Schedule TAG session


It looks like networks and complexity will be well represented at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference this year in Birmingham! Fiona Coward, Anna Collar and myself are organising a session that bears the same name as our symposium ‘The connected past: people, networks and complexity in archaeology and history’. We received some great submissions that range from conceptual to highly methodological approaches to networks and complexity. Below you will find a preliminary list of the contributors and their abstracts.
We are very much looking forward to the event and we are very confident it will be the best session at TAG 😉

Also, check out the page on this blog dedicated to TAG 2011

Tom Brughmans

Archaeological Computing Research Group, University of Southampton
Networks of networks: a critical review of formal network methods in archaeology
This paper will argue that archaeological network researchers are not well networked themselves, resulting in a limited and sometimes uncritical adoption of formal network methods within the archaeological discipline. This seems to have followed largely from a general unawareness of the historicity of network-based approaches which span at least eight decennia of multi-disciplinary research. Many network analytical techniques that would only find a broader use in the last 15 years were in fact introduced in the archaeological discipline as early as the 1970s. The unawareness of alternative approaches is most prominent in recent archaeological applications of formal network methods, which show a tendency of adopting techniques and models that were fashionable at the time of publication rather than exploring other archaeological and non-archaeological approaches. I will illustrate that knowledge of the diversity of archaeological and non-archaeological network methods is crucial to their critical application and modification within archaeological research contexts.
Through this review I will aim to expose the as yet insufficiently explored potential of formal network-based models and techniques, to raise some issues surrounding an uncritical adoption of such techniques and to provide suggestions for dealing with these issues. In order to move towards richer archaeological applications of formal network methods archaeological network analysts should become better networked both within and outside their discipline.

Kimberley van den Berg

VU University Amsterdam
Good to Think With: exploring the potential of networks as a concept metaphor or intellectual tool
Network approaches are becoming increasingly popular among archaeologists and historians. They provide a broad range of models and methods that inspire scholars in both disciplines to original analyses of various past networks and present datasets. As these approaches gain in reputation, however, more and more questions arise regarding their possibilities and limitations. Particularly unclear is whether network models and methods are applicable to all archaeological or historical datasets and, more importantly, whether such datasets are sufficiently representative to allow for meaningful results. One means of getting beyond these issues involving our data is to deploy networks as a concept metaphor or intellectual tool.
This paper seeks to explore the potential of such an approach for a very specific case study. During the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition, the eastern Mediterranean was a world in crisis, in which around 1200 B.C. the Aegean palaces were destroyed. Recent research shows that the impact of these destructions greatly varied between regions; several sites continued to be inhabited and were still actively engaged in overseas contacts. Current interpretations fail to satisfactorily explain these continued connections. Much can be gained from rethinking our interpretative frameworks and I hold that networks are particularly “good to think with”.

Doug Rocks-Macqueen

University of Edinburgh
Complex Networks and the Individual- How agent based network models can aid our understanding of past perceptions
Agent based modelling programs allow for the construction of large scale complex networks through the interactions of decisions of hundreds to hundreds of thousand individual components. This presentation will “flip” this traditional network tool to examine the individual components using their larger network. It will demonstrate that through the use of networks archaeologists can gather great detail about individuals and how they perceive the world. This methodology could serve as a useful bridge between quantitative methodologies of most network analysis and the more qualitative investigations of other archaeologists.

Amy J. Maitland Gardner

UCL, London
The Maya Royal Court: A model for rules of engagement
The concept of ‘the royal court’ as a particular social, political and cultural organisation based on a ‘network of interdependencies’ rather than as the power of an absolute monarch can be used to describe the configuration of Maya polities in the Late Classic Period (c. 600-900AD). However, how these networks were structured, maintained and developed both internally within the court and among courts and royal families across the Maya region still requires investigation. Starting from Elias’ assertion that the court is continually reproduced through a system of etiquette ([1933] 1983), I investigate what kinds of codes of behaviour existed in Late Classic Maya society through a study of body posture, gesture and proxemics in figural art. In this paper, I will discuss the theoretical frameworks of the royal court and the dynamics of human interaction which includes comparative studies of bodily communication in ancient court societies and theories drawn from sociological and ethological literature concerning the nature of human engagement. I will also discuss the analytical framework employed to consider patterns and combinations of gestures and postures in multi-figural scenes on ceramic vessels and stone monuments from across the Maya region. This approach allows for gesture to be understood as a relational phenomenon and as such the ‘networks of interdependencies’ composing ancient Maya royal courts and the network of inter-court relationships may be fruitfully explored.

Agata Czeszewska

Adam Mickiewicz University, Institute of Prehistory
Wall paintings from Çatalhöyük as an example of creating social networks between the past and the present
Çatalhöyük is one of the most fascinating sites of the Neolithic world. The site was discovered in late 50s, in central Anatolia. Since then more than 70 wall paintings have been discovered within the Neolithic houses. Wall paintings found at Çatalhöyük are one of the first examples of human art which appeared in domestic areas. They are connected with special events important for Neolithic society like death, birth, hunting. Therefore, they were constantly appearing and disappearing in the houses. In addition wall paintings are a tool of creating the links between past and present, between ancestors and descendants, between death and life. According to Ian Hodder and his conception of entanglement (see: Hodder, I. 2006. The Leopard’s Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Çatalhoyuk, ) I wish to consider wall paintings within this frame. People and objects, also wall paintings are entangle into complex relationships. Every single act of preparing and covering the wall with painting was accompanied by complicated arrangements of tools, paints, brushes, events, rituals and people. Wall paintings play an active role in social interaction and connecting people, instead of being just passive and esthetic piece of art. Wall paintings were a part of dynamically created structures – houses. And so wall paintings determined internal rhythm of the house and society.
What’s more wall paintings have an enormous influence on contemporary recipients. The relationships between past and present, are very strongly undermined in modern references. Nowadays people use past motifs and constructs in creating their own reality. They are also entangled into past ad so they interact with the past. The aim of this paper is to analyse these relationships and interactions on both past and contemporaneous level. I wish to consider emotional and social involvement into creating the wall paintings from Çatalhöyük.

Amara Thornton

UCL Institute of Archaeology
Archaeological Relations: The ‘Heritage’ Network in British Mandate Palestine and Transjordan
Departments of Antiquities in Palestine and Transjordan were created during the early days of the British Mandates. These official branches of the administration encapsulated the importance of archaeology to the governing bodies of these newly delineated countries. In tracing the relationship of these departments to the Palestine and Transjordan Governments, the connections between archaeologists, government officials and architects illuminates archaeology’s place in the interwar period Mandates, and its contribution to political and economic agendas in these semi-colonial settings. As networks underpin all aspects of society, exploring the links between people, places and organisations reveals the complexities of imperial history, and exposes the position of the “intellectual aristocracy” in that history.
This paper will discuss how key relationship types can be used to reconstruct the framework for archaeological work, taking the British Mandates in Palestine and Transjordan as the case study. It offers a practical methodology for analysing archival material by focusing on the wider archaeological network, which both incorporates and stretches beyond the scholarly community, as a means to understand the development, management and promotion of archaeology in the past.

Heather Giddens

Cardiff University
Neolithic meshworks: paths of becoming in the LBK
The early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) communities of central Europe (5600-4900 cal BC) certainly represent a ‘connected’ world. Distribution maps of raw materials such as Spondylus shell and imported flint suggest that exchange networks may have extended over vast areas of the continent. At the same time, materiality similarities between scattered settlements imply an extensive social network based on durable kinship bonds. Traditionally, these connections have been viewed along structural lines, assuming an almost logistical system of trading connections. However, alternative models are available.
This session uses Ingold’s concept of being-in-the world and the meshwork to reinterpret spatial patterns seen within the archaeological record. Here, places are not seen as containers of action, but rather as points of entanglement as people move through time and space. Focusing on two localised areas of LBK settlement in the Lower Rhine Basin (the middle Merzbach and upper Schlangengraben valleys of the Aldenhoven Plateau), I will consider the meshwork of entwined paths that defines the social environment of this area. In doing so, consideration with be given to three different scales of ‘place’: the longhouse, the settlement and the settlement cell. Through this re-interpretation, I hope to highlight how Ingold’s meshworks can provide fresh insights on the complex social world of the LBK.

Erik van Rossenberg

Leiden University
Getting your networks right: how to deal with typochronological fuzziness in historical trajectories
Traditional chronologies tend to be an unquestioned starting-point for archaeological case studies in network analysis. The reification of spatio-temporal entities leaves the problem of typochronological fuzziness unresolved. In this paper I will present a case study that adopts network analysis to explore the historical validity of typochronological sequences. I will show that such a degree of regional differentiation (i.e. gaps in networks) can be discerned in the distribution of Middle Bronze Age vessel types in Central Italy that an equally high degree of typochronological fuzziness should be taken into account. The resulting ‘time-transgressive’ scenarios (i.e. chronological overlap of periods, phases and subphases) challenge traditional typochronologies, shed a new light on traditional accounts of network changes and should therefore be regarded as a cautionary tale for archaeological case studies in network analysis. On a more positive note: network analysis can become a principal tool to resolve long-standing issues in typochronologies, to decide which places should be situated in which networks, as a starting-point for a network perspective on historical trajectories.

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EUREKA?!?

Ever wondered where good ideas come from? This thought clearly has been keeping Steven Johnson awake, which resulted in a very interesting TED talk. People often think of an idea as something that emerges instantly at a specific moment: a brilliant archaeologist gazing at some old stones and all of a sudden, EUREKA, he brings the past to life! Well it turns out that it doesn’t work this way at all. Steven Johnson likes to see ideas as a network, like a small event that is born in the brain and triggers other parts of the brain through electric signals. The initial idea can be lingering in the brain for quite a while until it matures and cascades to dominate one’s mind, at which point golden words of wisdom are often put on paper by a new genius.

Steven Johnson argues that the networks we see in the outside world actually mimic those network patterns in the brain. He is interested in finding out what characterises these spaces in the outside world in which new ideas emerge. He calls this “The liquid network”, an environment where ideas and problems get together and that breeds innovation. It would be great if we could identify such spaces and promote hunches to limit their incubation periods.

For all of you out there who want to come up with the next big thing, here is what you need to do: give ideas that might be lingering in you brain time to develop and constantly try to get different peoples’ ideas together. Apparently we should spend more time trying to connect ideas rather than protect them. “Chance favours the connected mind”.

PS: thanks to Irad Malkin for bringing this video to my attention.

Call for papers Spatial Networks CAA 2012

The CAA 2012 call for papers has just opened! I will be chairing a session with John Pouncett on spatial network approaches in archaeology. Have a look at the abstract below. Please send abstracts of up to 500 words before 30 November to the conference’s submission system.

This session aims to disprove the apparent divide between geographical and network-based methods by providing a discussion platform for archaeological research at the intersection of physical and relational space. This session will welcome contributions addressing the following or related topics: network analysis in GIS, past spatial networks, spatial network evolution, complex networks and spatial models, exploratory network analysis, network-based definitions of spatial structure, agent-based modelling and networks, and space syntax.

ABSTRACT

Geography and-or-not topology: spatial network approaches in archaeology

Archaeologists’ attempts to explore geographical structure through spatial networks date back to at least the late 1960s. Pioneering studies introduced some of the core principles of graph theory which underpin network analysis, principles which are fundamental but yet seldom acknowledged in many recent applications. The introduction of GIS-based network techniques has allowed for easier analysis of the characteristics of spatial structure, particularly with regard to large or complex network datasets, but at the same time has severely limited the diversity and scope of archaeological applications of network analysis. Commercially available GIS-based network software is often limited to a few applications with clear modern-day relevance like the calculation of least-cost pathways and the analysis of hydrological networks. Archaeologists have been forced to adapt these popular tools and have been successful in doing so, but have left a wealth of alternative applications largely unexplored.

It has been argued that the interpretative potential of GIS-based network techniques can be realised by incorporating new views of networks developed in physics and by drawing upon complexity. By doing so it is possible to both move beyond the confines of traditional definitions of space structure and explore the realm of network growth and evolution. A number of archaeologists have taken their work on spatial networks along this route, exploring the dynamics between physical and relational space. Complex network models and methods are ever more frequently used for exploring the complexity of past spatial networks. Dynamic network models, for example, have been developed to explore the hypothetical processes underlying the interactions between past regional communities. Agent-based techniques have been coupled with complex network models or applied to archaeologically attested spatial networks.

These developments do not seem to have influenced GIS technologies, at least not in the discipline of archaeology. In fact, the archaeological use of GIS seems to suggest that formal methods for exploring past topological and geographical spaces are mutually exclusive.

This session aims to disprove the apparent divide between geographical and network-based methods by providing a discussion platform for archaeological research at the intersection of physical and relational space. This session will welcome contributions addressing the following or related topics: network analysis in GIS, past spatial networks, spatial network evolution, complex networks and spatial models, exploratory network analysis, network-based definitions of spatial structure, agent-based modelling and networks, and space syntax.

A small Greek world, by Irad Malkin

Irad Malkin’s new book ‘A small Greek world: networks in the Ancient Mediterranean’ has just appeared with Oxford University Press. Looks like a fascinating read, seeing Ancient Greek history through network goggles. Now available at a reduced price as well! See the offer on the publisher’s webpage.

Here is the book’s summary:

Greek civilization and identity crystallized not when Greeks were close together but when they came to be far apart. It emerged during the Archaic period when Greeks founded coastal city states and trading stations in ever-widening horizons from the Ukraine to Spain. No center directed their diffusion: mother cities were numerous and the new settlements (“colonies”) would often engender more settlements. The “Greek center” was at sea; it was formed through back-ripple effects of cultural convergence, following the physical divergence of independent settlements. “The shores of Greece are like hems stitched onto the lands of Barbarian peoples” (Cicero). Overall, and regardless of distance, settlement practices became Greek in the making and Greek communities far more resembled each other than any of their particular neighbors like the Etruscans, Iberians, Scythians, or Libyans. The contrast between “center and periphery” hardly mattered (all was peri-, “around,” nor was a bi-polar contrast with Barbarians of much significance.

Should we admire the Greeks for having created their civilization in spite of the enormous distances and discontinuous territories separating their independent communities? Or did the salient aspects of their civilization form and crystallize because of its architecture as a de-centralized network? This book claims that the answer lies in network attributes shaping a “Small Greek World,” where separation is measured by degrees of contact rather than by physical dimensions.

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