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Viewshed Analysis of the Ilave River Valley (M.A. Data Paper, UC Santa Barbara Anthropology)
  • Nicholas Tripcevich, University of California, Berkeley

This paper explores the potential for using viewshed analysis methods with settlement survey data in a grassland environment. Innovations in geographical positioning and spatial analysis technology permits archaeological surveyors to rapidly gather greater quantities and better quality spatial data than was formerly possible. A variety of statistical analyses and agent-based models are made possible with the more exhaustive and statistically robust data. Site location criteria are considered with respect to both the visibility from high viewshed locations, and the sheltering potential from wind, weather, and other humans and animals, afforded by low viewshed locations.

The point locations of several hundred Archaic and Formative sites in the Lake Titicaca Basin, Peru, are known from an archaeological survey project in the Lake Titicaca Basin, and this study compares the sites with a temporally sensitive regional projectile point typology that permits the creation of cultural component categories for about 50% of the sites found in the survey. Site viewshed and location are compared with expectations about the socio-economic context of site occupation based on a regional time-sensitive projectile point typology. It is concluded that while viewshed analysis provides a versatile tool for investigating and better contextualizing landscape relationships, it is not sufficiently precise or statistically independent enough to be used for formal hypothesis-testing. This kind of analysis should be incorporated into settlement pattern studies as one of a number of exploratory tools for better investigating decision-making and geographical relationships within the prehistoric social and ecological surroundings. The interpretive possibilities of viewshed analysis are approached cautiously in this paper because viewshed data co-varies with many other ecological site selection criteria. An optimal site location with respect to viewshed and exposure is suggested, and under certain kinds of sampling regimes this relationship can be assessed quantitatively. Finally, strategies for improving settlement survey methodology are suggested in order to permit more informative data exploration in future work.

  • Social complexity,
  • Titicaca Basin,
  • geographical information system
Publication Date
Spring 2002
Citation Information
Nicholas Tripcevich. Viewshed Analysis of the Ilave River Valley (M.A. Data Paper, UC Santa Barbara Anthropology). (2002)
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