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Department of Archaeology

Monday, 18 October, 2021 - 16:00 to 17:00
Event speaker: 
Dr. Sébastien Plutniak, TRACES laboratory, Toulouse, France

Theoretical issues raised by the dialectical relationship between the quality of archaeological data and the quality of their modelling will be addressed from a methodological standpoint. I argue that 1) archaeological science needs to ensure the highest standards regarding each of these two aspects, and 2) that the theoretical problems must be addressed with regards to their consequences for operational methods. I will demonstrate this approach from the case of a new method to study the relationships between stratigraphic units and refitting, and related problems regarding the ontology of archaeological facts.

Refitting pieces have been long-used in archaeology to assess the consistency of discrete spatial units (e.g. layers) and to evaluate disturbances and post-depositional processes. Previous methods, despite their differences, relied on the count and proportion of refits within and between spatial units. Little attention was paid to the distribution and topology of the relations between fragments, although this can have significant effects on archaeological interpretation. The TSAR method (Topological Study of Archaeological Refitting), presented here, draws on concepts and methods from graph theory to model the network of connections observed between refitting fragments. Measures for the cohesion and admixture of spatial units are defined based on the topological properties of these connections. 

In this approach, confidence in field data is evaluated and consolidated through modelling and quantitative methods, which are used in three related ways: 1) descriptive statistics, 2) ad hoc measurements (based on specific assumptions) of cohesion and admixture, and 3) testing of site formation hypotheses comparing the observed data against simulated data generated using the properties of the observed data. Finally, the methodological need to model refitting relationships between objects and their relations with spatial archaeological units raises theoretical issues related to the elementary archaeological concepts, such as the very concepts of object, fragment, site, layer, etc.

Learn more about Sébastien Plutniak here.

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Event location: 
Geographical areas: 
Science, Technology and Innovation
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Computational and Quantitative Archaeology
Field Methods
Periods of interest: 
Other Late Prehistory
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