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Ph. D. Project: Towards a conceptual reference model for archaeological information within the context of Geographic Information System

The aim of the thesis is to contribute to the development of a conceptual reference model for archaeological information by investigating the underlying principles of archaeological information, in the context of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Data are the basis of any scientific empirical investigation. They are the formalized reinterpretable representation of information acquired through observation or measuring processes. Archaeological data occupy in this context at twofold hand a rather peerless position within sciences. The often-unique character of the data acquisition process (e.g. excavation), due to its destructive and consequently unrepeatable nature, makes out of archaeological data an irretrievable documentation of past human presence, looming furthermore archaeology’s epistemological foundation. Moreover, it is particularly the complex ontic nature of an archaeological object, that shapes the archaeological data in a distinctive manner. Both aspects allow qualifying archaeological data as being spatio-temporal, imperfect, heterogeneous, multiscale and multimodal.
Albeit long-term investigations and recent research progresses, Geographic Information Systems are still immature in handling archaeological data. One major reason for this inability stems from the inchoate and insufficient conceptual framework to which GIS applications may refer within archaeology. Information Systems and as such Geographic Information Systems need to be tailored in respect to ontic and epistemic information characteristics to become fully exploitable within their application domain. This requires a consistent conceptual model of the domain knowledge. Since the way in which data are conceptualized, is pivotal as to how an Information System might fulfil its functions. It defines its informative, memorative but also its active functions by means of information retrieval, access, handling and analysing – an often highly underestimated fact.
In striving for a conceptual reference model conceptual modeling is deployed- a common method within computer science. Conceptual modeling seeks representing real world phenomena by an abstraction process in form of a conceptual model. Thereby domain specific concepts and their mutual relation, as well as their behavioural and structural aspects need to be identified, defined and constructed. Considering the increasing importance of Information Systems, and GIS in particular, within archaeology, one might thus be surprised, although the fundamental importance of a conceptual framework, that the investigations in this sense have been minor within archaeology.

Scrutinizing archaeological objects from a conceptual perspective requires reasoning about their ontic nature. This gives rise to a range of issues including: What defines an archaeological object? How does it behave in space? How does it evolve over time? Does change affect an object’s identity? These are some of the questions investigated in the context of the thesis. Thereby the study expects contributing to an enhanced conceptual understanding of archaeological data.