Reconstructing Large-Area Ancient Transportation Networks to Support Complexity Research

Author(s): Devin White

Year: 2015


Understanding and explaining the flow of people across landscapes through time, and the transportation networks that flow creates, has long been of interest to archaeologists focused on the origin, development, and inner workings of complex societies. Reconstructing these networks is extremely challenging due to data sparsity. Existing desktop GIS tools allow you to generate point-to-point routes via least cost analysis, which can then be compared to documented routes (which are very rare), used to find undocumented ones (rarer still), or to suggest possible pathways when none are visible, but this approach is not scalable to large landscapes or large numbers of origins and destinations. More importantly, archaeologists rarely know all possible starting and ending points for travel within a transportation network, formal or otherwise. This paper will highlight ongoing projects that leverage a custom high performance geocomputing application, known as From Everywhere To Everywhere (FETE), which can generate theoretical flows across landscapes of any size, as well as suggest potential networks, without having to specify any origins or destinations. It will also discuss how these data are highly beneficial to researchers who are attempting to understand social complexity through the use of computational modeling and simulation techniques.

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Reconstructing Large-Area Ancient Transportation Networks to Support Complexity Research. Devin White. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395156)