14 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Network analysis of prehistoric relationships using raw archaeological finds and AI

A project of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS uses archaeological raw material finds for network analyses from the Middle Stone Age to antiquity.

Who knows whom? Who has which desires and needs? The answers to these questions are worth a lot of money for the advertising industry today. With the help of huge amounts of data and artificial intelligence, internet companies can answer them more and more precisely. Similar methods, but with the aim of better understanding the networks and relationships of prehistoric and early historical people, are used in the “Big Exchange” project, which a team of archaeologists from seven countries led by Kiel University presents in the journal Antiquity.

Archeology finds no direct imprints of relationships in the ground, but uncovers raw materials such as flint, obsidian, jade, ivory and various metals, which have often traveled long distances from their source to the site of discovery. These materials serve as traces of past relationships between people and allow us to study networks in the past. Dr Tim Kerig, project manager and archaeologist in the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence at the CAU Kiel, explains: “With the help of network analyzes and AI, we can better understand the relationships between people in the past.”

The analysis of early networks based on raw material finds and the associated raw material sources is nothing new. Archaeology has already been using this possibility for about 50 years. These studies have provided valuable insights into the past, but due to the high level of effort and specialization, they have often been limited to a specific raw material.

Dr. Johanna Hilpert, an archaeologist at the Institute for Prehistory and Protohistory and postdoc at the CAU Kiel data campus, explains: “Thanks to digitalization, we can now carry out more complex analyzes that include several raw materials at the same time.” The “Big Exchange” project aims to include all available raw materials and their find and place of origin in the evaluations for the period from the Mesolithic to antiquity. This is only possible with the help of network analysis and AI.

Obsidian artifacts found in 2022 in Gird-i Dasht (Soran district, Kurdistan Autonomous Region, Iraq). The raw material was once extracted several hundred kilometers from the site in eastern Anatolia. This connection is like a trace of human relations. The more such relationships can be studied using raw materials, the more precisely prehistoric networks can be analyzed. Photo: : Tim Kerig

More than 6000 sites with millions of finds recorded

Only recently has digitisation enabled more complex analyses with multiple raw materials at the same time. “The approach of our project ‘Big Exchange’ is now to include all recordable raw materials, their find locations and places of origin in the analyses for the period from the Middle Stone Age to antiquity. This can only be done by means of network analysis and with AI,” emphasises Dr. Hilpert.

So far, the project has already recorded more than 6000 sites with millions of individual finds from Western Europe to Central Asia. The network analyses made possible by this data allow statements to be made about how the simultaneous distribution of various goods is related to the more or less restricted access of the respective people to raw materials. This also concerns fundamental questions about social inequality and various power relations.

At the same time, the project is a social experiment. “It is not just about feeding datasets into appropriate databases and having them analysed automatically. We want to have archaeologists on board for every dataset,” Dr. Kerig emphasises. Archaeological datasets vary widely, he says, and some are only available in analogue form. “That is why it is important to involve colleagues who know the underlying excavations or surveys in the analysis. We do not just want to analyse prehistoric networks, but we also want to build scientific networks and link archaeology with data science.”

Call for Collaboration

The authors are already presenting a first result of the project in Antiquity. The Linear Pottery culture is the first farming culture in Central Europe. For a long time, its northwestern characteristics were considered typical for its epoch. However, when considering recent excavations, the network analysis of “Big Exchange” shows that the product mix of the northwestern Linear Pottery is rather a very special case. “We will probably experience even more surprises like this when we systematically analyse the available data,” says Dr. Kerig.

The authors also see their article as a call to colleagues to participate in “Big Exchange” and contribute their own data sets. “The more participation, the better we can understand past relationship and network dynamics,” concludes Tim Kerig.

CAU

Related Articles

Return of a 4,250-year-old Hattian golden beak-spouted ewer to Turkey

27 October 2021

27 October 2021

The 4,250-year-old golden beak-spouted ewer was returned to the Anatolian Civilizations Museum by the Gilbert Art Foundation. Culture and Tourism...

Undeciphered Rongorongo Script from Easter Island may Predate European Colonization

12 February 2024

12 February 2024

From the depths of history, a wooden tablet bearing the mysterious “rongorongo” script has been unearthed from the small, remote...

Unique 7,700-year-old figurines were discovered in Ulucak Mound, one of the oldest settlements in Western Anatolia

6 October 2023

6 October 2023

Ulucak Mound (Ulucak Höyük), one of the oldest neolithic settlements dating back to 6800 BC, male and female figurines evaluated...

New fibula types discovered at prehistoric Kopilo graves in Bosnia

26 August 2022

26 August 2022

An archaeological dig at Kopilo, a hill settlement founded around 1300 BC about 70 miles west of Sarajevo, has discovered...

A unique golden sun bowl was discovered during an archaeological survey in Ebreichsdorf, Austria

3 October 2021

3 October 2021

A golden sun bowl and several hundred bronze objects were discovered during archaeological excavations in a prehistoric settlement in today’s...

The first Dutch Neanderthal’s ‘Krijn’ face was reconstructed

7 September 2021

7 September 2021

World-renowned “paleo-artists” Kennis brothers have reconstructed the face of the first Neanderthal in the Netherlands. After more than 50,000 years,...

Ancient Roman coin thought to be fake -certainly authentic and proves the existence of ‘forgotten’ leader Sponsian, study claims

26 November 2022

26 November 2022

History is littered with artifacts that were later discovered to be forgeries, but the opposite can also occur. A new...

Bidnija olive trees have seen medieval, not the Roman period

13 July 2021

13 July 2021

The olive trees in the Bidnija grove on the island of Malta are believed to be 2000 years old. But...

Ancient terracotta dancers, and musicians unearthed in China

13 November 2022

13 November 2022

Chinese archaeologists recently discovered a large group of terracotta figurines from a tomb in a group dating to the Northern...

Homo Bodoensis may be the ancestor of modern humans

28 October 2021

28 October 2021

Although modern humans are the only surviving human lineages, their kinship with other human species that roamed the world is...

Young Metal Detectorist Discovers Huge Viking Treasure Hoard in Denmark

23 April 2023

23 April 2023

A group of hobby metal detectorists has discovered two Viking treasures buried a few meters apart near the ruins of...

Hoysala temples inch closer towards UNESCO recognition

7 February 2022

7 February 2022

The Indian Union government recently proposed the Somanathapura temple in Mysuru district and Chennakeshava and Hoysaleshwara temples in Belur and...

The discovery that surprised archaeologists; a Rare glass cup adorning the table of rich Romans in Crimea

2 April 2022

2 April 2022

A discovery made in Frontovoye-3 necropolis in Crimea shows that during the Roman Empire there were more centers of glass...

Climate has influenced the growth of our bodies and our brain

8 July 2021

8 July 2021

Over 300 fossils from the genus Homo have been measured for body and brain size by an interdisciplinary team of...

Last Assyrian Capital “Ninive”

7 February 2021

7 February 2021

Ninive is an ancient Assyrian city located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in northern Iraq, near today’s...