The Equifinality of Archaeological Networks: an Agent-Based Exploratory Lab Approach
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When we find an archaeological network, how can we explore the necessary versus contingent processes at play in the formation of that archaeological network? Given a set of circumstances or processes, what other possible network shapes could have emerged? This is the problem of equifinality, where many different means could potentially arrive at the same end result: the networks that we observe. This paper outlines how agent-based modelling can be used as a laboratory for exploring different processes of archaeological network formation. We begin by describing our best guess about how the (ancient) world worked, given our target materials (here, the networks of production and patronage surrounding the Roman brick industry in the hinterland of Rome). We then develop an agent-based model of the Roman extractive economy which generates different kinds of networks under various assumptions about how that economy works. The rules of the simulation are built upon the work of Bang (2006; 2008) who describes a model of the Roman economy which he calls the ‘imperial Bazaar’. The agents are allowed to interact, and the investigators compare the kinds of networks this description generates over an entire landscape of economic possibilities. By rigorously exploring this landscape, and comparing the resultant networks with those observed in the archaeological materials, the investigators will be able to employ the principle of equifinality to work out the representativeness of the archaeological network and thus the underlying processes.
KeywordsAgent-based modelling Networks Roman economic history Simulation Trade Natural resources
An early exploration of this model was presented at the Land and Natural Resources in the Roman World conference in Brussels, May 2011. A subsequent elaboration was presented at SAA2013 in Honolulu at the Connected Past session. We would like to thank Paul Erdkamp, Koen Verboven and Tom Brughmans for inviting us to participate in those conferences, and also the participants for their insight and criticism of these ideas. Thanks also to Fiona Coward, Anna Collar and Barbara Mills for their feedback and support for this special issue. Various drafts have been seen by various people at various stages, and we thank them for their comments and patience, especially Mark Lawall. We are especially grateful for the thoughtful and generous comments of the anonymous peer reviewers. Errors of logic or understanding are of course our own.
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