What can data driven network analysis tell us about the Roman Empire?
Associate Professor at IT University’s Computer Science Department Michele Coscia has secured a grant from Villum Synergy for an interdisciplinary project applying network analysis to archaeological data to reconstruct social networks of ancient times.
If Julius Caesar had an account on Facebook, we might know more about his fateful demise (had he been ignoring DM’s from disgruntled senators? Was there anything suspicious about the event description for the senate meeting on the Ides of March?), but we would also know more about his (and every other roman’s) movement, where they “checked in,” what they sold on Marketplace, and who they sold it to.
Counterfactual speculations aside, these are the types of information about the ancient Roman Empire Associate Professor and network analysis expert Michele Coscia and archaeologist at Aarhus University Tom Brughmans are hoping to uncover. Their interdisciplinary research project Past social network reconstruction from material culture data, which has just received 2.99 million kroner from Villum Synergy, is a data-driven collaboration between archaeologists and network scientists that sets out to create the first integrated computational workflow for reconstructing past social networks from material culture data.
Determining what archaeological artifacts signify is a difficult process. When archaeologists excavate one site, they will sometimes find artifacts that correspond to or are very similar to artifacts found at another site. That means there is a relation between the two sites, but uncovering the nature of that relation is easier said than done. Did the inhabitants of the two sites simply trade with each other, or is there a stronger social relationship between the sites? Did the inhabitants know each other? Were they related?
“Network analysis may help us answer those questions. The project is about developing methods for network analysis that will allow us to say something meaningful about relations in ancient Rome based on material culture. Ultimately, we want to create solid methods that allow us to detect these types of relationships based on what we know about excavated artifacts,” says Michele Coscia.
According to the researcher, social networks shape human behaviour and interactions. They are a medium through which beliefs, innovations, and diseases spread. An accurate reconstruction of past social networks using archaeological data will enable a better understanding of cultural and disease transmission in past and present human societies.
The researcher hopes that the project will enhance archaeological methods and theory for network data representation of material culture data and for testing assumptions about how this data reflects past social networks. Hopefully, it will also enrich network science: archaeology provides network data with critical incompleteness issues, but it is also rich in metadata.
“The project will enable studies on the diversity of social networks of our species, and how processes evolve over long time periods beyond the scope of current social network studies,” says Michele Coscia. Theis Duelund Jensen, Press Officer, tel: 2555 0447, email: email@example.com