Multiple pathways across past landscapes: circuit theory as a complementary geospatial method to least cost path for modeling past movement


The incorporation of geospatial technologies in archaeology has resulted in productive advances in the analysis of past behavioral processes. Archaeologists have relied on the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) application of cost surface analysis and the computation of least cost paths (LCP) to study movement, one key social process. Recent research has identified limitations with LCP for modeling nonhuman species movement, notably the inability of LCP to accommodate multiple pathways. Archaeology must consider the implications of these critiques for models of past human movement. In this paper, I apply a different approach, circuit theory modeling, enacted through the program Circuitscape, to an archaeological case study previously analyzed with LCP modeling, travel to a regionally significant ceremonial earthwork center during Late Prehistory (ca. AD 1200–1600) in the Northern Great Lakes. Through this comparative analysis, I evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of these methods for modeling past movement. The results suggest LCP modeling and circuit modeling offer archaeology complementary geospatial methods for conceptualizing past mobility. Combining circuit theory and LCP allows archaeologists to produce richer models of past movement by appreciating scenarios where multiple pathways are important as well as scenarios where optimum single travel routes have priority.


Earth Systems Research Center, Anthropology

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Journal of Archaeological Science



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