skip to primary navigationskip to content

Forging relationships: Identifying prehistoric social network dynamics with modern algorithms

last modified Jul 26, 2017 04:28 PM
Published in the Journal of Complex Networks, this pioneering application of modularity analyses focuses on copper exchange networks in the Balkans c. 6200 BC to 3200 BC.
Forging relationships: Identifying prehistoric social network dynamics with modern algorithms

Modularity analysis reveals three densely connected modules/communities that produced and exchanged copper in the Balkans between c. 6200 BC and c. 3200 BC. They are also significantly correlated with the distribution of archaeological cultures at the tim

In the first ever archaeological study of its kind, two researchers have combined the chemical analyses of dozens of the world’s earliest copper artefacts and modularity approach in order to identify prehistoric networks of co-operation during the early development of European metalmaking. This study has led them one step further: the communities that co-operated the most largely belonged to the same archaeological culture, thus revealing a novel method for an independent evaluation of the archaeological record.

Archaeological systematics, particularly in prehistory, use the accumulation of similar material traits or dwelling forms in archaeological sites to designate distinctive ‘archaeological cultures’; however, what these expressions of similarity represent and at what resolution remain a major problem in the field of archaeology.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Complex Networks, takes an alternative approach by measuring the strength of links between archaeological sites instead and produces pioneering models of human interaction and cooperation that can be evaluated independently of established archaeological systematics. It focuses on a comprehensive archaeological database of copper artefacts from the Balkans, dated from c. 6200 BC to 3200 BC – the first 3,000 years of known copper mineral and metal use in Europe.  

Chemical composition of these artefacts is the sole information used for modularity analysis, hence isolated from any archaeological and spatiotemporal information. The results are, however, archaeologically and spatiotemporally meaningful for the evolution of the world’s earliest copper supply network.

Dr Jelena Grujić, physicist from the Vrije University in Brussels, explains the novelty of this method for archaeological research: “Although there are a few approaches that archaeologists use to infer models of circulation of metals in the past, and hence indicate prehistoric economic and social ties, the modularity analysis offers for the first time an option to test the significance of our results, and hence a method that is mathematically reliable and replicable”.

Dr Miljana Radivojević, lead author and researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge commented, “Being able to infer social groups with strong spatial and temporal significance in archaeological data using this network property is a real game changer. This study is major step towards evaluating technological, economic and social phenomena in the human past – anywhere”.

The original article is accessible here.

RSS Feed Latest news

‘Selfish brain’ wins out when competing with muscle power, study finds

Oct 20, 2017

New research on our internal trade-off when physical and mental performance are put in direct competition has found that cognition takes less of a hit, suggesting more energy is diverted to the brain than body muscle. Researchers say the findings support the ‘selfish brain’ theory of human evolution.

Exhibition Highlights Nazi Victims in the Channel Islands

Oct 19, 2017

Produced in collaboration with Dr Gilly Carr, “On British Soil: Victims of Nazi Persecution in the Channel Islands” runs until 9 February 2018 at the Wiener Library, London.

View all news

« October 2017 »
October
SuMoTuWeThFrSa
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031