Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: The Emergence of Social Complexity in Middle Range Society: Cyprus during the Prehistoric Bronze Age

Project: Research project

Project Details


Project Summary
The development of social complexity, or the competition for social and economic control that leads to wealth inequality in human societies, has been a central theme in archaeological investigation and literature. Past work has emphasized the linear trajectories of societies as they move from one developmental stage to the next to reach an ultimate goal of statehood. As a result, the processes that underlie this phenomenon are under-investigated as are the intermediate stages of development, commonly termed middle-range society. The recent adoption of methods and theories from other disciplines within anthropology, such as complex systems theory and network analysis, has provided a novel framework from which to investigate social complexity in the archaeological record. Instead of viewing complexity as a phenomenon that imposes order and structure on society, we can now investigate it as a phenomenon that emerges from bottom-up processes. Incorporating this new way of thinking, this project views social complexity as a system-level phenomenon that emerges from the dynamic actions and interactions of social entities (households, communities, etc.) which structure and restructure social networks as new information and goods pass through the system. Taking this view, this project will examine the changing structures of these social networks in middle-range society, or village level agricultural societies with evidence for the emergence of social complexity, at multiple scales, namely the community, the region, and finally the island, throughout the Cypriot Prehistoric Bronze Age (2400-1700 Cal BCE) in order to understand how the structure of these networks affect changes in complexity. Further, it will examine the role wealth disparity plays in changing social networks, and in turn, the expression of social complexity.
This inter-disciplinary research involves the identification of social networks using methods derived from network science, and the calculation of wealth disparity using Gini coefficients, a method used in modern economics. To do this, data representative of different facets of social complexity including access to labor, local and international trade networks and mineral and ideological resources, recovered from previously excavated settlements, cemeteries and systematic surveys on Cyprus will be used as material proxies for social interactions and statistically analyzed for their fit to known models of these interactions to understand the processes that lead to the patterns seen in the archaeological record and the emergence of social complexity in middle-range society. This case study offers a rare opportunity to understand social development in middle range society on an island which undergoes unique social processes during a transition from isolationism to integration into a larger international world. The proposed work also offers an opportunity to both analyze existing data in novel ways and digitally archive them so they are accessible for future analyses.
This is the second submission of this project for funding through the National Science Foundation. We would like to thank the reviewers for their thoughtful suggestions and insights which strengthened the research design. We have responded to the reviewers comments by better defining the link between the models of social interactions and the archaeological data. We have also addressed concerns about the appropriateness and availability of certain kinds of data by reconsidering its use and clarifying the data available to the Co-PI.
Intellectual Merit: The proposed research provides an innovative framework to study the development of social complexity in ancient middle-range society through the integration of theory and methods from network and complex systems approaches that have great potential for anthropological research. Further, it addresses issues of social organization and wealth distribution in middle range society, often overlooked in the study of society in the Mediterranean region and it will provide a comparative study of the social processes that occur on islands and elsewhere.
Broader Impacts: This research will advance the training of a female scientist and will mentor an undergraduate anthropology student in learning an inter-disciplinary analytical technique. Furthermore, this study will promote international scientific cooperation through collaboration with the Cyprus Department of Antiquities. The data generated by this research will be made available through the Digital Archaeological Record at Arizona State University and results will be published as a monograph and in high impact, peer reviewed journals and presented at international conferences.
Effective start/end date8/1/157/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $11,674.00

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