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Least-cost Paths - Some Methodological Issues
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(2014)

This article deals with methodological issues connected with least-cost path (LCP) calculations in archaeology. The number of LCP studies in archaeology has increased rapidly during the last couple of years, but not all of the approaches applied are based on an appropriate model and implementation. Many archaeologists rely on standard GIS software with default settings for calculating LCPs and are not aware of possible alternatives and the pitfalls that are described in this article. After briefly introducing the aims and applications of LCP methods in archaeology, LCP algorithms are discussed. The outcome of the LCP calculations depends not only on the algorithm but also on the cost model, which often includes several cost components. The discussion of the cost components has a focus on slope, because nearly all archaeological LCP studies take this cost component into account and because several methodological issues are connected with slope-based cost models. Other possible cost components are: the load of the walker, vegetation cover, wetlands or other soil properties, travelling and transport on water, water as barrier and as attractor, aspect, altitude, and social or cultural cost components. Eventually, advantages and disadvantages of different ways of combining cost components are presented. Based on the methodological issues I conclude that both validation checks and variations of the model are necessary to analyse the reliability of archaeological LCP results.
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