We are a team of archaeologists, palaeoecologists and ecologists who are focused on taking the information gained from studying the past and using it to help inform contemporary and future climate change adaptation strategies.
Agent-based modelling allows IMSET to engage with a range of multidimensional data drawn from the archaeological, anthropological, historical, and environmental records. They lie at the core of our understanding of socio-environmental transitions, in all their complexity. We use a range of approaches to produce high quality knowledge and accommodate the challenges that the study of the past presents. By generating communicable, high-impact, and reproducible results with agent-based modelling, we are positioned at the cutting edge of research practice.
Lake, M.W., 2014. Trends in archaeological simulation. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 21(2), pp.258-287.
Romanowska, I., Wren, C.D. and Crabtree, S.A., 2021. Agent-Based Modeling for Archaeology: Simulating the Complexity of Societies. SFI Press.
Network analysis provides a useful set of tools for considering the interrelationships between individuals and communities. Material culture provides a proxy for past social interactions, whose structure can be analysed using a variety of mathematical techniques drawn from network science in order to inform on broader socio-material processes.
Such networks represent an important mode of adaptation; access to a wide range of resources from beyond an individual’s or community’s immediate environment may help buffer them against the risks of local ecological failure, while actors’ positioning within the wider network may provide opportunities for differential growth and the development of hierarchies.
Peeples, M. A. 2019. Finding a Place for Networks in Archaeology Journal of Archaeological Research, 27: 451-99.
Collar, A., Coward, F., Brughmans, T., & Mills, B. J. 2015. Networks in archaeology: phenomena, abstraction, representation. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22: 1-32.
Decades of archaeological and palaeoecological fieldwork have led to the accumulation of large quantities of information upon past environments and human behaviour. While fieldwork is always required to fill documentary gaps and improve the quality of records, another approach, sometimes referred to as “Big Data”, aims at collating, synthesizing and analyzing this vast amount of pre-existing data. Such studies often use multiple statistical tools to unravel patterns and trends otherwise hidden under the multiplicity of individual case-studies.
Huggett, J., 2018. Reuse remix recycle: repurposing archaeological digital data. Advances in Archaeological Practice 6: 93-104.
Marwick, B., d’Alpoim Guedes, J., Barton, C.M., Bates, L.A., Baxter, M., Bevan, A., Bollwerk, E.A., Bocinsky, R.K., Brughmans, T., Carter, A.K. Conrad, C., et al. 2017. Open science in archaeology. SAA Archaeological Record 17: 8-14.
Statistical modelling involves the use of probabilistic models and assumptions to identify trends and patterns in empirical data, generate simulated data, make predictions about the real world or robustly compare different models or sets of data. A variety of algorithms can be deployed, including bespoke ones, but they tend to align themselves to either a frequentist, Bayesian or likelihood-based philosophy.
Statistical models require the modeller to understand the relationship between variables, as well as the assumptions and limitations of each model, to produce a truly data-driven approach to modelling past socio-environmental transitions.
Altschul, J.H., Kintigh, K.W., Klein, T.H., Doelle, W.H., Hays-Gilpin, K.A., Herr, S.A., Kohler, T.A., Mills, B.J., Montgomery, L.M., Nelson, M.C. and Ortman, S.G., 2018. Fostering collaborative synthetic research in archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice 6: 19-29.
Saqalli, M. and Vander Linden, M. eds., 2019. Integrating Qualitative and Social Science Factors in Archaeological Modelling. Springer.
Collapse and recovery
There is a growing concern that many important ecosystems, such as coral reefs and tropical rain forests, might be at risk of sudden collapse as a result of human disturbance. At the same time, efforts to support the recovery of degraded ecosystems are increasing, through approaches such as ecological restoration and rewilding. There is an urgent need to understand how ecosystem collapse can occur, and how ecosystem recovery can best be supported. To help develop this understanding, our research seeks to identify the socio-ecological mechanisms of ecosystem collapse and recovery, and the impacts of such changes on human society. This includes development and testing of relevant theory, analysis of empirical evidence, and modelling of both contemporary and past ecosystems.
Newton, A.C., 2021. Strengthening the Scientific Basis of Ecosystem Collapse Risk Assessments. Land 10: 1252.
Williams, J.W., Ordonez, A. and Svenning, J.C., 2021. A unifying framework for studying and managing climate-driven rates of ecological change. Nature Ecology & Evolution 5: 17-26.
Population size impacts, and is impacted by, the environment, a fact recognised for several centuries. Population growth has been linked to the availability of new food resources, whereas population collapse may have been linked to climate change. However, accurate census data is available only for a relatively short span of time, and not consistently across the globe. Alternative sources of information are required in order to assess demographic histories extending into prehistory. Proxies such as archaeological site counts, aggregated radiocarbon dates, ancient DNA and skeletal remains can be used to infer changing levels of population size, activity, density, distribution, and structure, as well as admixture, fertility and growth rates at local, regional and even continental scales.
French, J.C., Riris, P., Fernandez-Lopez de Pablo, J., Lozano, S. and Silva, F., 2021. A manifesto for palaeodemography in the twenty-first century. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 376: 20190707.
Palaeo-environmental and -ecological reconstruction is key to understanding the impact of both natural and human drivers of ecological change in the past. Improving knowledge on the complex interactions between the climate, environment and humans can play a role in informing approaches toward future environmental change.
Using a wide range of interdisciplinary methodologies, proxies and analyses, IMSET interprets the environmental conditions in the past, and records key changes and how this affects the socio-ecological landscape at a local, regional and worldwide scale. Reconstruction of the past environment, and changes recorded within it, are key to future sustainability models.
Iriarte, J., Elliott, S., Maezumi, S.Y., Alves, D., Gonda, R., Robinson, M., de Souza, J.G., Watling, J. and Handley, J., 2020. The origins of Amazonian landscapes: Plant cultivation, domestication and the spread of food production in tropical South America. Quaternary Science Reviews 248: 106582.
Stephens, L., Fuller, D., Boivin, N., Rick, T., Gauthier, N., Kay, A., Marwick, B., Armstrong, C.G., Barton, C.M., Denham, T. and Douglass, K., 2019. Archaeological assessment reveals Earth’s early transformation through land use. Science 365: 897-902.
Understanding resilience – the ability of systems to absorb and recover from disturbances – is important for designing and implementing efficient solutions to modern societal challenges. The global archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records offer an unparalleled archive of humanity’s successes, failures, and the decisions that led to their adoption.
IMSET unites approaches from the natural and the social sciences to understand responses to change and bring evidence of resilient cultural adaptations to light. Whether population trajectories, social networking, land use patterns, or engineering solutions, IMSET aims to systematise the study of past resilience using diverse datasets.
Newton, A.C. 2021. Ecosystem Collapse and Recovery. Cambridge University Press.
Riris, P. and De Souza, J.G., 2021. Formal tests for resistance-resilience in archaeological time series. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 906.
The deep past offers a unique archive of human-environment interactions, providing scientists with countless individual examples of how human societies have coped with various environmental changes, and how our species has transformed, for better or worse, the landscapes we inhabit. Studying these individual examples helps us to identify the mechanisms which govern these interactions on a temporal scale outside the range of human experience.
Such knowledge allows us to understand to what extent past decisions and actions may have had unintended consequences that only become manifest several generations, centuries, or even millennia later.
Morrison KD, Hammer E, Boles O, Madella M, Whitehouse N, Gaillard M-J, et al. 2021 Mapping past human land use using archaeological data: A new classification for global land use synthesis and data harmonization. PLoS ONE 16: e0246662.
Perreault, C. 2019. The Quality of the Archaeological Record. University of Chicago Press.
Responses to environmental change
Human societies lived have through profound climate and environmental change; cultural adaptations enabled them to do so successfully. Such transitions took a myriad of forms, including making changes to settlement design and architecture; mobility practices; food procurement strategies; social networks; political systems, and religious beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, our understanding of past societal transitions is largely limited to individual case studies that provide a snapshot in time.
At IMSET, we synthesise information from such examples from throughout human history to further our understanding of the underlying mechanisms that led to long term societal resilience in the face of past climate and environmental change.
Shennan, S. 2002. Genes, memes, and human history: Darwinian archaeology and cultural evolution. London: Thames & Hudson
Fitzhugh, B., Butler, V. L., Bovy, K. M., & Etnier, M. A. 2019. Human ecodynamics: A perspective for the study of long-term change in socioecological systems. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 23: 1077-1094.
Crumley, C. L. 2021. Historical Ecology: A Robust Bridge between Archaeology and Ecology. Sustainability 13: 8210.
Emergence of farming
The transition from mobile hunter-gatherers to settled farmers is the most profound that humanity has ever made. This changeover in subsistence modes was the gateway to the formation of the first large complex societies. Farming was also the catalyst for the profound impact that we have had on the environment, including much of our global biodiversity loss.
IMSET aims to understand the cultural and ecological changes that accompanied this transition, such as environmental devastation, species translocation, domestication, and ultimately, the historical processes that produced world as we know it today.
Bocquet-Appel, J.P., Naji, S., Vander Linden, M. and Kozlowski, J., 2012. Understanding the rates of expansion of the farming system in Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 39: 531-546.
Silva, F. and Vander Linden, M., 2017. Amplitude of travelling front as inferred from 14C predicts levels of genetic admixture among European early farmers. Scientific Reports 7: 1-9.