The 25 ‘Great Challenges’ in Archaeology through an ABM Perspective


13 - 17 September 2021

Venue: Lorentz Center@Snellius

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Archaeology provides the only record of human behaviour over the long-term, opening a unique window upon social transformation and crisis response and adaptation unfolding upon centuries, if not millennia. It is a crucial source of data regarding the fundamental nature of human societies. Recently, a new roadmap for the discipline has been proposed highlighting twenty-five scientific challenges grouped into five thematic groups (social complexity, resilience, migration, cognition, human-environment interaction) that will guide the archaeological agenda in the next few decades. Understanding sources of resilience that enables some groups to weather climate change, migration trends happening over decades or the importance of technological innovation in cultural influence are only some of the topics that the discipline will be grappling with in the near future. Not incidentally, these topics are very often of relevance to current challenges facing societies across the world.

During the workshop, we will use the 25 challenges framework to assess the potential of simulation techniques, in particular, Agent-based Modelling (ABM), in addressing the most pertinent questions in archaeology. Agent-based Modelling represents a potentially paradigm-shifting technique for archaeological practice. It requires researchers to formalise their hypotheses and to compare them with archaeological data, it prevents circular arguments and unlocks entrenched positions enabling investigating and comparing different scenarios. The use of formal modelling tools, such as ABM, makes archaeological conclusions more robust and reliable thus increasing their relevance to current issues. However, simulation modelling remains a relatively niche approach in archaeology, with researchers too often working in isolation and often clustering over the same topics. This workshop aims at bringing scholars together to look at the grand challenges in archaeology and sketch out why and how ABM can contribute thus enhancing the contribution that large-scale archaeological perspective could bring to the knowledge of human societies, and increasing the relevance of archaeological research as a whole.



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