Dynamical Systems Modeling in Archaeology: A GIS Approach to Site Selection Processes in the Greater Yellowstone Region

Thomas G. Whitley

PhD Thesis. 2000

Having argued that culture should be viewed as a "dynamic" system, both processual and postprocessual archaeologists see limitations in strictly linear approaches to explanation. Though the term "dynamic" may not sufficiently characterize the nature of human societies, a "dynamical system" responds to some forces which may be identified in the archaeological record, yet are largely unpredictable. Studies in complex dynamics may provide some insight into processes of human behavior that can lead to explaining the mechanisms of cognitive cultural decision making.

A model of the decision criteria involved in site placement processes from the Greater Yellowstone Region of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho provides a means to address such mechanisms. The site placement process is a small part of the cultural milieu of permanent and seasonal inhabitants, yet it has readily observable qualities. Site placement for prehistoric and historic cultural groups was driven by complex variably predictable issues grounded in social, political, economic, and ecological factors. Prehistoric site selection was probably limited to a winter - out region transhumance until resource competition became high enough to support a permanent mountain sheep hunting strategy. The pattern is reflected by what we know regarding sites and the Historic Period Sheepeaters. The Nez Perce War of 1877 showed similar dynamical constraints on a transient population, in the context of l8imited regional knowledge and political conflict.