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Networking with the Romans: Examples of archaeological network research and where we should go from here

Opening lecture by Associate Professor Tom Brughmans

2020.02.06 | Christina Levisen

Date Thu 12 Mar
Time 15:00 17:00
Location Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) Aarhus University Moesgård Allé 20, DK-8270 Højbjerg Denmark, Building 4230-232


Techniques from network science are increasingly commonly applied in archaeological research. But what is their potential for enhancing our understanding of the human past, and how can we more successfully leverage this potential in future work?

Archaeological network research often takes the form of exploratory data analysis, where archaeological datasets are represented as dots connected by lines and the resulting structures are analysed to identify historically meaningful patterns or gaps in our data. A minority of archaeological network research takes its starting point from a relational archaeological theory about a past phenomenon, and aims to understand the behaviour of this theory (often through network simulation) or test it against an archaeological dataset. These approaches have been usefully applied to study past transport systems and human mobility, the spread of information between past communities, island connectivity, communication through visual signalling and material culture distribution.

In this talk, I will give a few examples of archaeological network research from my own work, from visual signalling between hundreds of medieval forts on mountaintops in the Himalayas, to citation and co-authorship practices among archaeologists. But most of my research has focused on networking with the Romans, and I will more elaborately discuss my network studies of the Roman economy, focusing on Roman imperial economic integration, population distribution and transport networks.

Through these examples, I hope to demonstrate the diversity of application potential for archaeological network research, but also the many challenges it poses. I will argue that the potential of network science applied in archaeology lies in (1) its ability to deal with our relational theories, (2) the recognition that archaeologists formulate such theories all the time, and (3) that the approach can be constructively embedded into the archaeological research process. In order to more convincingly demonstrate this potential, future research agendas should aim at tackling some of archaeology's grand challenges from a relational perspective.

After the lecture, UrbNet will host a small reception. All welcome!

Lecture/talk, History and archaeology