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Moments in Time: Re-creating History with the Bayesian Approach

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

This session brings together papers that discuss how archaeologists can use the Bayesian approach to create histories approximating lived experiences on multiple scales. Over the past five years there have been many studies that used Bayesian modeling to revise aspects of ancient European history. These projects have generally produced chronologies of higher accuracy, transparency, and reproducibility than those created from informal interpretation. This work has been referred to as the third radiocarbon revolution, partially because it has required European archaeologists to completely rethink long-standing culture-historic chronologies and devise new narratives for interpreting the past. A theme of the session is how chronological re-examinations with Bayesian modeling interface with archaeological theory. In many cases the Bayesian approach has involved the quantification of previously unrealized temporal phenomena and this session will address how our theoretical approaches in archaeology might change due to powerful temporal analyses. Papers in this session will: 1) review how Bayesian chronological modeling has begun to challenge understandings of important topics, 2) discuss specifically how Bayesian modeling has revised historical narratives, and/or 3) problematize long-standing chronologies and discuss plans for their revision.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-13 of 13)

  • Documents (13)


  • Accelerating History and Bayesian Models: The Rapid Emergence of Agropastoralism and the Tiwanaku State in the Lake Titicaca Basin, South America (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Long-term cultural change can be non-linear and punctuated by brief episodes of accelerating history. Such episodes, or emergent phenomena, have been described by a diverse set of theoretical approaches such as complexity theory, complex adaptive systems, panarchy, resilience theory, "eventful" sociology and archaeology, and the Annales School of History. These episodes can result in profound, lasting changes for large groups of people, but can happen too fast to be clearly documented without...

  • Bayesian Analysis and Chronological Revisions in Southern Mesoamerica (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The application of Bayesian analysis on radiocarbon dates from key sites in southern Mesoamerica has contributed to chronological revisions, which are leading to a re-evaluation of social processes among major political centers. Main challenges in this analysis include long occupation and mixing of old carbon in construction fills; poor preservation in the tropical environment; and the paucity of short-lived plant remains. Key steps in our application of Bayesian analysis on Mesoamerican...

  • Bayesian Approaches for Chronology-Building in Maya Archaeology: Direct AMS 14C Dating of Burials in the Belize River Valley (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Chronology-building in Maya archaeology has long been dominated by relative ceramic typologies based on excavations conducted in the 1950s, with date ranges temporally grounded by long-count calendar dates and a small number of imprecise radiocarbon dates. Higher-precision chronologies based on more recent methodological innovations in radiocarbon dating, including Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating, Bayesian statistical modeling of radiocarbon dates, and ultrafiltration and XAD...

  • A Bayesian Model-Based Comparison of Radiocarbon Chronologies for the Earliest Complex Societies in the Maya Lowlands (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Sedentary agricultural villages, ceramic technology, and evidence for institutionalized socio-economic inequality first appeared in the Maya lowlands during the Preclassic Period (1200 cal BC – cal AD 300). The chronological details of these significant cultural developments between different regions of the lowlands remain unclear in many cases because of an emphasis on local ceramic typologies that are often difficult to correlate. We use a Bayesian framework to model high-resolution AMS 14C...

  • The Dating Game: The Dialogue between Absolute and Relative Techniques in the British Iron Age (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The traditional approach to the Iron Age (c. 800 cal BC–cal AD 43) has been to construct complex chronologies based on artefact typologies. Historically, radiocarbon dating was eschewed in this period, because it was thought to offer less precision than artefact dating. Such views are becoming increasingly untenable, and recent Iron Age research is showing that typological dating produces sequences that are regularly too late. This paper will draw upon British Iron Age research from across the...

  • Fire and Ash: Formative Period Environmental Chronologies in Eastern Mesoamerica (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Recent dating work has led to revision of regional political chronologies in the Guatemala Highlands. In particular, key Middle and Late Formative phases now date as much as 300 years later than previously believed. This reanalysis brings these phases in line with significant environmental conditions stemming from volcanism and drought. In this paper, we present new high-precision chronologies for these environmental records, and compare these records against regional political chronologies in...

  • Gathering Shells and Time: A Bayesian Approach to Shell Mound Formation in Southwest Florida (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Archaeologists have longed grappled with how to effectively date shell mound deposits in Florida. Interpreting radiocarbon dates from shell samples has been a dominant method; however, these interpretations have not fully assessed the possibility that radiocarbon samples might not truly date their corresponding archaeological context. For example, recent research on Mound Key demonstrates that shell from middens was likely used to construct shell mounds, therefore the redeposition of old shells...

  • Modelling Age and Sedimentation Rates at the Page-Ladson Site (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Stone tools and mastodon bones occur in an undisturbed geological context at the Page-Ladson site, Florida. Age models were created for excavation unit 50N/23E and core PLAD-AUC14-4A to estimate age ranges and sedimentation rates. The models were constructed using Bayesian models as implemented in OxCal to calibrate ages, combine equivalent age estimates, exclude outliers, and estimate deposition rates. The models were used to provide age estimates for artifacts recovered from the site,...

  • New Romantic Archaeology: radiocarbon revolutions and revolutions in understanding (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    This presentation will reflect on the so called four ‘Radiocarbon Revolutions’ and their implications on archaeological narratives and theory generally, and Neolithic studies in Britain specifically. The timing of this reflection is critical given the implications of recent Bayesian analysis in order to produce precise, robust and probabilistic chronologies for parts of European prehistory. This paper will revisit the reactions to the initial radiocarbon revolutions by important theorists such...

  • The Paleoindian-Archaic Transition in the Western United States: A Bayesian Approach (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Summed probability distributions of large radiocarbon datasets provide a powerful method for investigating prehistoric population change at multi-centennial and millennial scales of analysis. However, summed probability distributions cannot account for statistical scatter and uncertainties accompanying individual calibrated radiocarbon dates, which means that they are ineffective for answering questions related to cultural persistence and change on shorter centennial scales. For these shorter...

  • Prospects and challenges for high resolution 14C chronologies: New World and Old World investigations (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    This paper will present some current work in (i) NE North America (northern Iroquoia), (ii) NW Mexico, and (iii) the East Mediterranean-Caucasus using radiocarbon (14C) dates integrated with archaeological/historical and/or dendrochronological information to try to achieve high-resolution chronologies via Bayesian chronological modelling. The paper will discuss and investigate the potential to achieve much greater precision which, through defining new chronologies, can in turn be transformative...

  • Recreating the Timing and Patterns of First Peopling with the Bayesian Approach (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The timing and patterns of first peopling offer exciting opportunities to understand the legacies of colonization. In particular, islands are defined territories where colonization processes can be tracked through a rigorous synthesis of empirical data and a systematic application of Bayesian statistics. Iceland provides one of the world’s premier case studies for human interactions of pristine ecosystems because its colonization in the 9th century occurred relatively late in history....

  • Warming to the Tempo of Change in Old Hawai`i (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Archaeologists sometimes claim that the refined chronologies yielded by Bayesian calibration make it possible to distinguish between Levi-Strauss's "hot" and "cold" societies. Historians of Hawai`i leave little doubt that Hawai`i was a "hot" society in the early historic period. A review and comparison of chronologies for the tempo of change in pre-Contact Hawai`i distinguishes the "cold" society reconstituted by ad hoc methods from the "hot" society reconstituted by the Bayesian method. We...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America