Friday, July 01, 2016

Geospatial modeling approach to monument construction for Precolumbian Michigan

Geospatial modeling approach to monument construction using Michigan from A.D. 1000–1600 as a case study


Howey et al


Building monuments was one way that past societies reconfigured their landscapes in response to shifting social and ecological factors. Understanding the connections between those factors and monument construction is critical, especially when multiple types of monuments were constructed across the same landscape. Geospatial technologies enable past cultural activities and environmental variables to be examined together at large scales. Many geospatial modeling approaches, however, are not designed for presence-only (occurrence) data, which can be limiting given that many archaeological site records are presence only. We use maximum entropy modeling (MaxEnt), which works with presence-only data, to predict the distribution of monuments across large landscapes, and we analyze MaxEnt output to quantify the contributions of spatioenvironmental variables to predicted distributions. We apply our approach to co-occurring Late Precontact (ca. A.D. 1000–1600) monuments in Michigan: (i) mounds and (ii) earthwork enclosures. Many of these features have been destroyed by modern development, and therefore, we conducted archival research to develop our monument occurrence database. We modeled each monument type separately using the same input variables. Analyzing variable contribution to MaxEnt output, we show that mound and enclosure landscape suitability was driven by contrasting variables. Proximity to inland lakes was key to mound placement, and proximity to rivers was key to sacred enclosures. This juxtaposition suggests that mounds met local needs for resource procurement success, whereas enclosures filled broader regional needs for intergroup exchange and shared ritual. Our study shows how MaxEnt can be used to develop sophisticated models of past cultural processes, including monument building, with imperfect, limited, presence-only data.

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