New grant establishes international network: complexity science for the study of the human past

Really delighted to let you know Dr. Stefani Crabtree and I just won an international networking grant from the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education. First things first: time to celebrate!!!!!!!!!!!

Now that’s out of the way, here’s what the project is actually about. Over the coming two years we will host events at Aarhus University and the Santa Fe Institute to explore the application of complexity science in archaeology to study past complex systems. The scope is purposefully broad: we want to bring together archaeologists, physicists, computer scientists, sociologists, … anyone really who shares our passion for understanding past complex systems. Complexity science has been used for a while now in archaeology, but are there approaches that have great potential for studying past complex systems that have not yet been applied in archaeology? And what archaeological datasets can be studied in new ways thanks to complexity science approaches? What’s on our wishlist to unlock the potential of complexity science for archaeology?

Here’s a formal announcement from the UrbNet website:

Tom Brughmans has been awarded an International Network Programme grant by The Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education to establish new links between Aarhus University and the Santa Fe Institute. The project ‘Complexity science for the study of the human past’ is directed by Dr. Tom Brughmans and co-PI Dr. Stefani Crabtree (Santa Fe Institute, Utah State University). The project will run for 24 months in 2021 and 2022 and will host a number of workshops in Aarhus and Santa Fe, inviting national and international experts in archaeology and complexity science.

Improving our understanding of past complex systems is recognised as one of the grand challenges in archaeology. How and why do market systems and social inequalities emerge, persist and decline? How do small-scale human societies develop into large and politically complex entities? How do phenomena like cultural practices and viruses alike spread through these changing human social networks, get consolidated, and evolve? These are all complex phenomena that cannot be understood by scrutinizing their components in isolation, because these components behave entirely differently as a collective. These kinds of questions need to be addressed using the approaches and computational methods developed in complexity science. However, the use and critical evaluation of these approaches by archaeologists and historians are in their infancy.

This new international network aims to rise to this grand challenge, by exploring the issues and potential of the application of complexity science for the study of the human past. It will bring together Denmark- and US-based experts in archaeology, ecology, human health, history, physics, and computer science to set out key research lines, and to identify and develop missing methodological resources to enhance the use of simulation and network science methods in archaeology and history. It will establish strong ties between the global leader in complexity science (The Santa Fe Institute) and Aarhus University’s internationally-recognised strengths in archaeology and history, and most specifically in the relational perspective to past urban societies pioneered by Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet).

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