Over the past decade network theory and methodologies have become central to exploring and explaining social, economic and political relationships and connections in past societies. However, as van Oyen (2017) has pointed out the use of networks has often been more descriptive than analytical, and methodologies have often depended upon underlying assumptions which inevitably simplify complex relationships of many kinds, and which may or may not be solidly supported by our generally fragmentary and heterogenous data and evidence. In ancient societies, we must infer the movement of knowledge of ‘how to make things’ largely from the objects themselves because we usually lack direct evidence of the human relationships which might have connected people to objects and their makers.
The chapters in this volume aim to interrogate the interpretative potential of network concepts for understanding the movement over time and space of ideas about how to make things through a range of archaeological case studies which reveal both functional and dysfunctional relationships. The purpose is to consider how more broadly contextualized and multi-faceted studies can both enhance, and be enhanced by, network and related approaches.
While there is much work on the use of formal, less formal and informal network theory, methodologies, including agent-based modelling, with the exception of Astrid van Oyen’s work, far less thought has been devoted to the complexity of understanding the wider contexts and the full range of diverse factors which shaped the relationships which constitute networks. The volume will make a significant contribution to understanding the movement and transmission of knowledge (or in some cases their absence), and to debates about how best to expand the utility of network concepts and approaches.
This volume originated from an interdisciplinary Leverhulme Research Programme, ‘Tracing Networks: craft traditions in the ancient Mediterranean and beyond’. This volume consists of a coherent selection of the archaeological papers which focus specifically on the interrogation of network concepts for understanding and interpreting the ancient past.