Are Social Networks Survival Networks? An Example from the Late Pre-Hispanic US Southwest

  • Lewis Borck
  • Barbara J. Mills
  • Matthew A. Peeples
  • Jeffery J. Clark


Archaeologists have regarded social networks as both the links through which people transmitted information and goods as well as a form of social storage creating relationships that could be drawn upon in times of subsistence shortfalls or other deleterious environmental conditions. In this article, formal social network analytical (SNA) methods are applied to archaeological data from the late pre-Hispanic North American Southwest to look at what kinds of social networks characterized those regions that were the most enduring versus those that were depopulated over a 250-year period (A.D. 1200–1450). In that time, large areas of the Southwest were no longer used for residential purposes, some of which corresponds with well-documented region-wide drought. Past research has demonstrated that some population levels could have been maintained in these regions, yet regional scale depopulation occurred. We look at the degree to which the network level property of embeddedness, along with population size, can help to explain why some regions were depopulated and others were not. SNA can help archaeologists examine why emigration occurred in some areas following an environmental crisis while other areas continued to be inhabited and even received migrants. Moreover, we modify SNA techniques to take full advantage of the time depth and spatial and demographic variability of our archaeological data set. The results of this study should be of interest to those who seek to understand human responses to past, present, and future worldwide catastrophes since it is now widely recognized that responses to major human disasters, such as hurricanes, were “likely to be shaped by pre-existing or new social networks” (as reported by Suter et al. (Research and Policy Review 28:1–10, 2009)).


Social network analysis E–I index Migration Crisis management Salado Persistence 



This study was funded in part by National Science Foundation Human and Social Dynamics Program Awards 0827007 (to Barbara J. Mills) and 0827011 (to Jeffery J. Clark). Additionally, the authors would like to thank Joseph Galaskiewicz as well as our fellow members of the Southwest Social Network Projects School of Advance Research NSF Working Group Seminar (W. Randall Haas, Jr., Deborah Huntley, Aaron Clauset, Ronald Breiger, John M. Roberts, Jr., M. Steven Shackley, and J. Brett Hill), for commenting on earlier versions of this article.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lewis Borck
    • 1
    • 2
  • Barbara J. Mills
    • 1
  • Matthew A. Peeples
    • 2
  • Jeffery J. Clark
    • 2
  1. 1.School of AnthropologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Archaeology SouthwestTucsonUSA

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