Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 440–461 | Cite as

Modelling Temporal Uncertainty in Archaeological Analysis

  • Enrico R. CremaEmail author


This paper discusses the problem of temporal uncertainty in archaeological analysis and how it affects archaeological interpretation. A probabilistic method is proposed as a potential solution for modelling and quantifying time when high levels of uncertainty restricts temporal knowledge and scientific datings are unavailable, while Monte Carlo simulation is suggested as a means to formally integrate such knowledge into actual analysis. A case study focusing on counts of prehistoric hunter–gatherer pithouses in Mid-Holocene Japan provides an example of how uncertainty can be problematic and bias the results of the most straightforward archaeological analysis and how the coupling of a probabilistic and simulation-based approach nonetheless offers a useful solution. The discussion that follows also addresses the need for more robust and quantifiable ways to illustrate the chronological flow of our archaeological narratives.


Temporal uncertainty Monte Carlo methods Chronology Jomon Population dynamics 



I am grateful to Andrew Bevan and Mark Lake for constantly supporting my work, with useful suggestions and comments on different versions of the manuscript. Eva Jobbova also commented an early version of the manuscript pointing out what was necessary to enhance its clarity. Fujio Kumon has kindly provided the raw data for Fig. 11b. Special thanks go to the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful and supporting comments and critiques on many aspects of the paper. The Graduate School Research Scholarship of UCL has supported the project financially. Any errors and inconsistencies remain my own.

Supplementary material

10816_2011_9122_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (286 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 285 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Archaeology, UCLLondonUK

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