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Probabilistic Modelling for Incorporating Uncertainty in Least Cost Path Results: a Postdictive Roman Road Case Study

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pThe movement of past peoples in the landscape has been studied extensively through the use of least cost path (LCP) analysis. Although methodological issues of applying LCP analysis in archaeology have frequently been discussed, the effect of DEM error on LCP results has not been fully assessed. Due to this, the reliability of the LCP result is undermined, jeopardising how well the method can confidently be used to model past movement. To strengthen the reliability of LCP results, this research proposes the use of Monte Carlo simulation as a method for incorporating and propagating the effects of error on LCP results. Focusing on vertical error, random error fields are calculated and incorporated into the documented and reproducible LCP modelling process using the R packagejats:italicleastcostpath</jats:italic>. By graphically communicating the impact of vertical error using probabilistic LCPs, uncertainty in the results can be taken into account when interpreting LCPs. The method is applied to a Roman road case study, finding that the incorporation of vertical error results in the identification of multiple ‘least cost’ routes within the landscape. Furthermore, the deviation between the roman road and the probabilistic LCP suggests that the location of the roman road was influenced by additional factors other than minimising energy expenditure. This research finds that the probabilistic LCP derived using Monte Carlo simulation is a viable method for the graphical communication of the uncertainty caused by error within the input data used within the LCP modelling process. Therefore, it is recommended that probabilistic LCPs become the default approach when modelling movement using input data that contains errors.</jats:p>



Least cost path, Error propagation, Uncertainty, Monte Carlo, Movement, Roman roads

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Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC