Tag Archives: agent-based modelling

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: bit.ly/ABMbiblio

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.



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: http://www.workshop-gshdl.uni-kiel.de


Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiel#/media/File:Postcard_Panorama_of_Kiel_(1902).jpg

French Wine: Solving Complex Problems with Simple Models

What approach do you use if you have only partial information but you want to learn  more about a subject? In a recent article, I confronted this very problem. Despite knowing quite a bit about Gaulish settlements and distributions of artifacts, we still know relatively little about the beginnings of the wine industry. We know it was a drink for the elite. We know that Etruscans showed up with wine, and later Greeks showed up with wine. But we don’t know why Etruscan wine all but disappears rapidly within a few years. Is this simple economics (Greek wine being cheaper)? Is this simply that Etruscan wine tasted worse? It’s a question and a conundrum; it simply doesn’t make sense that everyone in the region would swap from one wine type to another. Also, the ceramic vessels that were used to carry the wine—amphorae—those are what we find. They should last for a while, but they disappear. Greek wine takes over, Greek amphorae take over, and Etruscan wine and amphorae disappear.

This is a perfect question for agent based modeling. My approach uses a very simple model of preference, coupled with some simple economics, to look at how Gauls could be drivers of the economy. Through parameter testing I show that a complete transition between two types of wine could occur even when less than 100% of the consumers ‘prefer’ one type.

Most importantly in this model, the pattern oriented approach shows how agent-based modeling can be useful for examining a mystery, even when the amount of information available might be small.

Check the article out on the open source MDPI website.

Tim Kohler–The Nine Questions

photo by Roger Cozien

I sat down with Tim Kohler, the creator of the Village Ecodynamics Project agent-based model, professor of anthropology at Washington State University, researcher at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, to discuss his philosophy on complexity science and archaeology, and get some tips for going forward studying complex systems.

How did you get introduced to complexity science:

I took a sabbatical in the mid-1990s and was fortunate to be able to do it at the Santa Fe Institute. Being there right when Chris Langton was developing Swarm, and just looking over his shoulder while he was developing it, was highly influential; Swarm was the original language that we programmed the Village Ecodynamics Project in. Having the opportunity to interact with scientists of many different types at the Santa Fe Institute (founded in 1984) was a wonderful opportunity. This was not an opportunity available to many archaeologists, so one of the burdens I bear, which is honestly a joyful burden, is that having had that opportunity I need to promulgate that to others who weren’t so lucky. This really was my motive for writing Complex Systems and Archaeology in “Archaeological Theory Today” (second edition).

What complexity tools do you use and how?

I primarily use agent-based modeling, although in Complex Systems and Archaeology  I recognize the values of the many other tools available. But I’d point out that I do an awful lot of work that is traditional archaeology too. I recently submitted an article that attempts to look at household-level inequality from the Dolores Archaeological Project data, and this is traditional archaeological inquiry. I do these studies because I think that they contribute in an important way to understanding whether or not an exercise in a structure like the development of leadership model, gives us a sensible answer. This feeds in to traditional archaeology.

In 2014 I published an article calculating levels of violence in the American Southwest. This is traditional archaeology, although it does use elements of complexity. I can’t think of other instances where archaeologists have tried to analyze trajectories of things through time in a phase-space like I did there. The other thing that I do that is kind of unusual in archaeology (not just complexity archaeology) is that I have spent a lot of time and effort trying to estimate how much production you can get off of landscapes. Those things have not really been an end in themselves, although they could be seen as such. However, I approached trying to estimate the potential production of landscapes so that it could feed into the agent-based models. Thus these exercises contribute to complex systems approaches.

What do you think is the unique contribution that complexity science has for archaeology?

I got interested in complexity approaches in early to mid 1990s; during that time when you look around the theoretical landscape there were two competing approaches on offer in archaeology: 1) Processualism (the new archaeology), and the reaction to processualism, 2) Post-processualism, which came from the post-modern critique.

First, with processualism. There has been a great deal of interesting and useful work done through that framework, but if you look at some of that work it really left things lacking. An article that really influenced my feelings on that approach was Feinman’s, famous article “Too Many Types: An Overview of Sedentary Prestate Societies in the Americas” from Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory (1984). He does a nice analysis in the currency of variables having to do with maximal community size, comparison of administrative levels, leadership functions, etc. I would argue that these variables are always a sort of abstraction on the point of view of the analyst. And people, as they are living their daily lives, are not aware of channeling their actions along specific dimensions that can be extracted along variables; people act, they don’t make variables, they act! It’s only through secondary inference that some outcome of their actions (and in fact those of many others) can be distilled as a ‘variable.’ My main objection to processualism is that everything is a variable, and more often these variables are distilled at a very high level abstraction for analysis. Leadership functions, the number of administrative levels… but there’s never a sense in processual archaeology (in my view) for how it is through people’s actions that these variables emerge and these high levels came to be. I thought this was a major flaw in processualism

If you look at post-processulism, at its worst people like Tilley and Shanks in the early 1990s, you have this view of agency… People are acting almost without structures. There’s no predictability to their actions. No sense of optimality or adaptation that structure their actions. Although I would admit that these positions did have the effect of exposing some of the weaknesses in processual archaeology, they didn’t offer a positive program to make a path going forward to understand prehistory.

I thought what was needed was a way to think about the archaeological record as being composed of the actions of agents, while giving the proper role to these sorts of structures that these agents had to operate within (people within societies). I also thought that a proper role needed to be given to concepts like evolution and adaptation that were out the window for the early post-processualists. That is what complexity in archaeology tries to achieve. A complex-adaptive system approach honors actions of individuals but also honors that agents have clear goals that provide predictability to their actions, and that these take place within structures, such as landscapes or ecosystems or cities, that structure these in relatively predictable ways.

How does complexity help you understand your system of interest?

Complexity approaches give us the possibility to examine how high-level outcomes emerge from the outcomes of agent-landscape interaction and agent-agent interaction. These approaches to a great measure satisfy the weaknesses of those the two main approaches from 90s (processualism and post-processualism). So we have both high level outcomes (processualism) and agent level actions (post-processualism) but complexity provides a bridge between these two.

What are the barriers we need to break to make complexity science a main-stream part of archaeology?

Obviously barriers need to be broken. Early on, although this is not the case as much any more, many students swallowed the post-processual bait hook, line and sinker, which made it so they wouldn’t be very friendly to complexity approaches. They were, in a sense, blinded by theoretical prejudices. This is much less true now, and becomes less true each year. The biggest barrier now to entry is the fact that very few faculty are proficient in the tools of complex adaptive systems in archaeology, such as agent based modeling, scaling studies, and faculty even are not proficient with posthoc analyses in tools like R that make sense of what’s going on in these complex systems. Until we get a cadre of faculty who are fluent in these approaches this will be a main barrier.

Right now the students are leading the way in complex adaptive systems studies in archaeology. In a way, this is similar to how processual archaeology started—it was the students who led the way then too. Students are leading the way right now, and as they become faculty it will be enormously useful for the spread of those tools. So all of these students need to get jobs to be able to advance archaeology, and that is a barrier.

Do you think that archaeology has something that can uniquely contribute to complexity science (and what is it)?

I would make a strong division between complex adaptive systems (anything that includes biological and cultural agents) and complex nonadaptive systems (spin glasses, etc.) where there is no sense that there is some kind of learning or adaptation. Physical systems are structured by optimality but there is no learning or adaptation.

The one thing that archaeologists have to offer that is unique is the really great time depth that we always are attempting to cope with in archaeology.

The big tradeoff with archaeology is that, along with deep time depth, we have very poor resolution for the societies that we are attempting to study. But this gives us a chance to develop tools and methods that work with complex adaptive systems specifically within social systems; this, of course, is not unique to archaeology, as it is true for economists, biologists, and economists

What do you think are the major limitations of complexity theory?

I don’t think complexity approaches, so far at least, have had much to say about the central construct for anthropology—culture. Agent-based models, for example, and social network analysis are much more attuned to behavior than to culture. They have not, so far, tried to use these tools to try to understand culture change as opposed to behavioral change. It’s an outstanding problem. And this has got to be addressed if the concept of culture remains central to anthropology (which, by definition, it will). Unless complexity can usefully address what culture is and how it changes, complexity will always be peripheral. Strides have been made in that direction, but the citadel hasn’t been taken.

Does applying complexity theory to a real world system (like archaeology) help alleviate the limitations of complexity and make it more easily understandable?

Many people who aren’t very interested in science are really interested in archaeology. So I think archaeology offers a unique possibility for science generally, and complexity specifically, by being applied to understanding something that people are intrinsically interested in, even if they aren’t interested in other applications of same tools to other problems. It’s non-threatening. You can be liberal or conservative and you can be equally interested in what happened to the Ancestral Puebloans; you might have predilection to one answer or another, but you are still generally interested. But these things are non-threatening in an interesting way. They provide a showcase for these powerful tools that might be more threatening if they were used in an immediate fashion.

What do you recommend your graduate students start on when they start studying complexity?

Dynamics in Human and Primate Societies by Kohler and Gummerman is a useful starting point

I am a big enthusiast for many works that John Holland wrote

Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell’s is a great volume

I learned an enormous amount by a close reading of Stu Kauffman’s “Origins of Order.” I read this during my first sabbatical at SFI, and if you were to look at the copy you’d see all sorts of marginal annotations in that. We don’t see him cited much nowadays, but he did make important contributions to understanding complex systems.

In terms of technology or classes, the most important things would be for them to get analytical and modeling tools as soon as they could and as early as they can. In the case of Washington State University, taking agent-based modeling course and taking the R and Big Data course would be essential. But to be a good archaeologist you need a good grounding in method and theory, so taking courses that fulfill that as early on as possible is essential.

And a final question…

What are two current papers/books/talks that influence your recent work?

I’m always very influenced by the work of my students. One of my favorites is the 2014 Bocinsky and Kohler article in Nature Communications. Another is upcoming foodwebs work from one of my other students. These papers are illustrative of the powers of complexity approaches. Bocinsky’s article is not in and of itself a contribution to complex adaptive systems in archaeology, except that it is in the spirit of starting off from a disaggregated entity (cells on a landscape) and ending up with a production sequence emerging from that for the system as a whole. It shows how we can get high-level trends that can be summarized by amounts within the maize niche. So it deals, in a funny way, with the processes of emergence. It’s a prerequisite for doing the agent-based modeling work.

Some recent works by Tim Kohler

2014 (first author, with Scott G. Ortman, Katie E. Grundtisch, Carly M. Fitzpatrick, and Sarah M. Cole) The Better Angels of Their Nature: Declining Violence Through Time among Prehispanic Farmers of the Pueblo Southwest. American Antiquity 79(3): 444–464.

2014 (first author, with Kelsey M. Reese) A Long and Spatially Variable Neolithic Demographic Transition in the North American Southwest. PNAS (early edition).

2013 How the Pueblos got their Sprachbund. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 20:212-234.

2012 (first author, with Denton Cockburn, Paul L. Hooper, R. Kyle Bocinsky, and Ziad Kobti) The Coevolution of Group Size and Leadership: An Agent-Based Public Goods Model for Prehispanic Pueblo Societies. Advances in Complex Systems15(1&2):1150007.

2012 (first editor, with Mark D. Varien) Emergence and Collapse of Early Villages: Models of Central Mesa Verde Archaeology. University of California Press, Berkeley

Considering Cultural Complexity in Agent-based Modelling, Cologne, 23-24 October 2015

Our colleagues in Cologne have put forward an interesting observation. They argue that most of the current ABMs in archaeology ignore the cultural dimension of human systems and instead treat agents behaviour in a mechanistic way. This has been a common criticism of economic models with their strong assumptions of rationality and perfect knowledge of the agents their model. However, I believe (tell me if I’m wrong), the lack of cultural complexity is raised for the first time in the context of humanities research.

If you find it an interesting food for thought, a two-day get together for researchers working on cultural complexity and agent-based modelling is organised in Cologne 23-24th October 2015 (see the event abstract below). The Call for Papers closes on 14th August. For more details see: http://abmculture.uni-koeln.de/index.html

Agent-based modeling can be used in a multitude of ways by researchers and teams with different scientific backgrounds all around the globe. With this workshop we intend to provide an opportunity to discuss the role of culture in agent-based modeling. Therefore we would like to invite to join the workshop the researchers whose work is based on the assumption that human beliefs and behavior are not caused solely by physical conditions and individual experiences but also by transmitted knowledge shaped in historical and social processes. We want culture to be understood in a broad sense, so that we can discuss a variety of concepts of culture and its current or potential use in agent-based modeling.

Image source: WikiMedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cologne_-_Panoramic_Image_of_the_old_town_at_dusk.jpg

Keep the MODELLING revolution going! CAA2015, Siena

The CAA (Computing Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology) conference has always been the number one destination for archaeological modellers of all sorts. The motto of the next meeting (to be held in lovely Siena, Italy! 30/03-5/04 2014) is ‘Keep the revolution going‘ and given the outstanding presence of simulation, complexity and modelling last year in Paris, I thought it will be a tall order.
Fear no more! The revolution keeps on going with a number of hands-on workshops and sessions on modelling scheduled for Siena. From modelling dispersals to network application complexity science is well represented. What is, perhaps, worth particular attention is the roundtable: Simulating the Past: Complex Systems Simulation in Archaeology which aims to sketch out the current place within the discipline and the future direction of simulation in archaeology. It’s also a call for a formation of a CAA Special Interest Group in Complex Systems Simulation (more about it soon). Follow the links to the abstracts for more details.

The call for papers is now open (deadline: 20 November). Follow this link to submit: http://caaconference.org/program/ .


5L Modelling large-scale human dispersals: data, pattern and process

Michael Maerker, Christine Hertler, Iza Romanowska

5A Modelling approaches to analyse the socio-economic context in archaeology

Monica De Cet, Philip Verhagen

5H Geographical and temporal network science in archaeology

Tom Brughmans, Daniel Weidele


RT5 Simulating the Past: Complex Systems Simulation in Archaeology

Iza Romanowska, Joan Anton Barceló


WS8 First steps in agent-based modelling with Netlogo

Iza Romanowska, Tom Brughmans, Benjamin Davies

WS5 Introduction to exploratory network analysis for archaeologists using Visone

Daniel Weidele, Tom Brughmans


Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Siena5.jpg

Starting with Python

No matter if you are an experienced NetLogo coder or have just started with modelling, learning how to code in a scripting language is likely to help you at some point when building a simulation. We have already discussed at length the pros and cons of using NetLogo versus other programming languages, but this is not a marriage, you can actually use both! There are certain aspects in which NetLogo beats any other platform (simplicity, fast development of models and many more), while in some situations it is just so much easier to use simple scripts (dealing with GIS, batch editing of files etc). Therefore, we’ve put together a quick guide on how to start with Python pointing out all the useful resources out there.

How to instal Python

It will take time, a lot of effort and nerves to install Python from scratch. Instead, go for one of the scientific distributions:

Anaconda is a free distribution containing all the useful packages, You can get it from here, and then simply follow the installation instructions here.

Enthought Canopy comes free for academic users. You can get it from here and there is a large training suite attached to it (https://training.enthought.com/courses).

The very first steps

There’s a beginner Python Coursera module starting very soon: https://www.coursera.org/course/pythonlearn but if you missed it, don’t worry, they repeat regularly.

Source: http://www.greenteapress.com/thinkpython/think_python_comp2.medium.png

If you prefer to work with written text, go for ‘Think Python‘ – probably the best programming textbook ever created. You can get the pdf for free, here. It is likely to take a week of full time work to get through the book and do all the exercises but it is worth doing it in one go. It’s unbelievable how quickly one forgets  stuff and then gets lost in further chapters. There are loads of other books that can help you to learn Python: with the Head First Python you could teach a monkey to code but I found it so slow it was actually frustrating.

Source: http://www.cengage.com/covers/imageServlet?epi=1200064128513708027464865671616351030

Alternatively, Python Programming for the absolute beginner is a fun one, as you learn to code by building computer games (the downside is I spent way too much time playing them). Finally, if you need some more practice, especially in more heavy-weight scientific computing I recommend doing some of the exercises from this course, and checking out Hans Fangohr’s textbook. There are many more beginner’s resources, you will find a comprehensive list of them here.

It is common that one gets stuck with a piece of code that just do not want to work. For a quick reference, the Python documentation is actually pretty clearly written and has examples.  Finally, StackOverflow is where you find help in more difficult situations. It’s a question-and-answer forum, but before you actually ask a question, check first if someone hasn’t done it already (in about 99% of cases they did). There is no shame in googling ‘how to index an array in python’, everyone does it and it saves a lot of time.

How to get from the for-loop into agents

There is a gigantic conceptual chasm every modeller needs to jump over: going from the simple to the complex. Once you learnt the basics, such as the for-loops, list comprehension, reading and writing files etc. it is hard to imagine how a complex simulation can be built from such simple blocks.

Source: http://www.greenteapress.com/compmod/think_complexity_cover.png

If you’re feeling suicidal you could try to build one from scratch. However,  there are easier ways. To start with, the fantastic ‘Think Python’ has a sequel! It’s called ‘Think Complexity’ and, again, you can get the pdf for free, here. This is a great resource, giving you a thorough tour of complexity science applications and the exercises will give you enough coding experience to build your own models.

The second way is to build up on already existing models (btw, this is not cheating, this is how most of computer science works).  There is a fantastic library of simulations written in Python  called PYCX (Python-based CompleX systems simulations). It contains sample codes of complex systems simulations written in plain Python. Similarly the OpenABM repository has at least some models written in Python.

And once you see it can be done, there’s nothing there to stop you!

Going further – Python productivity tools

There are several tools which make working in Python much easier (they all come with the  Anaconda and Enthought distributions).

Source: http://matplotlib.org/mpl_examples/api/logo2.hires.png

Visualisations: Matplotlib is the standard Python library for graphs. I am yet to find its limits and it is surprisingly easy to use. Another useful resource is the colour brewer.  It’s a simple website that gives you different colour palettes  to represent different type of data (in hex, rgb and cmyk so ready to be plugged into your visualisations straight away). It can save you a lot of time otherwise wasted on trying to decide if the orange goes ok with the blue…

The Debugger: The generic python debugger is called ‘pdb’ and you can find a great tutorial on how to use it here. I personally prefer the ipdb debugger, if only because it actually prints stuff in colour (you appreciate it after a few hours of staring at the code); it works exactly the same as the pdb debugger.

The IPython Notebook: The IPython notebook is a fantastic platform for developing code interactively and then sharing it with other people (you can find the official tutorial here). Its merits may not be immediately obvious but after a while there’s almost no coming back.

Sumatra: Sooner or later everyone experiences the problem of ‘which version of the code produced the results???‘. Thankfully there is a solution to it and it’s called Sumatra. It automatically tracks different versions of the code and links the output files to them.

Data Analysis: You can do data analysis straight in Python but there are tools that make it easier.

Source: http://pandas.pydata.org/_static/pandas_logo.png

I haven’t actually used Pandas myself yet, but it’s the talk of the town at the moment so probably worth checking out.

GIS: Python is the language of choice for GIS, hence the simple integration. If you are using ESRI ArcMap, create your algorithm in the model builder, go to -> export -> to python (see a simple tutorial here, and a more comprehensive one on how to use model builder and python here). You can do pretty much the same thing in QGIS (check out their tutorial, here). On top of that, you can use Python straight from the console (see a tutorial here).