Project 3 – Reconstructing Archaeological Networks and their Transformations Across the Historical Divide

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ulrik Brandes


Project 3 addresses the transformations of archaeological networks of people, objects and ideas across the historical divide by foundational research on ways of reconstructing archaeological networks from sparse, fragmented and dissimilar datasets, driven by and tested in case-studies of interdependent, multi-level Amerindian networks in the period AD 1000-1800. Unparalleled by conventional methods, network approaches bring to archaeology the potential to model relations between past cultures, communities and individuals as opposed to emphasising the inherent qualities of such entities.

Modeling Geo-Temporal Networks

Previous work on spatio-temporally constrained network formation needs substantial expansion to become applicable to archaeological data. The subproject aims to develop models based on hypotheses on processes influencing networks such as capacity and speed-constrained transportation or trading volumes. Besides its implications for archaeology, theory-driven, yet empirically testable, models for network dynamics are interesting in their own right.

Expanding on previous research on missing data and link prediction, the subproject will also focus on model- driven imputation of network data. As an initial step, and eventually for use as a baseline, it is intended to turn around the use of stochastic network models from parameter estimation of structural factors to structural completion via partial sampling.

A complex trait that characterises archaeological networks is that they are built from fragmentary data and rely on multiple sources of information. Many of these lines of evidence serve as indirect proof for the existence of relations in networks. A study will devise and test statistical models of complex multi-level networks for empirical consistency to inform theory building, and develop new graph- theoretic methods for the analysis of complex multi-level networks. In the absence of appropriate visualisation methods, this study will develop new graph drawing methods to visually explore samples from our models, as well as evidence collected in Projects 1 and 2.

Network Transformations Across the Historical Divide

An archaeological network view on indigenous histories of the early colonial period with its relational, material, and temporal approach shows that this period is shaped by network processes that are deeply anchored in the Amerindian past of the region. New, vast networks emerged out of the intercultural dynamics between Amerindians and Europeans (and later also Africans), thereby radically changing the local and regional networks of peoples, goods and ideas which developed in the region over 5000 years, defining the Caribbean as a nexus of such processes.

The aims of the subproject are to document how Caribbean Amerindians renegotiated, adapted and integrated new networks in the face of colonial encounters by retracing them to the indigenous local and regional networks; to study material culture in networks as a proxy and catalyst. The goal is to collect, research and discuss data on the evolution of interdependent networks ranging from the local to the inter-regional level. The resulting multi-level network data will be modelled and analysed with the new methods and perspectives developed within the project.

Another goal is to combine material culture and network theory to study how material culture can be used as a proxy to reconstruct colonial social networks and which role material culture takes as a catalyst in sparking or shaping network transformations. The study will specifically focus on interdependent sets of material culture that are related to the production, distribution and consumption of superior goods and services (e.g., tobacco, feathers, gold, valuable objects). The resulting object networks will create feedback for the modelling of proxies and cross-structural dependencies and the results will be used to build on novel theories of the ‘materiality of things in networks’ .