Virtual Anglo-Saxons. Agent-based modelling in archaeology and palaeodemography

23 November 2012
Andreas Duering

The University of Oxford’s modelling4all software is a wonderful tool to simulate early medieval populations and their cemeteries in order to evaluate the influence of palaeodemographic variables, such as mortality, fertility, catastrophic events and disease on settlement dispersal. In my DPhil project I will study archaeological sites in Anglo-Saxon England and the German south-west in a comparative approach. The two regions have interesting similarities in their early medieval settlement pattern and include some of the first sites where both cemeteries and settlements were completely excavated.

An important discovery in bioarchaeology is that an excavated cemetery is not a straightforward representation of the living population. Preservation issues and the limitations of age and sex estimation methods using skeletal material must be considered. But also the statistical procedures to calculate the palaeodemographic characteristics of archaeological populations are procrustean. Agent-based models can help archaeologists to virtually bridge the chasm between the excavated dead populations and their living counterparts in which we are really interested in.

This approach leads very far away from the archaeologist’s methods and ways of thinking and the major challenge therefore is to balance innovative ideas with practicability and tangibility.

Some of the problems for the workshop are:

1.) Finding the best fitting virtual living populations for the excavated cemeteries

2.) Sensitivity analyses of palaeodemographic variables

3.) General methodologies to evaluate the outcome of agent based models

4.) Present data in a way that is both statistically correct and up to date & clear for archaeologists like me

5.) Explore how to include analytical procedures in the model to present the archaeological community with a user-friendly and not necessarily overwhelming toolkit


  • Industrial and Interdisciplinary Workshops