Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 144–181 | Cite as

Inferring Ancestral Pueblo Social Networks from Simulation in the Central Mesa Verde

  • Stefani A. Crabtree


Understanding exchange is essential for understanding past societies. The exchange of knowledge and goods undeniably influenced the development of Pueblo culture. Previous studies within Southwestern archaeology have mostly focused on the exchange of material goods such as ceramics or prestige items since these items do not decay, while other day-to-day exchanges, such as the exchange of food items, are relatively undetectable in archaeology. Sahlins (1972) notes that in small-scale societies, food exchange is essential for the survival of individuals in patchy landscapes. Moreover, Sahlins’s research shows that cross-culturally in small-scale societies, the exchange of food is one of the fundamental structuring mechanisms for alliances. With this knowledge, we may want to study the exchange of food within societies, but without being able to see the actual exchange, how can archaeologists explore the impact of food exchange given the relatively sparse archaeological record? In this paper, I use computer simulation to explore the extent to which food-sharing practices would have been instrumental for the survival of Ancestral Pueblo people across the patchy landscape of the Prehispanic American Southwest and suggest that we can see direct evidence of exchange through the aggregation of households into clustered settlements. Social networks would have created stable bonds among these exchanging individuals, further helping the survival of those individuals and their progeny. Specifically, I engage Sahlins’s notion of balanced reciprocal exchange networks (BRN; when unrelated individuals rely upon reputation building to inform exchange relationships) within the experimental test-bed of the Village Ecodynamics Project’s agent-based simulation.


Agent-based modeling Ancestral Pueblos Southwest Networks Cooperation Aggregation Exchange 



This research was made possible by grant DEB-0816400 and was conducted while supported by NSF Graduate Research Fellowship DGE-080667 and the Chateaubriand Fellowship. Thanks to the Laboratoire Chrono-Environnement (UMR-6249) of the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme et de l'Environnement C.N. Ledoux and the Université de Franche-Comté of Besançon for support while completing this manuscript. Great thanks to Tim Kohler for invaluable feedback (and extreme patience) on this manuscript and with my research, and Andrew Duff, Richard Rupp, and Ziad Kobti for feedback on the research. Kyle Bocinsky, Kelsey Reese, and Kristin Safi helped edit earlier versions of this work. And finally, special thanks to Ana Martín González for invaluable advice and Elizabeth Newcombe Crabtree for influencing this work.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 96 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Washington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Université de Franche-ComtéBesançonFrance

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