Happy New Year! and CAAUK

Screen shot 2013-01-15 at 17.10.32Happy New Year all! There are a couple of events in 2013 I am really looking forward to, including the CAA conference in Perth and the SAAs in Hawaii, more about those later. The first conference of the year for me will be CAAUK in London, on 22-23 February. The programme sounds great, with a keynote by Mark Lake discussing the special issue of World Archaeology he recently edited on Open Archaeology. Registration is now open but almost full, so hurry up if you wanna be part of it!

I will present a poster on a project Iza Romanowska and I have set up: ‘A Connected Island?: how the Iron Curtain affected archaeologists’. We are touring Central Europe’s libraries for this project, collecting publications by Central European Palaeolithic archaeologists. We hope to be able to evaluate the interactions between Western and Central European archaeologists, and we hope our methodology of citation network analysis will help us do this. More about the project in later posts! The poster will be presented by Iza at the Unravelling the Palaeolithic conference in Cambridge this weekend. Here is the abstract:

‘A Connected Island?’: How the Iron Curtain affected Palaeolithic Archaeologists in Central Europe

Iza Romanowska (Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins, University of Southampton)
Tom Brughmans (Archaeological Computing Research Group, University of Southampton)

After the Second World War the Iron Curtain sliced through the very centre of Europe. The Soviet regime introduced a new structure to the academic institutions in countries like Poland, Hungary and former Czechoslovakia, including restrictions on contacts with the Western world and ideological pressure. How did this situation affect researchers on both sides? Was Central European Academia really isolated from western influences?

It is difficult to quantitatively determine to what degree these limitations affected archaeologists. The project team argues that citation data might allow (at least in part) for such a quantitative evaluation. Citations are like handy formal 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.

The project will initially focus on the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic of Poland, former Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Citations have been extracted from publications of a synthetic nature (i.e. not field reports) and a citation network analysis has been performed on that data. Our preliminary results indicate that a lot of common presumptions regarding the research behind the Iron Curtain, like the dominance of Russian or national languages in Academic writing, are in fact false.

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.

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.


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.

Call for papers: the connected past

Finally after months of planning Anna, Fiona and I can reveal to you the most amazing conference of 2012 🙂

We would like to announce ‘The connected past: people, networks and complexity in archaeology and history’, a two-day symposium at the University of Southampton 24-25 March 2012 (the two days before CAA2012 in Southampton). Confirmed keynote speakers include Professor Carl Knappett and Professor Alex Bentley.

The call for papers is now open and we would like to invite you to send in abstracts of up to 250 words by November 20th 2011. Feel free to circulate the call for papers and the attached poster, which you can download here. More information on the event is available on the website.

Tom Brughmans, Anna Collar and Fiona Coward


The Connected Past: people, networks and complexity in archaeology and history

University of Southampton 24-25 March 2012
Organisers: Tom Brughmans, Anna Collar, Fiona Coward

Confirmed keynote speakers: Professor Carl Knappett and Professor Alex Bentley

Over the past decade ‘network’ has become a buzz-word in many disciplines across the humanities and sciences. Researchers in archaeology and history in particular are increasingly exploring network-based theory and methodologies drawn from complex network models as a means of understanding dynamic social relationships in the past, as well as technical relationships in their data. This conference aims to provide a platform for pioneering, multidisciplinary, collaborative work by researchers working to develop network approaches and their application to the past.

The conference will be held over two days immediately preceding the CAA conference (Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology), also hosted by the University of Southampton (http://caa2012.org), allowing participants to easily attend both.

The conference aims to:
· provide a forum for the presentation of multidisciplinary network-based research
· discuss the practicalities and implications of applying network perspectives and methodologies to archaeological and historical data in particular
· establish a group of researchers interested in the potential of network approaches for archaeology and history
· foster cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaborative work towards integrated analytical frameworks for understanding complex networks
· stimulate debate about the application of network theory and analysis within archaeology and history in particular, but also more widely, highlight the relevance of this work for the continued development of network theory in other disciplines

We welcome contributions addressing any of (but not restricted to) the following themes:
· The diffusion of innovations, people and objects in the past
· Social network analysis in archaeology and history
· The dynamics between physical and relational space
· Evolving and multiplex networks
· Quantitative network techniques and the use of computers to aid analysis
· Emergent properties in complex networks
· Agency, structuration and complexity in network approaches
· Agent-based modelling and complex networks
· Future directions for network approaches in archaeology and history

Please email proposed titles and abstracts (max. 250 words) to:
connectedpast@soton.ac.uk by November 20th 2011.
Visit the conference website for more information: http://connectedpast.soton.ac.uk/

Conference Newcastle ‘Networks and Scales’ 23 May

I would just like to remind you all that next Monday the School of Historical Studies at Newcastle University will host a Postgraduate conference titled ‘Networks and Scales: Relating the local and the global’. I will present a paper myself on issues surrounding the archaeological application of network analysis, the potential of a multi-scalar network method, and show examples from the ‘Urban connectivity in Iron Age and Roman Southern Spain’ project directed by Simon Keay and Graeme Earl.

I am very much looking forward to the event, the list of speakers looks very promising.

Have a look for yourself:

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to address the notion of networks across boundaries and disciplines. Are we aware of the networks within which our subjects exist? Do we address sufficiently issues of network and scale in the past? How do we make connections between the often narrow focus of doctoral research and the local and global scales within which we practice?

The variety of papers that we were offered has been thrilling and it has been a great pleasure to organise what looks set to be an interesting and stimulating day. The papers transcend the disciplines of archaeology, history, ancient history, classics and history of medicine bringing together diverse research interests and a range of researchers united by a common interest in connecting different people, places and things, building links between data and interpretation and locating the local or individual in broader networks. We hope that today will provide the opportunity for our speakers and audience to both explore and create new networks.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the people without whom today would not be possible. Firstly, our sincere thanks to Professor Keith Wrightson and Professor Norman McCord for offering their continued support for the poster and paper prizes respectively. Our thanks are also due to the judging panels for said prizes. In addition we would like to thank the School of Historical Studies for their financial support, and in particular Dr. Helen Berry, director of postgraduate studies. We are grateful to those who have submitted posters, and hope that you have found it a useful experience. We would like to thank our speakers for offering such varied and intriguing abstracts and, we are sure, thought-provoking and interesting papers.

Finally, it is a great pleasure to welcome Professor Richard Hingley of Durham University as our key note speaker. We are honoured to have him address the conference and can think of no better way to end the day than with his lecture on networking frontiers.

Schedule for the Day

9.30am – Registration in the Research Beehive

Exploring Network Theories

10.00am Tom Brughmans – Complex networks in archaeology: Urban connectivity in Roman southern Spain

10.30am Keith Scholes – Recovering past networks : An approach to Early Medieval trade and communications

11am Coffee

11.30am Piotr Jacobsson – Re-assembling Aceramic Cyprus

12.00pm Louise Tolson- Exclusive/Inclusive: Public involvement and collaboration in the archaeology of the recent past

12.30pm Lunch

Scaling Sickness and Health

1.30pm Michelle Gamble – Bones, people and populations: A palaeopathological case study from Chalcolithic Cyprus

2.00pm Graham Butler – “Elizabeth Ferney, having procured a foul distemper, ordered into the workhouse until cured”: The Parish, the parish workhouse and parochial medicine in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1770-1830

2.30pm Coffee

Networks of Power

3.00pm David Linden – One Nation Networking: Baroness Elles and European Toryism

3.30pm Fiona Noble – Sulla and Aphrodisias: Greek and Roman Interaction in the 1st century BC.

4.00pm Jonathan Dugdale – Pagodas, Patronage and Power: The Role of State Sponsored Buddhism in Liao Dynasty China

4.30pm Coffee and Judging of the Keith Wrightson Poster Prize

5.15pm Presentation of the Keith Wrightson Poster Prize and the Norman McCord Prize for the best paper

5.30pm Key Note Address

Professor Richard Hingley – ‘Networking the study of frontiers’

6.30pm Wine reception and dinner at Barkolo.

CAA 2011 networks session introduction

Next Thursday I will chair a session on critical network analysis approaches in archaeology at CAA 2011 in Beijing. I made a new page on this blog dedicated to this session. Beijing is pretty far away, I know. That’s why I made this page, so you can stay up to date and in touch. Don’t hesitate to start discussions about the session on this page. It includes the session abstracts, contributors and reviews of the talks, once I’ve written them that is.

It also includes my introduction to the session, which I have pre-published here:

“Relationships matter. They did in the past and they do in the present. If we want to understand the structure of our datasets, the particular actions of past individuals, or the properties of past large-scale processes, the explicit study of relationships is crucial. And this can be done through a networks perspective.

In recent years the network as a research perspective and as a set of analytical techniques has become more popular in archaeology. This thanks to the work of people like Carl Knappett, Tim Evans, Ray Rivers, Fiona Coward, Clive Gamble, Shawn Graham, Leif Isaksen, Alexander Bentley, Herbert Maschner, Stephen Shennan, Cyprian Broodbank, Jessica Munson, Martha Macri, Koji Mizoguchi, Søren Sindbæk, and others. These archaeological applications have been influenced by a similar rise in the cultural anthropological and historical work of scholars like Irad Malkin, Anna Collar, John Terrell, Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, John Padgett, Paul McLean, Paul Ormerod, Andrew Roach and Christopher Ansell.

The network is a research perspective, if anything. It is not a homogeneous method as titles like ‘social network analysis’ suggest. Rather, it should be seen as a set of ideas, techniques and applications sharing some key assumptions. A first assumption states that the relationships between entities (like people, objects or ideas) matter and that these should be examined if we are to understand the behaviour of these entities. The importance of relationships implies a second assumption: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Through the interactions of entities collective behaviour emerges that cannot be understood merely through the study of entities in isolation.
Network analysis provides a scientific framework to examine relationships and their effects directly. It allows archaeologists to bridge the gap between the reductionist study of parts and the constructionist study of the related whole as Bentley and Maschner put it (2003, 1). These allow for two main fields of applications in archaeology: exploring complex datasets in data-rich environments and examining past complex systems.

Two scientific traditions have been particularly influential to archaeologists. Firstly, social network analysis, which focuses exclusively on social entities. Secondly, complex networks in physics, or what has been termed as the “new” science of networks. Archaeologists cannot adopt network techniques and applications from these traditions directly and uncritically, however. The nature of archaeological data makes the direct identification of social entities, like past individuals and communities, and how they related problematic. Similarly, archaeological data, which are typically material reflections of particular actions performed by individuals or groups of individuals, force archaeological attempts of identifying emergent self-organising properties in past complex systems to be rooted in individual-level data.

This session aims at confronting such issues. I am delighted that so many scholars from different disciplines with original applications of a networks research perspective have answered to the call for papers. It is hoped that confronting these diverse applications will reveal the issues as well as the potential of networks in archaeology. I sincerely hope that this session will give rise to multi-disciplinary discussions and collaboration. This is a necessity if we want to take our work beyond the current generation of network-based approaches, if we want to do more than the mere identification and description of emergent-properties or the structure of connectivity. Rather, we should aim to think through a networks research perspective, to acknowledge the implications of imposing the ‘network’ as a modern concept on past phenomena, and to explain the identified structures through re-contextualisation, the confrontation of the local with the global and explicit archaeological reasoning and data critique.”

Facebooking the past (draft)

I recently finished a first draft of the paper I presented at TAG in Bristol last December. It discusses the assumptions and issues surrounding the use of Social Network Analysis for Archaeology. I like to believe that the paper is very readable. It starts with a short fiction about Cicero who used Facebook and Twitter from his iPhone 4 to become consul of Rome … in 63BC. This story becomes relevant in the latter part of the paper, however, where I stress the importance of realising that when we think through a networks perspective we assume that networks must have existed in the past.

I would love any kind of feedback on this working paper! You can download it from the bibliography page (first one in the list).


Facebook currently has over 500 million active users, only six years after its launch in 2004. The social networking website’s viral spread and its direct influence on the everyday lives of its users troubles some and intrigues others. It derives its strength in popularity and influence through its ability to provide a digital medium for social relationships.

This paper is not about Facebook at all. Rather, through this analogy the strength of relationships between people becomes apparent most dramatically. Undoubtedly social relationships were as crucial to stimulating human actions in the past as they are in the present. In fact, much of what we do as archaeologists aims at understanding such relationships. But how are they reflected in the material record? And do social network analysis techniques aimed at understanding such relationships help archaeologists understand past social relationships?

This paper explores the assumptions and issues involved in applying a social network perspective in archaeology. It argues that the nature of archaeological data makes its application in archaeology fundamentally different from that in social and behavioural sciences. As a first step to solving the identified issues it will suggest an integrated approach using ego-networks, popular whole-network models, multiple networks and affiliation networks, in an analytical process that goes from method to phenomena and back again.

Presentation TAG 2010 Bristol

I just submitted an abstract for TAG 2010 in Bristol, for the session ‘Thinking beyond the tool: archaeological computing and the interpretative process’. Hope it gets accepted. Feel free to comment on the abstract!

‘Facebooking the Past: current approaches in archaeological network analysis’

Short abstract:
This paper will explore how current computational techniques in understanding present-day social relationships can be applied to examine the many types of relationships archaeologists are interested in on the one hand, and those they are confronted with in their data on the other.

Long abstract:
Facebook currently has over 500 million active users, only six years after its launch in 2004. The social networking website’s viral spread and its direct influence on the everyday lives of its users troubles some and intrigues others. It derives its strength in popularity and influence through its ability to provide a digital medium for social relationships. The key to understanding the strength of Facebook lies in the evolving system of relationships as well as the particular social interactions between individuals it is made up of.

This paper is not about Facebook at all. Rather, through this analogy the strength of relationships between people becomes apparent most dramatically. Undoubtedly social relationships were as crucial to stimulating human actions in the past as they are in the present. In fact, much of what we do as archaeologists aims at understanding such relationships. But how are they reflected in the material record? Do networks of Roman pottery distributions, for example, reveal the past social processes underlying them? How can we model and analyse them using modern tools? And is it possible and relevant to reveal past social relationships using computers at all?

This paper will explore how current computational techniques in understanding present-day social relationships can be applied to examine the many types of relationships archaeologists are interested in on the one hand, and those they are confronted with in their data on the other. It will focus on the way these existing tools direct archaeological efforts in exploring past social relationships.

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