Modeling People, Places, and Things: Revisiting Archaeology as Model-Based Science

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

Ten years ago, Kohler and van der Leeuw proposed "rethinking archaeology as a model-based science," which makes conscientious use of simplified representations of socionatural systems in order to both build and apply archaeological theory. Since that time, use of computational modeling in archaeology has grown, topics being modeled have diversified, and methods for model-building have become more flexible and accessible. There has also been increasing interest in applying archaeological models to contemporary social and environmental issues, incentivizing integration with real world datasets from within and outside archaeology. This emphasis on application brings new opportunities and challenges, and invites revisitation of questions concerning model generality and equifinality. In this symposium, we focus on the topic of application in model-based archaeology, looking at how archaeologists have applied models, as well as how they would like them applied. The symposium is guided by three broad questions: First, how do we model people in the past, as individuals or aggregates, and who gets modeled? Second, what are the roles of space and place in a model, and when/how do they matter? And finally, how do we connect computational models to the things that compose the archaeological record and to other "real world" phenomena? ​

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-14 of 14)

  • Documents (14)

  • Can you Model my Valley? Particular People, Places and Times in Archaeological Simulation (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andre Costopoulos.

    Every archaeological modeler, whether generalist or particularist, eventually gets asked whether "their model" can help reconstruct a particular past. Could a general archaeological simulation engine be built that can be customized to answer specific questions about specific archaeological contexts, or is simulation a tool that must remain largely general and heuristic? I will argue both that it is useful to work toward a general archaeological simulation engine, and that such an engine could...

  • Density, Discard and Distraction: How Do We Form Inferences of Behavior from the Early Pleistocene Record (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Braun. Jonathan Reeves. Matthew Douglass.

    The discovery and excavation of dense patches of lithic artifacts has spurred discussion about how such features form. Interpretations are often based around the assumption that these reflect locations of targeted hominin use. Despite their assumed significance, there remains the possibility that high density scatters may reflect the vagaries of the formation processes of the Early Pleistocene archaeological record. Here we use a neutral model of the formation of the archaeological record to...

  • Effective Population Size and the Effects of Demography on Cultural Diversity and Technological Complexity (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Luke Premo.

    The "demographic hypothesis" provides a recent example of how models can play an important role in driving new and interesting archaeological research. Influential models by Shennan and Henrich inspired the notion that, holding all else constant, members of larger populations ought to display more diverse and more complex toolkits than those in smaller populations. Empirical tests of this idea against the material culture of recent small-scale societies have yielded mixed results, raising valid...

  • Emergent Landscapes: Simulating the Distribution of Residential Features in a Hawaiian Dryland Agricultural System (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Thegn Ladefoged. Benjamin Davies.

    Cultivation in the Leeward Kohala Field System (Hawai‘i Island) required sufficient rainfall for crops to flourish. Periodic droughts restricted production to upper elevations where orographic rainfall was higher and more dependable, likely influencing the labour needs and settlement patterns of resident populations. We employ a series of spatially-explicit agent based models incorporating cultural conceptions of kapu (sacred) and noa (profane) in conjunction with environmental parameters and...

  • Environmental Variation and Technological Change: Results of an Agent-based Simulation (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Cheyenne Laue.

    Computer modeling is an increasingly important aspect of evolutionary anthropology and archaeology. Computer models of change in cultural and technological forms are often highly revelatory of the ways in which large-scale evolutionary patterns arise from the local interactions between individuals. As such, the results of these models may have broad implications, both within the anthropological sciences and without. This paper details simulation results from an agent-based model of cultural...

  • Modeling Human-Environment Interaction in Sub-Saharan Africa: Archaeological Data, Ecological Questions (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andrea Kay. Jed Kaplan.

    The African Iron Age transition is characterized by a shift from nomadic hunting and gathering societies to food-production, ferrous metallurgy, and centralized states and empires across most of the continent. Because of the magnitude and persistence of the change, understanding the African Iron Age is critical for assessing the present state and potential future of Africa’s ecosystems. Because the transition occurred episodically and at different times in different regions, and because large...

  • Modeling Polity Growth Among Ancestral Pueblo People in the Northern San Juan (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stefani Crabtree. Tim Kohler.

    In this paper we present research on the development of village-spanning polities in the central Mesa Verde region. First, we explore the dynamics of modeling not only households, but also groups of households, and how the interaction between them influences the development of social strategies. Second, we examine how territoriality shapes group development; we allow our agents to track lineage, and for lineages to own land, which, when populations increase, creates conflicts over the most...

  • Modelling the Effects of Knapper Decision-making and Social Learning on Flake Assemblage Variability (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sam Lin. Shannon McPherron. Luke Premo. Claudio Tennie.

    Paleolithic archaeologists are keen to infer the means by which flintknapping knowledge was acquired and transmitted among past toolmakers from lithic assemblages. The inferences generated from recent studies, which tackle this issue with a variety of analytical approaches, are often fraught with equifinality because the same range of lithic variability can be explained by multiple learning scenarios. To help address this issue, we examine the extent to which different knapper decision-making...

  • The Neolithic transition in Europe: Archaeology versus Genetics (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Joaquim Fort. Victor L. de Rioja. Neus Isern. Jose M. Cobo.

    There are two mechanisms of Neolithic spread: demic diffusion (dispersal of populations) and cultural diffusion (acculturation of hunter-gathterers). Archaeological data imply that demic diffusion was more important than cultural diffusion in determining the spread rate of the Neolihtic in Europe. But those results are very uncertain. We now use ancient genetic data in addition to archaeological data, and estimate the relative importance of demic and cultural diffusion. We find that demic...

  • Testing Social and Ecological Drivers for the Initial Spread of Agriculture on the Iberian Peninsula (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sean Bergin. Salvador Pardo Gordó. Michael Barton. Joan Bernabeu Aubán. Nicolas Gauthier.

    Much initial research into the arrival and dissemination of agriculture in Europe has focused on identifying the speed and direction of the arrival of Neolithic subsistence. More recent work has begun to examine the chronological and spatial patterning of the spread of agriculture with the goal of identifying important sociological or environmental factors that affected the timing and location of agricultural settlement. In this context, agent-based computational modeling is emerging as a...

  • Using ABM to Evaluate the Impact of Topography and Climate Change on Social Networks (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Claudine Gravel-Miguel.

    Anthropological research suggests that climate and environmental resources influence the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers. My research uses an agent-based model to generate test expectations related to the impact of different geographical and social environments on the social networks formed therein. It focuses on Magdalenian social networks created in the Cantabrian and Dordogne region, and visible through similarities of portable art representations. The regional resources and climate of the...

  • Using the Archaeological Record to Better Understand Models: An Australian Case Study (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Benjamin Davies. Simon Holdaway. Patricia Fanning.

    In Australia’s desert regions, different conceptual models are sometimes used to explain patterning in late Holocene surface deposits. Among these patterns are distributions of radiocarbon determinations, which have been concurrently explained as generated by intermittent occupation by hypermobile foragers, or growing semi-resident populations of broad-spectrum hunter-gatherers. This paper shows how models connected to the language and logic of record formation can help resolve competing...

  • Visualizing the Invisible: How Can We Model Roman Religious Processions? (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Katherine Crawford.

    Religious processions colored the ancient world, filling a city’s streets with a multi-sensorial display of sounds and images. Although the presence of processional activity is acknowledged as a regular occurrence in the Roman world, our understanding of their movement patterns and their effect on the cityscape remains understudied. The record of processions was held primarily in the memories of those who experienced or took part in the festival, only manifesting within the archaeological record...

  • What We Choose to Model and How We Think the World Works (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Lake.

    In 1972 David Clarke argued that "models are pieces of machinery that relate observations to theoretical ideas." That "machinery" does not have to be computational, or even quantitative, but with the resurgence of interest in simulation, the adoption of methods from evolutionary biology and the development of more sophisticated spatial statistics, it is increasingly both. Many of the papers in this session are case studies that explore exactly the issue of how effectively we can use models to...