Science in Society

Bryn Mawr College

Emergent Systems Working Group

September 27, 2002
Jim Wright
Emergent Complexity in Bronze Age Greece: a case study of settlement and land-use ca. 2000-1200 B.C.E.

Prepared by Ted Wong
Additions, revisions, extensions are encouraged in the Forum and/or at

Jim Wright presented data on the time-courses of site density in several locations in Greece. The goal is to generate data on the growth of complex societies in the Bronze Age. This first step is descriptive. After we understand what the patterns of complexity were, we might try to explain them with models.

A site is an area of human activity. Complexity might grossly be estimated by the density of sites. Difficulties: assignment of type of activity to site, assignment of dates, getting clear data despite multiple uses, reocculpations. Also, what should define geographic boundaries? Modern political boundaries, catchments, ecological zones? Here the study is restricted to the Argive plain and coastal Corinthia.

Jim's own words, from the abstract of the same talk delivered elsewhere:

"I compare site distributions during the Bronze Age throughout the NE Peloponnesos of Greece. I use gross information on sites and that from recently published intensive surveys to compare the evidence from the generally defined regions of the Corinthia and Argolid. I also consider each region according to plausible sub-regions in order to differentiate localized patterns of site distribution. Since it is largely within the sub-regions that intensive survey has taken place, I am able to compare the results of intensive survey with those from the extensive record. These observations are made in consideration of the problems of defining suitable spatial distributions and temporal sequences, differentiating primary areas of occupation and activity from sherd scatters, and estimating site size. I conclude by observing the extent to which extensively gathered data are useful for developing models of site hierarchies and change in complexity of settlement organization and note how intensive surveys refine or check any such models and provide evidence for more sophisticated models at both the local and regional scales. I propose three models to be tested in further study of site distributions in prehistoric Greece."

These three models -- core, dependency, and periphery -- describe three kinds of settlements with three time-courses of site density. Core settlements have steady increases in density; dependency settlements have no density increase until late, when the nearby core settlement reaches some apparent threshold density; and periphery settlements increase and decrease in site density apparently independent of the core. So there are different patterns of settlement growth, and the patterns have qualitative features -- plateaus, spikes, etc. -- that might or might not be reproducible in some sort of simulation of settlement growth. What would such a simulation look like? And how is complexity defined here? Site density is admittedly not complexity, and a future direction would examine the diversity of site uses, inferred from type of artifact at each site.

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