Problems with archaeological networks part 3

spagThis third blog post in the series discusses space-related issues in archaeological network studies. As I mentioned before, I recently published a review of formal network methods in archaeology in Archaeological Review from Cambridge. I want to share the key problems I raise in this review here on my blog, because in many ways they are the outcomes of working with networks as an archaeologist the last six years. And yes, I encountered more problems than I was able to solve, which is a good thing because I do not want to be bored the next few years 🙂 In a series of four blog posts I draw on this review to introduce four groups of problems that archaeologists are faced with when using networks: method, data, space, and process. The full paper can be found on Academia.

The definition of nodes is not only dependent on data type categorisation but also necessarily reflects the research questions being asked, revealing an issue of spatial scales. Do the past processes we are interested in concern interactions between regions, sites or individuals? How will this be represented in node, tie and network definitions? The ability of network approaches to work on multiple scales is often mentioned as one of the advantages of using formal network methods (Knappett 2011). In practice, however, archaeological network analysts have traditionally focused on inter-regional or macro-scales of analysis. Knappett (2011) argues that it is on the macro-scale that network analysis comes into its own and a recently published edited volume reveals this regional emphasis (Knappett 2013). This insistence to work on large scales becomes quite unique in light of social network analysts’ traditional focus on individual social entities in interaction. SNA provides a multitude of good examples of how network methods could be usefully applied on a micro- or local scale of analysis (e.g. ego-networks). However, the nature of archaeological data, which rarely allows for individuals and their interactions to be identified with any certainty, should not be considered the only reason for this focus on the macro-scale. Arguably, networks lend themselves very well to exploring inter-regional interaction, and archaeologists have always had a particular interest in the movements and flows of people, resources and information across large areas. Moreover, many of the early applications of network methods in archaeology, which in some cases might have served as an example to more recent applications, concerned inter-regional interaction (e.g. Terrell 1976). One should acknowledge the importance of exploring how local actions give rise to larger-scale patterns if we are to benefit from the multi-scalar advantage of formal network methods (Knappett 2011).

It is not surprising that many archaeological network analysts are interested in exploring the dynamics between relational and geographical space (e.g. Bevan and Wilson 2013; Knappett et al. 2008; Menze and Ur 2012; Wernke 2012), given the importance of spatial factors in understanding archaeological data and archaeologists’ traditional interest in geographical methods (e.g. Hodder and Orton 1976). Despite early work by archaeologists on geographical networks (for an overview see chapter 2 in Knappett 2011), geographical space has been almost completely ignored by sociologists and physicists, resulting in a very limited geographical network analysis toolset for archaeologists to draw on (although see a recent special issue of the journal Social Networks [issue 34(1), 2012] and the review work by Barthélemy [2011], as well as techniques used in Space Syntax [Hillier and Hanson, 1984]).

References
Barthélemy, M. (2011). Spatial networks. Physics Reports, 499(1-3), 1–101. doi:10.1016/j.physrep.2010.11.002
Bevan, A., & Wilson, A. (2013). Models of settlement hierarchy based on partial evidence. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40(5), 2415–2427.
Hillier, B., & Hanson, J. (1984). The social logic of space. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hodder, I., & Orton, C. (1976). Spatial analysis in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Knappett, C. (2011). An archaeology of interaction: network perspectives on material culture and society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Knappett, C. (2013). Introduction: why networks? In C. Knappett (Ed.), Network analysis in archaeology. New approaches to regional interaction (pp. 3–16). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Knappett, C., Evans, T., & Rivers, R. (2008). Modelling maritime interaction in the Aegean Bronze Age. Antiquity, 82(318), 1009–1024.
Menze, B. H., & Ur, J. a. (2012). Mapping patterns of long-term settlement in Northern Mesopotamia at a large scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(14), E778–87. doi:10.1073/pnas.1115472109
Terrell, J. E. (1976). Island biogeography and man in Melanesia. Archaeology and physical anthropology in Oceania, 11(1), 1–17.
Wernke, S. a. (2012). Spatial network analysis of a terminal prehispanic and early colonial settlement in highland Peru. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(4), 1111–1122. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2011.12.014

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