Network analysis as a tool for studying early urbanisation in Italy

Posted on 11 December 2017

Talk: Lieve Donnellan (Uni Amsterdam), “Network analysis as a tool for studying early urbanisation in Italy” “.


Date: Monday, 11 December 2017

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Gebäude Hausvogteiplatz (Raum 0319). Address: Hausvogteipl. 5-7, 10117 Berlin map


The adoption of network analytic methods by archaeologists has significantly advanced the understanding of connected cultural and spatial phenomena in the past. Important contributions have shed light on a wide range of questions such as the functioning of regional exchange systems, the formation of hierarchic settlement systems, road systems and “global” connectivity 1. A challenge for archaeologists remains, however, to address questions at a lower, i.e., local spatiotemporal scale2. The author/applicant has developed a method to look at transformations in funerary contexts, to reconstruct ancient processes of urbanisation and the formation of sociopolitical complexity. By means of “translating” archaeological contexts into a so-called two mode network model, in-depth analysis with specialised social network analysis software (UCINET®)3 enables to trace patterns that the human mind would never be able to detect. Digital methods thus provide an important set of tools for the systematic and comprehensive analysis of large archaeological datasets and they contribute to the refining of the historiography of key phases in European history. The rise of the first densely inhabited and spatially contained cities in Europe is conventionally dated to ca. the late 8th century BCE. In Italy, seemingly quite suddenly, a number of dispersed settlements aggregate to form spatially unified entities. Very little is known about their physical appearance and the bad preservation of these early phases, due to continued habitation of the area, makes that archaeologists have only necropoleis at their disposition. Nevertheless, these tombs contain a wealth of information and archaeologists were able to advance a number of hypotheses about the social and political transformations of these communities. The application of new digital analytic methods, such as network analysis, to the study of these societies, allows - for the first time - a very detailed and systematic verification of past hypotheses. Network analysis significantly improves the understanding of the transformations that occurred in the tombs of the populations that lived through processes of early urbanisation. Excellent and detailed results could be obtained by studying a number of selected sites in the region of Campania, in Southern Italy. A relatively high number of settlements in this region lived through important transformations that resulted in the shaping of some of the earliest cities known in Europe. Digital analysis with network analytical software made it possible to shed light on important social, political and economic phenomena such as social competition, elite formation, the infrastructural power of the political classes, performance strategies and so forth. These new insights provide important new angles for the scholarly discussions on the urbanising phenomenon in Europe.

  1. Collar et al. 2015, Networks in Archaeology: Phenomena, Abstraction, Representation, Journal of Archaeological Method & Theory 22, 1-32
  2. Reference to author’s work
  3. Borgatti, S.P., Everett, M.G. and Freeman, L.C. 2002. Ucinet 6 for Windows: 3. Software for Social Network Analysis. Harvard, MA: Analytic Technologies



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