Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 428–460 | Cite as

From Metaphors to Practice

Operationalizing Network Concepts for Archaeological Stratigraphy
  • Jessica MunsonEmail author


Practice theoretic approaches to archaeological interpretation aim to solve scalar puzzles of structure and agency by employing a set of metaphors that invoke networked relations between people and things in the past. One recent example of this approach, termed “social stratigraphy,” offers an alternative to analyzing deeply buried and stratified architectural contexts by emphasizing the recursive social and physical actions of construction, which generate webs of human interaction (McAnany and Hodder, Archaeological Dialogues 16(1):1–22, 2009). In order to ensure that such descriptive metaphors align with our empirical observations, archaeologists need to account for the varied ways that social action and architectural practice intersect along multiple axes of variation (i.e., material, spatial, and temporal). By analyzing the interconnected spatial and temporal dimensions of past built environments, this paper suggests that relational concepts can offer more than heuristic functions for archaeological discourse. I offer a set of formal methods related to quantitative social network analyses as one way to operationalize, and thereby strengthen, such metaphors as applied to archaeological interpretation. These techniques are demonstrated using recent excavation data from multiple stratified architectural contexts at a minor temple center located in the Pasión region of the southern Maya lowlands to infer synchronous episodes of construction over a period of 1,600 years (850 bce–850 ce). Results of this study demonstrate that issues of spatiotemporal variability can be resolved at a microscale by formally applying network concepts to archaeological analysis.


Networks Scale Stratigraphy Metaphor Maya 



I am grateful to T. Inomata, D. Triadan, M. Aldenderfer, S. Lansing, and M. Collard for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. I am also indebted to the directors and other personnel of the Instituto de Antropología e Historia de Guatemala for the permit to work at Caobal. Research at Caobal was funded by the National Science Foundation (Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant BCS-0837536), a Junior Fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks as well as the School of Anthropology and the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona. Funding for the writing of this manuscript was provided by a postdoctoral fellowship supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund at Simon Fraser University as well as the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium at the University of British Columbia in conjunction with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I would also like to thank J. Scholnick for insights on the topic and remarks on earlier drafts as well as the thoughtful and insightful comments provided by three anonymous reviewers.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Evolutionary Studies Program, Department of ArchaeologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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