[Humanist] 26.290 events: complex systems in archaeology

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Sep 9 10:23:22 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 290.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 9 Sep 2012 06:46:44 +0100
        From: Tom Brughmans <tom.brughmans at yahoo.com>
        Subject: CFP CAA2013: 'Complex systems simulation in archaeology'

Complex systems simulation in archaeology

For the 2013 Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology
(CAA) conference in Perth we will organise a session entitled 'Complex
systems simulation in archaeology'. The session invites innovative and
critical applications in analytical modelling, ABM, network analysis and
other methods performed in a complexity science approach. In addition to the
session we will hold a workshop on complex systems and ABM in archaeology.
Please find the session and workshop abstracts below this message. CAA 2013
will take place in Perth, Australia 25-28 March 2013:

To submit a paper please follow this link:https://caaconference.org/ocs .
The session code is S9. Submissions should have a 100 word short abstract
and an extended abstract of up to 500 words. The deadline for abstracts is
10th October 2012 (UTC).

Best wishes,

Tom, Iza, Carolin and Eugene

Iza Romanowska (Institute for Complex Systems Simulation, University of
Southampton)Tom Brughmans (Archaeological Computing Research Group, University of Southampton)
Carolin Vegvari (Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Eugene Ch'ng (IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, University of Birmingham)


S9: Complex systems simulation in archaeology
Chairs: I. Romanowska, T. Brughmans
Discussants: E. Ch'ng, C. Vegvari
Format: Paper presentation (LP)

A complex system is “a system in which large networks of components with
no central control and simple rules of operation give rise to complex
collective behaviour, sophisticated information processing, and adaptation
via learning or evolution.” Mitchell 2009: 14. Complexity has been
proclaimed as a new paradigm shift in science almost half a century ago. It
developed as a response to the reductionist approach of René Descartes and
the idea of a „clockwork universe‟ that dominated past thinking for many
centuries. Complexity brings a fresh alternative to this mechanistic
approach. Complex Systems exist in every hierarchy of our world, from the
molecular, to individual organisms, and from community to the global
environment. This is why researchers in many disciplines, including
archaeology, found particularly appealing the idea that global patterns can
emerge in the absence of central control through interaction between local
elements governed by simple rules (Kohler 2012). As a result, the unifying
phrase „the whole is greater than the sum of its parts‟ (Aristotle,
Metaphysica 10f-1045a) became the common ground for scholars in many

Due to the complex nature of interactions, the study of complex systems
requires computational tools such as equation-based modelling, agent-based
modelling (ABM) and complex network analysis. In recent years the number of
archaeological applications of complex systems simulation has increased
significantly, not in the least due to a wider availability of computing
power and user-friendly software alternatives. The real strength of these
tools lies in their ability to explore hypothetical processes that give rise
to archaeologically attested structures. They require archaeological
assumptions to be made explicit and very often force researchers to present
them in quantifiable form. For example, vague concepts such as „social
coherence‟, „connectivity‟ or even seemingly explicit „dispersal
rates‟, often have to be given numeric values if they are to be integrated
into computational models. Computational tools also allow for testing
alternative hypotheses by creating „virtual labs‟ in which
archaeologists can test and eliminate models which, although superficially
logical, are not plausible.

The main contribution that complexity science perspectives have to offer
archaeology is the wide set of modelling and analytical approaches which
recognise the actions of individual agents who collectively and continually
create new cultural properties. Indeed, it has been argued that a complexity
science perspective incorporates the advantages of culture historical,
processual and post-processual paradigms in archaeology (Bentley and
Maschner 2003; Bintliff 2008). Quantifiable complex systems simulations and
mathematical modelling can provide a way to bridge the gap between the
reductionist approach and the constructionist study of the related whole
(Bentley and Maschner 2003).

This session aims to reflect upon and build on the recent surge of complex
systems simulation applications in archaeology. Innovative and critical
applications in analytical modelling, ABM, network analysis and other
methods performed in a complexity science approach are welcomed. We hope
this session will spark creative and insightful discussion on the potential
and limitations of complexity science, possible applications, tools as well
as its theoretical implications.


W1:     Complex Systems and Agent-Based Modelling in Archaeology
Chairs: E. Ch'ng, C. Vegvari
Discussants: I. Romanowska, T. Brughmans

Modelling in various forms has always been an integral part of archaeology.
In the broadest sense, archaeology is the study of human activities in the
past, and a model is a simplified representation of reality. As a map is a
useful abstract of the physical world that allows us to see aspects of the
world we chose to, so a computational model distils reality into a few key
features, leaving out unnecessary details so as to let us see connections.
Human societies in their environmental context can be considered as complex
systems. Complex systems are systems with many interacting parts, they are
found in every hierarchy of the universe, from the molecular level to large
planetary systems within which life and humanity with its cultural
developments occur. Formal modelling can help archaeologists to identify the
relationships between elements within a complex socio-environmental system
in that particular hierarchy. Simulating large populations and non-linear
interactions are computationally expensive. In recent years, however, the
introduction of new mathematical techniques, rapid advances in computation,
and modelling tools has greatly enhanced the potential of complex systems
analysis in archaeology. Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) is one of these new
methods and has become highly popular with archaeologists. In Agent-Based
Modelling, human individuals in ancient societies are modelled as individual
agents. The interaction of agents with each other and with their environment
can give rise to emergent properties and self-organisation at the macro
level – the distribution of wealth within a society, the forming of
cohesive groups, population movements in climate change, the development of
culture, and the evolution of landscape use are among the examples. Thus,
the application of Agent-Based Models to hypothesis testing in archaeology
becomes part of the question. The ability to construct various models and
run hundreds of simulation in order to see the general developmental trend
can provide us with new knowledge impossible in traditional approaches.
Another advantage of agent-based models over other mathematical methods is
that they can easily model, or capture heterogeneity within these systems,
such as the different characteristics (personalities, gender, age, size,
etc), preferences (coastal, in-land, food, fashion), and dynamics
(microstates of position and orientation).

We would like to invite archaeologists new to complex systems and
Agent-Based Modelling for an introductory workshop on Complex Systems and
Agent-Based Modelling in archaeology. The workshop introduces the concept of
Complexity in archaeology, drawing relationships between Information,
Computation and Complexity. The practicality of the workshop leads beginners
in building simple agent- based models and provides a means to build more
complex simulations after. Participants knowledgeable in Complexity wishing
to gain insights on real-world applications of Complexity will benefit from
this workshop. Participants will get the opportunity to experiment with
simple models and draw conclusions from analysis of simulations of those
models. Programming experience is not required as the workshop leads
beginners from the ground up in modelling tools.


PhD student
Archaeological Computing Research Group
University of Southampton

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