All posts by izaromanowska

Iza Romanowska is a postgraduate research student at the Institute for Complex Systems Simulation and the Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins, University of Southampton, UK. Her research focuses on Agent-based modelling, Pleistocene dispersals and Palaeolithic archaeology. For more info: cmg website or Follow @Iza_Romanowska.

A full, and growing, bibliography of ABM in archaeology

With more and more case studies, methodological papers and other musings on ABM being published every year, it is often difficult to stay on top of the literature. Equally, since most of ABMers in archaeology are self-taught the initial ‘reading process’ may be quite haphazard. But not any more! Introducing:

Now, whenever needed, you can consult a comprehensive list of all publications dealing with ABM in archaeology hosted on GitHub. What is more important, the list will be continuously updated, both by the authors and by everyone else. So if you know of a publication that have not been listed yet, or, our most sincere apologies, we missed your paper, simply put up a pull request and we’ll merge your suggestions. (Please note that if there is more than one paper for a project we feature only the main publication.) Follow this link to explore all-you-can-eat paper buffet of ABM in archaeology.



CAA 2018 is coming up

The CAA (Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods) Conference has been for the last few years the main venue to modelling archaeologists. Next year does not disappoint either. In fact, CAA Tubingen features what may be the largest selection on simulation, complexity and ABM yet. The CfP closes on midnight,  29th of October (Sunday). Follow this link to submit an abstract.

To spare you some time here’s a quick selection + summary; You will find full session abstracts further below.

S19 Agents, networks and models – the overarching session for all things complexity, simulation, networks etc. If in doubt submit here.

S10 Expanding horizons – roundtable on computational models of large scale human/hominin movement, such as migrations, colonisations, etc.

S17 Early human land use – if your agents lived in Pleistocene Europe and had big noses chances are you will fit in this session.

S9 Show your code – want to demo your ABM? Have an ingenious snippet of code that streamlines the data analysis? Share your genius with us! Note that submission to this session does not count towards your ‘one podium presentation’.

S22 Social Theory after the spacial turn – how could we account for cognitive, social, and agency-like factors in our spatial models? Discuss! Or write an ABM to show how.

S16 Play, Process and Procedure – a session on archaeo-gaming but also on artificial worlds so it would be a shame if it didn’t feature a couple of ABMs.

S34 R as an archaeological tool – some of us write our simulations in R. Others use it to analyse their outcomes or wrangle the inputs. Either way this will be an interesting session for any archaeological modeller.



S19 Agents, networks and models: formal approaches to systems, relationships and change in archaeology

Even if much ink has already been spilled on the need to use formal, computational methods to represents theories, compare alternative hypotheses and develop more complex narratives, the idea is still far from being firmly established in archaeology. Complexity Science provides a useful framework for formalising social and socio-natural models and it is often under this umbrella term that formal models are presented in archaeology. It has a particular appeal for researchers concerned with humans, thanks to its bottom-up focus, which stresses the importance of individual actions and interactions as well as relations between system elements. Equally, archaeology is a discipline where long-term, large-scale shifts in social change, human evolution, or interactions with the environment are at the heart of our interests. Complexity Science offers an arsenal of methods that were developed specifically to tackle these kind of research questions. This session will provide a forum for archaeological case studies developed using Complexity Science toolkits as well as for more methodological papers. We invite submissions of models at any stage of development from the first formalisation of the conceptual model to presenting final results. Possible topics include but are not limited to applications or discussions of the following approaches: – Agent-based and equation-based modelling, – Network science, – System dynamics, – Game theory, – Long-term change in social systems, – Evolutionary systems, – Social simulation in geographical space, – Complex urban systems, space syntax, gravity models.

Iza Romanowska, Tom Brughmans, Benjamin Davies 


S10 Expanding horizons: confronting issues of scale, resolution, and representation in the study of human expansions

Panelists of this roundtable session will discuss theoretical and methodological issues associated with the study of prehistoric human expansions and computational methods used to represent them. From the earliest hominin expansions in Africa and Eurasia, to the settlement of Australia and the New World, to explorations of the world’s oceans: the historical record of humanity is structured by the movements of people over the earth. Human expansions have been facilitated by changing environmental conditions, technological innovations, and shifts in the social relationships between different human groups, all of which have consequences for patterning observed in the archaeological record. Many major human movements occurred at spatial and temporal scales that differ from that of both archaeological investigations and many conceptions of human culture, leaving room for a good deal of uncertainty and presenting challenges to the construction of prehistoric narratives. Computational modelling approaches like GIS, network analyses, and agent-based models, offer opportunities to place these narratives in a framework where different potential historical processes can be assessed and uncertainty can be quantified. How we represent our ideas about the past in computational form involves trade-offs between realism and generality, as well as negotiations between different areas of expertise. This roundtable will include panelists from a range of research specialisations in order to expose common issues in the field of modeling human expansions and generate ideas about how best to bring together these areas of expertise.

Benjamin Davies, Nicholas Conard

S17 Early human land use strategies during Middle and Late Pleistocene glacial and interglacial times in Europe

The transition from the Middle to the Late Pleistocene is characterised by the transition from a distinct glacial cold phase (MIS 6) to a distinct interglacial warm phase (MIS 5e; Eemian sensu stricto). While changes in climate, environment, vegetation and fauna are obvious, this session aims at identifying possible differences or continuities in Neanderthal hominin performances, resource space and range between MIS 6 and MIS 5e. Several research questions have been addressed by researchers of the project ‘The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans (ROCEEH) and will be discussed during the session. What did climate, environment and vegetation look like during a distinct cold phase and a distinct warm phase? Did corridors and barriers change? Are resource space and dietary breadth greater during a warm phase? Did changes between glacial and interglacial times have any impact on Neanderthal lifestyles and behaviours? Is there a relationship between changing climatic and environmental conditions and the distribution of Neanderthal sites? Can we observe different site preferences in Middle and Late Pleistocene Neanderthals? Did human land use strategies change? Are tool diversity and mobility different between MIS 6 and MIS 5e? Does an interglacial – or rather a glacial with stronger challenges – trigger an expansion of cultural capacities and/or performances? Do glacial or interglacial phases lead to specific cultural adaptations? Several computer-assisted methods from different scientific fields that have been (or might be) applied to answer such questions shall be discussed. They include, among others, measurements of tool diversity, tool-flake-core ratios and artifact density; agent based modelling; modelling of climate and vegetation; GIS-based analyses and modelling of geographic parameters. Colleagues from all scientific fields are invited to contribute to the session.

Michael Bolus, Angela Bruch

S9 Show your code: task streamlining, reproducibility and replicability in archaeological computing

Once a fringe component of archaeology, digital data and methods are rapidly becoming commonplace, changing how we learn about and discuss the past (Bevan 2015). This presents many technical challenges, but also an opportunity to reshape archaeological science by automating many of the most tedious tasks while encouraging reproducibility and replicability of computer applications. This session will be part seminar and part live-coding demonstration to which we invite anyone with a working piece of code that automates or streamlines any task that may be undertaken by an archaeological practitioner. We ask participants to show their code, explaining what the code does and how it works to make it easier for others to use it (Eglen et al. 2017). In doing so the session will showcase the principles and benefits of open science (sensu Nosek et al. 2015). We invite demonstrations from all points in the production of knowledge, from building and using archaeological databases, to statistical analyses and modelling (simulation, GIS, etc), to dissemination and public engagement. We also welcome more traditional papers that can bear on the following issues: -Improving usability and discoverability of code; -Communicating coding results with non-experts; -Managing concerns regarding intellectual property and data ownership; -Maintaining code and data in the long term; -Using code examples for teaching archaeology. Whether you are producing grand-scale syntheses of big data or those bits of programming that make life just a little easier, we want to see your code! All programming languages welcome. References: Bevan, Andrew. 2015. “The Data Deluge.” Antiquity 89 (348): 1473–84. doi:doi:10.15184/aqy.2015.102. Eglen, Stephen J., Ben Marwick, Yaroslav O. Halchenko, Michael Hanke, Shoaib Sufi, Padraig Gleeson, R. Angus Silver, et al. 2017. “Toward Standard Practices for Sharing Computer Code and Programs in Neuroscience.” Nature Neuroscience 20 (6): 770–73. doi:10.1038/nn.4550. Nosek, B. A., G. Alter, G. C. Banks, D. Borsboom, S. D. Bowman, S. J. Breckler, S. Buck, et al. 2015. “Promoting an Open Research Culture.” Science 348 (6242): 1422–25. doi:10.1126/science.aab2374.

Benjamin Davies, Iza Romanowska

S22 Social theory after the spatial turn

The past has always offered new and interesting insights that could be simulated, modelled and evaluated with computational approaches. In recent years the applications of advanced geospatial statistics, as well as modelling have become a central methodological framework to analyse past human behaviour and societies in general. However, often archaeological applications falls short on the capacities of these methods or massively overestimate their potential. On the one hand it is clearly related to the pursuit of model and test assumptions. On the other hand causal expectations are strongly simplified and in general more basic statistics are used. Predominantly, this leads to rather simple, purely environmentally constraint versions of reality, neglecting the presence of more than a topographical landscape with certain resources. Other factors, such as a “landscape of ancestors”, differing perception of space, or unknown human factors are mostly ignored in the models. The social sciences have constantly stressed the complexity of human decision making and have successfully implemented complex statistical procedures, such as sophisticated self-learning algorithms in order to achieve a better representation of reality. However, societies modelled in archaeology are often devoid of this cognitive human factor, which cannot be represented in the predominantly deterministic, almost Darwinian models. Furthermore – if at all – theoretical frameworks which were long since updated in social sciences are used to retrospectively interpret the model’s outcome. In this session we wish to address and discuss this problem in current archaeological human behavioural research with an interdisciplinary approach of archaeology and sociology. We welcome theoretical as well as practical contributions on the inclusion of social theory in geospatial analyses and predictive modelling, new ideas for a theoretical framework, and how archaeology can deal with the fuzziness of human decision making, which is never purely environmentally driven.

Chiara G. M. Girotto, Lennart Linde

S16 Play, Process, and Procedure: An Experiential Digital Archaeology

Videogames and virtual worlds have increasingly become areas in which archaeological research is situated. These emerging venues straddle the divide between analogue past and digital present, asking the archaeologist to consider where that divide exists in their own archaeology, or whether it exists at all. Through this session, researchers are asked to look towards these new settings for how process, procedure, and play are being incorporated into digital archaeology, and what challenges to traditional archaeological practice can be overcome by embracing spaces of play as research arenas. Designed as an experiential exercise, each participant is asked to condense their presentation into 15 minutes, and one digital slide. Immediately following the presentation of papers, a working session to incorporate the themes of the session into prototype archaeological experiences of play will see participants creating together, and making the results of their collaboration available for further comment and discussion during the conference.

Meghan Dennis, Lennart Linde, Megan von Ackermann, Tara Copplestone


S34 R as an archaeological tool: current state and directions

In recent years, R has silently become the workhorse for many quantitative archaeologists. It’s open source, platform-independent and can be linked very well with other programming languages. As an interpreted language with simple and flexible syntax it is easy to learn but hard to master. Due to its huge community, spanning from hobbyist to commercial data scientists and researchers from scientific fields like statistics, ecology or linguistics, the catalogue for freely available packages is enormous and continuously growing. The foundation of the R-Consortium, a group of corporations highly invested in R, including Microsoft, IBM and Google, pushed the language and its abilities further ahead. Nevertheless, there are still many colleagues who have not yet realised the potential of the language and how easy it is today to conduct high quality research with the available tools. This is reflected by the fact that the workflow of many students of archaeology is at best still limited to Excel or SPSS. The solutions for archaeological problems in R are already manifold — although maybe developed for a different purpose. For example spatial analysis, multivariate statistics and scientific visualisation are well reflected within popular R packages, which makes it a very useful tool for archaeological research, teaching and publication. R also provides an advanced environment to produce truly reproducible research, which will be of growing importance in the future of scientific dialogue. Within this session we would like to explore the state of the art and the potential application of R in archaeology. We invite presentations for this session that explore questions like (but not limited to): * What are the specific benefits of this statistical framework in the eyes of its users? * What are the possibilities? What are the limits? * What future directions might the usage of R in archaeology have? * Which archaeological package has been developed, and which package still has to be developed to improve the usability of the software for archaeologists? * What has to be considered to optimise the workflow with R? We especially would like to attract colleagues who might present archaeological R packages that are ready or in the making and demonstrate their relevance for archaeological analysis. Also we would like to encourage potential presenters to demonstrate their research approaches via live coding, for which we would support them in ensuring that their presentations will work offline and on foreign hardware. If desired, we would like to publish the session and the code in an open online book embedded with runnable code. We hope to foster a productive and inclusive exchange between both young and experienced users from all backgrounds.

Clemens Schmid, Ben Marwick, Benjamin Serbe, Camille Butruille, Carolin Tietze, Christoph Rinne, Daniel Knitter, Dirk Seidensticker, Franziska Faupel, Joana Seguin, Manuel Broich, Martin Hinz, Moritz Mennenga, Nicole Grunert, Nils Müller-Scheeßel, Oliver Nakoinz, Wolfgang Hamer, Karin Kumar, Kay Schmütz 




The plot thickens…

PUN! Now that I got your attention with this uncle Oscar style pun here’s a bit of a letdown. This post will be about plots, visualisations, libraries, colours, etc. Yay, fun!

Well, to be honest once you reemerge from the land of data analysis and stats, plotting the results is almost like going to the beach so all together it’s not too bad.

Most of people plot in Excel and then try to cover it up. Seeing the default ‘plot style’ in a publication or a presentation triggers ‘judge, judge, judge’ response almost automatically, even though in the vast majority of cases it is absolutely fine.

But since we’re moving away (at a snail pace though) from a point-and-click software and towards scripting languages, I thought it may be useful to knock together a little guide to show what is out there and how to use it (if it’s in Python, because that’s what I use).

First, the major visualisation libraries are: ggplot2 for R, and matplotlib for Python (and others for other languages that I know very little about). ggplot2 produces pretty, pretty pictures (like the one below) and has this nice distinctive style, which became everyone’s favourite. It was also my favourite until I discovered a little trick that meant I didn’t need to switch to R for doing graphs any more and I abandoned R all together. This means that the rest of this post will be about Python but if you want to know about making pretty graphs in R, Stefani has covered it extensively in this post.

gaussian copy

Python has been renowned for its clunky graphics. Like these:


Yeah, that does look rubbish compared to the ggplot aesthetics. Good it is easily correctable. Add the following line at the beginning of your code:'ggplot')

and this comes out:


BANG! Looks like ggplot, right? In fact, I cheated earlier – the first image has not been generated in R using ggplot, I did it in Python and used this little hack to make it look like R. You can also use the default pandas (data analysis library) setup with the following line of code and the results are equally pleasing.

pd.options.display.mpl_style = 'default'


Ok so let’s get to the juice, that is: how to plot in Python.

First let’s generate some fictional data. Let’s pretend it’s proportions of different types of lithics on different sites.

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt'ggplot')
data = pd.DataFrame(np.random.rand(10,3), columns = ['flakes','tools','handaxes'])


The first three lines import the libraries we need. The last line is to check how the data looks like (if you’re running it from a script, not from a console you need to wrap the last line in a print()).

You can almost guess how to plot it:



Ok, not really done, because it looks rubbish and it does not make much sense with the lines. What we need is bars. So here you go:




This is much better. But to be able to compare them better let’s stack them up.

data.plot(kind='barh', stacked = True)

Voila! Lovely plots, all in Python. You can obviously keep on going with extra features like axis labels or the title, it’s all available in the plot command.

To save them to a file use:




Software tools for ABMs

A key consideration when embarking on an agent-based modelling focused project is ‘what are we going to write the model in?’. The investment of time and effort that goes into learning a new software tool or a language is so considerable that in the vast majority of cases it is the model that has to be adjusted to the modellers skills and knowledge rather than the the other way round.

Browsing through the OpenABM library it is clear that Netlogo is archaeology’s, social sciences and ecology first choice (51 results), with other platforms and languages trailing well behind (Java – 13 results, Repast – 5 results, Python – 5 results)*. But it comes without saying that there are more tools out there. A new paper published in Computer Science Review compares and contrasts 85 ABM platforms and tools.

It classifies each software package according to the easy of development (simple-moderate-hard) as well as its capabilities (light-weight to extreme-scale). It also sorts them according to their scope and possible subjects (purpose-specific, e.g., teaching, social science simulations, cloud computing, etc., or subject-specific, e.g., pedestrian simulation, political phenomena, artificial life) so that you have a handy list of software tools designed for different applications. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first survey of this kind since this, equally useful but by now badly outdated, report from 2010.

Abar, Sameera, Georgios K. Theodoropoulos, Pierre Lemarinier, and Gregory M.P. O’Hare. 2017. “Agent Based Modelling and Simulation Tools: A Review of the State-of-Art Software.” Computer Science Review 24: 13–33. doi:10.1016/j.cosrev.2017.03.001.


* Note that the search terms might have influenced the numbers, e.g., if the simulation is concerned with pythons (the snakes) it would add to the count regardless of the language it was written in.

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Digital Archaeology Sessions at the Brazilian Archaeological Society Congress

Our colleagues in Brazil are planning two sessions on digital archaeology at the Brazilian Archaeological Society Congress (Teresina, 10-15 September). So if you working in or with South American archaeology, this may be of interest. Note the close deadline: 7th of July. For more information see below or get in touch with Grégoire van Havre (gvanhavre at gmail dot com).

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Call for Papers - Brazilian Archaeology Society Congress

The Brazilian Archaeology Society will meet in Teresina (Brazil) in September 10-15, and there are two session proposals (yes, two!) dedicated to computers and digital archaeology. Check out the official website for more details (in Portuguese): The call for papers was extended to July, 7.

Both sessions are calls to gather computer archaeologists from around the country, as well as people from abroad working in Southern American contexts, and discuss experiences and problems.

1. Computer resources for archaeology: from excavation to data analysis
2. IPads in the Trenches: Digital Archaeology in Brazil - where are we?

This will be the first time digital archaeology and computer matters will be directly addressed in a national congress in Brazil.

Come to Cancun to talk about the Evolution of Cultural Complexity

The annual Conference on Complex Systems is one of the scientific gatherings where researchers present, discuss and debunk all things complex. This year it would be a double shame to miss it since it takes place in Cancun, Mexico between 17-22 September. If anyone needs any more encouragement, we are organising an exciting session focused on the evolution of broadly defined cultural complexity. Please send your abstracts by the 26th of May here. Any questions? Drop us an email: ccs17-at-bsc-dot-es
Details below and on the website:

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Scientific Background

Human sociocultural evolution has been documented throughout the history of humans and earlier hominins. This evolution manifests itself through development from tools as simple as a rock used to break nuts, to something as complex as a spaceship able to land man on other planets. Equally, we have witnessed evolution of human population towards complex multilevel social organisation.

Although cases of decrease and loss of this type of complexity have been reported, in global terms it tends to increase with time. Despite its significance, the conditions and the factors driving this increase are still poorly understood and subject to debate. Different hypothesis trying to explain the rise of sociocultural complexity in human societies have been proposed (demographic factor, cognitive component, historical contingency…) but so far no consensus has been reached.

Here we raise a number of questions:

  1. Can we better define sociocultural complexity and confirm its general tendency to increase over the course of human history?
  2. What are the main factors enablingan increase of cultural complexity?
  3. Are there reliable way to measure the complexity in material culture and social organisationconstructs, that is?
  4. How can we quantify and compare the impact of different factors?
  5. What causes a loss of cultural complexity in a society? And how often these losses occurred in the past?

Goals of the session

In this satellite meeting we want to bring together a community of researchers coming from different scientific domains and interested in different aspect of the evolution of social and cultural complexity. From archaeologists, to linguists, social scientists, historians and artificial intelligence specialists – the topic of sociocultural complexity transgresses traditional discipline boundaries. We want to establish and promote a constructive dialogue incorporating different perspectives: theoretical as well as empirical approaches, research based on historical and archaeological sources, as well as actual evidences and contemporary theories. We are particularly interested in formal approaches which enable more constructive theory building and hypothesis testing. However, even establishing common vocabulary of terms and concepts and discussing the main methodological challenges in studying sociocultural complexity is an important step towards a more cohesive framework for the understanding of cultural evolution in general and for individual research case studies in particular. Our approach is informed by the convergence between simulation and formal methods in archaeological studies and recent developments in complex systems science and complex network analysis.

The session will focus but is not limited to:

  • Social dynamics of innovation.
  • Cumulative Culture and social learning.
  • Evolution of Technology and technological changes
  • Cognitive Process,Creativity, cooperation and innovation
  • Population Dynamics and Demographic Studies
  • Computer tools to understand the cultural evolutionary change

Come to Atlanta, learn ABM

This year the simulating complexity team is yet again teaching a 2-day workshop on agent-based modelling in archaeology as a satellite to the CAA conference.  The workshop will take place on Sunday and Monday 12-13 March 2017. The workshop is free of charge, however, you have to register to the conference (which has some good modelling session as well).

Last year we had an absolute blast with over 30 participants, 10 instructors and 96% satisfaction rate (of the students, instructors were 100% happy!).

The workshop will follow along similar lines to last year although we have a few new and exciting instructors and a few new topics. For more details check here and here or simply get in touch!

This event is possible thanks to the generous support of the Software Sustainability Institute.


Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years workshop, Kiel, Germany 2-24, March 2017

University of Kiel, Germany will be hosting a workshop “Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years: The Creation of Landscapes IV” between 20-24th March 2017.   It includes several sessions on simulation, modelling and ABM with a special emphasis on socio-natural systems.  The abstract submission deadline is a still quite some time (30th November) but it may be worth putting the event into your calendars if you are not planning on crossing the ocean for the CAA in Atlanta or the SAAs in Vancouver.

For more information see the workshop website:


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Complex social dynamics in a few lines of code

To prove that there is a world beyond agents, turtles and all things ABM, we have created a neat little tutorial in system dynamics implemented in Python.

Delivered by Xavier Rubio-Campillo and Jonas Alcaina just a few days ago at the annual Digital Humanities conference (this year held in the most wonderful of all cities – Krakow), it is tailored to humanities students so it does not require any previous experience in coding.

System dynamics is a type of mathematical or equation-based modelling. Archaeologists (with a few noble exceptions) have so far shunned from, what is often perceived as, ‘pure math’ mostly citing the ‘too simplistic’ argument when awful mathematics teacher trauma was probably the real reason. However, in many cases an ABM is a complete overkill when a simple system dynamics model would be well within one’s abilities. So give it a go if only to ‘dewizardify’* the equations.

Follow this link for the zip file with the tutorial:

*the term ‘dewizardify’ courtesy of SSI fellow Robert Davey (@froggleston)

CSS2016 Amsterdam

If the most important annual conference in complex systems simulation is anything to go by then researchers in humanities are slowly infiltrating the ranks of complexity scientists.

This year the CSS (Complex Systems Society) conference is taking place in Amsterdam between 19-22 September. It is structured a bit differently than traditional conferences, that is, it consists of two main parts:

  • Core sessions such as “Foundations of Complex Systems” or “Socio-ecological Systems”, which are held every year, and
  • Satellite sessions, usually focusing on smaller topics or subdisciplines, which are proposed independently and, therefore, change from one year to another.

Archaeology (and humanities in general) has been on and off the agenda since 2013 but usually this meant one dedicated session and perhaps a paper or two in the core sessions classified as social systems simulations. However, this year there seems to be a bit of an explosion (let’s call it ‘exponential growth’!) in the number of sessions led by folk who have interest in the past. These three are particularly relevant:

10. Complexity and the Human Past: Unleashing the Potential of Archaeology and Related Disciplines
Organizer: Dr. Sergi Lozano

26. Complexity History. Complexity for History and History for Complexity 
Organizer: Assoc Prof. Andrea Nanetti

27. The Anthropogenic Earth System: Modeling Social Systems, Landscapes, and Urban Dynamics as a Coupled Human+Climate System up to Planetary Scale
Organizer: Dr. John T. Murphy

In addition, there are a number of satellite sessions that, although not dealing specifically with past systems, may be of interest for anyone who deals with evolution, urban development, economic systems or networks and game theory.  Finally, the most excellent student conference on complex systems (SCCS) will run just prior to the main event, between 16-18 September.

To submit an abstract, get in touch with the session organiser (you can find their emails here). The official deadline is 10th July, but the organisers may have imposed a different schedule so get in your abstract soon. And see you all in Amsterdam!

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