Network Analysis of Archaeological Data from Hunter-Gatherers: Methodological Problems and Potential Solutions
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- Gjesfjeld, E. J Archaeol Method Theory (2015) 22: 182. doi:10.1007/s10816-014-9232-9
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Network analysis using hunter-gatherer archaeological data presents a number of unique challenges. At the forefront of these challenges are issues associated with the aggregation and fragmentation of archaeological data that influence the size, density, and confidence in network models. These methodological challenges are unfortunate, as the diverse roles of social networks among hunter-gatherers have long been recognized within anthropological research. In order to enhance the research potential of networks constructed from hunter-gatherer archaeological data, this research highlights two data evaluation methods established in social science research to assess the stability of network structure. More specifically, this research constructs network models from the compositional analysis of ceramic artifacts recovered in the Kuril Islands of northeast Asia and evaluates network centrality measures using bootstrap simulation and sensitivity analysis. Results of this research suggest that while archaeologists may never fully identify the “true” network of past relationships, network models that approximate “true” network structure can provide useful metrics in exploring the behavior of past hunter-gatherer populations. Overall, given the challenges associated with hunter-gatherer archaeological data, it is argued here that critically evaluating the structure and stability of network models is an essential first step in developing an archaeological network analysis that is relevant and informative to research on past small-scale societies.