The Connected Past special issue of Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory out now!

February 17, 2015


I am super massively chuffed to announce that The Connected Past special issue of the Journal of Archaeological Method and theory is out now. It aims to provide examples of the critical and innovative use of network science in archaeology in order to inspire its more widespread use. What’s even better, the editorial is open access! And it’s accompanied by a glossary of network science techniques and concepts that we hope will prove to be a useful resource for archaeologists interested in network concepts.

My fellow editors Anna Collar, Fiona Coward, Barbara Mills and I are extremely grateful to all the authors of this special issue for their great contributions. You can read in the editorial the details of why we think these contributions are great. We would also like to thank the editors of Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory for offering us great support throughout the process, and to Springer for agreeing to make the editorial open access.

Original papers in this issue (Gotta read ’em all!):

Networks in Archaeology: Phenomena, Abstraction, Representation
by the editors Anna Collar, Fiona Coward, Tom Brughmans, and Barbara J. Mills

Are Social Networks Survival Networks? An Example from the Late Pre-Hispanic US Southwest
by Lewis Borck, Barbara J. Mills, Matthew A. Peeples, and Jeffery J. Clark

Understanding Inter-settlement Visibility in Iron Age and Roman Southern Spain with Exponential Random Graph Models for Visibility Networks
by Tom Brughmans, Simon Keay, and Graeme Earl

Inferring Ancestral Pueblo Social Networks from Simulation in the Central Mesa Verde
by Stefani A. Crabtree

Network Analysis of Archaeological Data from Hunter-Gatherers: Methodological Problems and Potential Solutions
by Erik Gjesfjeld

Procurement and Distribution of Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican Obsidian 900 BC–AD 1520: a Social Network Analysis
by Mark Golitko, and Gary M. Feinman

The Equifinality of Archaeological Networks: an Agent-Based Exploratory Lab Approach
by Shawn Graham, and Scott Weingart

Remotely Local: Ego-networks of Late Pre-colonial (AD 1000–1450) Saba, North-eastern Caribbean
by Angus A. A. Mol, Menno L. P. Hoogland, and Corinne L. Hofman

The Diffusion of Fired Bricks in Hellenistic Europe: A Similarity Network Analysis
by Per Östborn, and Henrik Gerding

Archaeological and historical network analysts unite!

July 10, 2014

315px-I_Need_You_on_the_Job_Every_Day_-_NARA_-_534704Network science is becoming more commonly applied in both archaeology and history. But this is not happening without difficulties. Pioneers in both disciplines are now trying to overcome the numerous challenges that still surround their use of network techniques: how to deal with fragmentary data, performing analyses over extremely long time spans, using material data in network science to understand past human behaviour, …. I believe archaeologists and historians should face these challenges together! Through collaboration we might come to a better understanding of the use of network science in our disciplines much faster. In a recently published article in Nouvelles de l’Archéologie, Anna Collar, Fiona Coward, Claire Lemercier and myself show how many of the challenges that archaeologists and historians have identified are actually not discipline-specific: we CAN collaborate to tackle them together. Since this article is in French I wanted to provide an English summary of our argumentation here (written with my co-authors). The full article can be downloaded on Academia or through my bibliography page.


One of the key aspects of historical sources, compared to archaeological sources, is that the former often allow for the identification of past individuals, by name, and by role. This richness of data at the individual level means that network analytical methods can be very powerful in the illumination of past social networks and the details of particular places and times – offering, where the data are good enough, a window onto past social lives and interactions, and allowing the synchronic analysis of social networks at a particular moment in time.

However, the issues most commonly mentioned by historical network analysts also concern problematic and incomplete data. These issues are undeniably more significant for archaeology and history than for contemporary social sciences such as sociology. But we should not overestimate their potential impact. Even sociological research in contemporary populations face similar issues where full data may not be available for a variety of reasons, and although the problems are clearly more fundamental in history and archaeology, this also means that researchers in both disciplines have long been accustomed to dealing with, and developing methods at least partially compensating for, partial and biased datasets. As a result, this may be one important area where archaeology and history can contribute its expertise to other disciplines working with imperfect network data.


In contrast to history, archaeology is much less frequently furnished with such focused evidence. In archaeology, individuals are typically identified indirectly through the material remains they leave behind, and even where they can be identified, they often remain without names or specified roles.  Not only is archaeological data typically not ‘individualized’, but it can also rarely be attributed an exact date. Most archaeological data typically has date ranges with differing probabilities attached to them, making the establishment of contemporaneity between entities/potential nodes in networks (e.g. individuals; events; settlements) highly problematic. Because of this, archaeologists have tended to focus on the synchronic study of human behavioural change over the long-term, rather than on the diachronic examination of behaviour and interaction. A further characteristic of archaeological data is that it is also likely to be more strongly geographically grounded. Indeed, the geographical location of archaeological data is often among the few pieces of information archaeologists possess. Finally, network analytical methods in archaeology tend to focus most closely on long-term changes in the everyday lives of past peoples.

Common challenges in archaeology and history

Alongside these differences, there are also a number of common challenges facing archaeology and history, as ultimately both disciplines aim to achieve similar goals relating to understanding past interactions and processes.

The most significant of these common challenges are the fragmentary datasets that often characterize both disciplines; we typically deal with bad samples drawn from populations of unknown size and/or with unknown boundaries, snapshots of the past that are heavily biased by differential preservation and/or observation effects. However we argue that this does not exclude the use network techniques in our disciplines, nor does it limit us to only those research contexts for which high quality datasets are available.

A second issue facing our disciplines is that many methodological and theoretical network approaches have been developed in other disciplines to address particular research themes. As a result, they therefore function according to certain rules and/or have certain specific data requirements that might prevent straightforward applications in our disciplines.

Furthermore,  using a network approach to study a past phenomenon necessarily requires a researcher to make a series of decisions about how the parameters of that phenomenon should be represented – for example, what entities to use as nodes and what forms of relationship to model as vertices. Archaeologists and historians familiar with the analytical and visualization techniques used by researchers studying modern phenomena may find many analytical approaches and visualization techniques that are not appropriate or achievable. The past phenomena we are interested in, the kinds of questions our data allows us to ask, and the often very specific parameters of human behaviour assumed by archaeologists and historians for investigating the past, are likely to mean we will ultimately need to develop purpose-made visualization and analysis techniques. At the least we will need to acquire a critical understanding of the various methods available if we are to represent archaeological and historical network  data in appropriate ways – and indeed, to ‘read’ such visualizations and analysis results correctly.

Finally, the poor chronological control characteristic to a certain extent of historical and to a much greater extent of archaeological datasets, limits our knowledge regarding the order in which nodes and links in networks became salient and also the degree of contemporaneity between nodes. This is likely to have significant ramifications for the ways in which archaeologists and historians visualize and analyse networks, driving a need to consider ‘fuzzy’ networks, margins of error and probabilistic models, as well as the consideration of complex processes of network change and evolution over time.

Unite! Meeting the challenges together

In the recent surge of network applications in archaeology and history, it would seem that the two disciplines have thus far focused their efforts on the more obvious potential applications which mirror those most common in other disciplines, such as the identification and interpretation of ‘small-world’ network structure or the choice of datasets that are readily envisaged as or translated into network data (e.g. road and river networks). Such analyses have demonstrated the potential of the methods for archaeological and historical datasets; however, we believe that potential applications go far beyond this, and that network approaches hold a wealth of untapped potential for the study of the past. To achieve this potential, we will need to become more critical and more creative in our applications, and explore not simply what network science can offer the study of the past, but also what our disciplines offer in terms of developing that science – firstly to tackle specifically archaeological and historical questions, but ultimately to broaden the scope of the science itself as methodologies specifically developed for use in archaeological and historical contexts are taken up for use in tackling similar questions in other disciplines.

TCP (2013_05_12 19_17_14 UTC)Initiatives like The Connected Past and Historical Network Research offer a platform that would allow for exactly this kind of interaction between network scientists and those applying network science to the study of the past. The challenges individual members were encountering in our own research across archaeology and history encouraged us to consider developing a mutually supportive space in which to share concerns and problems, and to discuss ideas and approaches for moving beyond these.

We suggest that simply bringing people together through conferences, workshops, conference sessions and more informal groupings is key to fostering the dialogue between the disciplines that is so important to move forward applications of network analysis to the study of the past. Talking to each other across traditional disciplinary boundaries is vital in the ongoing development of network perspectives on the past. However, as noted above, at the same time we also need to be more sensitive to the specific demands of our disciplinary goals and our datasets and develop new network methods that suit our disciplines better. The sociological roots of most social network analysis software packages means that these are often designed and engineered to address discipline-specific research concepts that may not be appropriate for archaeology and history. SNA software has generally been created to deal with interactions between people in a modern setting – where the individual answers to questions about interactions can be documented with a degree of accuracy. As such, this software and network methodologies in general will need to be applied with care and ideally even developed from scratch for use with networks comprised of nodes which are words, texts, places or artefacts, for the characteristically fragmentary and poorly chronologically controlled datasets of archaeology and history, and for research that aims to go beyond the structuring of individual networks of contemporary nodes to investigate questions of network evolution and change. While interdisciplinary dialogue is crucial, we will need to be sensitive to the discipline-specific idiosyncracies of our data and to critique rather than adopt wholesale practices used in other fields. In this way, rather than apologizing for the ‘deficiencies’ of our datasets in comparison with those characteristic of other disciplines, we will also be able to make novel contributions to the wider field based on the new questions and challenges the study of the past offers network science.

First Connected Past publication!

June 20, 2014

coverphotoAnna Collar, Fiona Coward and I started The Connected Past in 2011. Since then we have been enjoying organising a number of conferences, workshops and sessions together with our many friends in the TCP steering committee. Many collaborations and other fun things have followed on from these events but no publications yet, until now! Anna, Fiona, Claire and I recently published a paper in Nouvelles de l’archéologie. It was part of a special issue on network perspectives in archaeology edited by Carl Knappett.

Our paper’s aims are very similar to those of TCP in general: to communicate across communities of archaeologists and historians, to identify the challenges we face when using network perspectives, and to overcome them together. The paper first lists a number of challenges historians are confronted with, then a number of archaeological challenges. It argues how some of these challenges are similar and that it’s worth our while to collaborate. At the end of the paper we suggest a few ways of doing this. And it will be no surprise that one of the ways is to attend our future TCP events 🙂

You can download the full paper on Academia or via my bibliography page. You can read the abstract below.

The Connected Past will also publish a special issue of the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (first issue of 2015) and an edited volume (Oxford University Press, 2015). More about that later!

The last decade has seen a significant increase in the use of network studies in archaeology, as archaeologists have turned to formal network methods to make sense of large and complex datasets and to explore hypotheses of past interactions. A similar pattern can be seen in history and related disciplines, where work has focused on exploring the structure of textual sources and analysing historically attested social networks. Despite this shared interest in network approaches and their common general goal (to understand human behaviour in the past), there has been little cross-fertilisation of archaeological and historical network approaches. The Connected Past, a multidisciplinary conference held in Southampton in March 2012, provided a rare platform for such cross-disciplinary communication. This article will discuss the shared concerns of and seemingly unique challenges facing archaeologists and historians using network analysis techniques, and will suggest new ways in which research in both disciplines can be enhanced by drawing on the experiences of different research traditions.

The conference brought some common themes and shared concerns to the fore. Most prominent among these are possible methods for dealing with the fragmentary nature of our sources, techniques for visualising and analysing past networks – especially when they include both spatial and temporal dimensions – and interpretation of network analysis results in order to enhance our understanding of past social interactions. This multi-disciplinary discussion also raised some fundamental differences between disciplines: in archaeology, individuals are typically identified indirectly through the material remains they leave behind, providing an insight into long-term changes in the everyday lives of past peoples; in contrast, historical sources often allow the identification of past individuals by name and role, allowing synchronic analysis of social networks at a particular moment in time.

The conference also demonstrated clearly that a major concern for advancing the use of network analysis in both the archaeological and historical disciplines will be the consideration of how to translate sociological concepts that have been created to deal with interaction between people when the nodes in our networks are in fact words, texts, places or artefacts. Means of textual and material critique will thus be central to future work in this field.

A thousand worlds: sci-fi networks in archaeology

October 28, 2013

Rune Rattenborg presenting at 'A Thousand Worlds' in Durham

Rune Rattenborg presenting at ‘A Thousand Worlds’ in Durham

Here is a common plot in sci-fi literature and movies (based on a popular physics model): the world you know is but one in an endless range of parallel universes, where each one is slightly different. Who would ever have thought this would be a good starting point for archaeological discussions? Yet the meeting in Durham I recently attended showed that parallel universes might have more in common with archaeology than we think.

(this review was originally published as a guest post on Electric Archaeology, please join discussion there)

I was invited by Rune Rattenborg to join a workshop in Durham called ‘A Thousand Worlds: Network Models in Archaeology’. This concept of a thousand worlds can be interpreted in an archaeological research context in different ways. On the one hand, and most similar to the sci-fi parallel universes plot, you could think about the many different reconstructions of past realities that could all explain a single archaeological pattern. Literally thousands of hypotheses could be raised to explain a certain pattern, each of them suggesting different mechanisms driving human behaviour and ultimately its expression in the archaeological record. On the other hand, you could think about the many academic perspectives archaeologists find useful for understanding the past. Perspectives ranging from highly quantitative (you can place me in that camp) to very qualitative, from local to global, from scientific to philosophical, and from an explicitly present-day perspective to attempting to recreate past perspectives. Each one of these is a valid way of thinking about past human behaviour and behavioural change (or rather every configuration or combination of these perspectives).

Both of these interpretations motivated Rune to title his workshop ‘A Thousand Worlds’. He noticed that archaeologists interested in questions of past connectivity and those of us using network perspectives often address the challenges we are faced with in very different ways. The only common ground of most network perspectives seems to be that the relationships between entities are considered crucial to understanding the behaviour of these entities. For example, the romantic relationship between two individuals will affect the decision to stay in and watch a Hugh Grant romantic comedy or to go out for a beer with the guys. But Rune also noticed that each perspective allows for a wide variety of reconstructions of past realities. These two issues seem to confuse archaeologists who might be interested in using such a network perspective in their archaeological research. I totally agree with Rune’s motivation to create some order in this chaos. The main questions of this workshop therefore were: what different network perspectives are out there? What rules govern them? What do they allow us to do that we could not do before? And what are their limitations?

To some extent the meeting was successful in addressing these questions. A number of very different perspectives were discussed by selected proponents: I introduced an extremely formal network science approach, which was discussed rather more pragmatically by Anna Collar; Michelle de Gruchy highlighted some interesting challenges in a geographical context; another group of presenters (Kristoffer Damgaard, Eivind Heldaas Seland, Sofie Laurine Albris, Rune Rattenborg) used the concept of connectivity and explored how it could be reflected in archaeological and literary sources. Finally Ronan O’Donnell introduced the actor-network theory (ANT) perspective through a fascinating case study on a post-Medieval landscape in Northumberland, UK, from which the strong difference between the aims of the ANT and network science research perspectives became particularly clear.

Nevertheless, by the end of the meeting it became clear that we were not entirely successful in addressing the many questions we set out to answer. Eivind Heldaas Seland skilfully summarised each paper and formulated three key questions that require more attention: how can these different perspectives and approaches usefully work together? What is the added value of some of these compared to a more traditional description of our sources? How can we better use these perspectives in the future? The fact that we were unsuccessful at addressing these questions shows how complex and non-trivial they are (and we also ran out of discussion time). But for what it’s worth, I take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on these questions, combined with some of the points I picked up from others during the discussion.

First of all, I believe the first question presents the false impression that the different network perspectives can and need to work together. I would argue that, many network perspectives do not need to and most of them do not work well together at all. This is because some of them (like ANT and network science) are designed to address very different questions. But even those approaches that have more in common, like the quantitative vs. qualitative use of network science, don’t necessarily need to be combined into an almighty network approach. There is no need for a great unifying theory or method in archaeology, not even for one that just focuses on questions of connectivity. Rather, I consider the different network perspectives as tools that function according to certain rules, and once these rules are known the tools have a potential to make small but crucial contributions to our knowledge of the past. I believe that if we are to ever achieve the full potential of these exciting new approaches for archaeology we will need to first critically explore them in isolation.

Secondly, the added value of these perspectives is more obvious than how they should be applied. Many in the audience seemed to agree that the concept of the network itself is a powerful tool to think with. It forces us to consider the potentially important role played by relationships between entities (however defined: humans, molecules, parallel universes), which might allow us to ask and answer new questions. For me the added value lies in the recognition that all archaeologists make assumptions about the nature of such relationships when they formulate hypotheses about past phenomena. It can be useful to think about these assumptions in terms of network concepts and, most importantly, there is a real need to be critically aware of their existence and formulate them clearly. Network science can help archaeologists to think about their assumptions of past relationships, to formally express them (in words and/or in numbers), and to evaluate their implications for past behavioural change and its reflection in the archaeological record.

Finally, the “better use” of such approaches and perspectives is not optional, it is necessary if they are ever to become useful within an archaeological research context. However, a critical use and application is not just a critical awareness of the rules that govern them. Rather, an equal if not larger effort should be afforded to the archaeological interpretation of network science results, or the differences in the interpretative process that a networks perspective implies. I believe none of the scholars that attended the Durham meeting would disagree with that. The studies they presented could be roughly divided into two groups: those that THINK through network and those that DO networks. I believe the former is more important than the latter, because there can be no doing without thinking. Although this sounds like an obvious statement it is worth emphasising it because the use of quantitative network analysis is too often treated like a “black box” approach, which it is not. Every network science study in archaeology, no matter how quantitative, aims to better understand (aspects of) past phenomena. When doing so, the scholar formulates a hypothesis, expresses their assumptions about past relationships and their roles, or at least clearly defines what they mean by the network concepts they use. Only after this phase of network thinking can a scholar proceed to network doing, which involves representing hypotheses/assumptions/the archaeological record as network data (points and lines, and what they mean). The ability to use advanced quantitative tools should not be an excuse for the post-hoc imposition of a theoretical framework that fits the results nicely; nor should the appeal of using fashionable network concepts lead to reluctance to formally express what is meant by them and to evaluate their implications for understanding past phenomena.

Even though none of the three key questions about the role of the networks perspective in archaeology can be conclusively answered at this time, I felt that its future is nevertheless bright. The diversity of possible approaches and perspectives is encouraging and will lead to critical research that promises to help archaeologists better evaluate what approach is useful for their studies of past connectivity, and what is not. Some of these approaches might require multi-disciplinary collaboration, especially the more scary and maths-heavy techniques in the network science toolbox. But archaeologists should never be tempted to outsource the network thinking part of the process. Critical knowledge of the archaeological literature and data leads to an awareness of the relevant research questions, and the same knowledge will lead to valuable interpretations of analytical results and research processes. There might be a thousand pasts out there, and there might be a thousand ways of reaching them, but this quest will always need to be undertaken by archaeologists.

Selected relevant publications:
Brandes, U., Robins, G., McCranie, A., & Wasserman, S. 2013. What is network science? Network Science 1(01): p.1–15.
Brughmans, T. 2013.Thinking through networks: A Review of Formal Network Methods in Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.
Knappett, C. 2011. An archaeology of interaction. Network perspectives on material culture and society. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press.

Connected Past workshop registration open

June 25, 2013

TCPWorkshop Announcement:


Networks offer one of the newest and most exciting approaches to archaeological and historical data analysis, and over the last two years, the The Connected Past team has brought together scholars from across the globe to discuss their research, with a session at Birmingham TAG 2011, the Southampton conference in March 2012, a session at the SAAs in Hawaii in April this year, and a collaboration with HESTIA this coming July.

But we’re also aware that starting to do network analysis isn’t always easy. It can be difficult to know which software to use, how to present data, what questions to ask, and what results really show. Because it’s hard for researchers at all levels who are starting to think about network analysis, we are delighted to announce that we have put together a programme for a two-day practical workshop at the University of Southampton on 17-18 September 2013.

The cost of the workshop is £20. PLACES ARE LIMITED TO 20. To register your interest, please email with a short statement detailing why you want to participate. We will be in touch once the registration deadline (22nd July) has passed. The programme can be found below and on The Connected Past website.

In addition, for those who want to overdose on networks, Southampton will also be hosting the 12th Mathematics of Networks meeting on 16th September. It’s very multi-disciplinary, with a focus on social science applications and the technical side of things.


Tuesday 17th September

• Introduction to networks in archaeology and history
• Preparing data for network analysis
• network creation and visualisation
• Archaeological and historical case studies
• Round table discussion
Reception at the Institute for Complex Systems Simulation

Wednesday 18th September

• Network analysis software
• Analysing network structure
• What method to use?
• Geographical network techniques
• Issues in archaeological and historical network analysis

Andy Bevan (UCL)
Tom Brughmans (Southampton)
Anna Collar (McDonald Institute, Cambridge)
Fiona Coward (Bournemouth)
Marten Düring (Nijmegen)
Claire Lemercier (Sciences-Po, Paris)
Angus Mol (Leiden)

Connected Past Videos online!

May 25, 2012

Two months ago Anna Collar, Fiona Coward and myself organised a conference about networks in archaeology and history, called The Connected Past. The event was great (or at least that is how I experienced it). But if you were not able to be there you will be happy to know that the recorded talks are now available online. The recorded talks are illustrative of the wide range of topics by scholars from an equally diverse range of disciplines. There are videos with a methodological focus, some with a theoretical focus and a number of applied case studies. If these talks taught us anything it would be that ‘Thinking through networks’ might provide innovative and useful approaches to understand the past, but some methods are more promising than others and the theoretical implications deserve our attention. Networks are not everything but they might be useful and we hope that The Connected Past allowed for this idea to emerge and will continue to provide a multi-disciplinary discussion platform.

So you will hear more about The Connected Past in the future!

An overview of The Connected Past

April 5, 2012

Over the weekend of 24-25 March 2012 a group of 150 archaeologists, historians, mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists and others from 19 different countries met at The University of Southampton. Their objective: to discuss the critical application of network and complexity perspectives to archaeology and history. The result: a stimulating and friendly gathering of academics from very diverse backgrounds who collectively created the exciting discussion platform the organisers believe is crucial to the development of future critical applications in our disciplines.

The last few weeks were hectic for Anna Collar, Fiona Coward and myself. There were many last-minute decisions to be made and problems to be solved. But in the end everything and everyone arrived on time to kick-start the symposium. Most delegates arrived from all over Europe and North America, and some joined us from as far as Australia and Japan. We were happy to welcome delegates from over 60 different universities. The most important work during the symposium took place behind the scenes by Lucie Bolton and her great team of volunteers who were there to welcome all delegates at 8am and make sure they were fuelled with lunch, coffee and cakes throughout the day. The Connected Past would not have been possible without them.

Jon Adams, head of the Department of Archaeology here in Southampton, opened the symposium and introduced our first keynote speaker Alex Bentley. Alex discussed in what cases certain types of network approaches are useful when exploring complex social systems. His paper provided a great start of the conference by setting out a framework for complex systems simulation and identifying the role networks could play within this. A first session of the symposium followed with a very diverse group of papers discussing a range of theoretical and methodological issues. Tom Brughmans explored the evolution of formal archaeological network analysis through a citation network analysis. Johannes Preiser-Kapeller argued for the incorporation of Luhmann’s systems theory in historical network approaches. Andy Bevan explored the issues involved in tracing ancient networks in geographical space. After a coffee break Astrid Van Oyen presented us with the Actor-Network-Theory perspective and how this might be usefully applied in an archaeological context. Søren Sindbæk made some very critical remarks concerning a direct mapping of exchange networks from distributions of archaeological data. Finally, Marten Düring presented a particularly fascinating approach of support networks for persecuted Jews in World War II and compared the usefulness of different centrality measures on it.

After lunch we reconvened for a session called ‘Big data and archaeology’, which included presentations of big datasets that showed particular potential to explore using networks on the one hand and archaeological applications of network analysis on the other. The session was opened by Barbara Mills who presented the work of her team on exploring distribution networks of a large archaeological dataset from the US southwest. Caroline Waerzeggers presented a dataset of tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets which hold a large variety of past relationships that can be usefully explore with network techniques. Mark Depauw and Bart Van Beek similarly presented an impressive dataset which includes references to almost half a million people living in Graeco-Roman Egypt. After tea Eivind Heldaas Seland introduced us to a highly qualified view of networks of travel and religion in late antiquity. Alessandro Quercia and Lin Foxhall presented their networks of loom weights, which is part of the wider Tracing Networks project. Angus Mol took us to the Caribbean with his network approach of a rather small but fascinating lithic assemblage. Finally, Craig Alexander discussed his study of visibility networks in Iron Age Valcamonica.

At the end of the day we had the pleasure of listening to Carl Knappett live from Toronto via a Skype call. We decided to go for this low-tech option because sadly we could not guarantee tech-support during the weekend and wanted to avoid complications. I am sure this is the first time Carl had a Skype meeting with 150 people at the same time. Carl Knappett suggested that in order for network approaches to be usefully applied in archaeology we need be aware of the diversity of available approaches and preferably work in collaboration with network specialists. In some cases, however, networks are not the best perspective to approach our archaeological questions. In his recently published ‘An archaeology of interaction’ Carl points to a wide range of theories and methods that may or may not work within the same framework, but knowledge of this diversity might lead to their more critical and useful applications. This second keynote presentation was followed by a wine reception and a visit to our local pub The Crown.

After a long night out and a nights-sleep further shortened by daylight savings time we were surprised to see almost all delegates appear at 9am to listen to our third keynote Irad Malkin. Irad recently published ‘A small Greek world’ in which he sees the emergence of Greek identity through network goggles by using a vocabulary adopted from complex network analysis to describe the processes he identified in ancient sources. Irad’s keynote address stressed how a networks approach allows us to revisit old questions and how it allows for spatial structure to be compared with other types of relationships. The subsequent session titled ‘Dynamic networks and modelling’ began with a great presentation by Ray Rivers stressing that archaeologists need to be aware of the implications of decisions made when modelling the past and selecting ‘Goldilocks’ networks that seem just right. Next, Anne Kandler presented her network model for exploring the transmission of ideas, which shows how the structure of complex networks influences cultural change. Caitlin Buck presented the work by her team on a new (and very robust looking) model for the spread of agriculture in Britain and Europe at large. After the break Tim Evans presented a much needed paper comparing different network models and their potential uses. The discussions after this paper revealed that such a comparison along with archaeological case studies would be a very welcome resource to archaeologists interested in networks. Juan Barceló presented a Bayesian network approach to explore causal factors determining the emergence and the effects of restricted cooperation among hunter-gatherer societies. Marco Büchler presented his fascinating work on text re-use graphs he and his team in of the eTraces project in the Leipzig centre for eHumanities are working on.

After lunch we had the pleasure of listening to papers in our last session ‘Personal, political and migration networks’. Wilko Schroeter presented on marriage networks of Europe’s ruling families from 1600-1900. Ekaterini Mitsiou moved our attention to the Eastern Mediterranean in her discussion of aristocratic networks in the 13th century. Evi Gorogianni made us look at dowry in a new way by stressing the relationships they establish and express. After tea Elena Isayev made us explore the early 3rd century BC networks of Italy outside the Italian peninsula. Claire Lemercier provided us with some critical comments on the historical use of formal network techniques and illustrated this through a case study on migration in northern France. Amara Thornton traced networks of individuals linked to the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Finally, Katherine Larson showed us a particularly creative way of seeing networks in the archaeological record by linking sculptors’ signatures on ancient statues.

In our eyes The Connected Past was a great success. We enjoyed the experience of organising the event and were delighted with the overwhelming response to our call for papers and registration. We received some great reviews from Tim Evans and Matteo Romanello. In the end, however, it was the delegates themselves who seized the opportunity to engage in multi-disciplinary discussions and to consider future collaborations in innovative research directions.

The Connected Past does not end here! In some time we will make some of the recorded talks available online, we will publish the proceedings and we have plans for future meetings. All to be revealed in time. For now all we want to say is: thank you for a fascinating weekend and keep up the multi-disciplinary discussions!