Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 385–404 | Cite as

A Simulation Model of Fission–Fusion Dynamics and Long-Term Settlement Change

  • Enrico R. CremaEmail author


Archaeological analyses often detect abrupt changes over time in the hierarchy of settlement sizes and the spatial distribution of residential units. These transformations have been explained looking at a variety of possible causes, from climatic changes to the sudden release of slowly cumulating political tensions. While many of these models offer plausible explanations for specific historical contexts, a broad-breadth model is desirable if cross-cultural analysis is sought. This paper tackles this problem by starting from the theoretical proposition that human groups are characterised by a non-linear relationship between size and per-capita fitness. Increasing group size has beneficial effects, but once a certain threshold is exceeded, negative frequency dependence will start to predominate leading to a decline in the per-capita fitness. Such a relationship can potentially have long-term implications in the spatial structure of human settlements if individuals have the possibility to modify their fitness through group fission–fusion dynamics. I will illustrate the equilibrium properties of these dynamics by means of an abstract agent-based simulation and discuss its implication for understanding long-term changes in human settlement pattern. Results suggest that changes in settlement pattern can originate from internal dynamics alone if the system is highly integrated and interconnected.


Settlement pattern Fission–fusion Agent-based model Rank–size analysis 



This paper benefited from comments and feedback from Andrew Bevan and Mark Lake, to whom I am extremely grateful. I would also like to thank Rick Schulting and James Steele for insightful comments on the agent-based model, Marco Madella and Bernardo Rondelli for inviting me to contribute to this special issue and the UK Art and Humanities Research Council funded UCL Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity for granting me access to the UCL Legion High Performance Computing Facility. Finally, I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers who offered me detailed feedbacks, comments and suggestions for improving this work. A UCL Graduate School Research Scholarship funded the project.

Supplementary material

10816_2013_9185_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (130 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 130 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of ArchaeologyUCLLondonUK

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