Complex Networks in Archaeology

The vast, interrelated nature of archaeological data attests to our complex human past and present.  Evidence of the relationships between people and things are key tools in the analysis of past human movements and networks, and can be used to see beyond traditional archaeological narratives.

For example, consider an amphora that was produced by potters in a workshop in the south of Spain—then transported by ship to the capital of Rome, and finally discarded after use.  The tale of this amphora tells a small piece of a larger story about exchange networks and the movements of goods during the Roman era.  However, if we add this story to the tens of thousands of other pieces of evidence about ceramic movements in the region, a larger and clearer image begins to appear, and can reveal interesting and unexpected connections which were otherwise invisible through traditional analysis.

Underlying these processes is a familiar concept: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: different people living often very different lives give rise to complex events and processes in ways that they could only achieve collectively.

The full relevance of humanity’s complex history does not reveal itself if we restrict our attention to individual points of data.  Instead, we must examine the full system of connections between places, people and things as revealed through the archaeological record.  From this framework a larger picture begins to emerge, offering us greater insight into the behaviour of people in the past.


  • Tom Brughmans