Introducing ‘A Connected Island?’: how the Iron Curtain affected Archaeologists

September 20, 2012

Eötvös Loránd University (University of Budapest)

Eötvös Loránd University (University of Budapest)

After the Second World War the Iron Curtain sliced through the very centre of Europe forming a very real divide in both political and daily lives. In the second half of the 20th century the Soviet regime introduced a new structure to the academic institutions to countries like Poland, Hungary and former Czechoslovakia, including restrictions on contacts with the Western world and ideological pressure previously unknown in these parts of Europe. How did this situation affect researchers on both sides? Was Central European Academia really isolated from western influences? A new project funded by SotonDH aims to address this issue using Palaeolithic archaeology as a case study. In ‘A connected island? Evaluating influence and isolation of Central European Palaeolithic researchers during communism’ ACRG members Iza Romanowska and Tom Brughmans combine a traditional historiography with novel citation network analysis techniques to approach this issue from a new angle.

Isolated or not?

A heated debate has been taking place in Central European archaeology in the last two decades regarding the issue of isolation (or the lack thereof) from western influences during the second half of the 20th century. Difficulties related to obtaining the necessary passports and visas, the disparity in the values of currencies, and only limited formal international links between research institutions restricted research visits, data collection, literature review, and conference attendance. Equally hindering was the limited circulation of Western archaeological journals within the Soviet Bloc countries, and restricted accessibility to archaeological publications in general. This could have been further aggravated by language barriers and, to some extent, different disciplinary interests. All this does not necessarily mean that Central European researchers were completely unaware of what was happening in the West, as if living on an island unconnected to the rest of the world and immune to external influences.

It is difficult to quantitatively determine to what degree these limitations affected Central European researchers. The project team argues that citation data might allow (at least in part) for such a quantitative evaluation. When a researcher cites the work of another scholar they express in a very formalised way that they were influenced by this person. Citations are like handy proxies for tracing lines of knowledge dissemination and academic influence, obviously not fully representative for these very complex processes, but well suited to quantify the ‘awareness’ of other peoples research.

‘A connected island?’ will collect and explore citation data for Central European Stone Age studies, a relatively small but highly international research field that forms a well-defined case-study suitable for quantitative analysis. The project will initially focus on the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic of Poland, former Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The citation behaviour of scholars working in these countries will be confronted with that of Western European Palaeolithic researchers. The proposed project therefore aims to explore the degree of interaction and academic influence between Central and Western European researchers in Lower and Middle Palaeolithic archaeology during communism (1945-1989) through citation network analysis, in order to evaluate the hypothesis that Central European researchers worked in strong academic isolation.

Data collection in Hungary

Digital citation datasets are available online through services like Google Scholar or Web of Knowledge. However, neither of these is very comprehensive for books or local non-peer-reviewed journals where a lot of the Palaeolithic archaeology of Central Europe was published in. So despite of the revolution in digital data collection brought about by the World Wide Web, a critical analysis could not be performed without visiting key libraries and research institutions in Central Europe. So the ‘connected island’ team hit the road.

The first phase of data collection was conducted in May 2012. In this first round a visit was paid to the Institute of Archaeology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Thanks to a bursary from SotonDH the team could perform the second phase of data collection at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Archaeological Science at the Eötvos Loránd University, both in Budapest. The third phase will aim to collect relevant literature from the Ústav pro pravěk a ranou dobu dějinnou at Charles University in Prague.

A few preliminary results

The widely held assumption that archaeological data from Central Europe was published in local languages is false. At least half, if not more, of Central European archaeology publications from this period were published in either German, French or English alongside the national language. The image that all countries under the influence of the former Soviet Union published in Russian is incorrect.

Just like their Western European or American colleagues Central European Palaeolithic researchers worked within a very strong ‘Bordean’ framework (named after a famous French researcher: Francois Bordes and his wife Denisse de Sonneville-Bordes).

From a cursory check, one gets an impression that Palaeolithic researchers in Central Europe were well informed of the developments on the other side of the Iron Curtain and quoted western authors extensively. The same can be said in reverse for their Western European colleagues who occasionally quote one or two Central European sites but did not seem to be aware of the full scope of the research happening in the region.

A second blog post on this project will follow soon featuring the first results of the citation network analysis, aimed at exploring this notion of unbalanced citation behaviour between the Eastern and Western researchers. Watch this space.

Iza Romanowska and Tom Brughmans

Complexity session and workshop at CAA2013

September 4, 2012

The CAA (computer applications and quantitative methods in archaeology) conference submission system has just opened and the deadline to submit papers is 10 October. Download the CFP and list of sessions here. I am involved in one session and one workshop this year, both with Iza Romanowska, Carolin Vegvari and Eugene Ch’ng. Our papers session is entitled “S9. Complex systems simulation in archaeology” and our hands-on workshop “W1. Complex Systems and Agent-Based Modelling in Archaeology”. Feel free to submit an abstract to the session. We hope we will spark some interest in complexity and good discussion with both the session and workshop. We invite innovative and critical applications in analytical modelling, ABM, network analysis and other methods performed in a complexity science approach. So do not hesitate to submit an abstract and join discussions in Perth!

Here you can read the abstract of the paper session and of the workshop (below):

S9. Complex systems simulation in archaeology. Chairs: I. Romanowska, T. Brughmans. Discussants: E. Ch’ng, C. Vegvari Format: Paper presentation (LP)

A complex system is “a system in which large networks of components with no central control and simple rules of operation give rise to complex collective behaviour, sophisticated information processing, and adaptation via learning or evolution.” Mitchell 2009: 14. Complexity has been proclaimed as a new paradigm shift in science almost half a century ago. It developed as a response to the reductionist approach of René Descartes and the idea of a ‘clockwork universe’ that dominated past thinking for many centuries. Complexity brings a fresh alternative to this mechanistic approach. Complex Systems exist in every hierarchy of our world, from the molecular, to individual organisms, and from community to the global environment. This is why researchers in many disciplines, including archaeology, found particularly appealing the idea that global patterns can emerge in the absence of central control through interaction between local elements governed by simple rules (Kohler 2012). As a result, the unifying phrase ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ (Aristotle, Metaphysica 10f-1045a) became the common ground for scholars in many disciplines.
Due to the complex nature of interactions, the study of complex systems requires computational tools such as equation-based modelling, agent-based modelling (ABM) and complex network analysis. In recent years the number of archaeological applications of complex systems simulation has increased significantly, not in the least due to a wider availability of computing power and user-friendly software alternatives. The real strength of these tools lies in their ability to explore hypothetical processes that give rise to archaeologically attested structures. They require archaeological assumptions to be made explicit and very often force researchers to present them in quantifiable form. For example, vague concepts such as ‘social coherence’, ‘connectivity’ or even seemingly explicit ‘dispersal rates’, often have to be given numeric values if they are to be integrated into computational models. Computational tools also allow for testing alternative hypotheses by creating ‘virtual labs’ in which archaeologists can test and eliminate models which, although superficially logical, are not plausible.
The main contribution that complexity science perspectives have to offer archaeology is the wide set of modelling and analytical approaches which recognise the actions of individual agents who collectively and continually create new cultural properties. Indeed, it has been argued that a complexity science perspective incorporates the advantages of culture historical, processual and post-processual paradigms in archaeology (Bentley and Maschner 2003; Bintliff 2008). Quantifiable complex systems simulations and mathematical modelling can provide a way to bridge the gap between the reductionist approach and the constructionist study of the related whole (Bentley and Maschner 2003).
This session aims to reflect upon and build on the recent surge of complex systems simulation applications in archaeology. Innovative and critical applications in analytical modelling, ABM, network analysis and other methods performed in a complexity science approach are welcomed. We hope this session will spark creative and insightful discussion on the potential and limitations of complexity science, possible applications, tools as well as its theoretical implications.

W1. Complex Systems and Agent-Based Modelling in Archaeology. Chairs: E. Ch’ng, C. Vegvari. Discussants: I. Romanowska, T. Brughmans

Modelling in various forms has always been an integral part of archaeology. In the broadest sense, archaeology is the study of human activities in the past, and a model is a simplified representation of reality. As a map is a useful abstract of the physical world that allows us to see aspects of the world we chose to, so a computational model distils reality into a few key features, leaving out unnecessary details so as to let us see connections. Human societies in their environmental context can be considered as complex systems. Complex systems are systems with many interacting parts, they are found in every hierarchy of the universe, from the molecular level to large planetary systems within which life and humanity with its cultural developments occur. Formal modelling can help archaeologists to identify the relationships between elements within a complex socio-environmental system in that particular hierarchy. Simulating large populations and non-linear interactions are computationally expensive. In recent years, however, the introduction of new mathematical techniques, rapid advances in computation, and modelling tools has greatly enhanced the potential of complex systems analysis in archaeology. Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) is one of these new methods and has become highly popular with archaeologists. In Agent-Based Modelling, human individuals in ancient societies are modelled as individual agents. The interaction of agents with each other and with their environment can give rise to emergent properties and self-organisation at the macro level – the distribution of wealth within a society, the forming of cohesive groups, population movements in climate change, the development of culture, and the evolution of landscape use are among the examples. Thus, the application of Agent-Based Models to hypothesis testing in archaeology becomes part of the question. The ability to construct various models and run hundreds of simulation in order to see the general developmental trend can provide us with new knowledge impossible in traditional approaches. Another advantage of agent-based models over other mathematical methods is that they can easily model, or capture heterogeneity within these systems, such as the different characteristics (personalities, gender, age, size, etc), preferences (coastal, in-land, food, fashion), and dynamics (microstates of position and orientation).
We would like to invite archaeologists new to complex systems and Agent-Based Modelling for an introductory workshop on Complex Systems and Agent-Based Modelling in archaeology. The workshop introduces the concept of Complexity in archaeology, drawing relationships between Information, Computation and Complexity. The practicality of the workshop leads beginners in building simple agent- based models and provides a means to build more complex simulations after. Participants knowledgeable in Complexity wishing to gain insights on real-world applications of Complexity will benefit from this workshop. Participants will get the opportunity to experiment with simple models and draw conclusions from analysis of simulations of those models. Programming experience is not required as the workshop leads beginners from the ground up in modelling tools.