes

Thomas G. Whitley


Landscape archaeology is a broad field that seeks to place what we consider “archaeological” into a spatial context, whether that be literal, theoretical, or conceptual. With more recent approaches to social-spatial simulation (through GIS or agent-based modelling techniques) this has entailed complex mathematical methods or procedures which can be quite difficult to evaluate or even understand as a representation of past human activity. It could be said that archaeological remains often drive the construction of the simulation, or conversely that social complexity is expected to organically emerge from simple programmed “rules” of behaviour in a frictionless or highly generalised manifold. Naturally, the result has been models that have been dismissed as missing the point, or being too simplistic to be of any use because they neither consider past people’s cognitive intentions nor the material remains that have been eradicated by taphonomic processes. Perhaps we need to redefine what it is that interests us as archaeologists. Is it finding sites, features and artefacts? Or is it understanding past human behaviour in the context of objective-oriented mechanisms, preferably within a spatial framework? If it is the latter, then maybe we need to look at modelling human energetics as both a past “spatial currency” and as a primary unit of analysis. Sites, artefacts and features are by-products in the human expression of energy across the landscape, and they should be defined and used as such in understanding and evaluating complex spatial models. A large-scale GIS simulation of the first century BC Helvetian subsistence economy (an on-going project) is used to illustrate these ideas.


GIS, Simulation, Economic Modelling

Full Text:




  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2016 Thomas G. Whitley

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

LAC 2014 proceedings - ISBN 978-90-825296-0-9 - is an open access initiative supported by the University Library, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.