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The Model-Based Archaeology of Socionatural Systems


Edited by Timothy A. Kohler and Sander E. van der Leeuw

How should archaeologists and other social scientists tackle the big and little questions about change in socionatural systems? Although fieldwork is certainly the place to start, it alone is not enough to answer troublesome “how” or “why” questions. To make sense of what they find in the field, archaeologists build models-possible explanations for the data. This book is about new developments in applying dynamic models for understanding relatively small-scale human systems and the environments they inhabit and alter. Beginning with a complex systems approach, the authors develop a “model-based archaeology” that uses specific, generally quantitative models providing partial descriptions of socionatural systems of interest that are then examined against those systems. Taken together, the chapters in this volume constitute an argument for a new way of thinking about how archaeology is (and should be) conducted.

2007. 304 pp., 61 black-and-white and 18 color illustrations, 19 tables, notes, 3 appendices, references, index, 7 x 10

Contributors: Mark Altaweel, John M. Anderies, Jean-Francois Berger, Oliver A. Chadwick, Jung-Kyoo Choi, John H. Christiansen, Serge Cleuziou, Jason Cowan, McGuire Gibson, Michael Graves, Sara Hotchkiss, Carrie Hritz, Marco A. Janssen, C. David Johnson, Peter Jordan, Patrick V. Kirch, Ziad Kobti, Timothy A. Kohler, Kenneth Kolm, Nicholas Kouchoukos, Thegn Ladefoged, Jacob Lauinger, Laure Nuninger, Scott G. Ortman, Tate Paulette, Robert Reynolds, John Sanders, David Schloen, Stephen Shennan, Kathy-Lee Simunich, Eric Alden Smith, Schaun Smith, Jonathan Tenney, Shripad Tuljapurkar, Jason A. Ur, Sander E. Van Der Leeuw, Mark D. Varien, Peter Vitousek, Magnus Widell, Tony J. Wilkinson, Christopher Woods, Henry T. Wright, Lorene Yap

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“What is striking in this particular volume is the sheer scale of the agent-based models deployed and of the teams that have built them, and the successful integration of a variety of evidence and of model types, reflecting more available data from the past natural environment and from past human activity, enhanced access to computation, wider acceptance of mathematical modelling as a standard, and significantly more developed understanding of complex systems….this volume documents solid progress and will surely stimulate more such work over the next and subsequent decades.”
—Jim Doran, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation Vol. 11 Issue 3, June 2008, Surrey, UK

“This will be the book on the simulations of past social systems. The various chapters divide into exploratory efforts and incredibly detailed paleoenvironmental and social systems….These studies involve the intimate participation of archaeologists, hydrologists, soil scientists, paleoclimatologists, evolutionary biologists, and computer modelers.”
—George Gumerman, Santa Fe Institute

“The introductory chapter…provides an exceptionally clear and concise discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of this volume….When coupled with the introductory chapter, the subsequent case studies make significant methodological contributions to the study of complexity and human-environment dynamics.”
—Gregory Zaro, University of Maine, Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 64, 2008

“Thanks in large part to changes in computer technology and finer-grain archaeological and environmental data, we are now in a position to revisit modeling as a means for studying complex cultural dynamics. The volume edited by Timothy Kohler and Sander van der Leeuw is a welcome addition to this literature, presenting not simply the current status of modeling, but nothing less than a glimpse into the future of archaeology. Complex modeling has come of age, but it is not an enterprise to be entered into lightly. Before deciding to travel down this path, I strongly recommend that you read this book.”
—Jeffrey H. Altschul, Statistical Research, Inc. and the SRI Foundation


  1. Introduction: Historical Socionatural Systems and Models
    Timothy A. Kohler and Sander E. van der Leeuw
  2. Continuity and Change in Different Domains of Culture: An Emerging Approach to Understanding Diversity in Technological Traditions
    Peter Jordan
  3. Modeling the Role of Resilience in Socioenvironmental Co-evolution: The Middle Rhône Valley between 1000 BC and AD 1000
    Jean-François Berger, Laure Nuninger, and Sander E. van der Leeuw
  4. Settlement Ecodynamics in the Prehispanic Central Mesa Verde Region
    Timothy A. Kohler, C. David Johnson, Mark Varien, Scott Ortman, Robert Reynolds, Ziad Kobti, Jason Cowan, Kenneth Kolm, Schaun Smith, and Lorene Yap
  5. The Emergence of Inequality in Small-Scale Societies: Simple Scenarios and Agent-Based Simulations
    Eric Alden Smith and Jung-Kyoo Choi
  6. Human Ecodynamics in the Hawaiian Ecosystem, from 1200 to 200 Yr BP
    Patrick V. Kirch, Oliver A. Chadwick, Shripad Tuljapurkar, Thegn Ladefoged, Michael Graves, Sara Hotchkiss, and Peter Vitousek
  7. The Spread of Farming into Central Europe and Its Consequences: Evolutionary Models
    Stephen Shennan
  8. Stylized Models to Analyze Robustness of Irrigation Systems
    Marco A. Janssen and John M. Anderies
  9. Modeling Settlement Systems in a Dynamic Environment: Case Studies from Mesopotamia
    Tony J. Wilkinson, McGuire Gibson, John H. Christiansen, Magnus Widell, David Schloen, Nicholas Kouchoukos, Christopher Woods, John Sanders, Kathy-Lee Simunich, Mark Altaweel, Jason A. Ur, Carrie Hritz, Jacob Lauinger, Tate Paulette, and Jonathan Tenney
  10. Evolution toward Complexity in a Coastal Desert Environment: The Early Bronze Age in the Ja’alan, Sultanate of Oman
    Serge Cleuziou
  11. Progress in Cultural Modeling
    Henry T. Wright
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.