Barbara Mills – “From Typology to Topology: Social Networks and the Dynamics of the Late Prehispanic Southwest”


Video of lecture

Archaeology is replete with evidence of networks and archaeologists regularly use the concept of  “social networks” to talk about interactions between households and communities.  It is part of archaeological vocabularies, but most use is in a metaphorical rather than formal sense, even though there are many new applications of social network analysis in other disciplines. While some of this new use of social network analysis is inspired by the popularity of such expressions as “six degrees of separation” or social networking sites, archaeological case studies have great time depth and unrealized potential to provide long-term examples of the structure and dynamics of social networks.

The interdisciplinary Southwest Social Networks Project was designed to collect data from a large area of the U.S. Southwest and apply social network analysis to archaeological case studies.  Our database includes ceramic, obsidian, and architectural data from sites dating between A.D. 1200 and 1500, a period characterized by demographic upheaval, migration, coalescence, conflict, and the development of new ritual organizations.  We have added material culture to the settlement pattern database called the Coalescent Communities Database (Hill et al. 2004) and to date, the Southwest Social Networks Database includes nearly 4.3 million ceramics and 5000 sourced obsidian artifacts from 682 sites west of the Continental Divide.  These data were culled from hundreds of published and unpublished reports, museum archives, and new field and laboratory work.

This presentation will talk about how the Southwest Social Networks Project evolved and discuss the application of social social network analysis to Southwestern data.  Several key questions of the project will be addressed: (1) What are the effects of 13th through 15th century settlement reorganization on network structure or topology? (2) How does changing the scale of analysis change the kinds of social network questions that we can address? And, (3) what are the network characteristics of persistent or successful settlements?



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