Time-Averaging Slows Down Rates of Change in the Archaeological Record

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11 Scopus citations


Measuring the pace of cultural change, and understanding its determinants is a fundamental goal of anthropological research. The archaeological record is the main source of information about the pace of cultural change, but it is an imperfect one, as taphonomic loss and mixing distort rate measurements. Here, I focus on the impact of time-averaging on rate measurements. Time-averaging arises when archaeological materials associated with activities and events that took place at different points in time are mixed into the same unit, whether because of depositional processes, disturbance factors, or because archaeologists lump together archaeological contexts when creating analytical units. I use analytical models to show how time-averaging can slow down the observed rates of change under two general modes of cultural change: random drift and directional change. I test this prediction using empirical rates of change from the archaeological record of North America. I show that empirical rates of change are indeed inversely correlated with the duration of time-averaging and provide a range estimate for this correlation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 29 2018


  • Analytical lumping
  • Archeology
  • Cultural evolution
  • Random drift
  • Rates
  • Taphonomy
  • Time-averaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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