Seventy thousand years ago, humans migrated on foot across the ancient continent of Sahul — the landmass that has since split up into Australia and New Guinea. Mapping the journeys of these ancient voyagers is no small task: previous efforts to understand prehistoric migrations relied on coarse estimates based on genomic studies or on spotty records of recovered artifacts.
Now, progress in the fields of geographic information system mapping and agent-based modeling can help archaeologists run massive simulations that explore all likely paths across a landscape, bridging the view from orbit with thoughtful models of prehistoric peoples and how they moved through space.
The new research expands our scientific understanding of how ritual and story encode vital geographic features, and sheds light on how our modern world is the product of deep, ancient forces.
Agent-based modeling in archaeology can also help save lives by improving science communication, empowering stakeholders in cultural resource management, and facilitating better international planning and coordination as the climate crisis looms…
Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and every other week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.
This week we talk with Stefani Crabtree, SFI Fellow and Assistant Professor in Socio-Environmental Modeling at Utah State University, and Devin White, R&D Manager for Autonomous Sensing & Perception at Sandia National Laboratories. Stefani and Devin are the first two authors on the recent Nature Human Behaviour paper, Landscape rules predict optimal superhighways for the first peopling of Sahul, a project at the bleeding edge of agent-based modeling for archaeology that simulated over 125 billion potential ancient migratory routes.
In our conversation, we discuss bringing advanced technologies to bear on research into human prehistory; the ways humans make sense of space; how our minds and landscapes inform each other; and the ways agent-based modeling might help avert disaster for the sedentary populations of our century.
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Podcast theme music by Mitch Mignano.
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Related Reading & Listening:
• Stefani’s Website
• Devin’s Webpage
• Landscape rules predict optimal superhighways for the first peopling of Sahul by Stefani A. Crabtree, Devin A. White, Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Frédérik Saltré, Alan N. Williams, Robin J. Beaman, Michael I. Bird & Sean Ulm
• Complexity 60: Andrea Wulf on Alexander von Humboldt’s Naturegemälde
• Complexity 33: The Future of the Human Climate Niche with Tim Kohler & Marten Scheffer
• Subscribe to updates from SFI Press on the upcoming ABM for Archaeology textbook
• Lauren Klein’s SFI Seminar: What is Feminist Data Science?
• Sam Bowles, Wendy Carlin, Suresh Naidu: Core Economics
• Scale and information-processing thresholds in Holocene social evolution by Jaeweon Shin, Michael Holton Price, David H. Wolpert, Hajime Shimao, Brendan Tracey & Timothy A. Kohler
• The universal visitation law of human mobility by Markus Schläpfer, Lei Dong, Kevin O’Keeffe, Paolo Santi, Michael Szell, Hadrien Salat, Samuel Anklesaria, Mohammad Vazifeh, Carlo Ratti & Geoffrey B. West
• Outreach in Archaeology with Agent-Based Modeling in Advances in Archaeological Practice by Stefani Crabtree, Kathryn Harris, Benjamin Davies, and Iza Romanaowska