Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 461–485 | Cite as

Towards a Multi-Agent-Based Modelling of Obsidian Exchange in the Neolithic Near East

  • David Ortega
  • Juan José IbañezEmail author
  • Lamya Khalidi
  • Vicenç Méndez
  • Daniel Campos
  • Luís Teira


This paper examines an alternative approach to previously proposed models of prehistoric exchange such as the law of monotonic decrement or the down-the-line exchange model developed by Renfrew (Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 34: 319–331, 1968, Renfrew 1977) to explain the distribution of obsidian across the Near East during the Neolithic period. Renfrew’s down-the-line model, which results in a very regular and clustered network, does not permit the circulation of obsidian to regions of the Near East that are further than 300 km from the source zones, as is shown in the archaeological data available. Obsidian exchange is a complex system where multiple factors interact and evolve in time and space. We therefore explore Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) so as to get a better understanding of complex networks. ABM simulations of an exchange network where some agents (villages) are allowed to attain long-distance exchange partners through correlated random walks are carried out. These simulations show what variables (population density, degree of collaboration between villages…) are relevant for the transfer of obsidian over long distances. Moreover, they show that a type of small-world exchange network could explain the breadth of obsidian distribution (up to 800 km from source) during the Near Eastern Neolithic.


Agent-based modelling Down-the-line model Obsidian exchange Small-world networks Neolithic Near East 



This work was partially funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy (grant SimulPast-CSD-2010-00034 and HAR2010-21545-C02-01) and the Spanish Ministry of Culture (IPCE). VM and DC acknowledge grant FIS2012-32334 funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad. This article greatly benefitted from the comments and suggestions of two anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Ortega
    • 1
  • Juan José Ibañez
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lamya Khalidi
    • 2
  • Vicenç Méndez
    • 3
  • Daniel Campos
    • 3
  • Luís Teira
    • 4
  1. 1.Institución Milá y Fontanals, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.UMR 5133—CNRS—Archéorient, Maison de l’Orient et de la MéditerranéeLyonFrance
  3. 3.Grup de Física Estadística, Departament de FísicaUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaCerdanyolaSpain
  4. 4.Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de CantabriaUniversidad de CantabriaSantanderSpain

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