Applying Innovation Diffusion Theory to Archaeology: a Case Study on the Rise of Iron Technology in Western Asia

Author(s): Nathaniel Erb-Satullo

Year: 2015


For a variety of historical reasons, the interdisciplinary field of innovation diffusion research has been underutilized by archaeologists examining technological change. Yet there is much to be gained by engaging with the predictive models produced by hundreds of investigations of technology adoption. Using the case of iron adoption in Western Asia, I demonstrate how an approach utilizing these concepts, with some modifications, provide a more complete perspective on technological change.

Innovation-diffusion theory identifies both structural factors (e.g. the nature of interaction networks and the presence of so-called "opinion leaders") and innovation-specific features (e.g. an innovation's observability and compatibility) that influence the pace and pattern of adoption. Using these concepts, I examine patterns of metal usage and the economic structure of metal production on the southeastern Black Sea coast in the late 2nd and early 1st millennia BC. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that iron, when it appears, was made with great skill and used in large quantities in ways that were probably highly socially visible. I argue that concepts from innovation-diffusion theory explain these patterns more effectively than approaches which attempt solely to identify relative advantages of iron over copper alloys in terms of efficiency or mechanical effectiveness.

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Cite this Record

Applying Innovation Diffusion Theory to Archaeology: a Case Study on the Rise of Iron Technology in Western Asia. Nathaniel Erb-Satullo. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396408)


Geographic Keywords
West Asia

Spatial Coverage

min long: 25.225; min lat: 15.115 ; max long: 66.709; max lat: 45.583 ;