social landscapes, exchange, archaeology


Exchange of material goods is one of the most basic forms of human interactions. By tracing the distribution of ceramics, stone tools, and other materials archaeologists are often able to make inferences about the nature of interactions, and about the economic and social relationships of the people involved. These artefact distributions are a fundamental feature of social landscapes, with the potential to reveal much about the structure of social life. But artefact distributions are often complex and difficult to describe, especially at large spatial scales, and they often require some form of abstraction to make them comprehensible. Archaeologists have therefore used a variety of quantitative models to describe and explain spatial distributions, but the relationships between specific abstract models and the underlying social relationships responsible for creating the artefact distributions are often unclear. This paper examines the relationship between models and data using databases from the North American Southwest. More specifically, I apply different abstract models, including fall-off curves, gravity models, and network models, to the distributions of several different Native American ceramic types manufactured between A.D. 1200 and 1500. Previous studies by the Southwest Social Networks Project, whose data I use, have led to well-founded (but still debatable) conclusions about the nature of social relations involved in the manufacture and exchange of these types. Applying different models to these distributions will allow comparison of the usefulness of the different methods in revealing different aspects of the social interactions responsible for the underlying artefact distributions as well as for the organization of settlements across the landscape of the North American Southwest.

Original Publication Citation

James R. Allison 2016 Landscapes of Interaction: Understanding Social Landscapes through Quantitative Models of Artifact Distributions. Paper presented at the 4th International Landscape Archaeology Conference, Uppsala, Sweden.

Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date





Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor