The CAA is my favourite community of archaeologists, and I am super proud to be the CAA international secretary since April 2014. Next year’s meeting will be in Siena, Italy. And apparently we are a community of revolutionaries! This year’s theme is “KEEP THE REVOLUTION GOING”, and I couldn’t agree more. Computational techniques have revolutionised academia, and the CAA has played a pioneering role in this computational revolution for archaeology since 1973. But there is more work to be done. Computational and quantitative work in archaeology should not be a minority pursuit, they should not be considered simplistic or reductionist, all archaeologists use these techniques to some extent. The CAA community will continue to take a leading role in teaching archaeologists good practice in these techniques. So, KEEP THE REVOLUTION GOING, submit your session proposal to CAA 2015.
The 43rd Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology “KEEP THE REVOLUTION GOING” Conference (CAA 2015 SIENA) will explore a multitude of topics to showcase ground-breaking technologies and best practice from various archaeological and computer sciences disciplines, with a large diversity of case studies from all over the world. Some of these topics are specific to the Italian scientific community, which played since the early stage of computer applicationa central role, participating to the debate and development in particular of GIS, databases, semantic, remote sensing, 3D data collection, modeling, visualization, etc.
The conference will be held in Italy at the University of Siena in collaboration with the National Research Council, from March 30th to April 3rd 2015.
The conference usually brings together hundreds of participants coming from all over the world involving delegates in parallel sessions, workshops, tutorials and roundtables. For general information please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Network 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.
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.
This 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 , as well as techniques used in Space Syntax [Hillier and Hanson, 1984]).
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
It’s finally there: the last two months of my PhD. Ever since I started almost four years ago everyone I talked to with a Dr. in front of their name told me the same thing, that the last few months are the hardest. It sounded as if when you finally decided to finish the damn thing off it starts putting up a fight. This usually finishes in the valiant PhD student winning the battle but loosing part of their sanity and most of their short-term memory in the process. My short-term memory is long gone (this is the main reasons why I claim to show promise for a career as an absentminded academic), but I have held on to my sanity. So far.
As I am working my way through my PhD in the coming two months I will document my struggle and loss of sanity on this blog, hoping it will end in victory. You can expect blog posts about all of the case studies I worked on in the last few years. In particular citation networks and visibility networks. But I will also share some of the conclusions I drew from working with network methods as an archaeologists, the challenges archaeologists are faced with, how we could confront these challenges, and my efforts to make a small contribution towards this. So stay tuned, and above all, please don’t hesitate to comment and provide me with your feedback on my work. I can use it now more than ever! :)
The free tickets to attend The Connected Past conference in Paris on 26 April are going fast but a few of them are still available. So if you would like to attend this event then grab your ticket soon via the registration page.
The Connected Past 2014 Paris is a free one-day satellite conference to CAA 2014 that brings together historians and archaeologists to discuss common themes in network analysis. The full programme with abstracts can be found on the conference website. More info and a short programme are included below.
Hope to see many of you there!
Tom, Claire, and The Connected past steering committee
The Connected Past
A satellite conference at CAA 2014, Paris
Held Saturday April 26th 2014 in Sciences Po, rooms Albert Sorel and Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, 27 rue Saint-Guillaume, 75007 Paris (metro Saint-Germain-des-Prés or Rue du Bac). Building A on this map.
Organisers: Claire Lemercier (CNRS, Sciences Po, Paris), Tom Brughmans (University of Southampton), The Connected Past steering committee.
The conference will be held immediately after the CAA conference (Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology), also happening in Paris, allowing participants to easily attend both – but participants from other disciplines, especially history, are also most welcome.
The conference aims to:
- Provide a forum for the presentation of network-based research applied to archaeological or historical questions
- Discuss the practicalities and implications of applying network perspectives and methodologies to archaeological and historical data in particular
- Strengthen the 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, and highlight the relevance of this work for the continued development of network theory in other disciplines
There are no attendance fees. Although this event is free of charge, registration is required and the number of places is limited. Registration to the event will open once the final programme is advertised in late November, and places will be allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis.
A “The Connected Past” practical workshop, “Introduction to network analysis for archaeologists” will also be organized during CAA2014 in Paris (see the CAA programme).
All the presentations and posters have been confirmed, but the exact programme is still subject to minor changes
Saturday 26 April
9-9.45 Welcome coffee and introduction
9.45-11 First session: Mobility through networks
Eivind Heldaas Seland: Tracing trade routes as networks: From Palmyra to the Persian Gulf in the first three centuries CE
Henrik Gerding and Per Östborn: Network analyses of the diffusion of Hellenistic fired bricks
Marie Lezowski: Cohesion through mobility : the networks of relics in 17th-century Lombardy
11-11.15 Coffee break
11.15-12.30 Second session: Dynamics and cross-period comparisons
Habiba, Jan C. Athenstädt and Ulrik Brandes: Inferring Social Dynamics from Spatio-Temporal Network Data in the US Southwest
Ana Sofia Ribeiro: Resilience in times of Early Modern financial crises: the case study of Simon Ruiz network, 1553-1606
Marion Beetschen: Scientists in Swiss Committees of Experts (1910-2010): Power and Academic Disciplines Through Networks
12.30-13.45 Lunch break
13.45-15 Third session: Cross-cultural networks
Angus A. A. Mol and Floris W. M. Keehnen: Tying up Columbus: A historical and material culture study of the networks that resulted from the first European voyages into the Caribbean (AD 1492-1504)
Francisco Apellaniz: Cooperating in Complex Environments: Cross-cultural Trade, Commercial Networks and Notarial Culture in Alexandria (Egypt) : 1350-1500
Florencia Del Castillo and Joan Anton Barceló: Inferring the intensity of Social Network from radiocarbon dated Bronze Age archaeological contexts
15-15.15 Coffee break
15-15.50 Fourth session: Political interactions
Stanley Théry: Social network analysis between Tours notables and Louis XI (1461-1483)
Laurent Beauguitte: Models of historical networks: A methodological proposal
15.50-16.45 Final session, including a very short (2 minutes) oral presentation for each poster, discussion of the posters and final general discussion
Thibault Clérice and Anthony Glaise: Network analysis and distant reading: The Cicero’s Network
Damian Koniarek, Renata Madziara and Piotr Szymański: Towards a study of the structure of the business & science social network of the 2nd Polish Republic
Susana Marcos: Familial alliances, social links et geographical network. The example of the province of Lusitania in the Roman Empire (to be confirmed)
Stefania Merlo Perring: The ChartEx Project. Reconstructing spatial relationships from medieval charters: a collaboration between Data Mining and Historical Topography
Sébastien Plutniak: Archaeology as practical mereology: an attempt to analyze a set of ceramic refits using network analysis tools
Grégoire van Havre: Interactions and network analysis of a rock art site in Morro do Chapéu, Bahia, Brazil
16.45 Drinks and informal discussion
Time for another CAA UK chapter meeting! This year it wil take place in Oxford on 21-22 March. The call for papers is now out, with a 31 January deadline. The online submissions system will be live on the 15th. So time to start writing those abstracts, let’s get some networky papers in there :)
More info below or on the CAA UK website.
The next annual meeting of the UK Chapter of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA-UK) will be held in Oxford on 21st and 22nd March 2014. CAA-UK aims to encourage communication between UK-based archaeologists, mathematicians and computer scientists in order to stimulate research and promote best practice in computational and mathematical approaches to the past.
Computational and statistical approaches have become an essential part of the tool-kit, so much so that they have become de rigueur. Whilst it has often been acknowledged that such ‘tools’ are not theory-neutral, both approaches have struggled to throw off their positivist origins. Papers and posters are encouraged which move beyond abstract models or representations and offer substantive contributions to interpretation of the past.
Suggested topics include:
Abstracts (350 words maximum) should be submitted via the conference website (www.caa-uk.org) by 31st January 2014. The online submission system will go live on 15th January 2014. Any queries regarding the call for papers should be emailed to email@example.com.