Modelling the palimpsest

An exploratory agent-based model of surface archaeological deposit formation in a fluvial arid Australian landscape

Benjamin Davies*, Simon J. Holdaway, Patricia C. Fanning

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    25 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Archaeologists make inferences about past human behaviour based on patterned material residues in various depositional contexts, including existing landsurfaces. These deposits are generated by processes that may obscure patterns at some observational scales while highlighting others, and interpretive differences can arise from a lack of explicit models of deposit formation. Here, an exploratory agent-based model based on the concept of the palimpsest is used to examine the effects of episodic sediment transport on the visibility and preservation of surface archaeological deposits in a fluvial context. Outcomes from the model indicate that the compound influences of preservation and visibility are capable of transforming a static radiocarbon record into one of increasing intensity towards the present, while simultaneously displaying periodic chronological gaps – features that have been used in our Australian study area to argue for demographic change driven by social or environmental factors. To differentiate between interpretations, expectations derived from the model are assessed against a second proxy from the same study area: Optically Stimulated Luminescence dates from hearth stones in surface contexts. Results indicate that patterns in the chronometric proxies from the study area are more consistent with episodic geomorphic change than explanations invoking changes in the local organization of human activity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)450-463
    Number of pages14
    JournalHolocene
    Volume26
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016

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