"Constraint and Freedom" in the Era of Big Data

Author(s): Kyle Bocinsky

Year: 2017


Twenty-seven years ago, Bruce Trigger presented a "new synthesis of archaeological explanation," seeking to harmonize neo-evolutionary explanations dominant in the 1970s with socio-historical perspectives of the 1980s. Central to his thesis was the distinction between "external" constraints that structure human agency independent of humans themselves, and "internal" constraints that are historically and culturally constructed. Here, I critique Trigger's formula by acknowledging that even external constraints have histories, and I propose a useful classification of structural constraints as "static," "dynamic," and "complex." The Era of Big Data in archaeology has enabled us to identify and test the importance of structural constraints on human behavior at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales and across traditional cultural boundaries. As an example, I present new data that define complex structural constraints on maize agriculture in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico—the evolution of traditional maize landraces—and I attempt to use these data to track the relationships between contemporary and ancestral Pueblo people via their corn. These data are presented as part of SKOPE—Synthesizing Knowledge of Past Environments—an initiative to deliver "big" paleoenvironmental data to researchers and the public.

Cite this Record

"Constraint and Freedom" in the Era of Big Data. Kyle Bocinsky. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429455) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8KW5J64


Spatial Coverage

min long: -115.532; min lat: 30.676 ; max long: -102.349; max lat: 42.033 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15966

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