University of Cambridge > > Department of Archaeology - Garrod seminar series > Modeling ‘The Dawn of Everything’: how simulating a complex yesterday might (or might not) help us with a complicated tomorrow

Modeling ‘The Dawn of Everything’: how simulating a complex yesterday might (or might not) help us with a complicated tomorrow

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  • UserDr John Murphy, Northern Illinois University and Argonne National Laboratory
  • ClockThursday 19 May 2022, 16:00-17:30
  • HouseZoom.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lydia Clough.

Water management has been a challenge in the arid deserts of the southwestern U.S. for millennia. In this seminar I will present two simulations that have examined water management in the area around what is today Phoenix, Arizona, USA . One was designed to understand the operation of the prehistoric canal system that for several centuries linked a collection of villages along the Salt River; the other examined modern water management among the collection of municipalities surrounding Phoenix proper. The tool used for both was Agent-Based Modeling (ABM). ABM flexibly allows explorations of possible socio-ecological strategies at multiple scales and of varying composition. However, ABM also has limitations that are not always fully recognized or explicated, leaving its role and trajectory within archaeological theory and practice uncertain.

To examine this, I will consider the potential of ABM in light of 2021’s The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. This new book asserts that archaeologists have failed to recognize swaths of complex and effective social forms and their associated archaeological signatures. Using the two simulations as examples, I will consider two opposing positions: First, that ABM , as part of a ‘Model-Based Archaeology,’ is well-positioned to address the issues raised by Graeber and Wengrow and is the correct tool to understand the wider variety of social arrangements they posit. But second, that the questions raised by Graeber and Wengrow are questions that ABM is ill-equipped to answer. The resolution to this carries implications for the broader project of applying our knowledge of the past to today’s social and environmental challenges. Register:

This talk is part of the Department of Archaeology - Garrod seminar series series.

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