The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


Explorations in paleodemography: An overview of the Artificial Anasazi agent-based modeling project, with new observations on demographic estimation

ALAN C. SWEDLUND1, LISA SATTENSPIEL2, RICHARD S. MEINDL3 and GEORGE J. GUMERMAN4.

1Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, 3Department of Anthropology, Kent State University, 4Program in Cultural Complexity, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM

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Population settlement, growth, expansion and eventual abandonment of ancestral Pueblo sites in the Four Corners region of the United States have posed enduring questions for bioarchaeologists and paleodemographers, including the respective roles of drought, conflict, disease, and intrinsic demographic factors in the abandonment of the region. In order to better understand the role of these factors, the Artificial Anasazi (AA) Project was initiated. The central component of this project is an agent-based computer model that uses extensive archaeological and environmental data to simulate the rise and fall of populations in the Long House Valley, located in northeastern Arizona.

Data from this valley, coupled with archaeological estimates of growth and change, provide a baseline to compare to simulation outcomes. The simulations allow us to reproduce settlement decision-making and demographic behaviors of households in each Pueblo period, and to compare these with the observed archaeological record. The advantages of agent-based simulation include the ability to test a wide variety of fertility and mortality rates and ascertain the most realistic and probable set of “fits” to the observed Long House Valley data. We demonstrate that, using only the environmental opportunities and constraints as a first approximation, simulated population trajectories can be produced that are strikingly similar to the archaeological trajectories. Additionally, we present new results on the range of vital rates underlying these trajectories, discuss their fit in terms of fertility and mortality data from anthropological populations, and examine how the AA model can further explore the impact of these underlying vital rates.

This research has been supported by grants and assistance from the Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM.

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