Citation analysis paper published in LLC

August 6, 2013

llc262coverIt took a while, but it’s finally published! My citation network analysis of archaeological literature can now be found in Literary and Linguistic Computing, the Digital Humanities journal. The paper looks at how archaeologists that used formal network techniques cited each other, and it tries to trace where they got their ideas from. To do this I use citation network analysis techniques developed in a field called Bibliometrics. It doesn’t sound particularly sexy, but I think it’s pretty cool stuff. Academic papers have long lists of references they cite, which can be considered a formal expression of where they  got their ideas from, or what they were influenced by. Each one of those papers can be considered a point or node in a network. An arrow is drawn between two papers if one cites the other. This creates a pretty web of citations when done for 10 papers, but it creates a complex messy spaghetti monster when done for more than 30,000 papers, as I illustrate in my paper. So for this reason we use network techniques to tackle such massive datasets and say something interesting about them.

Over the coming weeks I will write blog posts about some of the more interesting findings of this work. But do have a look at the published paper. If you have access to LLC then download it here. If not then you can find a link on my bibliography page or you can download it on Scribd.


Review of ‘An Archaeology of Interaction’ in Antiquity

June 12, 2012

My review of Carl Knappett’s recently published book ‘An Archaeology of Interaction: network perspectives on material culture and society’ has appeared in the June issue of Antiquity. For the official published version, please access the Antiquity website. I have written a much more extensive and unreviewed earlier version as well, which I would like to share with you here:

CARL KNAPPETT. An archaeology of interaction: network perspectives on material culture and society. x+251 pages, 50 illustrations. 2011. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 978-0-19-921545-4 hardback £60.

With An Archaeology of Interaction Carl Knappett wrote a much-needed book that provides both an overview of existing approaches to human interaction as well as a new networks perspective. The key issue addressed in the book is that theories of human interaction generally do not incorporate materiality. The author suggests network thinking as a perspective that succeeds in combining theoretical and methodological approaches to interaction in a single framework and ‘foregrounds the relations between objects and people more effectively’ (p. 7). Much of the book is concerned with exploring approaches from a range of disciplines in the social and physical sciences, and their potential to contribute to this framework. Indeed, Knappett argues that the relevance of An Archaeology of Interaction is by no means restricted to the archaeological discipline, but aims to illustrate the potential archaeological contributions to understanding social interactions in general. A number of issues considered crucial for this new approach to interaction are stressed again and again throughout the volume: the incorporation of materiality, the need to consider assemblages of objects rather than objects in isolation, and the crossing of scales of analysis. Carl Knappett’s search for compatible theoretical ideas and methodological techniques takes him on an explicitly multi-disciplinary journey guided by a clear research question based on a few critical issues and illustrated throughout with archaeological examples (largely from the Bronze Age Aegean). All of this results in a highly readable volume that is both close to exhaustive in its description of issues and approaches, as well as focused on providing an innovative, but above all useful, framework for understanding social interactions.

The book has three parts and each of these consists of three chapters. The first part provides a strong and convincing argument for the need of new methods and theories for understanding human interactions, by stressing the absence of objects in existing theories, highlighting issues in existing relational approaches in archaeology and suggesting network analysis as a formal method for network thinking. In the first chapter the general context of archaeological as well as non-archaeological thought within which this book was written and to which it tries to contribute is laid out. It states that humans have a drive to interact with each other as well as with objects. Knappett suggests network thinking as a research perspective to understand these interactions and argues that ‘By combining SNA [Social Network Analysis] with ANT [Actor-Network Theory] we can bring together people and things both methodologically and theoretically’ (p. 8). The second chapter highlights some broad trends in the dynamics between relational and non-relational approaches to interaction in archaeology and the social sciences. Relational approaches are generally restricted to a single analytical scale and are performed either from the bottom-up or from the top-down. The author argues that concepts and methods are needed to traverse multiple scales. In the third chapter it is suggested that a networks perspective might provide such concepts and methods. An overview of some formal network analysis techniques is given, with a particular focus on affiliation networks, and some existing archaeological applications are briefly discussed. Knappett concludes that, on the one hand, network analysis has a number of advantages: (1) it forces one to think through relationships, (2) it is explicitly multi-scalar, (3) it can integrate social and physical space (topology and geometry), and (4) both people and things can be included. The author does not forget to mention some of the potential issues with the archaeological use of formal network techniques, however: firstly that network analysis is itself by no means a unified social theory, exemplified by the academic divide between SNA and social physics; secondly that the advanced level of mathematics might surpass the abilities of many archaeologists; and thirdly, there is a clear tendency to be overly structuralist and descriptive.

Throughout the second part of the volume the potential of a multi-scalar networks perspective to interactions between people and objects is explored, with chapters focusing in turn on micro-, meso-, and macro-scales of analysis. The case studies used to illustrate Knappett’s approaches are mainly drawn from the Cretan Bronze Age, the author’s area of expertise. In chapter four Knappett argues that existing approaches to interaction at the micro-scale (including interactionism and praxeology) need to be elaborated by reconciling two aspects of micro-scale interactions: ‘the face-to-face social interactions in which objects seem to be in the background; and the individual-object interactions in which sociality seems to fall into the background’ (p. 68). He goes on to suggest an approach aimed at mapping out hypothetical relations between objects (e.g. pottery types) and people (e.g. potters) as affiliation networks. The author explores this approach in a case study aimed at understanding the changes in micro-scale practice that occurred with the shift from ‘Prepalatial’ to palatial society, focusing in turn on practices of production, distribution and consumption. The author does not use the network as an analytical tool for the study of meso-networks, however, to which he turns his attention in chapter five. Network thinking at this scale is applied through a combination of Peircean semiotics with ‘communities of practice’, an idea which is considered to have useful links with the affiliation networks approach of chapter four. Examples from the archaeology of Bronze Age Crete are used to trace such ‘communities of practice’ by describing trends in the similarities and differences between the distributions of spaces, features and artefacts that might be indicative of production, distribution and consumption practices. Knappett then goes on to argue in chapter six that it is on the macro-scale that ‘network thinking comes into its own’ (p. 124). By giving the example of the popular strength of weak ties and small-world network models he argues that at this scale it becomes particularly clear that the relationship between the structure of a network and its function is not trivial. At this level of analysis we can begin to see how macro-scale structure emerges from micro-scale interactions and why, i.e. what function gives rise to a specific structure. Knappett mentions that dynamic network models are particularly useful for exploring hypothetical processes that give rise to certain network structures. He illustrates this through a discussion of his collaboration with the theoretical physicists Tim Evans and Ray Rivers, which resulted in a network model for maritime interaction in the Middle Bronze Age Aegean. He subsequently extrapolates the object-people networks approach introduced in the previous two chapters to a wider spatiotemporal scale, by looking at the evolution of patterns of production, distribution and consumption from the Prepalatial to the Palatial periods in the southern Aegean.

The first two parts of the book set out a framework for exploring how humans interact based on network thinking. The third part moves away from discussions of how to create and explain hypothetical network structures of objects and people to ask why it is that humans interact in the first place. Three alternative approaches are suggested. In chapter seven Knappett discusses the benefits of object networks. A number of concepts are introduced that place the relationship between object and agent central, and the author sees particular potential for cognitive archaeology approaches combined with ‘exaptive bootstrapping’ applied to typological data (pp. 155-158). Through a number of archaeological examples Knappett then explains trends of change in types of artefacts through these concepts. A second approach is suggested by the author in chapter eight as finding ways to attend to the tension between the type of ‘networks of objects’ described in chapter seven and ‘meshworks of things’, a more fluid understanding of the topology of relationships as suggested by Tim Ingold. In the last chapter Knappett argues that one particular way of thinking about this tension is through the care invested by human groups in human and non-human biographies. The author stresses the need to consider biographies of assemblages rather than just individual objects.

The aim and scope of the book are ambitious to say the least and it is therefore not surprising that as a result in places the arguments are not as convincing as they could be. The underrepresentation of method and how theory could inform method, although a major theme in the book, are particularly vulnerable to this mild criticism (especially in the third part). Indeed, archaeologists might not always find the suggested network methods and their archaeological examples very persuasive (as Knappett himself admits, p. 215). They are largely limited to visualising archaeological hypotheses as networks or describing general trends in the archaeological record by using a relational vocabulary. I believe this is a necessary evil, however, in light of the sheer number of approaches covered, and it certainly does not impede the methodological examples from illustrating their most important contribution to Knappett’s network perspective: they do successfully show their obvious potential for expressing and analysing relational hypotheses by thinking explicitly through networks. Carl Knappett’s An Archaeology of Interaction provides a critical and much-needed framework, offering a range of methods and theories to any scholar ready to explore human interaction through network goggles.


TAG presentation online

December 27, 2011

I really enjoyed all papers in the session Anna Collar, Fiona Coward and I chaired at TAG 2011 in Birmingham. We had a great variety of research topics, theories and methods, all sharing a common interest or even passion (be it positive or negative) for networks. I was delighted we had such a great discussion during the session and I would like to thank all contributors once again!

I just uploaded the slides of my own presentation. You can find a link to download them on my bibliography page. Alternatively, have a look at my Academia or Scribd pages.


Schedule TAG session

November 22, 2011


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.


Workshop historical network research in Saarbrücken

May 15, 2011

From 26 to 28 May a workshop on historical networks will be held at the Universität des Saarlandes, organised by the people of the ‘Historical network research’ platform. The scope seems pretty wide, covering theoretical papers, geographical networks, software and social, cultural, political and trade networks in historical case-studies. Although there are no explicit archaeological applications, these papers should be extremely relevant to what we are doing as archaeological network analysts.

Read the full list of papers in this programme.


CAAUK presentation and paper online

April 4, 2011

Last weekend at CAAUK at the University of Birmingham I presented my paper titled ‘Facebooking the past: a critical social network analysis approach for archaeology’. The event was well organised by the people from the VISTA centre at Birmingham, and my paper was well received. You can download the slides and the paper from my bibliography page.

I already presented this particular paper twice, first at TAG in December and now at CAAUK. So for the following conference I will come up with something new. In fact, my first case study is almost ready to be submitted to your criticism! Wondering how I will apply all my theoretical musing about archaeological network approaches in practice? Well just keep checking this blog for news about my upcoming presentations at the University of Newcastle (May), University of Southampton (May), University of Leuven (June), Arts Humanities and Complex Networks at NetSci in Budapest (June) and Interface in London (July).


Presentation TAG 2010 Bristol

October 6, 2010

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.