Skip to main content

About this book

This book presents a unique selection of fully reviewed, extended papers originally presented at the Social Simulation Conference 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Only papers on the simulation of historical processes have been selected, the aim being to present theories and methods of computer simulation that can be relevant to understanding the past. Applications range from the Paleolithic and the origins of social life up to the Roman Empire and Early Modern societies. Case studies from Europe, America, Africa and Asia have been selected for publication. The extensive introduction offers a thorough review of the computer simulation of social dynamics in past societies as a means of understanding human history. This book will be of great interest to researchers in the social sciences, archaeology, evolutionary anthropology, and social history.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Simulating the Past for Understanding the Present. A Critical Review

This introductory essay aims to introduce the chapters in the book presenting some aspects of the theoretical and conceptual framework necessary to consider the advantages computer simulation techniques and technologies offer to historical disciplines, but also quoting from the hundreds of examples in current scientific literature to give a context within which the individual contributions can be understood better. We argue that historical simulations should be much more than vivid illustrations of what scholars believe in the present existed in the past. A simulation is basically the computer representation of a “mechanism”, representing how social intentions, goals and behaviors were causally connected in the past. This can be done by formulating a “generative model”, that is, a model of a set of mechanisms. In this chapter, it is suggested that computer simulation may act as a Virtual Laboratory to help studying how human societies have experimented relevant transformations and in which way the consequences of those transformations in technology, activities, behavior, organization or knowledge were transmitted to other social agents or groups of social agents. Building artificial societies inside a computer allows us to understand that social reality is not capricious. It has been produced somehow, although not always the same cause produces the same effect, because social actions are not performed in isolation, but in complex and dialectical frameworks, which favor, prevent, or modify the capacity, propensity, or tendency the action has to produce or to determine a concrete effect. This way of studying social dynamics in the past by means of computer simulations is beginning to abandon its infancy. Archaeologists and historians have started to convert social theories in computer programs trying to simulate social process and experiment with different explanations about known archaeological societies. Our book is just one additional example of a current trend among archaeologists and historians: historical events occurred only once and many years ago but within a computer surrogates of those events can be artificially repeated here and now for understanding how and why they happened.
Juan A. Barceló, Florencia Del Castillo

Chapter 2. Multi-scale Agent-Based Simulation of Long-Term Dispersal Processes: Towards a Sophisticated Simulation Model of Hominin Dispersal

According to the Out-of-Africa-Hypothesis, the geographic origin of hominins known to be ancestors of anatomically modern humans, such as homo sapiens, is located in Africa. Due to the discovery of numerous fossils there is archaeological evidence on the existence of waves of early dispersal from Africa to Eurasia. Yet, the reason as well as the actual route of migration are being discussed controversially among experts. However, there is a scientific consensus that a conjunction of several local factors, such as climatic changes or carnivore competition, caused the global effect of hominids migrating to Eurasia to occur. In order to understand these emergent phenomena and to validate different scientific hypotheses, the dispersal processes need to be reproduced. In this article we propose the use of agent-based modeling for developing a simulation platform which enables researchers to evaluate assumptions and hypotheses using artificial and customizable scenarios. Furthermore, potential fields are proposed as a first step approach for modeling and simulating environmental factors influencing migration processes.
Ingo J. Timm, Fabian Lorig, Ericson Hölzchen, Christine Hertler

Chapter 3. An Agent-Based Model of Resource Distribution on Hunter-Gatherer Foraging Strategies: Clumped Habitats Favor Lower Mobility, but Result in Higher Foraging Returns

Using an empirically grounded model of hunter-gatherer foraging strategies we examine how different resource distributions affect optimal group size, movement frequency and average daily return rate per hunter. The total amount of resources in the environment remained the same, but was modified to contain more dispersed or more clumped resource distributions, and vegetation types are located in a less or more patchy environment. The results show that the optimal group size is not affected by resource distributions. However, more clumped resources in a more patchy environment leads to much higher return rates compared to more dispersed and less patchy environments. The more clumped and patchy environment also favors more complex mobility strategies in which camps are moved in an adaptive fashion to specific locations in the landscape. Human foragers, by knowing the landscape and the spatial location of better habitats, and moving to facilitate hunting in those areas, can gain a substantial advantage from that knowledge.
Marco A. Janssen, Kim Hill

Chapter 4. Testing Brantingham’s Neutral Model: The Effect of Spatial Clustering on Stone Raw Material Procurement

Changes in the frequency of stone tool raw materials are observed in stone age records across the world and throughout time. These are normally interpreted as showing important changes in human behavior. Brantingham (2003) proposes a neutral model to explain observed data on stone tool raw material procurement as an alternative to behavioral interpretations of raw material changes, but his model used unrealistic distributions of raw material across a landscape. Here we provide the results of investigating how real source locations, and their spatial clustering affect the raw material pattern outcome of the neutral model. Our findings suggest that spatial distributions mimicking empirical data challenge the validity of the neutral model. More specifically, increasing the source clustering increases the amount of time where the forager is without raw materials. In terms of foraging behavior, it is not realistic to expect that foragers go extended periods of time without raw materials to create and repair tools if a stone cache is not available to return too.
Simen Oestmo, Marco A. Janssen, Curtis W. Marean

Chapter 5. Population Spread and Cultural Transmission in Neolithic Transitions

The classical wave-of-advance model is based on Fisher’s equation. However, this approach leads to an unbounded wave-of-advance speed at high reproduction rates. In contrast, an integro-difference model leads to a finite upper bound for the speed, namely the maximum dispersal distance divided by the generation time. Intuitively, this is a very reasonable result. This demic model has been generalized to include cultural transmission (Fort, PNAS 2012). We apply this recent demic-cultural model to determine the percentages of demic and cultural diffusion in the Neolithic transition for two case studies: (i) Europe, and (ii) southern Africa (Jerardino et al., PLoS One 2014). The similarities and differences between both case studies are interpreted in terms of the three mechanisms at work (population reproduction, dispersal and acculturation).
Joaquim Fort, Neus Isern, Antonieta Jerardino, Bernardo Rondelli

Chapter 6. Modelling Routeways in a Landscape of Esker and Bog

Movement and routeways are the principle ways in which we explore, learn and exploit the world around us. For studies of the past, an understanding of how movement occurred is essential to adequately address archaeological material. The models used in this research can be used to identify potential ancient routeways which can improve our understanding of the landscape and contextualise archaeological remains. Comparison with known routeways also allows us to learn about the decision-making process of people in the past and how they negotiated the landscape. ArcGIS and NetLogo are used to demonstrate the cumulative process which leads to the creation and evolution of routeways over time in a series of actions that approaches efficiency. The environment of North Offaly in the Irish Midlands is used as the study area, as it is a landscape of natural routeways and obstacles for which we have rich archaeological and documentary evidence supporting interpretation of movement spanning prehistory and historical periods.
Yolande O’Brien, Stefan Bergh

Chapter 7. Modelling Cultural Shift: Application to Processes of Language Displacement

Cultural shift is present in many aspects of human history, from the adoption of consecutive exploitation techniques, to the assimilation of a new language in a region. Here we focus on language shift, describing the main processes that have led human societies to start speaking a new language, and discussing several models devised to reproduce such processes. In particular we present a model developed to study the specific case of language shift in which the indigenous language in a region is being replaced by the language of an adjacent region, which is perceived by the population as being socially and economically more advantageous (Isern and Fort, J. R. Soc. Interface 2014). The model can predict the evolution of the fraction of speakers of each language over time, as well as the speed at which the linguistic border advances into the region. The model is tested with modern data on the retreat of the Welsh language during the twentieth century providing results consistent with the observed historical data.
Neus Isern, Joaquim Fort

Chapter 8. Pathways for Scale and Discipline Reconciliation: Current Socio-Ecological Modelling Methodologies to Explore and Reconstitute Human Prehistoric Dynamics

This communication elaborates a plea for the necessity of a specific modelling methodology which does not sacrifice two modelling principles: explanation Micro and correlation Macro. Three goals are assigned to modelling strategies: describe, understand and predict. One tendency in historical and spatial modelling is to develop models at a micro level in order to describe and by that way, understand the connection between local ecological contexts, acquired through local ecological data, and local social practices, acquired through archaeology. However, such a method faces difficulties for expanding its validity: It is validated by its adequacy with local data, but the prediction step is unreachable and quite nothing can be said for places out where. On the other hand, building models at a far larger scale, for instance at the continent and even the world level, enhances the connection between ecology and its temporal variability. Such connections are based on well- founded theories but lower the “small causes, big effects” emergence corresponding to agent-based approaches and the related inherent variability of socio-ecological dynamics that one can notice at a lower scale. We then propose a plea for combining both elements for building large-scale modelling tools, which aims are to describe and provide predictions on long-term past evolutions, that include the test of explaining socio-anthropological hypotheses, i.e. the emergence and the spread of local social innovations.
Mehdi Saqalli, Tilman Baum

Chapter 9. Simulating Land Use of Prehistoric Wetland Settlements: Did Excessive Resource Use Necessitate a Highly Dynamic Settlement System?

The research of Neolithic pile-dwellings and wetland sites in the Northwestern pre-alpine forelands reveals a settlement pattern that is characterized by high internal dynamics. Absolute dating facilitated by dendrochronology allows for the reconstruction of mean house ages of a few years only, and the settlement duration is not much longer in many cases. Based on the good archaeobiological database and exact dating due to dendrochronology, various hypotheses on land-use strategies have been put forth that partly try to explain this phenomenon. In this article, I present an agent-based simulation model (ABM) named WELASSIMO (Wetland Settlement Simulator). Its aims are to test whether any of the existing hypotheses would justify a settlement relocation for systemic reasons. Furthermore, a new model integrating elements of the existing ones is presented, which arguably provides better explanations for the observed patterns. It is shown that for relatively small communities, the non-finite resources related to their land-use most likely have not been limiting and thus did not determine the observed settlement pattern. Instead, it is argued that the continuous duration of moderate land-use did increase the economic value of the evolving landscape. Thus it is proposed, that relocations happened mostly inside of the relevant landscapes as a combined consequence of the poor durability of wooden houses in waterlogged environs and the spatiotemporal variability of suitable timber. This does not exclude the possibility, that also cultural/social reasons may have been involved.
Tilman Baum

Chapter 10. Revisiting the Dynamics Between Two Ancient Japanese Descent Groups:

What Happened from the Jomon to the Yayoi Periods in Japan
We applied a simple agent-based simulation (ABS) model to examine problems experienced by Chinese-Korean immigrants during the establishment of the agrarian culture of the Yayoi period (300 BC–250 AD) in Japan. We focus here on two issues: (1) the sex ratio of the immigrants, and (2) the question of who played a formative role in the development of the agrarian culture during the Yayoi period. Our simulation model demonstrates that in the event that most of the initial immigrants were male, and that an agrarian culture was widely introduced by native Jomon people during the early stage of its development, it is probable that after 300 years, the majority of people shared the same traits as the immigrants. These results suggest that the initial immigrants—primarily males—and many native Jomon people played a formative role in the establishment of the agrarian culture of the early Yayoi period. These results will contribute to the literatures in the fields of anthropology and archaeology in Japan.
Fumihiro Sakahira, Takao Terano

Chapter 11. Cultural and Genetic Transmission in the Jomon–Yayoi Transition Examined in an Agent-Based Demographic Simulation

Agent-based simulation is used to obtain useful insights regarding genetic and cultural transmission in order to construct a model explaining the prehistoric demographic and cultural dynamics of the transition from the Jomon to Yayoi periods in western Japan. The Jomon–Yayoi transition is an East Asian case of hunter-gatherer to farmer transition in which drastic socio-cultural changes in subsistence, material culture, and settlement structure occurred. A simulation for 500 years shows that cultural skill can spread quickly without much loss in the case of biased transmission, even when the migration rate is very low, and that the spread of cultural skill without significant genetic influence is possible even when cultural transmission is restricted to between relatives. The result gives an inspiration for possible explanatory models of the Jomon–Yayoi transition in which indigenous people play more significant roles in areas remote from the locus of Yayoi cultural origin.
Naoko Matsumoto, Mariko Sasakura

Chapter 12. Economic Sustainability in Relation to Demographic Decline of Celtic Agglomerations in Central Europe: Multiple-Scenario Approach

Our project Social modelling as a tool for understanding Celtic society and cultural changes at the end of the Iron Age is focused on development of agent-based models of daily economic activities of inhabitants of prehistoric agglomerations (oppida). We aim to verify hypotheses about the probable self-subsistence of oppida by means of models of the population dynamics and socio-economic behavior of one particular site, the Staré Hradisko oppidum in Bohemia. We intend to demonstrate the ability to move from a static data of fragmented nature (archaeological and environmental records) to dynamic modelling that incorporates feedback mechanisms and nonlinear responses to a wide range of input data. Our models, which are implemented in NetLogo, are based on domain knowledge and general demographical patterns of birth-rates, mortality, and agricultural practices: (1) the model of population dynamics generates data on synthetic population for four alternative depopulation scenarios, (2) the model of food production and land use is designed to enable experimenting with carrying capacity of the environment with respect to alternative exploitation scenarios, (3) the workforce model is used for studying allocation of working capacities during the harvest season which is understood to be one of “bottlenecks” of the agricultural year. The models show some of upper limits of the self-subsistence, i.e. the highest possible size of population in the location, the largest sustainable area of fields and the maximum workforce allocation possible to the agricultural production.
Kamila Štekerová, Alžběta Danielisová

Chapter 13. ZambeziLand: A Canonical Theory and Agent-Based Model of Polity Cycling in the Zambezi Plateau, Southern Africa

The Zambezi plateau region in Southern Africa experienced the rise and fall of polities with different levels of inequality and complexity—known as cycling—for many centuries before the arrival of Europeans and the beginning of the region’s written history. We address the enduring research question of explaining politogenesis and polity cycling: the recurrent rise, fall, and abandonment of the earliest polities with monumental structures (such as massive stone-wall enclosures) called zimbabwes, built between ca. 1200 and 1450 CE. The agent-based model (ABM) presented here, called ZambeziLand, supports an explanation based on the Canonical Theory. In this theory, a succession of opportunities (situational changes) to engage in collective action by a community strengthens or weakens the complexity of the polity. The main finding from the ZambeziLand ABM simulation is that individual micro-level dynamics, driven by leadership and sentiments of loyalty to the community, can generate collective, macro-level behaviors observed in the archaeological record of the Zambezi Plateau.
Gary Bogle, Claudio Cioffi-Revilla

Chapter 14. Personalities, Physiology, Institutions and Genetics: Simulating Ancient Societies with Intelligent Virtual Agents

3D Virtual Reality simulations of ancient societies represent a powerful mechanism for combining the knowledge of many researchers (e.g. archaeologists, historians and anthropologists) in a way that it becomes accessible to general audiences, as well as suitable for cross-disciplinary academic collaboration. Through such simulations people with little knowledge in the aforementioned academic disciplines can experience daily lives of people and societies that no longer exist and better understand their cultures. Simulating human activity in all its diversity is a costly and time-consuming exercise comparable in cost and efforts to producing a commercial video game, involving years of development and millions of dollars in funding. Here we propose an approach that can help to significantly decrease the cost and time required for building such simulations, while still capturing enough detail to be useful. By utilising genetic algorithms in combination with computational models of physiological motivation and personalities and constraining virtual agent behaviour through deployment of a formal specification of social norms we can automate the process of building large virtual soci00eties. The manual portion of creating such societies can be reduced to designing an initial small sample of avatars, specifying social norms of the given society and annotating the virtual environment in a particular way. Most other development stages can be automated. The usefulness of our approach is demonstrated by applying it to simulating everyday life in the ancient city of Uruk, 3000 B.C. and the simulation of daily life in an aboriginal tribe in Australia just before the arrival of the first European settlers.
Tomas Trescak, Anton Bogdanovych, Simeon Simoff
Additional information

Premium Partner

    Image Credits